The marketing is not wrong – the Canadian province of British Columbia is awe-inspiringly beautiful, says Sarah Moore.
After ten days in Vancouver, you might tire of hearing about “Beautiful British Columbia” – so reads the tagline on the state’s licence plates. But once I’d come to terms with the idea of displaying a slogan on your car, I had to admit it’s not wrong – the scenery is awe-inspiring.
Vancouver is in itself an interesting city, but the best thing to do while on holiday there is really to leave it behind. A short drive along the Sea-to-Sky highway – so called because of its dramatic transition from a coastal highway to a road taking you through mountains at an elevation of more than 700 metres – will take you in the direction of popular ski resort Whistler.
Work up an appetite
However, there is plenty to do in the area other than skiing – good news if you go, as we did, outside of prime skiing season. A 20-minute drive north from Whistler takes you to Pemberton, the ideal overnight spot from which to set off on some of the area’s most beautiful hikes.
The Wedgemount Lake Trail is not for the faint-hearted, as the elevation is 1,100 metres over just 7km. But after a pretty relentless four-hour trek uphill, you arrive at the stunning lake, overlooked by an enormous glacier. The water in the lake is the classic glacial blue, a natural phenomenon caused when sunlight reflects off the “rock flour” from glacial melts which stays suspended in lake water.
A slightly less intense hike (370m over 10km) will take you to Joffre Lakes (three, to be exact), a hike which can be comfortably completed in two to three hours. Finally (and definitely not one for the same day), a hike to Garibaldi Lake takes you on an 18km round-trip over 820m, via an alpine meadow. The uphill slog is a challenge, but the view from the top makes it worthwhile. The photos you can take there are that rare type that your friends and family might actually want to look through on your return.
Beware of the bears
As well as the standard supplies – water, food and layers – remember to take bear deterrents with you: a bear bell that attaches to your backpack saves you the hassle of having to sing throughout your hike and helps to avoid taking bears by surprise. If I might have thought this an unnecessary precaution, the sight of a mother bear and four cubs on our drive to the first hike quickly rid me of that complacency.
Given that the main point of going on long gruelling hikes is earning the right to eat with abandon afterwards, I’d recommend calling in for a cinnamon danish at the Blackbird Bakery in Pemberton’s quaint town centre. While a roadside restaurant a few hours north of Vancouver isn’t the likeliest location for authentic Thai food, Barn Nork (which means “countryside”) serves surprisingly delicious food prepared by chefs who trained at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Bangkok. And if you feel you’ve been sufficiently active to deserve further reward, it’s worth calling in at Pemberton’s distillery and brewery.
Take in a lumberjack show on Grouse Mountain
If you visit Vancouver between May and October, you’re in luck, as your trip coincides with the lumberjack show season on Grouse Mountain. The mountain was named by the first recorded hikers to reach the summit in October 1894. On the journey, the hikers hunted a blue grouse, and decided to “honour the plentiful game bird” by naming the peak Grouse Mountain.
What was then a three- or four-day hike can now be achieved in a morning – for $56, you get a ticket that includes a round-trip Skyride ticket (“North America’s largest aerial tramway system”) and a “Peak Chairlift” ticket, as well as admission to the lumberjack show, “birds in motion” exhibition and ranger talks at the bear habitat. The 45-minute lumberjack show, set in a recreation of a 1900s logging camp, consists of log rolling, a 60-foot tree climb and axe throwing.