Last June, I spent two weeks exploring Canada’s British Columbia and Alberta regions. It was a trip characterized by wild beauty and a swelling appreciation for the peace offered by a hike in the mountains, an experience of rest that my soul had been thirsting for.
Top of the List.
For those who love to skim—these are my top recommendations for each location.
The Full Story.
This is the full story of our first week exploring British Columbia, put to words & photographs.
Day 1 // Seattle, WA
Flying to Vancouver from Nashville isn’t exactly a budget-friendly venture, so I decided to take advantage of an affordable one-way flight to Seattle on Alaska Airlines for $125 direct from Nashville. I was able to crash at a friend’s place that evening, avoiding any accommodation cost, and then I booked a ticket on Amtrak from Seattle to Vancouver the following morning for $42, saving about $100 (and a layover stuck inside an airport) if I had booked a flight from Nashville to Vancouver.
I’ve been to Seattle a couple of times before this, and I absolutely love the city—the combo of water and mountains and pines is enough to make my heart swoon. So a day spent here before my two weeks in Canada was a good introduction into nature’s wild beauty.
My day was spent exploring the University of Washington area. I grabbed lunch at the laidback, order-at-the-counter Rancho Bravo Tacos before camping out in the adorable Ugly Mug coffee shop to finish all my freelance work before I unplugged for the next two weeks.
Then it was dinner with another friend, Savannah, at the DELICIOUS (seriously, go here!) Tom Thai, a cash-only Thai place tucked in a narrow building between other restaurants and shops frequented by the college crowd.
The day ended at the beautiful Golden Gardens Park aside the Puget Sound, watching the sun set below the Olympic Mountains to the west.
Keep in mind:
Bring cash if you plan to dine at Thai Tom; that’s the only form of payment they accept.
Day 2 // Vancouver, BC
The next morning, I took the Amtrak to Vancouver, my seatmate an older gentleman telling me about his 60 day-trip across North America by train, talking more to himself than to me. I nodded, throwing in the occasional “wow,” and trying to look past him to the wide windows that revealed the magnificent waters of the Puget Sound before the tracks took us away from the shore and through rural Washington towns.
As soon as we crossed the border from Washington to British Columbia, people waved at us from the beaches and from cars stopped at the railroad crossing tracks, as if everyone in the border towns of Canada had self-dubbed themselves as the welcoming committee. (Why are Canadians so dadgum friendly?!)
I arrived in Vancouver on a sunny and apparently uncharacteristically-hot Tuesday, meeting up with my friends, Amy and Jess, at the SameSun Hostel, our home for the night, before setting out for a walkabout. En route to food, Jess saved an elderly gentleman whose wheelchair toppled off a step-up sidewalk, cementing her hero-status with blood-stained jeans.
Lunch was at the lively waterside Public Market, a collection of food offerings (even gluten-free!) enjoyed with views of the English Bay and the snow-capped mountains in the distance beyond the city of sparkling skyscraper condos.
We took an tiny water ferry across False Creek (creek is an understatement) to the opposite shore, walking waterside to Stanley Park, a 988-acre park of trails, beaches, and West Coast rainforest right in the middle of the city.
For dinner it was Moxie’s Grill & Bar, a chain of restaurants in Canada (that also randomly has locations in Texas) featuring typical grill-type fare—I wouldn’t necessarily say that the burger and hard lemonade were life changing, but it was a perfectly decent dinner.
Keep in mind:
Whereas U.S.-only Amtrak services usually have open seating, Amtrak services to Vancouver do not. You’re assigned a seat based on your place in line to get your passport checked. Arrive early, both for line purposes (it was long and slightly chaotic) and for (God-willing) a window seat.
Day 3 // Vancouver Island, BC
We had an early start to get to begin our journey to Vancouver Island. I grabbed a mocha at Caffe Artigiano (very good as far as mochas are concerned) before we got our rental car and realized that our Garmin GPS could not find the port that we were trying to get to.
Jess attempted her first drive on the right side of the road (Aussie probs) in the middle of traffic-heavy Vancouver while we tried to get the ferry port address right in the GPS, only to realize that we were cutting it CLOSE to making it to our ferry in time. Fortunately we made it, but not without a “you’re really late” side comment from the ticket attendant.
The BC Ferries route was a two-hour scenic ride through the Strait of Georgia from Tsawwassen to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, with the peaks of the mainland fading away to reveal the peaks of Vancouver Island, a chunk of land featuring mountainous terrain, thriving towns, and West Coast rainforest.
Then it was a three-hour road trip to the tiny town of Tofino on the Pacific side of the island, but not without first making a detour to see some waterfalls in Elk Falls Provincial Park, featuring a long suspension bridge over a massive waterfall. We were also treated to a show of dudes aside the waterfall making some curiously dicey decisions that would most definitely kill you with the slip of a foot.
From Elk Falls Provincial Park to Tofino, it was a sunny drive on a winding mountain road, passing several sparkling blue lakes, but as we neared the Pacific Coast, a straight-spooky fog descended upon us, not once lifting in our three days in Tofino.
Tofino is a tiny surfer & fishing town at the end of a peninsula between the Pacific and Clayoquot Sound, featuring sandy beaches and rocky outcrops and crying seagulls—your classic Pacific Northwest aesthetic, and a readymade setting for any broody young adult novel likely to feature a vampire and a mysterious disappearance at sea.
We stayed at Hi Tofino Backpackers hostel, a comfortable and homey guesthouse right at the tip of the island, falling asleep to the sound of waves washing against rocks right outside our window. This might be the most comfortable hostel that I’ve stayed in, and I’ve stayed at my fair few (lookin’ at you, hostel in London with 19 other girls in the room.)
