From snowy Rocky Mountain slopes to sunny beaches in downtown Vancouver, Canada's southwest coast offers an unparalleled tourist destination. Whatever excitement you crave, you'll find it in super, natural British Columbia.
Shouldering the Pacific Ocean on the western coast of Canada, British Columbia (BC) is perhaps the country's most culturally and topographically diverse province. Its ethnic depth and scenic beauty are simply astounding. Not only does the province have one of the country's highest rates of foreign immigration (and wonderful communities and traditions that accompany this), but it's also home to countless waterways, mountains, farmlands, forests and cities.
In one trip to the province, a visitor can fish for salmon off the sun-bleached shores near Victoria, lounge in one of Vancouver's 5-star hotels, ski or snowboard the slopes of Whistler Resort in the Coastal Mountains and tour the world-class vineyards in the Okanagan Valley.
British Columbia boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, and some of the greatest economic opportunity in Canada. A melting pot of cultures, B.C. has the largest Chinese community in Canada. B.C. is the third-largest province in Canada, with a population of about 4.1 million. The provincial motto is "Splendour without diminishment," and with forests covering half of B.C.,it has the largest and oldest trees in Canada. B.C. is the third-largest film and television production centre in North America (after New York and Los Angeles).
British Columbia is Canada's westernmost province and is one of North America's most mountainous regions, with 60% of the province lying above 3,000 ft (1000 m) above sea level. BC is distinctive for its variety of landscape, from desert to rainforest, from high mountain plateau to saltwater marshes. British Columbia's 947,800 square kilometres are bordered by the Pacific Ocean, the province of BritishColumbia, the Yukon Territory and several U.S. states, including Alaska. British Columbia is known as Canada's gateway to the Pacific and Asia. Often categorized as part of Canada's "West", the province is actually a distinct geographical and cultural region.
The Aboriginal peoples here lived well off the local natural resources, and developed one of the richest cultures north of Mexico. The coastal inhabitants created large and permanent wood sculptures and were famous for their skill in whaling. In 1774 the Spaniards visited what is now British Columbia, accounting for many Spanish-sounding names in the area. The British established the first permanent colony in 1843. Gold was discovered in the lower Fraser Valley in 1857 and thousands of people came to seek instant wealth. British Columbia joined the Confederation of Canada in 1871 after a rail link was promised between the Pacific coast and the rest of the country.
British Columbia's population is over three million people with most living in the Vancouver area (also called "the Lower Mainland"), extending eastward along the Fraser Valley, and in Victoria, the provincial capital.
The Thompson Okanagan region is famous for its orchards and vineyards as well as the wildly varied landscape. To the north of the central wine-and-fruit producing valley are vast boreal forests and to the south the desert of the Great Basin. The highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies is here, as is a waterfall twice the height of Niagara Falls and Canada's only true desert environment. Each year, outdoor enthusiasts flock to the Thompson Okanagan to hike, cross-country ski, snowshoe, fish (appropriate license(s) required), kayak, canoe, camp and view wildlife. The Vancouver Island region is a large, sparsely populated area, encompassing Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands as well as a portion of the mainland.
It has one of the world's most diverse ecosystems: rainforests, marshes, meadows, beaches, mountains, oceans, rivers and lakes create habitats for multitudes of wildlife species. In fact, the region is one of the world's premier locations for whale watching, birding, as well as salmon and trout fishing (appropriate license(s) required).
Much of the island has been protected as parkland. It contains many pockets of old-growth fir and cedar forests, as well as rare, naturally occurring groves of Garry oak. Vancouver Island is bisected, north to south, by the Beaufort Mountain Range, which is home to one of Canada's biggest all-natural ski bases.
The beauty and tranquility of this region has long been a draw for artists and artisans. Galleries, studios and shops selling unique, locally produced arts and crafts are found in many population centres, particularly on the Gulf Islands. Vancouver, Coast & Mountains is a magnificent ode to the outdoors. Mountains, ocean, lakes, rivers and beaches - they're here in abundance and breathtaking in scope. They also provide the perfect setting for outdoor adventure. Cycle, hike, camp, kayak, golf, ski and snowboard - the recreation activities are endless and you can indulge in them nearly all year long. In fact, the mild climate is such that you can often accomplish a "West Coast" special: ski in the morning, then golf or sail in the afternoon.
Vancouver, Coast & Mountains doesn't rest on its outdoor laurels, alone. There's plenty to do indoors - this region is known for its cosmopolitan shops, superb dining and many entertainment options. There is also an extensive selection of galleries for art lovers as well as museums for history and cultural buffs. The Kootenay Rockies is a vast wilderness of rivers, lakes, waterfalls, beaches, mineral hot springs, alpine meadows and snow-capped mountains.
Outdoor water pursuits include canoeing, boating, cycling, windsurfing, water-skiing and whitewater rafting. The area is also internationally renowned for its abundant fishing locales (appropriate license(s) required).
On land, the region is one of Canada's pre-eminent destinations for mountain biking, while the many dude and guest ranches offer authentic cattle rides. Camping opportunities abound. This is also your chance to visit wonderfully restored heritage towns, thriving arts communities and gold rush boomtowns.
During the winter, the Kootenay Rockies offers some of the continent's finest powder skiing and snowboarding, from head-rushing descents to great expanses of groomed cross-country trails.
Wildlife flourish here - be on the lookout for eagles, Elk, Mule Deer, Bighorn Sheep, Coyotes, Moose, Cougar as well as Black and Grizzly Bears. The thousands of lakes, rivers and magnificent stretch of Pacific Ocean coastline make the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast an über region for fishing (appropriate license(s) required), boating, camping, swimming and kayaking. No trip to the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast would be complete without paddling the legendary Bowron Lake Provincial Park Canoe Circuit.
On dry land, there are endless gently winding trails and strenuous backcountry routes to walk, hike, ride and canter. You won't want to miss the volcanic mountains of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, nor the ancient hoodoos and shifting sand dune of Farwell Canyon.
You can also drive the original Cariboo Waggon Road on the historic Gold Rush Trail. Lodge at a local guest ranch and visit a cowboy museum. The region is famous for its rodeos and stampedes Northern BC's vast wilderness comprises more than half the province - approximately 500,000 sq km (193,051 sq mi). This is a land of jagged mountain peaks, roaring rivers, serene lakes, green valleys, rugged coastlines and ancient island archipelagos. The region is known for its magnificent freshwater and saltwater fishing (appropriate license(s) required), canoeing, kayaking, whitewater rafting and in the winter, powder skiing.
A wondrous system of national and provincial parks provides habitats and sanctuary for wildlife as small as birds and as large as Grizzly Bears. Easy walking trails and challenging backcountry routes abound, leading to such diverse natural sites as crashing waterfalls and ancient lava beds.
You won't want to miss the Queen Charlotte Islands, an untamed land rich in Haida culture and with distinct island flora and fauna that have evolved over thousands of years. A vibrant arts community also exists on these islands.
Some of the best examples of fossilized footprints in North America can be found in Northern BC, including the world's oldest bird footprints.