Totems at SGang Gwaay Llanagaay, Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, Haida Gwaii

Transformative Travels in BC: 12 Trips for the Conscious Traveller

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Featured Image: Totems at SGang Gwaay Llanagaay, Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, Haida Gwaii | Photo: Brandon Hartwig

Now, more than ever, we’re seeking something different from our travels. Amassing selfies has given way to the desire to travel more consciously, to connect more deeply with people, places, and cultures while leaving a place better than we found it. 

Inspired to protect the towering mountains, forested coastlines, abundant waterways, and wildlife habitats that make up the province, and following in the footsteps of long-established traditions introduced and preserved by Indigenous Peoples here for millennia, BC has been a leading socially-responsible and environmentally-friendly travel destination. And thanks to travellers’ growing appreciation for nature’s role in sustaining our health and happiness—a scientific fact that has been at the forefront of Indigenous practices—BC operators and tourism businesses, many Indigenous led, are leading in this space.

Local doctors are now even prescribing an annual pass to Canada’s National Parks to patients who are suffering mental and physical health issues. The good news is you don’t actually need to get a prescription to receive all the benefits that BC’s nature has to offer—instead it can be as simple as choosing the landscape that speaks to your heart or a tour that calls to your social conscience.

Here are 12 trip ideas to get the conscious traveller in you excited to make a difference on your next holiday to BC.

Learn about Indigenous culture and land stewardship

Walking in the forest in Stanley Park | Destination Vancouver/Kindred & Scout

1. Stanley Park with Talaysay Tours, Vancouver

The “Spoken Treasures” tour from Indigenous-led Talaysay Tours invites visitors into Vancouver’s Stanley Park, one of North America’s largest urban parks, to learn about the traditional territory of the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil Waututh) Peoples.

The goal of the walking tour, which traverses a short stretch of the 8.8-km (5.5-mi) seawall then heads through the forest to the park’s Totem Poles, is to educate and inspire as Indigenous guides share the rich history, traditions, and beliefs of the Nations who inhabited the park long before its 1888 colonial founding. As you wind through the park you’ll hear stories of traditional spiritual practises and learn the many uses of plants like skunk cabbage, Sitka spruce trees, and licorice fern. You’ll also be reminded that when we head into the natural world and take time to learn, laugh and go deeper into ourselves, we find balance and gratitude.

MAKE IT HAPPEN

Book tickets ahead online. Tours run for 90 minutes. Bring comfortable walking shoes and meet at the Information Booth in Stanley Park.

Battle Bluff above the Lac du Bois grasslands near Kamloops | Andrew Strain

2. Tours with Moccasin Trails, Kelowna

Known as a sunny fruit growing region studded with warm, clear vacation-worthy lakes, the Thompson Okanagan region has been home to the Interior Salish’s Syilx, Secwepemc, and Nlaka’pamux  Peoples since time immemorial. You can learn more about the rich Indigenous cultures found in the forests, grasslands, lakes, and deserts that make up this unique region on a single or multi-day cultural journey with Moccasin Trails in Kelowna.

Indigenous Knowledge Keepers will share teachings about their practical, and deeply spiritual, relationship with the land. You’ll visit Kamloops and learn about the racist policies that led to the residential school system, and develop an appreciation for the cultural resilience that has seen the Syilx and Secwepemc Peoples forge a renewed connection to the land and their living culture. You’ll learn first hand how they’ve gone on to cultivate award-winning restaurants and wineries, develop innovative cultural centres, and inspire others to reconsider their own relationship to nature and the environment.

MAKE IT HAPPEN

Half-day to five-day tours available and can be booked online. Multi-day tour pickups are available at airports in Kelowna (YLW), and Kamloops (YKA), approximately 4.5 hours’ and 4 hours’ drive from Vancouver (YVR), respectively; single-day tours have various meeting points in Kamloops or Kelowna. 

Did you know? 

The Thompson Okanagan region of BC is the first destination in North America to receive the Biosphere sustainable tourism certification for its commitment to meeting the sustainable development goals set out by the United Nations and the Paris Agreement.

Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre | Blake Jorgenson

3. Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, Whistler

There are 204 distinct First Nations in BC, and historically most were able to coexist peacefully alongside each other thanks to mutual agreements that supported the sharing of overlapping territories.

