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Choose Your Own Adventure in BC’s Mountain Towns

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Person viewing Howe Sound from the Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge at the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish | @entre2escales
Sea to Sky Gondola | @entre2escales

From hiking and rafting to mountain biking and canoeing, the province’s vertical landscapes will “elevate” your fall holiday.

With 10 major ranges cleaving the province, from the Canadian Rockies in the east to the Coast Mountains in the west, you’re never far from a mountain community in BC. More than just base camps for adventure, these towns are alive with their own unique culture, plus chefs that turn local ingredients into memorable meals, and makers that craft beer and blend wine.

The best time to head for these hills is arguably in the autumn, when changing foliage colours, and a more ethereal quality of light (due to the sun being lower in the sky), add up to photogenic mountainscapes as you wind over scenic roads en route to hikes, mountain bike rides, or tasting flights at a local brewery.

With nearly 70 percent of eligible BC residents fully vaccinated, this fall is also a safer window for exploring more of your mountainous BC backyard with fewer tourists. Recharge in the great outdoors, reconnect with loved ones, and knock off a few items from your provincial bucket list (ziplining, anyone?)

Note: This story was written specifically for the unique travel circumstances of 2021. Information is accurate at the time of publication; we recommend you contact businesses directly to confirm availability and familiarize yourself with their COVID policies.

Collecting firewood for the fireplace at Sunwolf Riverside Cabins | Hubert Kang
Sunwolf Riverside Cabins | Hubert Kang

Squamish: Gateway to Adventure

More and more, travellers driving north on the Sea-to-Sky Highway from Vancouver are pulling off the road in Squamish for a multi-day stay. The town is becoming an adventure mecca in its own right, and for good reason. Long a bucket list destination for rock climbers, the nearby trails and their spectacular ocean and mountain views are gaining in popularity with hikers and mountain bikers, too.

For your gateway to adventure, start at the Sea to Sky Gondola. More than just a lift up a mountain, the scenic journey deposits riders in an outdoor playground complete with interpretive loop walks, challenging hikes, and a via ferrata route that includes dizzying catwalks and suspension bridges. Join a trip with Squamish Rafting on the Cheakamus River to cool off; during fall, the rapids are less aggressive, and the Elaho Whitewater Experience includes cliff jumping and lunch at a private island camp.

After a busy day, unwind on the BC Ale Trail, where three local craft breweries, including Backcountry Brewing and the original Howe Sound Brewing, vie for your thirst. (Tip: On a cool fall evening, you can’t beat the rustic ambiance and outdoor fire pits at A-FRAME Brewing).

Wondering where to stay in Squamish? Unplug in one of Sunwolf’s adorable riverside cabins, then fuel up the next morning with eggs benny or a breakfast bowl at adjacent Fergie’s.

Audain Art Gallery, Artist Xwalacktun | Hubert Kang

Whistler: More Than Just Mountains

With a famous ski resort that sprawls between two peaks in the rugged Coast Mountains, Whistler draws local adventure seekers all winter. But this vibey town is simply stunning in the fall, when the leaves begin to change, the summer crowds disperse, and cooler temperatures beckon mountain bikers, hikers, and even adrenaline junkies keen to fly through the forest on the longest zipline in Canada.

It’s an ideal time to tackle the popular Ancient Cedars trail on a hike with Whistler Eco Tours. A guide will lead you to a grove of 900-year-old cedars, and talk about the importance of the towering giants and their role in coastal ecology. Afterwards, you can contemplate nature further at Scandinave Spa Whistler, nestled in the forest just outside of town. There, a hydrotherapy circuit consisting of steaming baths, cold plunge pools, and cozy solariums detoxifies and rejuvenates.

 

Culture lovers will find plenty to do in Whistler, too. The acclaimed Audain Art Museum displays works by Emily Carr, and a collection of Northwest Coast First Nations masks. For another Indigenous experience, the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre’s permanent exhibit, What We Treasure, is a must. Regular tours are led by a cultural ambassador who shares Indigenous stories and traditions amid carvings, canoes, tools, blankets, and regalia. End the day with a pint of “hoppy” mountain culture—there are three craft breweries in town and October just happens to be Whistler Craft Beer Month—then tuck yourself in at the cozy Pangea Pod Hotel in the heart of Whistler Village.

I-Hos Gallery | Comox Valley/Jordan Dyck

Vancouver Island: Explore New Heights

With all the buzz surrounding Vancouver Island coastal towns like Tofino, it’s easy to forget that BC’s favourite big Island escape has mountains, too. The most famous among them is Mount Washington, which transforms from a ski area into a hiking, mountain biking, and ziplining paradise when the snow melts.

