10 Awesome Reasons to Visit British Columbia in the Fall
Whatever kind of natural experience you’re looking for, odds are good you’ll find it in British Columbia. The province’s jagged coastline promises some of the best whale-watching in the world, Whistler is legendary for its year-round recreation, and the B.C. interior hosts some of Canada’s most-loved national parks.
There may be no better time to experience B.C.’s wonder than in the fall. During that elusive shoulder season, temperatures have cooled off, the summer crowds have dispersed, and powder hounds haven’t yet arrived for the winter. If you’re craving an adventure-packed trip full of the best that British Columbia has to offer, here’s our guide for making the most of fall.
1. Go whale watching in the Gulf Islands.
No list of unforgettable British Columbia adventures would be complete without a nod to the province’s reputation for legendary whale-watching. In addition to the resident orcas that frolic along the coastline, roughly 20,000 Pacific grey whales migrate along the island’s west coast every year.
To see the majestic mammals up close, there are few better opportunities along the entire Pacific Coastline than the Gulf Islands, which are nestled between Vancouver Island the Canadian mainland. The trips may well deliver views of the resident orca whales, migrating Pacific grey whales, minke whales, humpback whales, and other wildlife (including tufted puffins and bald eagles). Schedule a tour in September or October for the best viewing.
2. Hike under fall foliage in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.
Every September and October, the changing season transforms Stanley Park, one of Vancouver’s most beloved outdoor destinations, into a dramatic, almost electric display of fall foliage. Throughout the 988-acre park, leaves turn red, brown, orange, yellow, and other hues that add an ethereal brightness to Vancouver’s frequently overcast fall days.
There’s no *bad *place in Stanley Park to soak up the fall foliage—the park hosts 17 miles of scenic trails, after all—but we’re especially fond of the Seawall trail that lines Vancouver Harbour and English Bay. The brilliant autumn hues positively "pop" against the muted blues and grays of the surrounding waterways.
For a quieter, though no less vivid view of the fall foliage, head to Beaver Lake, where the changing colors shimmer against peaceful wetlands.
3. Squeeze in one last ride at Whistler Mountain Bike Park.
Ask any mountain bike enthusiast for their singletrack bucket list, and odds are good they’ll namedrop Whistler Mountain Bike Park early in the conversation. With the summer winding down and winter on the horizon, it’s a great time to add it to your must-do list, too.
Whistler Mountain Bike Park offers 70 trails spread across four distinct zones, promising something for everyone. Beginners will love the softer grades and easier trails, while more adventurous riders pine for Whistler’s handcrafted mix of jumps, gaps, berms, and organic obstacles—think rocks, roots, and logs.
If you’re not quite ready for Whistler’s singletrack thrills, check out the park’s 8,400-square-foot Air Dome. The indoor training facility offers wooden ramps, quarter pipes, jumps, and a sizable foam pit that allows riders to improve their skills in a covered, relaxed setting.
Check with the park before heading out, though, since the outdoor mountain bike routes typically close in early October, weather depending.
4. Ride the RBC GranFondo Whistler.
The picturesque Sea-to-Sky Highway between Vancouver and Whistler is one of the world’s most gorgeous drives, with sweeping ocean views, towering mountain vistas, thick forests, and cascading waterfalls seemingly around every turn over 75 stunning miles.
If you’re looking to enjoy the views from somewhere *other *than behind a windshield, try your hand at the RBC GranFondo Whistler, which usually takes place in early September. The one-day ride allows up to 7,000 cyclists to bask in the views from a dedicated, car-free lane between downtown Vancouver and Whistler. It’s not easy—the 76-mile ride promises more than 6,200 feet of elevation gain, with the vast majority of that climb coming in the ride’s grueling second half—it’s easily one of the most glorious rides in all of North America.
Up for something a little less ambitious? Riders can also sign up for a 34-mile ride that starts near the halfway mark between Vancouver and Whistler. The Medio ride starts in Squamish and features *only *3,300 feet of elevation gain along the way.
5. Go climbing at Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park.
The Smoke Bluffs in Squamish are among British Columbia’s most popular rock-climbing destinations. But for some equally awesome, slightly more under-the-radar routes, check out Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park, not far from the Okanagan Valley in southern B.C.
Most routes in the 1,200-acre park vary in difficulty from 5.4 to 5.13, allowing climbers of all skill levels to experience what are believed to be some of the oldest rocks in the province. With cliffsides up to 250 feet tall and more than 650 routes, Skaha Bluffs has enough variety to keep novices and advanced climbers alike busy. In addition, Skaha Bluffs enjoys a longer-than-usual climbing season each year, thanks to the towering vertical walls that guard against the elements. (Keep in mind, however, that climbing is prohibited in the southern part of the park.)
