The following is a guest post by Carly Fairbrother from ReviewsOutdoors.com, a blog about outdoor products and tips, and her experiences in outdoor adventuring. She is also a teacher. Outside of the classroom, Carley leads nature programs and outdoor trips for people of all ages.
British Columbia is a land filled with mountains, temperate rainforest, desert, high plateaus, abundant wildlife, and vast wilderness. It is a place where the evening news often includes moose wandering into grocery stores and beavers attempting break and enters. Most of the lakes, rivers, and mountains are rarely if ever, explored. And yet, even the most adventurous visitors rarely stray far from Vancouver.
Nearby Whistler and Squamish offer, among other activities, world-class skiing, hiking, climbing, and mountain biking, so visitors needn’t stray far from the city to get their adventure fix. But it seems that BC’s best-kept secret is that the rest of the province is just as amazing, at least if you love the outdoors.
Here are some of my favorite adventure activities in BC, including some that are off the usual beaten track!
White-Water Rafting on the Thompson River
There are many amazing rivers to raft in BC, and each has its merits but at only three hours from Vancouver, the Thompson is one of the most accessible. The river narrows to a canyon shortly after Spences Bridge and plunges through the Devil’s Gorge before joining up with the Fraser River in Lytton. The Thompson is BC’s third largest river, and the high water volume allows for some monster waves. Despite the thrills, it is a Class III+ at most times of the year, making it a fairly safe trip.
The Thompson River also provides options. With four companies offering trips, you can choose who offers the packages, add-ons, accommodations, and prices that meet your needs. Several companies offer power raft options where kids as young as 8 (who meet weight requirements) can join. These trips can be done in just half a day, making it a realistic day trip from Vancouver. For more adventurous folks Class IV and V tours are available on the nearby Fraser River, Stein, and Nahatlatch.
Image source: Deposit Photos
Spelunk in Horne Lake Caves
Horne Lake Caves, near Parksville on Vancouver Island offers some amazing cave exploration opportunities, from short interpretive tours to five hours of squeezing, climbing, and rappelling.
Horne Lake Caves offers a chance to explore two of its caves without a guide and to take a look at some pretty amazing fossils and calcite formations. However, for access to the Main Cave and the Riverbend Cave, you’ll need to book a tour. They are fairly priced and completely worth it. The shorter tours will get you into either the Main Cave or Riverbend Cave with a knowledgeable guide, and depending on the tour you choose you may get to try out a few climbs, squeezes, and a cave slide.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Extreme Tour includes seven-story rappel, rope stations, cable ladders, several tight crawls, and squeezes. The adventure will take you to some truly remarkable parts of the cave with untouched crystal structures. When I did this tour, we got a chance to turn out our lamps and head into the longest crawl – alone and in total darkness. This is hands-down the best cave tour I’ve ever been on.
Image source: Richard Varela
Hike into Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park
The Kootenays, just east of the Rockies, is one of BC’s gems that’s well known to local adventurers but passed over by tourists. Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park is a great place to start exploring the area. A long day’s hike will get you to Kaslo Lake and back where you can marvel at the surrounding mountains or brave the icy water for a quick swim. Some energetic day hikers even manage to get to Sapphire Lakes.
If you want to spend more time exploring and plan enough in advance, you can reserve a spot in the Kokanee Glacier Cabin at Kaslo Lake where you’ll get access to running water, hot showers, and a refrigerator. First come, first serve camping is also available at Kaslo Lake. From there you can visit the glacier, hike or scramble surrounding peaks, explore the many miles of trails, and even visit a backcountry mini-museum. You’ll probably want two to four nights to explore the area.
Canoe the Turner Lake Chain
While the Bowron Lake Chain to the east has made its way onto many bucket lists, the Turner Lake Chain in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park flies under the radar. Perhaps that’s better for those that do venture in – when my husband and I went, we saw only a few other people and had every campsite but one to ourselves.
Both trips offer pristine wilderness and outstanding mountain views, though I would argue that the Turner Lake wilderness is more pristine and the mountain views more outstanding. There are other perks too – abundant cutthroat trout, short portages, and amazing beachside camping spots come to mind. A side trip to Hunlen Falls, BC’s tallest continuous waterfall is worth the trip in and of itself.
While the chain could be done in three days by strong paddlers, we took a leisurely five days and could have easily stayed longer. Perhaps the biggest reason that the Turner Lake chain is so under-visited is the logistics and cost of getting there. While you don’t have to book way ahead like the Bowron, it requires a 16 km hike in or a floatplane ride.
Luckily, the canoes and paddling gear are already at the lake and rentals (and flights) can be paid for at Tweedsmuir Air Services. Rain and wind can make canoeing miserable and even dangerous, so come prepared for bad weather and be willing to wait out a storm or two on shore. Unlike the Bowron Lakes, you will need to backtrack, but that offers the opportunity to stay at more amazing beach sites.