Choose between flow and technical trails for all cycling abilities, or take the easy way down the mountain on a 2.3-km zipline tour that zigzags between four scenic lines as you attain speeds of up to 100 kilometres per hour. After the adrenaline rush wears off, get grounded at the I-HOS Gallery in Courtenay, with its impressive collection of Northwest Coast First Nations masks, carvings, jewelry, and fashions. Then, replenish with from-scratch noodles tossed with hyper-local ingredients at Nikkei Ramen-ya in nearby Courtenay. Or, treat yourself to a too-beautiful-to-eat handcrafted donut at family-owned Bigfoot Donuts (the chocolate-dipped The Bigfoot is a cult classic).

Make Kingfisher Oceanside Resort & Spa your base for a weekend getaway and collapse in a comfortable and spacious suite. But first, be sure to pamper those sore muscles with a relaxation massage or a rejuvenating soak in the hydrotherapy cave at the on-site Pacific Mist Spa.

Chute Lake Lodge | Emma Choo

Okanagan Valley: Fall bucket list

Kelowna and the surrounding Okanagan Valley comes alive in the fall. Milder days bring relief from the heat of summer, and those rounded bluffs, valley vineyards, and larch forests shine gold under a clear blue sky. This year the region welcomes the return of the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival, so it’s possible to cycle the Kettle Valley Railway, watch the salmon run, and sip varietals from Chardonnay to Viognier, all in one fabulous fall holiday.

The most famous stretch of the KVR is Myra Canyon, a 12-km section where you can cycle across 18 train trestles and through two tunnels while enjoying views of Okanagan Lake and the city far below. If you time it right (mid- to late-October), you’ll be treated to a blaze of mountainside colour when the larch trees’ needles blaze gold. Rent two wheels from Myra Canyon Bike Rentals, or join their four-hour guided trestle tour. More ambitious cyclists can pedal the KVR from Rock Creek all the way to Penticton with KVR Cycle Tours, staying in inns along the way such as historic Chute Lake Lodge.

After a ride, kokanee are on the menu, figuratively, in the form of the annual salmon run, which starts in mid-September. Key spots to watch the bright orange fish return to their spawning grounds include Hardy Falls near Peachland, and Mission Creek Regional Park in Kelowna, which features a spawning channel. For something different, Elements Adventures runs salmon-viewing canoe tours on the Shuswap River near Enderby.

Toast a bucket list completed with a glass of BC wine or a cocktail on the patio at the storied Eldorado Hotel, before flying back to the city on Harbour Air’s new Kelowna-Vancouver service.

Nelson | Kari Medig

Kootenay Rockies: BC’s answer to Banff

The Canadian Rocky Mountains don’t end at the Alberta border, but continue cutting the sky with their jagged peaks on the BC side in Yoho and Kootenay national parks (note: roadwork along Highway 1 between Golden and Field may impact your travel). Yoho, whose name is a Cree expression of awe, makes a good introduction to the Kootenay Rockies and will leave you speechless with alpine hiking trails that lead to raging waterfalls, and calm, jewel-hued lakes that make canoeing seem like the most natural thing in the world.

Spend a few days unplugging and exploring the region from a mountain lodge. Located off Highway 95, south of Golden, Mount 7 Lodges offers custom-built, luxurious lodges with spectacular views and private hot tubs. The slightly more rustic Emerald Lake Lodge, a historic timber-frame building set on the shore of photogenic Emerald Lake, features cabin-esque rooms and mountain-inspired cuisine (think: elk striploin with foraged mushroom terrine).

 

Trade your hiking boots and paddle for two wheels and ascend a mountain to view the fall colours. Driving west into the Columbia Mountains, Revelstoke’s Wandering Wheels offer unforgettable guided mountain biking, or a shuttle to and from the trailhead; and nearby Golden boasts an impressive mountain biking scene. Exciting ways to rehydrate after a ride include Whitetooth Brewing in Golden, and Monashee Spirits Craft Distillery or Mt. Begbie Brewery in Revelstoke.

No matter which mountain community you choose, active days, fresh air, and cool quiet nights, will leave you recharged and ready to embrace the shorter days of fall.

Mentioned in this story

Attractions

Sea to Sky Gondola

Open year-round, the Sea to Sky Gondola is located 2km south of Squamish, BC along the beautiful Sea to Sky highway. The Sea to Sky Gondola is a...

Phone: (604) 892-2550

View Listing

River Rafting, Adrenalin

Squamish Rafting Company

Squamish Rafting Co. was established in 2016 with the aim of sharing our passion for rafting and nature with as many people as possible. We have...

Phone: (604) 898-4677

View Listing

Breweries, Distilleries & Cideries

Backcountry Brewing

Step inside the backcountry and share some good times, great food and amazing beer. Take a growler to go or stay and enjoy the pizza, salads,...

