8 Things to Do on Canada’s West Coast
Featured destinations: Canada, Vancouver
Published 14 July 2016
The mountains and lakes of Canada’s dramatic west coast draw outdoors enthusiasts in their droves. In summer the lakes glitter with canoeists and swimmers, the mountains throng with hikers and bear spotters and the seas fill with whale watchers. In winter the pure white landscape brings skiers, snowboarders and snow-shoers to the region, while Northern Lights fans head to Arctic Canada with the hope of glimpsing the fabled aurora.
You could spend months here and barely scratch the surface, but we’ve chosen eight of our favourite things to do in this truly spectacular corner of the globe.
Go whale watching in Vancouver
Between April and October, thousands of whales swim past Vancouver on their annual migration route. Take a zodiac boat, paddle a kayak or even ride a seaplane to the Gulf and San Juan Islands near Vancouver and look for orcas, humpbacks, gray and minke whales, as well as the odd porpoise, seal or puffin. Vancouver Island itself is home to a resident pod of around 100 orcas, with prime viewing time between May and October when they feed off migrating salmon in the Strait of Georgia.
Ride the Rocky Mountaineer train
One of the world’s most beautiful train rides, the historic Rocky Mountaineer winds its way through the Rocky Mountains from Vancouver to Jasper or Banff, with detours possible to Calgary and Whistler. All trips spend two days onboard the train, with a night in Kamloops to split the journey. Onboard, huge floor-to-ceiling glass panels allow everyone to take in the constantly changing views of snow-capped peaks and plunging waterfalls that greet each twist and turn.
Get away from it all in the Yukon
An otherworldly land of ice and snow, rugged mountain scenery and deep canyons, the Yukon is like no other place on earth. Most visitors arrive in Whitehorse or pass through on their way to Alaska, but linger awhile for an adventure like no other. Try Kluane National Park for canoeing, fishing, dog sledging and grizzly bear watching, or stop in Whitehorse for museums and the SS Klondike sternwheeler, now a national historic site.
Ski the slopes in Whistler
Perhaps the most famous ski resort in the world, Whistler’s reputation as a powder paradise precedes it. Indeed, with over 8,171 acres of ski runs, 37 lifts and 200 trails, there’s plenty to choose from, and a vast array of hotels bars and restaurants too. And if downhill’s not your thing you can always try snowshoeing, sleigh riding, snowmobiling or cross-country skiing, while in summer there’s rafting, climbing, hiking and riding the Whistler-Blackcomb gondola up for grabs.
Go hiking in Banff
Surrounded by some of the most striking scenery in the world, Banff is the ideal spot to try some hiking in the Rocky Mountains. With many trails accessed from the town itself, it couldn’t be easier: grab your hiking boots, pick up a free map from the Visitor Center and set off at your own pace. Try the mile-long Fenland Trail around the First Vermilion Lake, where you might spot ospreys and bald eagles, or for something a little more challenging hike up Tunnel Mountain, a three-mile return climb that provides fabulous views over the mountains and the Bow River below.
Watch the Northern Lights dance
Between December and March the dark skies above northern Canada are prime aurora borealis watching territory. This dazzling night time display is best viewed away from light pollution, so the wilderness of the Yukon and the Northwest Territories is ideal; try the lodges and huts around Whitehorse for a cosy viewing spot. That said, the phenomenon can be glimpsed as far south as Prince George in British Columbia and Edmonton in Alberta.
Search for bears in the Great Bear Rainforest
In remote British Columbia stands the Great Bear Rainforest, a collection of towering cedar and spruce trees home to cougars, wolves, grizzly bears and the magnificent Kermode, or spirit, bear, a subspecies of the black bear. Due to a genetic throwback, one in ten of all spirit bears are white, making them a fascinating and rare wildlife spot. Your best bet is to stay at the lovely Spirit Bear Lodge and join the resident guides for walks and boat trips among the waterfalls and valleys in search of these elusive creatures.
Drive the Icefields Parkway
Otherwise known as Highway 93 North, the Icefields Parkway is a 144-mile route from Jasper to Lake Louise, passing though both Jasper and Banff National Parks. Surely one of the world’s best drives, its mountain, glacier and lake scenery is exceptional. It takes about four hours to drive, but you’re best off making a day of it, giving you the chance to follow the trails and stop at the viewpoints you’ll pass along the way. One particular highlight is a ride out onto the Athabasca Glacier in an all-terrain Ice Explorer, which stops to let you have a little walk on the ice.
Fancy exploring west coast Canada and Vancouver? Give our Experts a call today or take a look at our tailor-made Canada Journeys.