Hike the West Coast Trail
The West Coast Trail is the most famous of Vancouver Island’s coastal hikes and ranks highly as one of the best outdoor adventures in BC. In fact, it may be the most famous hike in Canada! It follows the coastline for 75 km between Port Renfrew and Bamfield through the dense temperate rainforest, and along beaches and rocky shorelines.
It was developed as a trail for shipwreck survivors and for telegraph line maintenance but has now been transformed by Parks Canada into a world-class hike. While great care is given to maintaining the trail, it gets much of its charm from its ruggedness. Long ladders, giant mud pits, and slippery log bridges have all become part of its character. While the trail presents many challenges, the ancient evergreens, beach sunsets, and beachside waterfalls make it all worth it.
Shuttles to and from the trailheads from Victoria can be arranged through the West Coast Trail Express. Bring enough cash for the Gordon River ferry at the south end and the Nitinaht Narrows ferry part way through the northern half of the trip. You can also jump on or off the Trail at Nitinaht Narrows, but you’ll need to catch a daily shuttle boat to Nitinaht village.
The WCT is open from May 1 to September 30th, and hikers are required to book and pay in advance. If you’ve heard of people getting on last-minute through a standby list, you should note that Parks Canada no longer offers standby spaces.
If booking months in advance isn’t realistic for you, the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail just south of the WCT does not require a permit (though you still have to pay camping fees). Experienced backpackers who dislike crowds and really love mud can head to the North Coast Trail near Port Hardy.
Hike the Mt Edziza Traverse
Mt Edziza is tucked away in Northwest British Columbia, largely unnoticed even by most BC residents. It takes some time and money to sort out the logistics, and the typical route will require two float plane trips. Once you’ve made it to the trail, it’s a strenuous 75 km hike through the rugged and isolated terrain. Route finding can be difficult, and the weather can be downright mean.
Needless to say, it is only for the truly experienced backpacker. If you have the experience and time though, Edziza id completely different from other landscapes in BC, and will be an adventure of a lifetime.
Mt Edziza is a complex stratovolcano. While it’s been mostly dormant for 10 000 years, the landscape that it has created makes it look like it might have erupted last year. Basaltic flows cover 25 km by 65 km area, creating a vast treeless expanse. More recent small eruptions have created around 30 cinder cones that will leave you wondering if you’ve been spirited away to the moon.
Geology aside, some of the most amazing wildlife encounters I’ve experienced have been on the Edziza, including some friendly caribou and a disconcertingly bold grizzly. Wolves, mountain goats, stone sheep, and moose also call Edziza home.
The hike starts with a flight into Buckley Lake from Tatoga Lodge near Iskut and finishes in a flight out of Mowdade Lake. You can, in theory, avoid the flight by hiking overgrown, unmaintained trails from Telegraph Creek (you’ll need to arrange a boat ride across the Stikine) to the Willow Creek Forest Service Road (which would require a 4×4 and picking the brains of locals about access).
This route would add at least three days of hiking and a lot of extra driving, not to mention the second vehicle to shuttle between trailheads. Assuming you are flying, plan for six to eight days of hiking. Expect snow at any time of year, and wait until early July to head out on your trip as the snowpack lingers well into summer.
Cycle Kettle Valley
The Kettle Valley Railway Trail (KVR) follows the rail grade of the historic Kettle Valley Railway for 650 km from Hope to Castlegar. The trail crosses amazing wilderness, giant trestles, and engineering feats through narrow canyons. Many sections are easy to access for day cycles, and you could mix in some wine tasting as you pedal through the Okanagan.
If you are aiming for an overnight trip, there are lodges and B&Bs along the trail, excluding the sections at either end. Folks willing to sleep on a stranger’s floor can find free accommodations through Warm Showers or Couchsurfing for at least some of the nights. Camping is also an option, and necessary in the Hope to Princeton section. The eastern section, Christina Lake to Castlegar, has no accommodation so you’ll have to choose between a very strenuous day or camping.
While the whole trail is graded for trains, there will still be plenty of ups and downs. The sections from Hope to Tulameen, and from Christina Lake to Castlegar pass through some pretty big mountain ranges, so come prepared to sweat. The trail is mostly gravel, and not always in the best of conditions, so a hardtail mountain or hybrid bike would be ideal.
Image source: Ev Fairbrother
If you only have a few days in British Columbia, Vancouver is a great place to be. From there, the north shore, Squamish, and Whistler all offer amazing adventures with accessible amenities and for those who want to experience adventure in Canada but nothing too hardcore. Plus you’ll want to spend some time exploring some of Vancouver’s other attractions!
However, leaving Vancouver will allow you to escape the crowds while exploring some amazing places. While getting to trailheads and finding information becomes harder the further you get from the city, the effort is well worth it. Even heading out on a local trail in small-town British Columbia can make you feel like you are deep in the wilderness. BC has endless wilderness adventures – all you have to do is show up and find them.
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