Guest Post By Jack Christie | Photo by Tourism BC/Albert Normandin
It’s party time at BC’s parks.
This year, one of the world’s finest collections of protected landscapes — from ocean and freshwater shorelines to alpine peaks — celebrates its 100th anniversary. Ranging in size from a cupcake to a one million-hectare (400,000-acre) confection, there’s a park to suit any number of candles.
Indeed, in British Columbia, there are more parks, protected areas, ecological reserves and conservancies than can possibly be visited in a lifetime — almost 1,000 at last tally — but it’s worth a try. Make a wish. Dream big. Need inspiration? Choose from this sweet cross-section of wild, natural goodness, and discover 10 reasons why you should visit a BC park in 2011.
Strathcona (Vancouver Island)
BC Parks’ 1911 flagship is still the all-around best to explore, whether by canoe, in hiking boots or snowshoes. For a backcountry thrill, set your compass for the park’s crown jewel, Della Falls — highest in Canada and among the top 10 in the world. Travel by water taxi along Great Central Lake near Port Alberni to the cascade’s southern trailhead. Fancy a day trip? Take an alpine drive above Courtenay on the park’s eastern boundary. Further north, revel in two sheltered spots on Buttle Lake near Campbell River where reservations are available for almost half of the campground’s sites; it’s first-come, first-served at neighbouring Ralph River campground.
Bonus: The new two-kilometre (1.2-mile) wheelchair-accessible Centennial Loop Trail leads out across red heather meadows and through old-growth forest atop a boardwalk adjacent Mount Washington Alpine Resort.
French Beach (Vancouver Island)
Of all the provincial parks along BC’s southwestern coast, French Beach offers the best year-round ocean access. Step from your vehicle onto a broad expanse of pebble and cobblestone shoreline lined with all shapes and sizes of driftwood, perfect for constructing forts for little ones or impromptu chaise lounges for sunbathing. For your tiny adventurers, a playground is set back in the sheltering evergreen forest. Reservations are available at the majority of the park’s 69 campsites.
Bonus: French Beach is only a scenic one-hour drive west of Victoria with nothing but the blue Pacific Ocean between you and the far side of the globe.
Garibaldi (Vancouver, Coast & Mountains)
You couldn’t ask for a better day-trip selection than Garibaldi’s four distinctly-different, easily-reached approaches along the Sea to Sky Highway (Hwy 99). Whether at Diamond Head, Garibaldi Lake-Black Tusk, Cheakamus Lake or Wedgemont Lake, each offers a variety of challenges for hikers, mountain bikers, backcountry skiers, snowboarders and snowshoers.
Bonus: Reward yourself post-outing with happy hour in either Whistler or Squamish, the self-proclaimed outdoor adventure capital of Canada.
Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage (Vancouver, Coast & Mountains)
The best old-growth wilderness adventure lies four hours from Vancouver and straddles a wide transition zone between coastal rainforest near Whistler and sagebrush canyons on the Fraser River. The Stein sits a world apart, with rock walls covered with ochre-red Aboriginal pictographs to prove it. Book 10 days for the full traverse, or simply a weekend to camp beside the bubbly Stein River.
Bonus: Enjoy the the plunge before drying off beneath majestic, sheltering Ponderosa pine trees.
Bonus: Tour an award-winning winery or two in nearby Westbank and Kelowna.
Kettle River (Thompson Okanagan)
The best place to float down a lazy river in an inner tube or canoe after cycling the historic Kettle Valley Railway Trail lies midway between the Pacific Ocean and Alberta on Highway 3. In the heat of a summer day, count on finding a welcoming cool reward at this shaded recreation area beside the West Kettle River. Reservations are available at the majority of its 67 campsites.
Bonus: Birdwatchers are in for a special treat in this wildlife corridor, home to magnificent species such as Great Horned owls.
McDonald Beach (Kootenay Rockies)
This lakeside park offers the best beach camping. Two-thirds of its 38 sites front on the eastern shore of Upper Arrow Lake near Nakusp in the West Kootenay. Spend time exploring the tree-lined beach, natural sandbars and cosy coves while being enthralled by the towering Monashee Mountain peaks of Mount Thor and its companions that dominate the horizon.
Bonus: Nakusp is a hub for hot spring soaks, both at the town’s municipal pools and a network of developed and wilderness sites along both Upper Arrow and Kootenay lakes.
Green Lake (Cariboo Chilcotin)
The emerald waters of this warm, shallow expanse in the heart of the Cariboo Chilcotin’s Interlakes district offer the best summer swimming at numerous spots around its generous circumference. Bring shovels, pails, angling rods (with a freshwater fishing licence), windsurfers, picnic hampers — whatever your fancy — to experience the bliss of a day spent doing as little or as much as your vacationing heart desires. Reservations are available at the majority of 121 campsites spread between three lakeside locations.
Bonus: Visit nearby Chasm Provincial Park to witness an extraordinary multi-hued rend in the Cariboo Plateau’s surface.
Naikoon (Northern BC)
Hands down, this strand on the northeastern corner of Graham Island in Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands) presents the best opportunities for beachcombing, both on foot and by bike. Follow an endless stretch of hard-packed sand as it leads off into the hazy reaches of Rose Spit with the Alaskan Panhandle coastline dancing in the distance. Buy a tidal-water fishing license to dig for razor clams or net Dungeness crabs. Choose from 30 treed campsites at Misty Meadows near park headquarters in Tlell (an additional 43 spots are up for grabs at Agate Beach), or bivouac in a driftwood shelter within sight of a rusting freighter whose battered hull lies mired but unbowed in the surf.
Bonus: Plan a mid-summer visit to coincide with Tlell’s annual Edge of the World Music Festival, set to draw the masses August 5 – 7.
Northern Rocky Mountains (Northern BC)
The Rocky Mountains are renowned for wildlife viewing. See for yourself why this mammoth stretch of protected wilderness bordered by the Alaska Highway has been dubbed the Serengeti of North America. Come equipped for a backcountry adventure or choose from several roadside vehicle campgrounds, including panoramic Summit Lake in adjacent Stone Mountain Provincial Park, the highest pass on historic Highway 97’s route (a.k.a. the Alaska Highway) to the Yukon Territory and beyond into the icefields.
Bonus: Nearby provincial parks at Muncho Lake and Liard River Hot Springs mark the northern limits of the Rockies that range 4,830 kilometres (3,000 miles) to New Mexico.
For more on BC’s parks, visit www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks.
For more on British Columbia’s destinations and travel information, call 1-800 HELLO BC®(North America) or visit www.Hellobc.com/parks.