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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.