Canada's outdoor wonderland

20:52, Apr 07 2014
Lonely Planet's British Columbia
PICTURE POSTCARD: British Columbia & the Canadian Rockies are home to some of North America's best outdoor adventure.

Soul-stirring mountains, mist-shrouded forests and epic tooth-and-claw wildlife - this is Canada's grand outdoor wonderland. And it's served alongside a full menu of cool, ever-welcoming communities.

BC & the Canadian Rockies' Top Five

1. Wildlife Watching in Jasper

SKIING AT WHISTLER: This picture-postcard village is frosted with icicles and teeming with chatty visitors during the winter season.

Elk strut defiantly around the town's edge, nervous deer dart among the trees and giant bald eagles swoop overhead. Jasper National Park's dramatic mountain setting is enough to keep most camera-wielding visitors happy, but the surfeit of wandering wildlife makes you feel like you're part of a nature documentary. If you're lucky, you might even spot the show's stars: grizzly bears snuffling for berries alongside the highway or, across the other side of a river, a lone wolf silently tracking its next fresh-catch ungulate.

2. Stanley Park's Seawall Promenade

It's probably North America's finest urban park but some Vancouverites take it for granted; they may have grown up thinking everyone has a 404-hectare temperate rainforest lined with hiking and biking trails on their doorstep. It's only when they meet visitors that they realize how lucky they are. Stroll the 8.8km wave-licked, forest-backed seawall and you'll soon deplete your camera battery. But save some juice for the beady-eyed birdlife (especially blue herons) around Lost Lagoon and for a panoramic sunset at Third Beach.


3. Skiing at Whistler

This picture-postcard village is frosted with icicles and teeming with chatty visitors during the winter season; but it's the slopes that are the main attraction. Whistler was the host mountain for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games and you can emulate your Lycra-clad heroes on some of North America's most popular downhill runs. Then it's back to the village to compare your bruises, brag about your black-diamond abilities and imbibe a few hot chocolates. As the fireplace blazes nearby, watch the skiers outside and plan your next assault.

4. Hopping the Southern Gulf Islands

The islands off BC's mainland wink at you whenever you get close to the shoreline. But it's only when you take a short-hop ferry trip that you realize how different life is here. Your body clock will readjust to island time and you'll feel unexpectedly tranquil. If you have time, visit more than one. Start with the Saturday Market on Salt Spring Island, then consider a kayak excursion around Mayne Island or a cycling weave on Galiano.

5. Paddling the Yukon River

Relive the days of the craggy-faced frontier folk by canoeing (or kayaking) from Whitehorse to Dawson City. Not for the faint-hearted and certainly not for the uninitiated, the 16-day Yukon River paddle will glide you past rough-and-tumble rocky landscapes lined with critter-packed forests. Keep your eyes on the water; you might feel like panning for gold if you spot something glittery. For a less-intense taster, take a trip from Dawson City to Eagle City, Alaska: it's just three days.

This is an edited extract from Lonely Planet British Columbia & the Canadian Rockies (6th Edition) by John Lee, et al. © Lonely Planet 2014.  Published this month, RRP: NZ$39.99.