3 Epic Road Trips to Take from Vancouver
At first glance, Vancouver may not seem like a land of road trip holidays, but this Canadian gem has more incredible tarmac than you can shake a hockey stick at. Most importantly, the landscapes are pretty impressive too, and there is an abundance of things to do along the journey. Here are three of our favourite road trips to take from Vancouver:
Adventure on the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler
If you only have time to escape Vancouver once during your stay, the resort town of Whistler should be at the top of your list. The resort town is a mere 75 miles away from downtown Vancouver and has plenty to offer visitors; however, half the fun is getting there and you’ll want to stop along the way to take in the views.
The Sea to Sky Highway, the connecting motorway between Vancouver and Squamish, is a scenic drive that hugs the coastline, offering some unmatched views over the Pacific Ocean, towering mountains, and the surrounding rainforest. Along the way, make sure to stop at Shannon Falls, a 335-metre-high waterfall surrounded by a small provincial park. Further down the highway, the town of Squamish, self-professed as the 'Adventure Capital of Canada', offers some unique outdoor activities including riding the Sea to Sky Gondola, rock climbing along the steep rock façade of the Stawamus Chief Mountain, and white-water rafting in search of bald eagles. Just before arriving in Whistler, the 70-metre-high Brandywine Falls and Cuyahoga Valley National Park make for another scenic stop along the way.
Whistler, the world-famous mountain resort that co-hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics with Vancouver is worth visiting any time of year. In the summer, travellers can ride the gondolas up the two mountains (Whistler and Blackcomb) for outstanding views of the surrounding nature, adventurers can go on challenging hikes, and thrill seekers can cycle down the steep mountains. The warmer seasons also offer a great opportunity for water lovers to go swimming, canoeing or paddle boarding in one of the area’s many beautiful lakes. In winter, Whistler turns into a snowy wonderland, with over 200 marked runs for skiers and snowboarders, as well as over 250 miles of pathways for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. At the heart of it all, at the foot of the mountains, lively Whistler village is full of bars and restaurants, perfect for relaxing over a beer after a hard day of adventuring.
Culture and nature in Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island has something to offer to those looking for a cultural getaway as well as those searching for untouched nature. If you have a few days to spare, you can combine highlights of both within the same trip.
From Vancouver take a ferry along the scenic gulf islands towards Victoria, the charming small capital of British Columbia. Once on the island, as you drive from the ferry into the city, make a stop at the lovely Butchart Gardens to see their impressive flower collections, especially striking from spring to autumn. Be sure to get out of the car here – Victoria itself is easy to cover on foot, with most attractions within the city found around the pretty marina, including its two most beautiful landmarks: The Empress hotel, which serves an excellent afternoon tea; and the stunning Parliament Building. During your stay, make sure to visit the Royal British Columbia Museum to admire First Nations' artwork and totem poles, as well as a collection of paintings by renowned BC artist Emily Carr. You can also visit one of the city’s great craft breweries, all found right in the centre!
From Victoria, get behind the wheel and make your way northeast towards Cathedral Grove, where you’ll have the opportunity to stretch your legs as you walk amongst the moss-covered trunks of some of the country’s oldest and tallest trees. Continue towards the nature haven that is the Pacific Rim National Park, a nature reserve where you can admire the rugged coast of the Pacific North West like nowhere else. From there, head over to the small town of Tofino, a laid-back surfer’s paradise with long, untouched beaches and challenging forest trails. Try your hand at surfing with a full dry suit to keep you warm, go for hikes in the woods, or simply sit on a log and admire the view. In winter, Tofino is still open for business, hosting visitors who come from around the world to watch storms from the comfort of high-end resorts.
Wine and food in the Okanagan
The Okanagan region in the interior of British Columbia is a foodie’s paradise: this is the province’s prized wine-growing area, encompassing multiple scenic lakeside communities, filled with wineries, orchards and world-class restaurants.
Kelowna, the largest city in the Okanagan, is only 240 miles from Vancouver and easily accessible by car, but also comes with a full-service international airport if you'd rather fly and pick up your hire car when you arrive. Surprisingly cosmopolitan, Kelowna is home to numerous mouth-watering restaurants, my favourite being the farm-to-table KRAFTY Kitchen + Bar (281 Lawrence Ave, Kelowna, BC V1Y 6L2). Kelowna also has many popular wineries including the must-visit architectural wonder that is Mission Hill Winery. Other food-worthy attractions include Carmelis Goat Farm (170 Timberline Rd, Kelowna, BC V1W 4J6) with their outstanding goat milk ice cream and cheeses, the picture-perfect Okanagan Lavender and Herb Farm (4380 Takla Rd, Kelowna, BC V1W 3C4), four craft beer breweries, and three distilleries.
Drive south 28 miles from Kelowna to reach Summerland, with its popular Bottleneck Drive loop. Here you will find unique spots to please your palate, including Detonate Brewery (9503 Cedar Ave #104, Summerland, BC V0H 1Z2) with inventive beers, Estate Thurn Vinegar Brewery (5214 Monro Ave, Summerland, BC V0H 1Z2), and the sensual Dirty Laundry Vineyard (7311 Fiske St, Summerland, BC V0H 1Z2) which, aside from having great wines, also offers a “make your own picnic basket” lunch shop, and a patio in which to enjoy it. From Summerland, another 10.5 miles south will get you to beautiful Penticton, in the heart of the Okanagan. It has over 120 wineries within an hour's drive of the town centre. My favourite spot for lunch there is the hilltop Poplar Grove Winery (425 Middle Bench Rd N, Penticton, BC V2A 8S5), serving great food and wine with beautiful views of the city and lakes below. On a sunny day, you can relax from all your eating as you float down the 4.3-mile-long river in-between the two city lakes.
From Penticton, drive another 31 miles south towards Oliver and Osoyoos. Here you will find plenty of water sports activities at Osoyoos Lake, as well as hiking opportunities in the striking arid landscape – it's one of the only deserts in Canada! Red wines from this area are some of the best in the country, so make sure to visit some wineries, especially Burrowing Owl Estate Winery (500 Burrowing Owl Pl, Oliver, BC V0H 1T1), with its award-winning restaurant and 10-suite guesthouse on site.
The Okanagan is best enjoyed in summer, when you can shop for local cherries, peaches and apricots in streetside markets, sit on sunny patios enjoying a glass of wine, and enjoy the lakes and beaches. However, if you’re visiting in the winter, you can visit the Sun Peaks or Big White ski resorts, and you can still visit some of the wineries in the area which are open year-round, and try another one of the region’s prized productions: ice wine!