12 November 2018 by Patrick Griffin
From Vancouver to the unmatched mountain scenery of the Rockies, Canada’s westernmost province has no shortage of highlights. But, there’s plenty of lesser-known intrigue if you take the road less travelled. That’s no idle phrase; it’s a rarity to see another car on the route I recommend below. Instead, you’ll map remote rivers, hop between islands on scenic ferries and plunge through old-growth forests to showcase the British Columbia coast and interior at their wild best. Expect to uncover everything from whales and grizzlies to a unique First-Nations heritage, all the while staying in wilderness log cabins.
Of course, you’ll make your introductions in Vancouver. And, it’s well worth pausing here for a couple of days, perhaps sampling its microbreweries or strolling along the historic Gastown district and Stanley Park. Here, coast-hugging paths showcase the city’s skyline and mountain backdrop. However, to strike out, you’ll pick up your hire car and board the ferry over to next-door Vancouver Island. After stopping at Victoria to take in the botanic gardens and Victorian mansions of Canada’s most English city, you’ll be leaving civilisation behind.
Tracing the coast north, your first port of call should be Quadra Island. Not only is it blessed with gorgeous forest hikes and pretty bays ideal for kayaking, but it’s one of the best places in the region for wildlife. Expect to spot everything from black bears and bald eagles to whales and dolphins on super-scenic cruises. Then, heading back to the main island, continue north, winding through rolling hills before returning to the coast with Port Hardy. Its First Nations past lives on in beautifully carved totems and aptly named “big houses”.
Although your ferry trips might have become something of a custom by now, the journey between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert is my absolute favourite. It’s a full day affair, spent weaving through remote islands and forested bays, sailing the start of the famous Inside Passage that leads all the way to Alaska. And, arriving back on the mainland, you’ll be in true wilderness territory – something showcased by Bear Claw Lodge. This luxury, log-cabin offering is always a favourite among my clients, where days spent fishing, horse-riding and snorkelling with salmon are capped off with Jacuzzi soaks.
Bear Claw Lodge
The next few days’ driving are equally scenic. Sweeping through protected wilderness areas you’ll skirt lakes and roll through dense woodlands, keeping an eye out for deer, bear and moose. You’ll also be spending your nights in quaint rural towns, gateway to waterfall hikes and Indian reserves. Eventually, though, the forests break out into remote meadows, with the road running alongside historic timber ranches and railway tracks. You won’t be surprised to learn that, back in the 1800s, the route you’re driving was once the old gold-rush highway. And, no trip to cowboy country would be complete with a few nights in a frontier cabin. My choice is Tyax Lodge for its horseback rides, fishing trips and hot-tub luxuries.
It’s then, sadly, time to turn back, but not before undulating mountain valleys see you onto Whistler. Although this alpine town – complete with colourful high gables – found its fame as the venue of the 2010 Winter Olympics, it’s now better known as a summer getaway. Ski slopes melt into fantastic hiking trails and I always recommend a trip on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. It’s the best way of appreciating the sheer scale of your snow-capped surrounds. And, if you want something extra special, spend a night in the Chateau Fairmont Whistler – a castle flung out into the forests. Whatever you choose, you’ll then be treated to the famous Sea to Sky Highway, returning to Vancouver via mountain passes and a skirt round glittering Howe Sound. It’s the fitting end to what is an ultra-scenic driving holiday.
The Sea to Sky Highway
Inspired? Take a look at our curated itinerary.