By: Paula Wallis
There’s nothing quite like loading up your iPod with some good road tripping tunes, gassing up the car, and hitting the open road on a sunny day. BC has some beautiful, well-maintained highways to do just that on. But if you only have a day or two to spare, or you just aren’t into hours and hours on the road, here are some easily accessible spots to check out – all within a day’s drive from Vancouver
Just three hours drive from the city of Vancouver, Manning Park is worth the journey in both the summer and winter months.
If you head up in the winter, enjoy more than 140 acres of ski and snowboard terrain in an uncrowded setting with spectacular views.
Summer months provide gorgeous hiking trails set amongst sub alpine meadows ablaze with colorful wildflowers. Some great photo-ops here, including the wildlife. Visitors can’t resist taking photos of the very nearly tame ground squirrels that have somewhat overtaken the day use area in front of the lodge. Try and remember that you’re not doing the wildlife here any favors by feeding them, and they do quite well on their own in the wild.
Other wildlife commonly spotted in the vast forest off the highway include deer, elk, black and brown bear.
If you’ve got a night or two to spare, Manning Park has chalets, cabins, and a cozy lodge available (complete with pub and restaurant), as well as four campgrounds to choose from.
If you’re camping in the picturesque Lightning Lake campground, rowboats and canoes are available for rental, so pack up a picnic lunch from the store at the lodge and spend the day out on the lake wildlife spotting and exploring the surrounding forest.
The Okanagan Valley
Approximately a five hour drive from Vancouver (depending on where in the Okanagan you’re headed) lies the sun-drenched Okanagan Valley.
An abundance of lakes, ski resorts, vineyards, deserts, waterfalls, and golf courses means that the Okanagan, quite literally, has whatever you’re looking for.
If you’re there for the winter sports; you have your pick of six different ski resorts to choose from; Big White in Kelowna, Silverstar in Vernon, Apex in Penticton, Sun Peaks in Kamloops, Mt Baldy in Oliver, or Crystal Mountain in Westbank. All have accommodations on or near the mountain, with all the amenities you’ll need. Any one of these mountains will bring spectacular views, ski-goggle suntan lines, and the Okanagan’s famous champagne powder.
Summer in the Okanagan brings hot, dry temperatures and sometimes weeks without a cloud in the sky. Take advantage of this in one of the multitude of lakeside resorts, campgrounds, or B&B’s. Boats and jet-ski’s are available for rental at many of the resorts and beaches, so if you haven’t tried waterskiing before, there’s no time like the present.
Another favorite activity of visitors to the Okanagan Valley is houseboating. With plenty of companies to choose from, they’ll give you a quick operator’s course and off you go for a week of fun in the sun.
There are loads of secluded beaches tucked amongst the shorelines of the Okanagan’s many lakes, perfect for entire days spent at the water’s edge with the family, or a romantic moonlit night with someone special.
The Okanagan plays host to some of the most prestigious golf courses in BC. Predator Ridge, in particular, on the outskirts of Vernon is one of the more demanding courses and draws professional golfers from all over the world. But that doesn’t mean novice golfers can’t find a course to suit their ability.
A great way to spend the day, or even a weekend, is touring some of the Okanagan’s famous vineyards. With views and selection rivaling that of Napa Valley, the Okanagan is definitely making a name for itself in the wine industry.
Two hours drive from Vancouver, on one of the most scenic drives in North America; the world-famous Whistler Blackcomb Mountains attract visitors all year round.
The sea to sky highway up to Whistler is half the reason for the journey itself. If you’ve got the time to spare, stop along the way to take in some of the sights it has to offer. Stop for fish and chips and watch the ferries come in at Horseshoe Bay, check out the BC Museum of Mining at Brittania Beach, hike the Shannon Falls, watch climbers scale The Chief right before Squamish, go bald eagle watching in Brackendale, stop for a dip in picturesque Alice Lake, or grab a coffee in Function Junction. And that’s all before you even reach Whistler.
If you’re in Whistler for the winter sports, try out the new Peak to Peak Gondola. Spanning the distance between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, the awe-inspiring view is made all that much more spectacular by the glass-bottomed gondolas that are available at no extra charge.
Summer in Whistler will keep visitors just as busy as the winter months. Bear sightings are common between May and October so be sure to bring your camera.
Mountain runs are just as busy in the summer, with thrill seeking trail riders on their mountain bikes. Explore 4946 feet of lift accessible trails, ranging from novice to extreme.
Zip-trekking is also popular during the summer months in Whistler.
Alpha Lake, Lost Lake, and Alta Lake are popular destinations for locals and visitors alike. Grab the dog, a Frisbee, and a case of cold local microbrews and spend the day just chilling. Odds are good that some locals will provide the guitar or drumbeats for background music.
If you’re up for some pretty crazy night life, Whistler’s more than happy to supply it. From a relaxed evening spent people watching on one of the many heated patios, to insane house music spun by DJ’s from all over the world, to anything in between, Whistler’s got it.
There are world class dining options to choose from or just casual local fare, depending on your mood, or budget. No one said Whistler was cheap.
It is still possible to find affordable accommodations in Whistler however, and if you check out whistler.com you can probably find something in your price range. Your best bet is to phone the main reservation line (1-800-Whistler) and speak with one of their amazingly helpful operators, who are also Whistler locals, to help you find exactly what you’re looking for. I’ve used their services several times myself, and it doesn’t matter how specific you are – if they have it, they will find it for you.
Look South from Vancouver on a clear day and it’s hard to miss the imposing, majestic sight that is Mount Baker. Just an hour and a half drive from Vancouver (depending on border traffic) brings you to this rustic locale for some fantastic, laid back skiing and snowboarding.
