Check out the Vancouver, BC area for beauty and adventure! There is such diversity in this coastal, seaport area from a lively, cosmopolitan, clean Vancouver that’s super bike and pedestrian friendly to beautiful forests and shimmering seas surrounding the land on Vancouver Island (including Victoria) and Whistler. I found friendly faces in every sector.
Things to do on Vancouver Island and Victoria
Rent a car at Vancouver airport and drive about 40 minutes to the Tsawwassen terminal to take the “BC Ferry” over to Vancouver Island/Victoria (Swartz Bay). Note that the ferries usually run at the top of the hour. If you happen to arrive an hour early for the ferry (like we did!) then you can eat and shop (from sushi to sweaters) right at the terminal. The ferry is a beautiful 90 minute journey mingling through many small forested islands. There is a nice coffee bar and restaurant on the ferry. Look for Orcas! (I spotted one spouting!)
Interestingly, Highway 17 connects Vancouver to Vancouver Island. The ferry route is “the highway” between Vancouver and Vancouver Island and then Highway 17 continues on! On Vancouver Island every single thing must be brought by boat or seaplane, so I expected a tiny and quaint area and a small town of Victoria. Nope! Every store, restaurant, supplier, automotive, building, etc. that you could imagine is there. Even Toys R Us and Bed, Bath and Beyond stores in 2022!
We stayed in the adorable James Bay section of Victoria which is a small peninsula on the coastal side of the city of Victoria. Our sweet hotel, James Bay Inn (Hotels.com), is a 100+ year old sweet inn with a lovely pub and restaurant underneath. Plus it’s a nice walk from there to Floyd’s Diner (fantastic and friendly staff) with standard to funky delicious breakfasts. Also walkable to the parliament building (Victoria is the capitol of British Columbia), seaport, shoreline and seaplane port. So many locals riding bikes and walking their way through this lovely small city. Fisherman’s Wharf is a sweet area with colorful houseboats that are actually shops and restaurants and also residences right on the Victoria harbor.
The Highlands area of Vancouver Island is hilly and tree covered with little towns sprinkled in between. The hike for the day was in the Highlands at Jocelyn Hill. A 5.5 mile hike through a gorgeous canopy of trees with views of the Finlayson Arm (the body of water) along the way. Bear spray* is a must as some bears have been spotted here. Use the All Trails app on “navigate” to follow the trail easier as some signs are missing. There is cell service throughout the hike. Hiking poles may be needed for a few all dirt steep downhills.
*Bear spray cannot be taken on planes as it’s kind of like mace. I purchased mine at Canadian Tire which is a sporting goods store and seems to be everywhere in the Vancouver/Victoria area.
Things to do in Whistler
The drive from Vancouver to Whistler is absolutely beautiful on the Sea to Sky Highway. It’s right along peaceful waterways (Howe Sound and Squamish River) for the entire ride – up and down mountains and beautiful cliffs flanked by tall pine trees. I drove it in the fall; although, I imagine it’s quite treacherous when there’s any precipitation on the roads with all the twists and turns; and therefore, snow tires are required from October 1 to March 31. There is also a bus that travels the same route.
It takes about 2 hours to drive from Vancouver to Whistler. Whistler is ginormous – much larger than I realized. There are 2 villages connected by a path and a 10 minute walk (or shuttle). There is an upper village which is kind of small, as far as amenities go, and the Whistler (central) Village, which is huge and has a lot of everything. There’s upscale shopping, souvenir shops, condos, restaurants, pubs, etc. We ate at the delicious Mongolie Grill for a super healthy and delicious dinner!
Drinks were on the patio at Gibbons at the foot of the ski slopes where we saw a juvenile black bear saunter by at around 8pm looking for food. Crazy! Waitstaff were banging on tables, chairs and signs trying to get the bear out of there. The bear actually even climbed 1/2 way up the outdoor stairs to a patio restaurant before he changed his mind!
I’d recommend staying in central Whistler Village. It seems that every single accommodation is beautiful and well-kept.
Hiking in Squamish, British Columbia
Stawamus Chief Trail
Squamish is an adorable town between Vancouver and Whistler. It is about 45 minutes south of Whistler, so we stopped, off the Sea to Sky Highway, on the way back to Vancouver for a hike. Breakfast/Lunch was great at Lil Chef Bistro which is tucked right off of the Sea to Sky Highway.
Hiking was right in Squamish – a meca for climbers! The famous hike is Stawamus “Chief Trail.” This hike consists of about 2 miles of steep, uphill hiking over stone steps, boulders and even man made stairs all in a very large pine treed forest. Precariously located boulders abound – you know, the ones that are on the edge and just thinking about tumbling down while you’re underneath them (but they’ve probably been like that for 100 years)! 🙂
The Chief Trail is definitely a popular one, so worries about bears were lessened, but I was prepared nonetheless. It was a challenging but beautiful trek in the vast, dense Stawamus Chief Provincial Park forest with 2 sets of stairs and 2 sets of chains to assist with hoisting over the boulders near the top. Once at the top of the first peak there’s a peaceful view of Howe Sound and surrounding mountains.
Bear Preparation for Day Hikers
After my large momma bear/bear cub encounter in Montana, I’m NOW prepared for a bear encounter. I carry:
- Bear bell (A bell that hangs off my backpack – used so the bear is not startled and/or hears the sound and moves out. It has a magnet that stops it from ringing when not needed.)
- Bear spray (Note that you cannot take bear spray on a plane. It’s basically mace that shoots really far, so purchase it at your destination and give it away to another hiker if you don’t use it.)
- Smell proof bags (I carry my snacks in here and apple cores, pits from fruit, etc. after eating.)
- Satellite communicator/GPS system (When I encountered the Montana bear there was no cell service at all in that national park. No one knew where we were, and there was no one on the trail at all. I worried that if we had encountered the bear on the way out of the out-and-back trail (fortunately, we were still going “in” when we saw the bears) then we would have difficulty finding another route back to the car. This satellite GPS would have solved that issue.)
- And I know what to do in the future (DON’T RUN – my mistake) – National Park Service has some good info on encountering bears