Experience the British Columbia Effect
From ancient forests to otherworldly caverns, Canada’s wildest province is brimming with opportunity to awaken your senses
If scientists can agree on one thing, it’s that spending time outdoors is really good for you. The “nature effect,” as the rejuvenating power of the wild is often called, is backed by a growing body of research that shows that spending time in nature makes people healthier, happier, and even more creative. The best part? It doesn’t take massive doses. As author Florence Williams writes in her acclaimed book The Nature Fix, the nature effect kicks in after a mere three days away from the daily grind. And while three days might be enough to start reaping the benefits, you'll want more time to fully experience all that British Columbia has to offer.
So it’s no surprise that visitors to British Columbia, a vast province rooted in the wild, leave feeling changed. Here are some of our favorite ways to experience the British Columbia Effect.
Recharge Your Batteries on a Hiking Retreat
If spending just a few minutes in nature can have restorative effects on mind, body, and soul, what effect might six days of B.C. backcountry immersion have? Perched in the Kootenay Rockies, Mountain Trek fitness and wellness resort is a good place to find out. The daily hikes are spectacular, but the offering goes far beyond scenery and fitness to include an emphasis on nutrition (think world-class chef and holistic nutritionist), detoxification (you’ll be off booze, sugar, and caffeine), sleep, and stress management.
Pedal Historic Trestles on the Kettle Valley Rail Trail
It’s not just a bike ride. Coasting along the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, a network of nearly 400 miles of rail trails in a stunning forested setting, is pure riding bliss, with no cars, dramatic scenery, fall colors, and railway history on display in multiple tunnels and across those crazy-high trestle bridges. Look way down and you just might see peacefully grazing black bears. Make it a day or a week, but don’t miss the segment through Myra Canyon, high above Okanagan Lake and the town of Kelowna, which has 18 trestle bridges in a 12-mile stretch.
Taste the Fall Harvest Bounty
Seemingly every town on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands has a harvest festival of some sort starting in September. No place, though, has more passion for embracing the local food movement than Salt Spring Island, which is dotted from tip to tip with farms (200 of them), orchards, dairies, bakeries, cideries, a distillery (apple-laced moonshine!), wineries, and breweries. The fact that you can savor all of the above after hours spent exploring the island’s beaches and forests only heightens the experience. There are tons of big festivals in September and October, including the Fall Fair, the Apple Festival (450 varieties on the island), and Sip & Savour, where the ciders and brews take center stage.
Watch Grizzlies Feed in the Wild
Awe is one of the most affecting characteristics of time spent in wild places, and few experiences are more wonder-inducing than watching behemoth grizzly bears fatten up for the winter. Catch the action along the shores of a salmon-spawning river in Bute Inlet, off majestic Orford Bay, where guides from Homalco Wildlife and Cultural Tours lead you to five different riverside viewing towers and ground-level perspectives. The two-hour boat trip from Vancouver Island can be a wildlife journey itself, brimming with breaching humpbacks, transient orcas, strafing bald eagles, and surfing dolphins.
Drink in the Senses on a Forest Walk
The idea behind “forest bathing” is pretty simple—it basically means to wander around in a quiet patch of forest and slow down—inhale the pine aroma, maybe even lie down. It’s a simple activity, and one that the guides at Between a Lake and a High Place, a Kaslo, B.C.–based experiential tourism company, have taken to another level. On one of their signature guided acoustic forest walks, you’ll head out at dusk to savor the twilight and tune in to the songs of Swainson’s thrushes and Pacific wrens, to the wind in the trees, to the rush of the Kaslo River. Stress doesn’t stand a chance, especially when your guides break out the locally sourced organic snacks, a harpist serenades the scene, and you lie back on a blanket as the twinkling lights appear in the trees.
Gain New Perspective in an Old-Growth Forest
Everything feels different about an old-growth conifer forest: the oxygen-saturated air, the soft duff of the forest floor, the immense girth and soaring heights of giant Douglas firs, western hemlocks, and red cedars. In MacMillan Provincial Park, on Vancouver Island, immerse yourself in the majesty of such giants in Cathedral Grove. A walk through this aptly named grove suggests the possibility of living in harmony with ancient forests that transcend our mortality. Some trees here may be 800 years old, and the region’s giant cedars have served Northwest Coast people for millennia as sources for bark clothing, rope, bentwood boxes, masks, baskets, canoes, longhouses, and totem poles. Spending even a few minutes in this ancient grove engenders silence and reverence.
Watch a Tidal Spectacle Unfold
Nature puts on spectacular displays all over British Columbia every day, but one of its most jaw-dropping performances unfolds twice daily at Skookumchuck Narrows. When the tide changes, up to 200 billion gallons of water begin to flow into or out of the inlet, morphing the normally placid body of water into a raging river. You can’t help but imagine what it would be like to be in the midst of the frenzy. It’s just about then that you’ll see a whitewater kayaker or SUP surfer enter the crazy current. But you don’t have to get wet to experience the thrill. One of the best places to observe the show is high above the narrows at Roland Point, a 2.4-mile rainforest trail through Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park, near Egmont on the Sunshine Coast.
Explore an Underground World
Prepare to relinquish all sense of the ordinary when you enter the underground world of Horne Lake Caves. It’s a complete shift away from the familiar when you submit to the damp darkness of the limestone caverns, chock-full of formations made of otherworldly substances like flowstone and moon milk and brain rock. You can go guided (recommended) or on your own. If you’re not claustrophobic and are up for a true adventure, test your mettle on an extreme, five-hour tour that entails a seven-story rappel down an underground waterfall and a slither through a limestone artery called the Siphon. No matter which way you explore the caves, you’ll come back reinvigorated, yet another example of the British Columbia Effect at work.
Visit British Columbia and experience the ancient rainforest, rugged mountains, and the power of the ocean. Every day is an opportunity to try something new and rediscover why you belong in the wild. Visit hellobc.com to start planning a trip to British Columbia now.