There are no accommodations on the mountain itself, which helps to maintain the natural setting, so it’s a good idea to get online ahead of time and find yourself some lodging. There are two small towns on the way to Mount Baker that provide several chalets, cabins, or even houses for rental, at very reasonable rates.
The closest is the town of Glacier, which has loads of small town charm. Stop into Graham’s pub style restaurant (children are welcome, but it can get pretty lively later in the evening) and enjoy talented local musicians performing live in this tiny venue. And be sure to try their amazing fish tacos.
Wake n’ Bakery is great for coffee and a muffin for the drive up the mountain.
Milano’s Italian restaurant across the street from Graham’s is probably one of the better Italian restaurants you’ll have the opportunity to visit. Without the snooty, high end service. Locals in the town of Glacier are warm, welcoming, and ready to impart any local history to curious visitors.
Maple Falls, a little closer to the border, is a tiny bit bigger than Glacier, but not much. There are a few more dining options to choose from here, and all are just as friendly as those in Glacier.
Joowana’s restaurant in Maple Falls hosts all day outdoor music festivals in their “back yard” during summer months. Grab a seat on a log next to the bonfire, order up some BBQ, and enjoy.
Mountain Man coffee shop and Harvest Moon Bakery serve up hearty breakfasts for boarders and skiers on their way up the mountain.
If you want to explore the area a bit and try something different, drive towards Bellingham and stop at the North Fork Beer Shrine for some of the best pizza you will ever have. Just ask anyone who’s been there. North Fork Beer Shrine brews up some delicious microbrew beers, serves up hand-tossed pizza with an eclectic selection of toppings, and doubles as a wedding chapel! Check it out. If you’re looking for somewhere funky and unusual to host your wedding, North Fork Beer Shrine is it. They also have a lovely back garden to hoist a pint in when the weather’s warm.
One more restaurant I’ll mention, which is a little further along the road, but not to be missed, is Il Caffé Rifugio. This cozy family run Italian café serves fantastic homemade menu items (try their eggs benny served on potato pancakes) along with pleasant conversation with owner Richard, who also cooks, serves and whips up tasty Mexican hot chocolates for patrons.
If you’re headed to the Mount Baker area during summer months, there are plenty of places to set up camp.
Silver Lake, near Maple Falls has great campsites or rustic lakeside cabins to choose from, and never seems to get too overcrowded. Motorboats are not allowed on the lake, which is a blessing; but rowboats are available for rental and make for a pleasant day in the sun. Grab some sandwiches from the deli counter at Maple Fuels, an icy bottle of Red Barn Cider, and you’re good to go.
The Nooksak River Casino, in Deming (on the way to Bellingham) hosts fabulous outdoor music festivals during the summer. Check the dates online for blues, classic rock, or jazz festivals and bring your lawn chair. Tents are set up to keep hungry music fans satisfied. Quite often local First Nations will run the food stands and you’ll have the opportunity to try some of their traditional dishes, usually running about three to five dollars a plate! Great value. Don’t worry, they also have a beer garden, if you’re so inclined.
Just a short ferry ride away from Vancouver (just shy of two hours if you’re heading out from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo), Vancouver Island is home to countless attractions that are well worth the very enjoyable trip over.
While much cheaper to ferry over as a foot passenger, if you’re planning to explore the island a bit, you might want to consider bringing your car across with you.
Nanaimo is home to a multitude of parks, beaches, hiking trails and great seafood restaurants along the waterfront. Fishing, kayaking and canoeing are all very popular here.
Visit the city of Victoria and at times you’ll feel as though you’ve somehow arrived in England. Double Decker bus tours, high tea at The Empress hotel, and horse-drawn carriages complete this illusion. Victoria is one of the prettiest harbor-front cities in North America and locals take great pride in maintaining this beautiful city. First Nations also hold a strong presence here and it’s a great place to purchase genuine First Nations artwork.
The small town of Chemainus remains a big draw to artists from around the globe. The majority of buildings here are painted with detailed murals, turning the town into a large outdoor gallery for visitors to enjoy. It’s also a great spot to go antiquing and art gallery hopping.
The fishing village of Tofino is rapidly becoming a destination for surfers from around the world; or at least those who appreciate the laid back, nature loving lifestyle of Tofino. It is also home to some of the largest, untouched rainforest on the Pacific Rim. There are quite a few tour companies that offer eco-friendly off-road tours of the rainforest.
Long Beach is where you’ll find the surf-worthy waves, and the dedicated surfers that hit them almost year round. If you’re not up for lessons, it’s still a great place to spend the day just watching the surfers do their thing.
Tofino is also a great location for storm watching, and there’s plenty of cozy accommodations where you can bundle up with a glass of wine, sit indoors and watch the storms roll in.
There are several well maintained campgrounds in Tofino, located just off or near the beaches, but the weather here can be rather unpredictable, so bring your tarps!
These are just a few of the communities on Vancouver Island. You could easily spend weeks exploring the island, and should! Most waterfront communities on the island have whale watching tour companies as well as sport fishing tours. You can choose from a half day on the water to an entire week, if you desire.
If you’ve got the time to spare, just one of these road trips could easily lead you down a very pleasant, week long detour; but if you only have the one day, then all are an enjoyable, easy drive from the city of Vancouver.
I hope you enjoy visiting these places as much as I did, and still do. Now throw on some sunnies, load up the iPod, and hit the road!
About the author:
Paula Wallis makes her home in beautiful British Columbia in the Best City in The World, Vancouver. She spends her spare time seeking out the best beaches in the world and is a huge fan of hammocks. Follow her on fanaticnomadic.blogspot.com