Vancouver, Coast & Mountains

Posted Monday, October 20, 2014

Vancouver, Coast & Mountains

The province’s most-visited and most populous region, Vancouver, Coast & Mountains encompasses the southwest corner of the mainland BC, from the dramatic gorges of the Fraser Canyon to the white sand beaches of the Sunshine Coast; from the rolling farmland of the Fraser Valley to the ancient forests of the Stein Valley.

It's also full of little-known delights, overshadowed, perhaps, by the region's star players: Vancouver, the province's biggest city, and Whistler, its best-known resort. These two destinations are covered in detail separately; here we cover the hidden gems.

These start, for example, with a quick ferry jaunt from Horseshoe Bay, north of Vancouver, to the Sunshine Coast. Although it's part of the mainland, this bucolic region, accessible only by sea or air, has the quiet pace of an island. Boating among the coastal fjords, touring the area's many studios and galleries (a tour map from any Sunshine Coast Visitor InfoCentre will lead the way), beachcombing, golfing, hiking the Sunshine Coast Trail, kayaking and fishing are the draws here.

Also starting in Horseshoe Bay, the Sea-to-Sky Highway, one of BC's most scenic roads, takes in stunning views over Howe Sound before turning into the Coast Mountains towards Whistler. En route, you can explore the historic mine at Brittania Beach (once the biggest copper mine in the British Empire), visit the BC Museum of Mining, and stop to admire Shannon Falls (Canada's third highest, it's six times higher than Niagara).

Just outside Squamish, don’t miss the Sea to Sky Gondola, a fully-enclosed gondola that whisks visitors from the base of the highway to a soaring 850 metres (2,788 feet) above Howe Sound, where a mountaintop day lodge, complete with restaurant and cultural exhibits, and access to suspension bridges, viewing platforms and backcountry hiking and biking routes await.

At Squamish, known as The Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada, you can watch climbers tackle the Stawamus Chief, the world's second biggest free-standing granite monolith (after the Rock of Gibraltar), check out the historic rolling stock at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park and, in winter, see one of the world's largest gatherings of bald eagles at Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park.

Beyond Whistler, Highway 99 is a little travelled, but highly scenic, shortcut through the Pemberton Valley to the Gold Rush town of Lillooet.

From here, you can loop back to Vancouver via Highway 12 and another of BC's most scenic roads: Highway 1, or the Trans Canada Highway, through the Fraser Canyon. Between Lytton and Hope, the river is forced through a narrow gorge, and the road clings to the canyon walls high above the churning water. You can see the Fraser at its fastest and meanest via cable car at Hell's Gate, north of Hope, or, for an even closer look, stop at Lytton and join a rafting trip down part of the Fraser or Elaho rivers.

At Hope, the canyon opens up to the Fraser Valley, a fertile agriculture region outside Vancouver. Home to several historic sites, including Fort Langley National Historic Park, the site of one of BC's earliest European settlements, it's a pleasant area to explore before heading back to your starting point in Vancouver. 

Should you prefer an edible tour, make your way to the Fraser Valley. A favoured spot for foodies, enthusiasts can visit the area’s offering of wineries, farms and producers, sampling goodies, like hazelnuts, cheese and fresh produce, along the way.


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