British Columbia, Canada
British Columbia is Canada’s westernmost province, bordering on the Pacific Ocean to the west, Alberta to the east, Alaska to the northwest, the Yukon and Northwest Territory to the north, and the states of Washington, Idaho, and Montana, in the United States, to the south.
Vancouver is British Columbia’s largest and best-known city, but the provincial capital is Victoria.
Climate and Geography
British Columbia is a large province of staggering geological diversity. At 944,735 km2 (about four times the size of the United Kingdom), if British Columbia were a country, it would be the 32nd biggest in the world. That area includes about 27,000 km of coastline, over 6000 islands, mountainous fjords, rainforests, deserts, more than 800 lakes, countless rivers and streams, around 80 mountain ranges, numerous volcanoes and natural hot springs, hundreds of provincial and national parks, thousands of kilometers of trails, and more than 10,000 campsites.
British Columbia can very generally be divided into five regions: Vancouver Island, the lower mainland, the Okanogan, the Kootenays, and the Cariboo.
Vancouver Island is a large island on the southwestern coast of British Columbia. At 460 km it’s the 43rd largest in the world. It is home to the provincial capital, Victoria, and its most prominent natural feature is its old growth rainforest with trees over 1500 years old, and up to 88 m tall and 19 m in circumference can be found. The climate here is the warmest in Canada. In the summer the temperature peaks around 28 – 30 °C and in the winter it rarely drops below zero. The winter months here, though, are predominantly cloudy and rainy.
The lower mainland is the southwestern coastal region around Vancouver. This area is best known for the coastal mountain range, where the famous ski town Whistler is located. Other ski hills here include Grouse Mountain, Cypress, and Mount Seymour. Like Vancouver Island this area is also host to old-growth rainforest and very warm with temperatures up to 30 °C in the summer, and rainy winters where temperatures at low altitudes rarely drop below zero.
The Okanagan, also known as the Okanagan Valley, is a dry area located in central southern British Columbia. Although still mountainous, it is flatter than the coastal and Kootenay regions, and has many large lakes. This area, home to Canada’s only desert, is known for its arid climate, orchards, and vineyards. It is the hottest part of British Columbia, with temperatures average temperatures up to 28 °C in July, and temperatures as high as 38 °C in August. During the winter temperatures average around -5 °C, but can drop as low as -30 °C.
The Kootenays is a vaguely defined area in southeastern British Columbia that is generally said to begin somewhere west of Kootenay Lake and ends at the Alberta border. The Kootenays contains both the Purcell and Rocky Mountains as well as numerous lakes, rivers, and glaciers. Although temperature varies with altitude (and altitude varies greatly across this region) average maximum temperatures could generally be said the be around -3 °C in the winter and 26 °C in the summer, with temperatures in the winter occasionally dropping as low as -40 °C and highs reaching 30 °C or more.
The Cariboo in this guide is used as a catchall term for approximately the northern two-thirds of the province. As this area is significantly less populated is less visited than the rest of the province. This area is mostly undeveloped and wild with a range of geography too varied to be generalized. Temperatures in the north are cooler than in the rest of the province, with an average high temperature of approximately -10 °C in January and 19 °C in July, although this will very depending on location.
With well-deserved reputation as an outdoor adventure mecca, British Columbia can be summed up by it’s Latin motto, Splendor sine occasu (Splendor without diminishment). Although less than 5% of British Columbia’s GDP is generated by tourism, it is a very prominent industry in the province, with eco-tourism increasing rapidly in recent years.
Nearly every adventure sport imaginable can be done in British Columbia. Seriously. I can’t think of one that cannot be done here. So, rather than list the possibilities, I will just give you the highlights. The Kootenay and Yoho national parks, both of which are located in the Kootenays, were jointly ranked second in the world (and first in North America) by National Geographic Traveler in 2009. They basically look like every postcard you’ve ever seen of Canadian mountains. The West Coast Trail on Vancouver island is one of the best-known and finest hikes in the country. Sea kayaking on northern Vancouver island and in the Queen Charlotte Islands is a great way to see both the rainforest and, if you’re lucky, whales. Squamish, located just north of Vancouver, is a climbing mecca. Whistler on the lower mainland, and Fernie and Nelson in the Kootenays, are well known for mountain biking. And, of course, you can’t throw a snowball in British Columbia without hitting a world-class ski hill.
- Stand-up paddle boarding
- Scuba diving (wreck, reef, cave)
- Surfing (all levels)
- Hang gliding
- Sky diving
- Bungee jumping
- Hot air ballooning
- Whitewater rafting
- Kayaking (river, lake, and ocean)
- Caving and spelunking
- Hiking and trekking (all levels)
- Rock climbing (all levels)
- Ice climbing
- Mountain Biking (novice to expert)
- Horseback Riding
- Skiing and snowboarding
- Cross-country skiing
- Whale watching
On a Budget
Affordable hostels and cheap hotels can be found in most big cities and start around $20 USD per night for a bed in a dorm on the low end. Camping is a great option in the summer. Campsites can be rented for as little as around $15 USD per night, but, unless you’re in a big city, it’s generally not very hard to find a secluded place to pitch your tent.
- British Columbia restaurants are not overly cheap, but deals can be found. A good greasy spoon will usually offer a breakfast special for less than $5 USD. Lunch and dinner will generally cost $6-12 USD. But, of course, there is always the grocery store.
I like to use World Nomads. It’s not too expensive and signing up is fast and straightforward. They also have pretty good coverage for sports equipment like surf and snowboards, but it varies depending on your country of origin, so be sure double check. You can get a free quote on their website.