View Listing

Breweries, Distilleries & Cideries, Hotels, Accessibility

The Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Co.

The Howe Sound Inn and Brewing Company is a character northwest inn located in the town centre of Squamish, B.C., a scenic 45 minute drive north...

Phone: (604) 892-2603

View Listing

Breweries, Distilleries & Cideries

A-FRAME Brewing Co.

Craft Brewery and family-friendly, cabin-inspired Tap Room and patio open year round offering glasses, flights, growlers and packaged product...

Phone: (604) 892-0777

View Listing

Cabins & Cottages

Sunwolf

Sunwolf is situated at the confluence of the Cheakamus and Cheekye Rivers in the beautiful Coast Mountains of British Columbia. With over 5 acres...

Phone: (604) 898-1537

View Listing

Attractions, Sightseeing, Adrenalin

Ziptrek Ecotours

A year-round operation, Ziptrek Ecotours is the North American pioneer of zipline tours. We offer an entertaining combination of high-wire...

Phone: (604) 935-0001

View Listing

Spas & Wellness

Scandinave Spa

This spectacular 25 000 sq ft outdoor spa nestled on 3 acres of land and overlooking Whistlers incredible landscape offers the Scandinavian baths...

Phone: (604) 935-2424

View Listing

Sightseeing, Biking, Paddling, Hiking

Whistler Eco Tours

Phone: (604) 935-4900

View Listing

Indigenous Culture, Museums & Heritage Sites, Art Galleries

Audain Art Museum

Established in 2016, the Audain Art Museum is a leading arts organization founded upon the major philanthropic gift of Michael Audain and Yoshiko...

Phone: (604) 962-0413

View Listing

Indigenous Culture, Attractions, Shopping, Museums & Heritage Sites, Art Galleries, Accessibility

Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre

The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre is a three-story, 30,400-square foot award-winning cultural centre designed to blend the traditional Squamish...

Phone: (604) 964-0990

View Listing

Hotels, Hostels

Pangea Pod Hotel

Imagine you could stay in a boutique hotel but only pay for the part of it you actually use. At Pangea, thats what we created designer pod...

View Listing

Attractions

Sea to Sky Gondola

Open year-round, the Sea to Sky Gondola is located 2km south of Squamish, BC along the beautiful Sea to Sky highway. The Sea to Sky Gondola is a...

Phone: (604) 892-2550

View Listing

River Rafting, Adrenalin

Squamish Rafting Company

Squamish Rafting Co. was established in 2016 with the aim of sharing our passion for rafting and nature with as many people as possible. We have...

Phone: (604) 898-4677

View Listing

Breweries, Distilleries & Cideries

Backcountry Brewing

Step inside the backcountry and share some good times, great food and amazing beer. Take a growler to go or stay and enjoy the pizza, salads,...

View Listing

Breweries, Distilleries & Cideries, Hotels, Accessibility

The Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Co.

The Howe Sound Inn and Brewing Company is a character northwest inn located in the town centre of Squamish, B.C., a scenic 45 minute drive north...

Phone: (604) 892-2603

View Listing

Breweries, Distilleries & Cideries

A-FRAME Brewing Co.

Craft Brewery and family-friendly, cabin-inspired Tap Room and patio open year round offering glasses, flights, growlers and packaged product...

Phone: (604) 892-0777

View Listing

Cabins & Cottages

Sunwolf

Sunwolf is situated at the confluence of the Cheakamus and Cheekye Rivers in the beautiful Coast Mountains of British Columbia. With over 5 acres...

Phone: (604) 898-1537

View Listing

Attractions, Sightseeing, Adrenalin

Ziptrek Ecotours

A year-round operation, Ziptrek Ecotours is the North American pioneer of zipline tours. We offer an entertaining combination of high-wire...

Phone: (604) 935-0001

View Listing

Spas & Wellness

Scandinave Spa

This spectacular 25 000 sq ft outdoor spa nestled on 3 acres of land and overlooking Whistlers incredible landscape offers the Scandinavian baths...

Phone: (604) 935-2424

View Listing

Sightseeing, Biking, Paddling, Hiking

Whistler Eco Tours

Phone: (604) 935-4900

View Listing

Indigenous Culture, Museums & Heritage Sites, Art Galleries

Audain Art Museum

Established in 2016, the Audain Art Museum is a leading arts organization founded upon the major philanthropic gift of Michael Audain and Yoshiko...

Phone: (604) 962-0413

View Listing

Indigenous Culture, Attractions, Shopping, Museums & Heritage Sites, Art Galleries, Accessibility

Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre

The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre is a three-story, 30,400-square foot award-winning cultural centre designed to blend the traditional Squamish...

