Within easy reach of Vancouver are some of British Columbia’s most interesting and beautiful destinations. Quaint island towns and Victoria’s provincial capital are just a ferry ride away. A ride on the famous Sea-to-Sky-Highway leads past Squamish and up to the famous ski resort of Whistler, one of the sites of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Inland, towards the Fraser Valley, are Bridal Veil Falls; Fort Langley National Historic Site; and Harrison Hot Springs, known for its warm pools, beach and small-town atmosphere. For those looking to venture across the border into the US, Mount Baker is a short drive away, offering hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter.
The scenic drive along the Sea to Sky Highway (Highway 99), is enough to make a day trip to Whistler worthwhile. The views over Howe Sound and the scenery along this stretch of highway are excellent. At the end of the drive is the famous ski resort of Whistler; a year-round destination offering golf, skiing, hiking, shopping and dining. In summer this is a beautiful place to wander the streets, take a walk, go mountain biking or play a round of golf. In winter the town has a completely different feel, with an electric atmosphere, as skiers from all over the world descend on this world-class ski resort to hit the slopes of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. And for non-skiers, the Peak-2-Peak gondola is a great way to see the mountains in both summer and winter. Without traffic, travel time to Whistler is about an hour and a half, but heavy traffic, especially around Vancouver, can add time to the journey.
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The capital of the province of Victoria is less than a two-hour boat ride from Vancouver. This quaint seaside town, with its compact town centre, is the perfect place to explore on foot. The waterfront is blessed by the historic Empress Hotel, famous for its afternoon tea service. Visitors can stroll along the Inner Harbor to see street performers, relax on a park bench or admire the city’s Parliament Buildings. One of the big highlights, just outside the city, is the stunning Butchart Gardens. Located in what was once an old quarry, this is a year-round attraction, with particularly fantastic displays from early spring to late autumn. Victoria is also home to the Royal British Columbia Museumone of Canada’s finest museums of natural and cultural history.
Visitors can walk through or take their car on the ferry to Victoria. During peak times, and especially around holidays, there can be a long line for cars wanting to board the ferries, so travelers should plan accordingly.
On the drive from Vancouver to Whistler, along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, Squamish is an easy and fun day trip from Vancouver that is often overlooked by travelers. Just under an hour’s drive from Vancouver, the city sits picturesquely at the end of Howe Sound, before the road climbs up into the mountains. While this was once a town with seemingly little reason to stop, over the years it has gradually become a popular destination, with plenty of reasons to spend some time here. One of the most popular new additions to the area is the scenic Sea-to-Sky Cable Carand at the top of the ride, the Sky Pilot Suspension Bridgeboth with beautiful views of the surroundings.
Outdoor recreation rules the day in this town, and rock climbers flock here to scale the sheer cliff faces. The gigantic granite monolith known as Stawamus Chief Mountain is an incredible site and one of the premier climbing areas in this region. There are also great mountain biking trails, hiking trails and campgrounds with eight provincial parks in the Squamish area.
Shannon Falls, just two kilometers south of Squamish, is also worth a stop. This is the fourth highest waterfalls in BC, dropping 335 meters and the easy access makes it very popular. Short hiking trails in the area pass through the forest and there are picnic facilities on site. Visitors can also see the falls from the Sea-to-Sky Gondola.
4 Harrison Hot Springs
Just over an hour and a half drive from Vancouver, the small town of Harrison Hot Springs is a great escape from the city. Nestled among forest-covered mountains on the shores of beautiful Harrison Lake, this resort is known for its hot springs, but offers much more than just warm pools. For a dip in the spring waters, visitors can stop at the public pool in the center of town or at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa. During the summer months, many people come here to enjoy the beautiful beach that runs along the town’s waterfront and overlooks the islands and mountains across Harrison Lake. The area is well developed for tourists, with a wide range of activities including golf, walking, boat trips, fishing and more.
5 Salt Spring Island
A trip to Salt Spring Island on a sunny day is a perfect escape from Vancouver. Ferries depart from Tsawwassen in Vancouver and land in Long Harbor on Salt Spring Island. The best option for day trips is to catch a non-stop ferry if possible, although in winter options may be limited. Salt Spring is a quirky island, with small farms and artist studios dotted around the island. Visitors can stop at some of these family-owned businesses to taste and purchase cheese and other specialty items, or go into a studio to watch an artist at work to see. The main city is Ganges, a pleasant waterfront community, with restaurants, shops and galleries. On Saturdays, during the summer months, Ganges has a popular market, where locals sell their crafts and other goods.
6 Mount Baker, Washington
On clear days in Vancouver you can see the glimmering snow-capped peak of Mount Baker in the distance. Despite its obvious presence, few people think to make the day trip to explore the mountain up close. Those that do will find quaint towns on the approach, nearby hiking trails in the summer, and great skiing in the winter. Numerous walks in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest around Mt. Baker provides access to beautiful mountain scenery, with alpine lakes and incredible wildflower displays in late summer. In winter, Mt. Baker gets incredible amounts of snow, usually ranging from 16 to 20 feet. In 1998/99, the mountain set the record for the most snow in a single season in the US with a total of 1,140 inches, almost 29 meters. The drive from Vancouver takes less than 2.5 hours, but driving times may vary depending on wait times at the Canada-US border.
7 Fort Langley National Historic Site
About an hour’s drive east of Vancouver is the old Hudson’s Bay tenant trading post of Fort Hudson, founded in 1827. The fort was the site of much activity in the 1800s, from the fur traders to the Fraser River gold rush of 1857 , and the founding of the colony of British Columbia. Today at the site, visitors can explore the fort’s history, see the 1800s come to life with interpreters and demonstrations, and try their luck at gold. The fort is open all year round and is a popular family attraction.
8 Bridal Falls and Bridal Veil Falls Provincial Park
The town of Bridal Falls is located east of Chilliwack, about an hour and a half drive from Vancouver. The most famous site in the area is the 60-metre high Bridal Veil Falls, in the provincial park of the same name. This is a day use area, where people can picnic and hike to the base of the falls. In winter, when temperatures drop, the waterfalls turn to ice and take on a completely different appearance. Also worth checking out, depending on the time of year, are the 32-acre Minter Gardensthe Bridal Falls Water Parkand the trails and birdwatching opportunities found in the Cheam Lake Wetlands Regional Park.
9 Britannia Mining Museum
Just off the Sea-to-Sky-Highway, about 45 minutes from Vancouver, is the Britannia Mining Museum, a National Historic Site of Canada. This 20-storey tiered building has been an impossible place to avoid along the highway for decades, but between 2005 and 2010 the building underwent massive restoration work and was renamed from the BC Museum of Mining to the Britannia Mining Museum. The museum is the site of the former Britannia Mine and visitors can see some of the original equipment from the early 20th century, pan for gold or take an underground tour.
10 Hell’s Gate Airtram
From spring to fall, the Hell’s Gate Airtram takes visitors across the wild waters of the Fraser River on a tram that connects both sides of the gorge. Hell’s Gate is uniquely situated on a narrows in the Fraser River, where the fast-flowing water is pushed through a section only 33 meters wide, creating a colossal spectacle of white water. The aerial tram covers a distance of 152 meters and drops visitors on the other side of the river, where there is a restaurant, gift shop, gold panning area and information centre. There is also a suspension bridge that crosses the river here. The drive to Hell’s Gate is very scenic and part of the attraction of this day trip, which takes between 2.5 and 3 hours in each direction.