Keep in mind:
Day 4 // Tofino, BC
Back in the summer I was a hardcore morning person, so I awoke before Amy and Jess and set out to find coffee, walking through the quiet town streets; the only other people out were the pilots getting their prop waterplanes ready for a morning flight.
I came upon Common Loaf Bakery, a cozy two-story red house adorned with lights. (Pro tip: Make sure you have cash, as they don’t accept credit cards unless you spend a certain amount of money.)
Later in the day, we drove to the nearby town Ucluelet to enjoy an afternoon of hiking on the Wild Pacific Trail, a division of three different trails ranging in length and difficulty that follow along the coast, the trails wandering through rocky outcrops aside the sea to walks through the deep green rainforest. Toward the end of the Artist’s Loop Trail is a bench overlooking the Pacific, so we stopped here for lunch, watching a bald eagle dive for fish among the waves crashing against the boulders.
Dinner that night was at the HOLY-MOLY-THIS-IS-DELICIOUS Bravocados, a vegan restaurant featuring takes on food favorites, like “buffalo wings” that are really just cauliflower in a mouthwatering sauce of choice. I’m no vegan foodie, but this place was delicious. For my main dish, I had an avocado grilled cheese smooshed inside a gluten free waffle. Y’all. It was incredible.
Keep in mind:
The Wild Pacific Trail is free! Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy along the trail.
Day 5 // Tofino, BC
Coffee that morning was at Rhino Coffeehouse before settling myself onto a bench in Anchor Park, a tiny green space aside the Clayoquot Sound, where I enjoyed some time reading and journaling and watching sea planes disappear into the low-hanging clouds that obscured the green island peaks dotting the sound. (To the mocha-lovers reading this, I can’t say that I particularly loved my Rhino mocha, as they used chocolate milk as the base instead of real chocolate. The coffeeshop has great vibes though.)
The day treated us to an off-and-on light rain, perfecting that PNW mood, but it didn’t keep us from checking out some hikes in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
Our first hike was on the Schooner’s Cove Trail, an easy walk through a rainforest to Schooner’s Beach, a vast expanse of sandy beach that offered us low-tide access to a rocky island outcrop of evergreens.
The next stop Long Beach with views of Incinerator Rock—a huge chunk of rock that stands tall among the waves on an otherwise flat beach—where we sat atop a massive boulder as the rain fell, watching surfers brave the cold waters and whales blow up mist just beyond the surf.
Our final hike was the Rainforest Trail, an easy loop trail on raised wooden boardwalks through a rainforest reminiscent of the dinosaur ages—think tall trees, twisted roots, and forest floor covered in massive, wide-leafed ferns.
Keep in mind:
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve has a small parking fee that covers your admission to the park. This parking tag that you put on your dashboard will cover you for the day at any of the trailhead lots.
Day 6 // Kamloops, BC
Saturday was mostly a travel day, with coffee to begin our road trip again from Rhino Coffeehouse. We drove back to Vancouver, where sadly we had to say our farewells to Amy who could only join us for a the first part of the trip.
After dropping Amy off at the airport, Jess and I made the 3.5 hour drive to Kamloops—a mid-sized city aside a river-cut valley between tall rolling hills—where we stayed for the night at an Airbnb.
Day 7 // Valemount, BC
This was another driving day, though we did stop on the way to Valemount at Wells Gray Provincial Park to check out some of their waterfalls, including Helmcken Falls, Dawson Falls, and Spahats Creek Falls. The park, in total, has 39 named waterfalls, so you could spend an entire day here waterfall-hopping.
Also a fan of the waterfalls: mosquitos the size of your face with aggression to match—even clothing is no match against their ferocity. (Pro-tip: Take a bath in bug spray prior to any hikes, and make sure to spray even your clothing with it).
Our two-night stay in Valemount was at an Airbnb that was a working ranch, complete with Canadian cowboys sporting the proper cowboy hats and weathered jeans, pregnant horses, free-ranging cows, and the friendliest Border Collie pup you’ll ever meet. Another reason I love staying in Airbnbs vs. resorts and hotels. (If you’re new to Airbnb, you can get $40 off your first stay using my referral code.)
Keep in mind:
Mosquitos in the Canadian Rockies are ferocious monsters, especially next to water sources. Bug spray is a MUST.
There is no admission fee to Wells Gray Provincial Park.
Day 8 // Mt. Robson Provincial Park, BC
On Monday we embarked on our first hike in the Canadian Rockies with the Kinney Lake Trail, a mild 5.5 mile round trip trail in Mt. Robson Provincial Park that takes you to the turquoise Kinney Lake. Sadly the day was mostly overcast, obscuring all but the mountain bases, but we were briefly able to catch the snow-capped peak of Mt. Robson, the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies at 12,972 feet. (But not the highest in Canada.)
It had rained heavily the night before, so the creek flowing outward from Kinney Lake had flooded over parts of the trail—thankfully Jess is braver than me and encouraged us to just climb over some nearby rocks until we reached dry trail again, otherwise I would have insisted we turn around and missed the best views of the hike.
Once I become a hard-core natural girl (goals), I’d love to return to this park and hike the full Berg Lake Trail, a 13-mile (each way) trail that leads through the Valley of a Thousand Falls (sounds Narnia-ish) to campgrounds next to Berg Lake.
Post-hike, we enjoyed hot chocolate at The Gathering Tree, a quaint cafe in the small town of Valemount, the only other guests a table of two men and a woman discussing their new cows and hay crops.
Keep in mind:
There’s more!—read about the second part of the trip in Travel Journal // Two Weeks in Canada: Alberta [Part 2]
New to Airbnb?
Staying at an Airbnb is always my first pick when it comes to travel accommodations. When else would I get to stay on a working ranch in a valley surrounded by the Canadian Rockies?
If you’re new to Airbnb, you get can $40 off your first stay using my referral code.