Visitors to the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre in Whistler can learn about a modern-day Protocol Agreement that guides the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations in the co-management of their shared territory and cultural centre. Housed in a building that blends the style of a Squamish longhouse with a lil’wat istken (earthen dwelling), the centre offers indoor and outdoor workshops, cultural tours and the Thunderbird Café—an onsite restaurant with a menu inspired by traditional Squamish and Lil’wat Nation cuisine.


MAKE IT HAPPEN

Tours run for 1-2 hours. From Vancouver, take Highway 99 (Sea-to-Sky Highway) 130 km north to Whistler by car or shuttle. Scheduled floatplane service from Vancouver and Victoria to Whistler is available from May to October; helicopter charters can also be booked.

 

Views of the Salish Sea from Malahat Skywalk | Hamish Hamilton

4. Malahat SkyWalk, Vancouver Island

Located on the traditional territory of the Malahat First Nation on Vancouver Island, the newly opened Malahat SkyWalk (and first of its kind in BC) offers visitors the opportunity to experience the kind of bird’s eye view of trees and animals typically reserved for hikers and climbers.

The fully accessible 600-metre (1,968-ft) elevated wooden Spiral Tower walkway rises 10 storeys through an arbutus and Douglas fir forest and gives you the sense of full immersion in the natural world, with dramatic views of the Salish Sea, Mt. Baker, and the Saanich Peninsula. While there, don’t miss the carved Thunderbird and traditional cedar canoe crafted by Coast Salish Master Carver John Marston—the works offer insight into how the Coast Salish people thrived in this abundant landscape from time immemorial.

 

MAKE IT HAPPEN

Day tickets (valid for one year from date of purchase) can be booked ahead online for visits of approximately 90 minutes. Located on Vancouver Island’s Malahat Highway (Trans-Canada Highway), approximately 35 minutes’ drive from Victoria, there are numerous ways to get here, including via BC Ferries with a shuttle service from Downtown Victoria.

Did you know?

Travellers to Haida Gwaii are asked to take the Haida Gwaii Visitor Pledge, a promise to tread lightly and respect the unique ways of life of the Haida during their visit.

The Haida Heritage Centre | Grant Harder

5. Haida House & Haida Gwaii Museum, Northern BC

The Indigenous peoples of Haida Gwaii, the Haida Nation, are governed by a handful of traditional laws that outline personal responsibilities and cultural expectations.  For example: Gina ‘waadluxan gud ad kwaagid—“everything depends on everything else,” is a philosophy of life you will come to appreciate during your stay at Haida House.

Spend your days exploring pristine beaches, dense forests, and ancient villages, where you’ll discover that we don’t merely belong in nature, but that we are part of it. One excursion will take you to the The Haida Heritage Centre, where you’ll learn the important concept of yahguudang (respect) as Haida guides teach you about their Nation’s work to repatriate cultural artefacts and ancestral remains taken from their lands by early settlers. To date, remains of over 600 Ancestors and dozens of treasures have been returned. The Haida are now telling their own story in their own way and tourism providers like Haida House are inviting others to learn about this rich history and the wisdom their culture is passing forward.

 

MAKE IT HAPPEN

Eco-cultural experiences are offered for 3, 4, and 7 nights. You can travel to Haida Gwaii by air or by water.

Explore biodiverse waters, coastlines & secluded inlets

6. Cruise the Great Bear Rainforest

Board a small ship cruise with locally-owned Bluewater Adventures and unplug from the outside world as you sail into the intricate waterways that lap the rugged shoreline of the Great Bear Rainforest. Spend eight days aboard a 70-foot yacht that takes you into traditional Gitga’at, Kitasoo/Xai’Xais, and Haisla territory, where local guides will teach you about the region their peoples have thrived in for over 14,000 years.

Your schedule will be set by the wind and tides: At sea you’ll sail around kelp forests, past rock bluffs, and waterfalls while keeping an eye out for orcas, humpbacks, seals, sea lions and individuals from the newly rebounding sea otter population. Shore excursions will take you into forests of sacred Western redcedar where you may spot black bears and grizzlies.

MAKE IT HAPPEN

Eight-day tours of the Great Bear Rainforest run August to October. Shuttle pickups for your cruise are in Bella Bella (ZEL) or Prince Rupert (YPR), both accessible by direct flight from Vancouver (YVR) with Pacific Coastal Airlines and Air Canada, respectively, or via the BC Ferries Inside Passage route.

