A Walk on the Wild Side in British Columbia
Europeans often find the vast open spaces of North America overwhelming. But, even when judged against other Canadian provinces, British Columbia’s truly huge. On Canada’s western shores, B.C. stretches over more than 27,000km of coastline, and encompasses an area of about one million square kilometers. That’s big enough to swallow California, Oregon and Washington, with a cool hundred thousand kilometers to spare.
If you’re expecting impenetrable snow and freezing temperatures, think again. British Columbia weather is pretty varied – which isn’t a surprise, given its size – but the most populous spot, Vancouver, is actually the mildest city in Canada. On progressing inwards from the coast, it’s true that things get a darn-sight more extreme – enduring both scorching summers and arctic winters. However, wherever you roam, there’s one thing you can be assured of: rain, and lots of it. How else would B.C maintain its lush green color?!
Whatever the weather, B.C’s great green wilderness is a magnet to outdoorsy travelers who’re keen to feel fresh grass on the soles of their feet (or the breath of a grizzly bear on the back of their necks, if they’re unlucky). If you’d like to join them in exploring the Big Country, here are four unmissable activities to make the most of British Columbia’s great outdoors.
Raft down turbulent glacial rivers
Provided you’re a confident swimmer, British Columbia offers a plethora of white-water adventures that range from diverting to nerve-shredding. The season begins properly in May or June, after snowmelt, and tour operators tend to ship visitors out of cities like Vancouver for a day spent paddling through the wilderness. One site for such trips is the brilliantly named Kicking Horse River, which plunges from the Canadian Rockies and offers a level 3-4 whitewater run on its upper course – and a death-defying level 4-5 lower run, which’s reserved for experienced riders only.
Carry on camping
Camping’s an amazingly popular weekend activity for British Columbians, offering the chance to sizzle smokies (spiced, smoked sausages) over the campfire and gaze to the stars with a tin mug of hot chocolate. B.C. has hundreds of campsites with excellent amenities, or more basic ones which afford exceptional views – like watching the sun set over the glaciers in the Garibaldi Provincial Park, near Whistler. However, if the idea of wet canvas and cold sleeping bags doesn’t quite appeal, do as the locals do: hire a RV for the weekend (that’s a Recreational Vehicle, aka camper van) and sleep out in relative style.
Watch out for black bears on the banks of the shore
Most B.C. camping trips involve careful strategizing to avoid bumping into an angry bear. However, catching a glimpse of these magnificent mammals – albeit at a safe distance – can be the highlight of an expedition into the wilderness. Numerous eco-tour operators organize boat-trips around the coastlines and island-bays of B.C., hopeful of sighting black bears and their cubs foraging for food at low-tide.
Have a whale of a time out on the ocean
Another outstanding excursion is an afternoon spent whale-watching off the British Columbia coast. Trips depart all year round, although the best opportunities for discovery are in the months of May through October. The most recognizable species in Columbian waters is the sleek, black Orca; but the acrobatic and inquisitive humpback whales may be the most memorable encounter of an afternoon. To choose a whale-watching excursion, a good spot for recommendations is mydestination.com/britishcolumbia; the site frequently offers discounts and offers for other ecotours, too.
Edd Morris has been a Londoner since 2005. That hasn’t cured his itchy feet – he still loves traveling the world in search of spicy food and someone to practice Spanish with.