things to do in british columbia

The Best Things to Do in British Columbia (An Active Travel Guide)

things to do in british columbia

British Columbia is one of Canada’s most beautiful provinces. Located on the country’s west coast, BC is an active travel paradise, loaded with pristine forests, white-capped mountains, ocean beaches, and rushing rivers.

There is no end of things to do in British Columbia, particularly for outdoor adventure lovers. From ocean kayaking and hiking through old-growth forests to whale watching and much more, it’s the perfect place for people who want to be active and commune with nature at the same time.

Extending from the American border all the way up to the Yukon Territories, and from the province of Alberta in the east to the Pacific Ocean on the west, British Columbia is a vast area with a diverse array of ecosystems.

The physical geography of the province includes several mountain ranges (from the Coastal Mountain Range to the Rockies), rolling grasslands, the Pacific coastline, islands that range from tiny (Haida Gwaii) to massive (Vancouver Island), and several different types of forests.

BACKGROUND ON BRITISH COLUMBIA

things to do in british columbia

Most of British Columbia is rugged and wild. Mountains cover a majority of the province, and there are approximately 40,000 islands. B.C. has more protected areas than any other Canadian province, including a variety of different provincial parks, conservation areas, and ecological reserves.

This attitude of protecting the natural world has a long history in British Columbia, going back thousands of years before European settlement. There are 198 distinct First Nations in B.C., each of which has their own culture, traditions, and history. Many them share a deep and spiritual connection to the land.

At the Squamish and Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) in Whistler, for example, you can learn about how the indigenous people lived in harmony with nature. For example, if they needed cedar wood for making household objects, they stripped only two hand-widths of bark from each tree, in order to ensure that the trees would heal.

An SLCC guide explained their beliefs thusly: “The land is our people. It speaks to us and tells us who we are and where we’re going. The mountains were gifts from the creator. We were given the responsibility to look after them. To understand us, you must see our relationship to the land, rivers, and forests.”

With this cultural background and these natural treasures, it’s easy to see why so many outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers are drawn to British Columbia. Here are some of the top outdoor activities you can enjoy in beautiful British Columbia

WILDLIFE VIEWING

Gulf Islands whale watching

British Columbia is arguably among the most spectacular places on earth for wildlife viewing. From whales to grizzly bears, from seals to eagles, there are many places throughout the province where you can see them in their natural habitat.

Whale watching is one of the most popular wildlife activities in British Columbia. You can often see them from a boat on the Pacific side of Vancouver Island, or while in the protected straits between the mainland and Vancouver Island (such as Georgia Strait and Juan de Fuca Strait).

There are places where you can watch for whales while onshore, too, including many resorts and inns located right on the coast in places like Sooke, Victoria, Tofino, or even Vancouver. If you visit during peak whale watching season (May through October), you could have an opportunity to see Orcas (killer whales), humpbacks, minke, or Pacific grey whales.

British Columbia is also a prime place for bear watching. The province is home to the rare white Kermode “Spirit” bear, and many grizzly and black bears. There are many different options for viewing grizzly bears throughout the province, from onboard a boat to an elevated platform.

A guided tour is the best and safest way to see them in their natural habitat, feeding on salmon and berries, playing in the grass, or simply cooling off in the water.

HIKING & CYCLING

Biking through British Colombia

With so much of British Columbia’s land devoted to parks, conservation areas, ecological reserves, and recreation areas, there are endless possibilities for hiking and cycling in the province.

The West Coast Trail, which stretches 46 miles along Vancouver Island’s southwest coast and follows in the footsteps of the First Nations people, is probably the most famous. Other top hiking trails in B.C. include Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, Strathcona Provincial Park, and the Sunshine Coast Trail.

Cycling and mountain biking are also popular sports here. If you have the nerve, you can try mountain biking down some of British Columbia’s mountains in summer. Whistler is a hotspot for this sport.

If you prefer cycling on more level ground, the Galloping Goose Trail is a 34-mile long pathway (formerly a railroad line) that runs between Sooke and Victoria. In Vancouver, cycling the seawall around Stanley Park is an ideal way to see the city and some stunning vistas to boot. Try to end up at English Bay for a sunset you will never forget!

CANOEING, KAYAKING & BOATING

things to do in british columbia

With so many lakes, rivers, and straits (not to mention the Pacific Ocean), canoeing, kayaking, and boating are super popular in British Columbia.

Ocean kayaking in the Georgia Strait or the Juan de Fuca Strait is a favorite activity for both locals and tourists alike.

There are many places to enjoy seeing the ocean up close in this protected environment. The Gulf Islands, such as Salt Spring or Galiano Island, or Bowen Island off the coast of Vancouver, are particularly great spots for ocean kayaking. 

SNOW SKIING & SNOWBOARDING

things to do in british columbia

About 75% of British Columbia is mountainous. So it’s no wonder that people flock to the province for snow skiing, snowboarding and other winter sports.

Whistler is widely considered one of the best skiing destinations in the world– and was host to the Winter Olympics in 2010. In fact, you can still see the 2010 Olympic rings in Whistler Village, and on top of Whistler mountain.

Whistler Olympic Park, located in the Callaghan Valley just west of Whistler, hosted Nordic events such as the biathlon, Nordic combined, and ski jumping. Today it’s a popular tourist attraction, offering visitors outdoor recreation opportunities that include cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, tobogganing, and more. –Mariellen Ward

View Our 'Beautiful British Columbia' Itinerary Now

BIO: Mariellen Ward is a Canadian travel writer and digital storyteller. She has a BA in Journalism and has been published in many leading online and offline publications around the world. Her award-winning travel blog, Breathedreamgo, is inspired by her extensive travels in India, Canada and beyond. She loves to spend time in natural, wild places.