7. Kayak With Whales, Northern Vancouver Island

Paddling a kayak through the traditional territories of the ‘Namgis, Mamalilikulla, and Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis Peoples is a magical, meditative experience that gives you a sea-level view of marine flora and wildlife of Northern Vancouver Island.

On the Kayak With Whales Tour with Kingfisher Wilderness Adventures, you’ll enter a rich story populated by soaring bald eagles, playful seals, orca and humpback whales, rare marbled murrelets, and Dall’s porpoises. Night comes with stars in the sky and in the sea, as the water shimmers with bioluminescence. Traditional Indigenous clam gardens, culturally modified trees and ancient village sites will remind you of the significance of water and how coastal landscapes have shaped human culture.

MAKE IT HAPPEN

Four-day base camp tours run June to September, departing from Port McNeill on Vancouver Island. From Vancouver (YVR), fly to Port Hardy (YZT), a 30-minute taxi ride from Port McNeill. Or, take BC Ferries (reservations recommended): Drive time from Victoria (Swartz Bay, connections from Tsawwassen and Horseshoe Bay) is approximately 5.5 hours, and from Nanaimo (Departure Bay, connections from Horseshoe Bay) is approximately 4 hours.

 

Broughton Archipelago Provincial Park | Ted Hesser

8. Farewell Harbour and the Broughton Archipelago

A stay at Farewell Harbour brings you to the more protected, nutrient rich waters of Broughton Archipelago, a network of islets, islands, and inlets north of Vancouver Island, which makes up BC’s largest marine park. Wildlife tours offer up soul-stirring encounters with black bears, grizzlies, and whales, followed by a hearty dinner and fireside ecology talk before you turn in for the night to your cozy waterfront room.


MAKE IT HAPPEN

Farewell Harbour operates from June to October, with a minimum two-night booking required. It is accessed by water taxi from Alder Bay, 15 km south of Port McNeill or 190 km north of Campbell River on Vancouver Island. Complimentary parking is available. Guests can also fly from Vancouver (YVR) to Port Hardy (YZT). Both hotel and airport shuttle pickup in Port Hardy are available.

Did you know?

There are over 40,000 islands of various sizes throughout BC, with Vancouver Island being the largest. Vancouver Island is 32,134 sq km roughly the same size as Belgium or Taiwan.

Coastline and forests in Clayoquot Sound | Graeme Owsianski

9. Clayoquat Wilderness Lodge and Clayoquot Sound

Clayoquat Wilderness Lodge on Vancouver Island’s rugged western coast offers you days of education and enrichment in the UNESCO-designated Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve. Here is a land of contrasts: Exposed ocean and sheltered waterways; towering old-growth forests and craggy arbutus tree groves; rocky coves and white sand beaches. Such landscapes make it a decidedly unique region to view land and marine wildlife in its natural habitat. At night, the sounds of the ocean and forest envelop you as you slumber in your luxury tent, while in the morning you’ll be greeted by serene views of the ocean and Bedwell River and adventurous itineraries that will have you connecting deeply to the natural life that is preserved and protected here.


MAKE IT HAPPEN

Clayoquat Wilderness Lodge is open from May to September and a minimum 3-night stay is required. To access the lodge, the easiest way is to book a seaplane from Vancouver (YVR South) to the dock, or to travel via Tofino and take a 35-minute boat passage for a fee, arranged by the lodge. Fly direct to Tofino from Vancouver. Or, take BC Ferries (reservations recommended): Drive time to Tofino from Victoria (Swartz Bay) is approximately 5 hours, and from Nanaimo (Departure Bay) is approximately 3 hours.

Learn about bears & wildlife conservation

Sonora Resort | Destination Canada

10. Sonora Resort, Desolation Sound with the Homalco First Nation

Experience the adrenaline rush that comes from catching sight of a grizzly or a family of black bears feeding before hibernation. Beyond the mere thrill of the moment, what you may not expect is the deep appreciation that will overcome you as you witness these majestic creatures participating in the great cycle of life.

