British Columbia seems to have more than its fair share of natural beauty. To the east, the cloud-piercing peaks of the Rockies jut above tumbling rivers, massive glaciers and vast tracts of forest. To the west, the Pacific meets a pristine coastline of dramatic cliffs and glorious beaches. There, the water teems with an unimaginable array of creatures, from awe-inspiring whales to the multicolored sea stars that glisten in shimmering tidal pools.
One of the greatest joys of the region is venturing into the wild to explore these wonders. Whale-watching, hiking, canoeing and kayaking are all increasingly popular. But of course, there are also cosmopolitan pleasures aplenty in the charming harbor town of Victoria and the sophisticated port city of Vancouver, which hosts a growing constellation of fine restaurants, with menus relying on the abundance of superb local ingredients.
The reputation of British Columbia’s vineyards is steadily growing. The main wine-producing regions are Vancouver Island, the adjacent Gulf Islands and the Okanagan Valley, about 240 miles east of Vancouver. (In 2006, an Okanagan Shiraz made by Jackson-Triggs won the top award at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London.)
British Columbia is also a land with a rich cultural history that stretches back thousands of years. The indigenous people, now referred to as the “First Nations,” created an incredible legacy of myth and art. There are an increasing number of galleries where one can both see and buy the work of the province's painters, carvers and sculptors.
The climate west of the Rockies is generally mild, and we recommend traveling to British Columbia in late spring/early summer or late summer/early fall, with June and September being ideal. High summer can be lovely as well, but the coastal areas are then jammed with visitors, as is the region around Banff and Lake Louise. Whenever you go, keep in mind that the weather can change quickly and that fog is an ever-present possibility. This can necessitate rapid changes of plan. At one point, we had to switch from a plane to an early-morning ferry because of poor visibility.
Be sure to pack “adventure” gear, such as quick-drying pants and shirts, which will come in handy for hiking and other strenuous activities, as well as more sedentary ones like whale-watching, when you are equally likely to get wet. We also strongly advise that you pack as lightly and as efficiently as possible. Many of the floatplane operators have strict weight limits on baggage, including carry-on items.