BC’s cities and larger towns—Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna and Abbotsford, for example—are known to be great jumping-off places for superb outdoor adventures. But some of the smaller places around the province are also home to amazing outdoor recreation activities, many of them year-round.
Here are 10 smaller communities in BC for your next outdoor adventure:
An hour’s drive north of Vancouver sits the “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada.” One of the unique activities you can enjoy here takes place on the Squamish River from mid-November to mid-February. Bald eagles frequent the river looking for salmon to gorge themselves on during the spawning run. One of the best ways to enjoy it is by river raft with a guide. There’s plenty of other bird life to see, as well, including mergansers, cormorants and herons.
You can book an eagle float trip with Squamish Rafting.
Just 32 kilometres south of Vancouver sits the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, offering some of the best birdwatching in BC’s Lower Mainland. The 300 hectares of ponds, treed pathways and intertidal marshes are especially cool to experience during spring or fall migrations. Seeing snow geese in late October/early November is also always a treat. I’ve seen three different kinds of herons here, sandhill crane families, numerous raptors, shorebirds, waterfowl and songbirds.
Visitors need to book spots in advance.
Located on the lower Sunshine Coast, this community is close to several provincial parks where you can experience forest bathing. Forest bathing is not a hike, although you do walk through the forest. Your guide leads you through a series of exercises to slow down, listen, smell and experience the surrounding forest. While forest bathing, my sense of smell and hearing abilities seemed to become even keener. While our guide had us do several exercises with our eyes shut, there were also some designed to help us “see” better, to look at the environment differently.
Forest bathing sessions must be booked in advance.
Since the Sunshine Coast highway ends here, it’s best to swap your motor vehicle for a kayak and get out for some on-the-water adventures in Desolation Sound Marine Park. Paddling out of Okeover Inlet, you’ll have the opportunity to see plenty of bird life as well as marine mammals like harbour seals. If you’re really lucky, you might spot a dolphin or a whale.
Several tour operators run single and multi-day trips in the area and also rent gear if you want to venture off on your own, at your own pace.
This tiny community is the closest to the starting point of the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit, about a 30-kilometre drive from Wells to the Bowron Lake put-in. Wells sits 80 kilometres east of Quesnel.
The circuit itself offers 110 kilometres of lakes, rivers and portages. You have to register to paddle, as it is in a provincial park. It can take anywhere from five to 10 days, depending on how fast you paddle. Because of its renown, you’ll probably meet paddlers from all over the world on the trip; I’ve encountered Americans, Germans, Aussies and Brits while paddling there.
Have you ever wondered what it might feel like to have a raptor, like a hawk or a falcon, land upon your hand? I can guarantee you, there’s nothing quite like it. You can experience taking a “hawk for a walk” and learn all about various raptors at the Pacific Northwest Raptors, based near this Vancouver Island community. Visitors can choose various levels of interaction, ranging from a few hours to an entire day.
To get the experience you want, check out the various levels before booking in advance.
Credit: Destination BC/Josh Humbert
In crime movies, people who cross the mob often end up “swimming with the fishes.” But in Campbell River, that can be a fun thing—provided you have a wet suit and snorkel gear.
Seeing a salmon underwater with a fish-eye view certainly provides a different perspective. You can’t help but wonder who is more amazed—yourself or the fish. Although you can do this on your own, you’ll probably get a better experience if you book a guide, who will know the best spots to go to, as well as supply you with all the gear you’ll need.
Credit: Charles Helm photo
BC offers numerous hiking opportunities—but how about hiking while looking for dinosaur fossils?
Tumbler Ridge’s UNESCO Global Geopark, (which also includes six provincial parks within its boundaries) contains a series of trails within the geopark, ranging from two to 13 kilometres in length from easy/moderate to strenuous/alpine. You can visit sites that offer incredible landscapes like Kinuseo Falls (which is higher than Niagara!) and walk on paths like those in the Flatbed Valley that lead past ankylosaur trackways.
In summer you can book guided tours, including a night tour, through the museum associated with the geopark.
Fort St. John
Credit: Blizzard Bicycle Club/Pat Ferris photographer
“The Energetic City” at Alaska Highway Mile 47 could easily be crowned the “Northern BC Sports Capital,” given all the outdoor recreation activities available there.
The local Blizzard Bicycle Club worked with BC Parks to turn what had once been wide cross-country ski trails into almost 14 kilometres of double and singletrack mountain biking trails in Beatton Provincial Park, free for all who want to work up a sweat there.
Given the club’s moniker, you’d be right if you guessed they developed a way to cycle all-year long. A snow-dog grooms the trails, and while some may prefer to cycle with fat-tires in the winter, trails are often good enough to ride with regular mountain bikes.
Credit: Northern BC Tourism/Ryan Dickie
Located just a 90 minute-drive from the BC-Yukon border, Liard River Hot Springs provide a great natural place for a relaxing soak. These springs offer a much more natural setting than many southern pools you’ll find in big parks like Banff and Jasper. It’s a perfect way to finish a day of adventure in the area, whether you’ve hiking, paddling or cycling.
Be sure to watch for the “park moose” while crossing the boardwalk that leads from the parking lot across a swamp to the pools.