From Desolation Sound-based Sonora Resorthead out safely into bear habitat with a wildlife and cultural guide from the Homalco First Nation. After an exhilarating boat ride up Bute Inlet, your guide will take you to view points along the Orford River. Afterward you’ll return to the lodge for local, sustainable fare before settling into one of the resort’s luxurious rooms, suites, or villas. 

 

MAKE IT HAPPEN

Sonora Resort is open from May to October and a 3 nights’ minimum booking is required. The resort can only be accessed by air or water. Arrange with the resort team to fly from Vancouver (YVR) by floatplane or helicopter. Or, take a water taxi from Campbell River, approximately 3 hours’ drive from Victoria (Swartz Bay) or 1.5 hours from Nanaimo (Departure Bay). Transfer costs are additional.

A Grizzly Bear catching a salmon at Knight Inlet | Sean Scott

11. Knight Inlet Lodge and the BearID Project

At the Indigenous-owned eighteen-room Knight Inlet Lodge bear fans will have a chance to spot grizzlies from late spring to early fall with both land- and water-based tours. Expert guides will give you insight into the private life of bears and teach you to spot day beds, bear trails, “rub” trees and tracks, while telling you about the BearID Project, that’s helping to improve conservation of the grizzly population. Back at the lodge, meals are served buffet style and the casual environment invites you to relax.

 

MAKE IT HAPPEN

Knight Inlet Lodge is open from May to October and is accessed by float plane from Campbell River on Vancouver Island (included with your stay). Fly or take BC Ferries from Vancouver to Campbell River for shuttle pickup. Drive time to Campbell River from Victoria (Swartz Bay) is approximately 3 hours, and approximately 1.5 hours from Nanaimo (Departure Bay). A minimum 3 nights’ stay is required.

Did you know? 

The Great Bear Rainforest is a temperate rainforest that covers 6.4 million hectares and provides habitat to a highly diverse variety of plant, animal, and marine life. It’s also the habitat of the Kermode or “Spirit bear”, a rare black bear with a recessive gene for white fur.

Kayaking along the coastline of Desolation Sound at low tide | Andrew Strain

12. Klahoose Wilderness Resort and the bears of Toba Inlet

At Indigenous-owned and -operated Klahoose Wilderness Resort you’ll be taught about the cultural importance of marine wildlife and grizzly bears on guided tours in Toba Inlet. Back at the lodge, comfy overnight stays also include the possibility of Indigenous storytelling, cedar weaving, and nature walks, which will teach you about the local flora and its cultural significance. Don’t miss going for a swim–it may surprise you but the waters of Desolation Sound are some of the warmest in BC and can reach up to 24 degrees Celsius. Other activities include sea kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding.

 

MAKE IT HAPPEN

Klahoose Wilderness Resort is open from May to October and is accessible by air or water only. Resort bookings include boat transfer from Klah ah men (meaning “place of refuge”) or Lund on the Sunshine Coast. Drive time to Lund from Vancouver, including BC Ferries connection from Horseshoe Bay, is approximately 5-6 hours. You an also fly from Vancouver (YVR) to Powel River (YPW) with Pacific Coastal Airlines or Harbour Air and the resort will provide a complimentary shuttle to Lund. Or, fly directly to the resort by floatplane for an additional fee.

 

ADDITIONAL SUSTAINABLE OPTIONS

We rely on nature for our wellbeing and nature relies on us with the choices we make to preserve and protect it. This is why from the moment you arrive, until the time you depart, you’ll find so many sustainable options that support the cultures, communities and ecosystems that make British Columbia so remarkable.

Visitors will find LEED-certified buildings and regions with or working toward Biosphere Responsible Tourism System certifications as well as sustainable dining and lodging options. (In fact, Vancouver has more hotel properties with sustainable operations than any other city in the world, at over 40 per cent). You’ll also be able to select from some 400 tourism businesses owned and led by Indigenous hosts, who offer unique cultural perspectives on connecting with the wilderness in safe and responsible ways.

Keep an eye out for Ocean Wise logos at restaurants and Green Key eco-rating for hotels. Opt for low-emission options for getting around, including walking on when taking BC Ferries, as well as renting e-bikes and scooters (visit CycleBC in Vancouver, The Pedaler in Victoria, and E-Kruise in Kelowna). For longer trips, rent an electric vehicle from Zero Car; mobile apps Plugshare and Chargehub are available to locate nearby EV charging stations.

Start Planning Your BC Holiday