The BC Circle Tour

A complete provincial sampler, stop by stop

Jul 22, 2005
Outside Magazine

Getting to the starting point in Vancouver is easy. Several airlines fly there daily from many U.S. cities. Alternately, drive north from Seattle on Interstate 5, which becomes Highway 99 in Canada, or ferry directly to Victoria from Seattle (Victoria Clipper; 800-888-2535,

Word to the wise: Throughout B.C., there are often vast expanses between towns, with few or no facilities. Fuel up—your car and yourself—whenever you have the opportunity.

STOP ONE: Reserve a space on the ferry from Tsawwassen, about a 40-minute drive south of Vancouver's airport via Routes 99 and 17, to Swartz Bay, on Vancouver Island (fares and schedules, 250-386-3431, Driving south on Highway 17 toward Victoria, follow signs to Brentwood Bay Lodge & Spa (doubles from $367, including breakfast; 888-544-2079, Rent a kayak at the lodge's marina ($34 per day for a single, $51 for doubles) and float around glassy Saanich Inlet, mingling with seals, orcas, and bald eagles.

STOP TWO: From Victoria, go north on Highway 1 (it becomes Highway 19 in Nanaimo), then west across the island on Highway 4 to Tofino—about 200 miles total. After crossing Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, check in at Pacific Sands Beach Resort, a welcoming family-run lodge on Cox Bay (doubles from $143, villas from $2,946 per week; 800-565-2322, The next day, take a two-hour Zodiac ride to Hot Springs Cove, where 105-degree sulfur-spring water tumbles down terraced pools into Clayoquot Sound ($84–$93 for a seven-hour trip; Remote Passages Marine Excursions, 800-666-9833,

STOP THREE: Backtrack east across the island, then head to its northern end to catch the ferry at Port Hardy, a long day's drive of 300-plus miles (May 18 through September 30, ferries depart at 7:30 a.m. and arrive at Prince Rupert, 273 nautical miles north, at 10:30 p.m.; rates and schedules, 250-386-3431, In Prince Rupert, request a harbor-view room at the Crest Hotel (doubles from $124; 800-663-8150, The next day, book a boat tour with a native Tsimshian guide to the Khutzeymateen Valley, a dense rainforest and site of Canada's only grizzly sanctuary ($124 for six hours; 250-624-5645,

STOP FOUR: Heading east on Highway 16 out of Prince Rupert, take a side jaunt at Port Edward to the North Pacific Cannery, a time-warp Steinbeckian remnant of the hundreds of salmon canneries that once dotted the West Coast. At Terrace, turn south on Highway 37, following signs near Kitimat to Minette Bay Lodge (about 150 miles total). This cozy seven-room haven, built in 1995, boasts feather beds and arguably the best showers on the continent (doubles, $168, including breakfast, with heli-fly-fishing packages starting at $4,394 per person for four days; 250-632-2907, Fly-fishing is the ticket here, on salmon and steelhead streams in the heart of untrammeled Coast Mountains wilderness; the lodge's staff can also arrange hiking (with or without helicopter) and kayak tours.

STOP FIVE: Retrace your route back to Terrace and continue east on the Yellowhead Highway about 180 miles to Smithers, stopping en route at Hazelton, a vintage riverboat town that suggests a Far North version of Mark Twain's Hannibal. In the woods outside Smithers sits the Logpile Lodge, a seven-room spruce-wood warren of charmingly rustic rooms, complete with furniture built by Christoph Luther, the lodge's co-owner (doubles from $84, including breakfast; 250-847-5152, For a taste of the backcountry, hike the 4.3-mile Silver King Basin Trail, in Babine Mountains Provincial Park—some 80,000 acres of soaring peaks, glacial lakes, and subalpine meadows a ten-minute drive from the lodge. Mountain goats, moose, and the occasional grizzly have been known to appear.

STOP SIX: Continue east about 240 miles to Prince George, B.C.'s fourth-largest city, in a bowl that once held an enormous glacial lake. Book a room at Esther's Inn, an outpost of northern kitsch with a poolside indoor jungle and a well-stocked bar (doubles from $57; 800-663-6844, While in town, hike a portion of the 15-mile Cranbrook Hill Greenway, a network of hiking and cycling paths that thread through a forest of birch, cottonwood, spruce, and hemlock.

STOP SEVEN: Drive south 140 miles on Highway 97 to Tyee Lake Resort, near McLeese Lake, a 15-room fishing lodge in the heart of rugged Cariboo Country (lake-view doubles, $117, including breakfast and use of boats; 866-989-9850, Fly-fishing is the local passion, and there are hundreds of uncrowded trout- and kokanee-stocked lakes within a short radius; the Osprey Restaurant offers Indonesian tenderloin, spicy "gunpowder" prawns, and other exotic fare. About an hour south, in the town of Williams Lake, hook up with the crew at Adrenalin Mountain Adventures for a day of guided biking on some of the more than 100 trails around town, tailored to your levels of skill and ballsiness ($94; multi-day tours also available; 250-392-6299,

STOP EIGHT: Take Highway 97 south and then 99 southwest on a 275-mile leg through the mountains to Whistler, darling of skiers and co-host (with Vancouver) of the 2010 Winter Olympics. By now you've earned a little hedonism; spring for a room at the new Four Seasons Resort Whistler, where the beautifully appointed rooms feature balconies, gas fireplaces, and amply proportioned bathtubs (doubles from $206; 800-819-5053, Downstairs, the Fifty Two 80 Bistro hosts a nightly orgy of fresh-caught seafood, a great wine list, and attentive service. Whistler has plenty of summertime playgrounds, including some serious whitewater runs; Whistler River Adventures offers day trips through the canyons and waterfalls of the Elaho and Squamish rivers, among other packages, for $130 a person (888-932-3532,

STOP NINE: End your journey with an exclamation point by taking the Sea to Sky Highway 76 miles—through a gorgeous backdrop of granite cliffs, waterfalls, and hazy island vistas—to Vancouver.