The park also is home to numerous hiking and mountain biking trails that traverse nearby grasslands and offer views of the surrounding valley.
6. Paddle through Desolation Sound.
Thanks to a Mediterranean climate marked by warm, wet winters and calm, dry summers, Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park makes for an invigorating paddle some 130 miles northwest of Vancouver.
Novice paddlers will enjoy day trips through the inlets and islands of Desolation Sound. However, with scarce road access throughout, why not turn a day adventure into an overnighter to really appreciate the atmosphere that gives the sound its name? Several islands host scenic campsites perfect for paddlers willing to go the extra mile, most sitting on the quiet shores of bays, inlets, and coves.
In addition, the park offers nearly 40 miles of shoreline to explore, plentiful whale-watching and wildlife viewing opportunities, and sweeping views of the Coast Mountain range.
7. Pedal a water bike in False Creek.
There’s no wrong* *way to experience False Creek in downtown Vancouver: A cycling, jogging, and walking path hugs the scenic waterway, and water taxis connect visitors to some of the city’s best-known landmarks and destinations.
But a new contraption from B.C. Water Bikes puts a new spin on the False Creek experience. Resembling a raft outfitted with an exercise bike, the Water Bikes let visitors pedal their way through False Creek, English Bay, and Kitsilano. Each one- or two-hour rental includes all necessary safety gear and tips for navigating Vancouver’s busy waterways, and water cyclists might catch glimpses of local wildlife, including birds, otters, and whales, along the way. B.C. Water Bikes also offers guided sunset tours for visitors looking to capture a truly unique photo.
8. Take advantage of world-class hiking in Golden.
Not far from the British Columbia-Alberta border, the tiny town of Golden (population: 3,700) guards some of the province’s best-kept natural secrets and just might be one of the region’s richest hiking destinations.
The scenic town sits within a morning’s drive of Yoho, Glacier, Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Mount Revelstoke National Parks, not to mention Bugaboo, Height of the Rockies, and Goat Range Provincial Parks, giving you almost endless opportunities for experiencing the region’s rugged wilderness.
Recommended excursions include hiking to the Wapta Icefield in Yoho National Park and learning about local history along the Abandoned Rails Trail in Glacier National Park.
As if that weren’t enough, Golden sits within a half-hour of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, which offers via ferrata tours, stargazing opportunities, hiking trails, mountain biking treks, and a refuge that houses Boo, the resort's resident grizzly bear.
9. Go for a rejuvenating soak at Hot Springs Cove.
When you think you’ve gotten away from it all, keep going.
At least, that seems to be the ethos behind Hot Springs Cove, a natural outpost north of Tofino that promises rest, relaxation, and no shortage of natural beauty on the shores of the Sydney Inlet, just beyond the borders of Maquinna Marine Provincial Park.
Start your journey to the remote outpost along the western shore of Vancouver Island. Once there, take a boat or floatplane north of Tofino for about 1.5 hours, and hike another 1.2 miles along a mostly flat boardwalk through the region’s old-growth rainforest. At that point, you will have earned your soak.
Temperatures in Hot Springs Cove hover around 110°F for a comfortable, relaxing experience, though the pools get cooler as you inch toward the inlet. Sitting in the shadow of towering trees and listening to the ocean waves crashing into the craggy surroundings, you’ll feel as if you’ve arrived at the edge of the world.
In addition, local tour groups offer whale-watching and bear-watching tours, and the InnChanter Bed & Breakfast, moored in Clayoquot Sound, is a floating five-room B&B that offers free kayak rentals and easy access to the hot springs.
10. See a rare Spirit Bear in the Great Bear Rainforest.
The 250-mile long Great Bear Rainforest has (rightfully) attracted international acclaim for its untouched wilderness, maze-like fjords, lush, forested landscapes, and remote accommodations, accessible mostly via boat and floatplane. It’s also the only place on Earth you can glimpse the rare Kermode (Spirit) bear, a subspecies of black bear known for its distinct white fur. The region’s First Nations communities hold the Spirit bear in high regard, and only about 400 are said to still be alive today.
There are no shortage of opportunities for spying the elusive Spirit bear—or, for that matter, the park’s rich variety of wildlife. And a floating lodge within the park invites visitors to spy bears and other animals from the deck, and numerous tour operators offer wildlife viewing adventures. In addition, guided paddling tours through the surrounding waterways invite visitors to catch glimpses of other wildlife like whales, dolphins, eagles, and sea lions.
Originally written by RootsRated for ExOfficio.