Phone: (604) 964-0990

View Listing

Hotels, Hostels

Pangea Pod Hotel

Imagine you could stay in a boutique hotel but only pay for the part of it you actually use. At Pangea, thats what we created designer pod...

View Listing

Skiing & Snowboarding, Cross-Country Skiing, Biking, Adrenalin, Hiking

Mount Washington Alpine Resort

Mt. Washington Alpine Resort is a year-round recreation destination located on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. In the winter guests enjoy...

Phone: (888) 231-1499

View Listing

Indigenous Culture, Art Galleries, Accessibility

I-Hos Gallery

We do encourage our customers to follow our social distancing markers on the floor. Only six customers allowed at a time inside I-Hos Gallery....

Phone: (250) 339-7702

View Listing

Spas & Wellness, Hotels, Resorts & Wilderness Lodges

Kingfisher Oceanside Resort and Spa

Nestled in a coastal forest on the eastern shore of Vancouver Island, the Kingfisher Oceanside Resort and Spa offers breathtaking ocean and...

Phone: (250) 338-1323

View Listing

Biking, Museums & Heritage Sites

Myra Canyon Bike Rentals and Tours

ONSITE BICYCLE RENTALS on one of British Columbias wonders. Experience a part of the historical Kettle Valley Railway route built between...

Phone: (250) 878-8763

View Listing

Cabins & Cottages

Chute Lake Lodge

Inspired by wanderlust and adventure we are a unique experience for people who love the outdoors. Nestled in the mountains above the Naramata...

View Listing

Hotels

Eldorado Resort - Hotel Eldorado

Eldorado Resort is located Kelowna, British Columbia in the Okanagan Valley Canadas award-winning wine region. Eldorado Resort is Kelownas #1...

Phone: (250) 763-7500

View Listing

Cabins & Cottages, Resorts & Wilderness Lodges

Emerald Lake Lodge

Phone: (250) 343-6321

View Listing

Biking, Taxis & Shuttles

Wandering Wheels

Wandering Wheels is Revelstoke's best mountain bike tour company. We offer all-inclusive multi-day trips, day tours, custom guiding and shuttles,...

View Listing

Skiing & Snowboarding, Cross-Country Skiing, Biking, Adrenalin, Hiking

Mount Washington Alpine Resort

Mt. Washington Alpine Resort is a year-round recreation destination located on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. In the winter guests enjoy...

Phone: (888) 231-1499

View Listing

Indigenous Culture, Art Galleries, Accessibility

I-Hos Gallery

We do encourage our customers to follow our social distancing markers on the floor. Only six customers allowed at a time inside I-Hos Gallery....

Phone: (250) 339-7702

View Listing

Spas & Wellness, Hotels, Resorts & Wilderness Lodges

Kingfisher Oceanside Resort and Spa

Nestled in a coastal forest on the eastern shore of Vancouver Island, the Kingfisher Oceanside Resort and Spa offers breathtaking ocean and...

Phone: (250) 338-1323

View Listing

Biking, Museums & Heritage Sites

Myra Canyon Bike Rentals and Tours

ONSITE BICYCLE RENTALS on one of British Columbias wonders. Experience a part of the historical Kettle Valley Railway route built between...

Phone: (250) 878-8763

View Listing

Cabins & Cottages

Chute Lake Lodge

Inspired by wanderlust and adventure we are a unique experience for people who love the outdoors. Nestled in the mountains above the Naramata...

View Listing

Hotels

Eldorado Resort - Hotel Eldorado

Eldorado Resort is located Kelowna, British Columbia in the Okanagan Valley Canadas award-winning wine region. Eldorado Resort is Kelownas #1...

Phone: (250) 763-7500

View Listing

Cabins & Cottages, Resorts & Wilderness Lodges

Emerald Lake Lodge

Phone: (250) 343-6321

View Listing

Biking, Taxis & Shuttles

Wandering Wheels

Wandering Wheels is Revelstoke's best mountain bike tour company. We offer all-inclusive multi-day trips, day tours, custom guiding and shuttles,...

View Listing

WRITTEN BY: Lisa Kadane

From: Kelowna
Lisa Kadane is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about travel, outdoor adventure, food and cocktails for over two decades. Though she has travelled to over 50 countries, Lisa can’t get enough of Canada and loves exploring the mountains, lakes, and valleys near her home in Kelowna. She writes about BC for a variety of print and online publications including CNN Travel, WestJet Magazine, the Vancouver Sun, and Family Fun Canada. She is also a writer and editor for Vancouver-based travel company Fresh Tracks Canada. When not hiking or skiing in the Okanagan, you’ll find Lisa hanging out with her husband, two school-age kids, and Brittany spaniel.

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