The 7 Best Side Trips from Vancouver
Featured destinations: Victoria, Osoyoos, Tofino, Vancouver, Whistler
Published 28 February 2017
With so much to offer – from mountains, forests and beaches, to a cosmopolitan city full of interesting neighbourhoods, Vancouver continues to gain popularity as one of Canada’s premier destinations. Due to its geographic location, Vancouver is also the perfect base to explore all that the Pacific North West has to offer.
Here, Vancouverite Claus Gurumeta shares seven of the best side trips that can easily be taken from Vancouver, whether it is as a day trip or for a longer getaway.
Victoria, Canada image: Claus Gurumeta
British Columbia’s capital is a small charming city that is bursting with history and culture, as well as a blossoming food scene. Most of the city’s must-dos are wrapped around its scenic harbour, complete with a seaside walkway packed with cafes and restaurants overlooking a marina. Make sure to visit two of the city’s most striking structures, both of which were designed by renowned architect Francis Rattenbury: the beautiful Parliament Building and the appropriately named Empress Hotel, which serves a superb afternoon tea. The Royal British Columbia Museum is also worth a visit, with a large collection of aboriginal totem pole carvings and paintings by famous BC artist Emily Carr. Just outside of the city, the famous Butchardt Gardens are magnificent all year round. The ride over to Victoria is as impressive as the city itself: whether you cruise through the scenic Gulf Islands aboard the ferry, or take in the view from aboard a float plane, you’re sure to experience some of the most beautiful scenery of the Pacific North West.
Long Beach, Tofino image: Claus Gurumeta
On the western coast of Vancouver Island, the small town of Tofino is another spot worth visiting to experience the region’s unique nature. Tofino is the ideal place for those seeking an adventure: forests are filled with hiking trails, the coastline is great for kayaking, and the vast, untouched beaches make this the perfect playground, turning the town into a surfing haven from spring to autumn. In winter, visitors flood the town hoping to experience a different kind of thrill for which the area has become famous for: storm watching. On your way in and out of Tofino, make sure to visit the Pacific Rim National Park, a nature reserve which protects the local flora and fauna inside and out of the ocean, and make a pit stop at Cathedral Grove, where you will see the country’s oldest – and tallest – evergreen trees!Whistler in summer image: Claus Gurumeta
Only 120km from Vancouver, you’ll come across Whistler, one of the world’s premier ski resorts, which co-hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics along with Vancouver. In winter, two mountains – Whistler and Blackcomb – provide over 200 marked runs for skiers and snowboarders, while the surrounding areas offer great opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing for those who prefer a horizontal thrill. In summer, the mountains open to hikers, mountain bikers and those who wish to ride the gondolas for beautiful views from above; various lakes in the area attract those looking to canoe, paddleboat or swim; and forest trails turn into extensive cycling paths. Add to this a village full of life, with bustling restaurants and bars hosting après-ski and après-hike evenings, and you’ll see why Whistler is famous worldwide. For the best views, ride the Peak 2 Peak gondola, a 4.4km long ropeway that connects the summits of both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.
Sea to Sky Highway, Canada image: Claus Gurumeta
Sea to Sky Highway
Technically, the Sea to Sky Highway is nothing more than the connecting motorway between Vancouver and Whistler. In reality, it is one of the most beautiful drives in the world, hugging the coastline for much of the ride, and driving through forests, waterfalls and lakes along the way. As you make your way over to Whistler, make sure to enjoy the views, and take advantage of the scenic stops along the road. The 335-metre-high Shannon Falls and the surrounding Provincial Park are the perfect place to stretch your legs. Roughly halfway to Whistler, the small town of Squamish has reinvented itself as the adventure capital of Canada, offering thrilling activities like white water rafting surrounded by bald eagle nests, rock climbing, hiking, and mountain biking. Squamish is also home to the new, scenic Seat to Sky Gondola. Closer to Whistler, the less-visited 70-metre-high Brandywine Falls and surrounding national park are beautiful and worth the stop.
Hell's Gate, Fraser Valley, Canada image: Claus Gurumeta
The Fraser Valley
Heading east just outside of the Greater Vancouver Regional District, you will soon reach the Fraser Valley, a region full of breathtaking nature and historical sites. Only 130km away from Vancouver, Harrison Hot Springs is a great spot for a relaxing escapade at its famous thermal pools. For nature lovers, Manning Provincial Park offers yearlong adventures, from snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter and spring, to camping, swimming, boating, and fishing in summer and autumn. History buffs should make sure to visit the Yale Historic Site, a gold rush-era establishment proud to have been at one point “the biggest city North of San Francisco and West of Chicago.” Lastly, visit Hell’s Gate and glide over the narrowest point of the Fraser River aboard the Hells Gate Aerial Tramway.
Kelowna vineyards image: Claus Gurumeta
The interior of British Columbia is vastly different to the coast, in everything from geography to plant life and even climate. Leave the coast behind and head over to the Okanagan Valley, the province’s renowned wine region, and experience a alternative side of Canada for a few days. The Okanagan has various unique cities and towns worth visiting, so pick your favourite or visit multiple places to get the most of your trip. Kelowna, the largest city in the region, is easily accessible by air and has over 20 local vineyards, a beach-lined lake, and a surprisingly cosmopolitan town centre. Penticton, about 62km south of Kelowna, is known for a 7km-long river which visitors can float down aboard inflatable tubes, as well as for being within one hour’s drive of an astonishing 120+ wineries! Further south another 62km, set in Canada’s only desert landscape, Osoyoos offers endless water-based activities in Osoyoos Lake as well as hiking and biking opportunities in its surroundings. Along the way, buy fruits and honey from the orchards and streetside markets, and make sure to visit the local wineries to try the local wines.
Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle image: Claus Gurumeta
Escape Canada and head over to Seattle, 230km south of Vancouver. Start your visit by heading down to Pikes Place Market, a busy multi-storey market famous for its fresh produce and showy fishmongers. Visit the Pikes Place Brewery for a taste of local craft beer, or continue walking down the waterfront to Pier 58 and enjoy an inexpensive seafood lunch at the Crab Pot. Go to Pioneer Square to see the oldest part of the city, and join in a Seattle Underground tour to see the ruins of what was Seattle before the great fire of 1889. For a unique travel experience, ride the Monorail from the city centre towards the Seattle Needle, the city’s most recognised landmark. The area has a number of attractions, but I recommend skipping the ride up the Needle and instead visiting the Chihuly Garden & Glass, the Museum of Pop Culture, or taking a stroll down to Olympic Sculpture Park along the waterfront. As the sun falls, head over to the Pike/Pine district up the hill for hip cafes, trendy restaurants and great nightlife.
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