Let BC’s coastal landscapes buff away at life’s tensions.
Let the steady cadence of ocean tides bring comfort and restore your vitality. British Columbia’s shoreline, with sprawling beaches bordered by lush rainforests and spotted by constellations of scenic islands, provides ample breathing space when life begins to swell.
It’s a bit like being swaddled in a refreshingly cool, soft blanket. Exposure to blue spaces like ocean landscapes regulates the nervous system through the senses, making us feel calmer—what one researcher calls “blue mind“. Spend a few days or a week or two on the remote shores of BC, tap into the flow of your surroundings, and take in healing—through all your senses.
BC’s mild-weathered coasts are bursting with life and vibrant greens throughout the year. There are endless ways to be enveloped by their beauty—the soft coastal light and colours have an especially pacifying effect. The deep greens, blues, and slate greys signature to the region affect us because of how our brains react to the cool, natural palette. When researchers tested which colours make us feel the calmest, they found that muted blues and greys ranked highest, with blue being the most soothing.
Take an ocean excursion from Prince Rupert and scan the blue horizon of Northern BC’s misty waters to spot humpback whales and orcas, or hike Vancouver Island’s Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet to reap the benefits of coastal colours on the brain as your feet crunch along this 8-km, oceanside trail. For a mainland adventure, follow the 180-km Sunshine Coast Trail that takes you through diverse coastal landscapes, with free huts to sleep in along the way.
When it comes to sounds that relax us most, nature does it best. The meditative sounds of the coast echo the body’s natural rhythms, which helps rebalance the nervous system. The gentle sound of the tide shifting at the shoreline, the pounding surf, or the tip-tap of rain on the coastal canopy all help move you toward a restful state.
Experience this proven effect from under the cedar boughs of ancient trees as you forest bathe your way around Vancouver Island or Vancouver, or listen to the crashing waves as they lull you to sleep from an oceanview campsite or oceanfront cabin.
Breathing in the cool, crisp, coastal air leaves you feeling as buoyant as the chilly saltwater itself due to the influence of negative ions. Research shows that the air surrounding moving bodies of water contains a higher number of molecules with electrical charges that influence our body’s production of serotonin, a hormone that helps boost your mood. This explains why catching a whiff of the sea breeze feels so therapeutic.
The smells of old-growth cedar, hemlock, and fir trees along the coast are also pleasant and uplifting. Coniferous scents can even bolster physical health by supporting the production of immunity-boosting cells, (which, in fact, inspired the healing practice of forest bathing). A particularly unique place to experience the signature aromas of BC is Haida Gwaii, an archipelago off the central coast and home of the Haida people, whose deep connection to the ocean is tangibly felt at every turn and where the smell of red cedar—from exquisite hand-carved canoes and 100-foot totem poles in historic Haida village sites—hangs heavy in the air and energizes.
Surfing, swimming, bathing, and even dipping your toes in the ocean all have their benefits. Water therapy enthusiasts have used exposure to seawater for generations to support good health due to its high mineral content and buoyancy. Given the mild climate of much of BC’s coast, you can play in the water year round.
For a refreshing yet bracing water experience, come in the offseason and savour the jolt of your first duck dive in Canada’s surfing capital of Tofino. While the ocean water is cold in this part of the world, you can also find plenty of remote marine hot springs tucked away from the shoreline in which to soak and steep away your stress. For those looking for more subtle exhilaration, experience the water from a water vessel: Cross the Salish Sea on your way to the Island by boat, or head to unique nearby areas ideal for sea kayaking like the conveniently-located Broken Group Islands to the south. Don’t forget to drop your fingers in as you glide through the water! From the North of the island, you can also access the outer reaches of the Great Bear Rainforest on a wildlife watching tour from the water through the Broughton Archipelago, the largest marine park in British Columbia.
With more than 25 thousand kilometres of shoreline, discover the unique areas of BC’s Pacific coast and find your home base for renewal.
Vancouver Island, the Discovery Islands, and the Gulf Islands are a great year-round choice for travellers, while Northern Vancouver Island, and more remote areas like Desolation Sound and Haida Gwaii, are a fantastic option in the spring, summer, and fall. The central and north-central coast from the Sunshine Coast, up to Prince Rupert, with their small-town hospitality and separation from the quicker pace of the southern coastline, make for a restorative trip any time of year.
BC’s coasts can soothe us, teach us, and assure us that we are exactly where we need to be. The changing tide mimics life’s ebbs and flows and brings us back to our most natural self. It’s the healing power of the west coast—the British Columbia Effect in action.
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Chris Burkard, an explorer, photographer, and author, shares his experiences in British Columbia.
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