7 World-Class Experiences That Don’t Require a Passport
A “staycation” in Western Canada can be just as spectacular as a far-flung destination. These unique attractions in the Canadian Rockies and Pacific Northwest prove there really is no place like home.
Want to explore exotic islands?
Instead of the Galapagos, visit Haida Gwaii
Formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, this archipelago off the northernmost tip of the British Columbia coastline is world-renowned for its mystical beauty and rich, Indigenous culture. Home to the Haida people for more than 13,000 years, and protected by designated Haida Watchmen who live there, the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site features a number of breathtaking village sites. Here you’ll find ancient totems, densely wooded forests shrouded in mist, and orcas swimming offshore. Although it’s possible to see the sights in a day, most day-trippers end up wishing they’d arranged a several-night stay with one of the local outfitters who will ferry you deep into the protected area in an inflatable outboard motor boat.
Want to travel in the lap of luxury?
Instead of a European river cruise, treat yourself to a Rocky Mountaineer journey
Cruise by train! World-class service kicks off even before Rocky Mountaineer’s elegantly appointed coaches pull out of station. While mountains and valleys may be the most prominent feature of these luxury trips, guests will enjoy plenty of remarkable waterways on their journeys, too. From Vancouver, embark on the “First Passage to the West” route, where the rails trace river valleys, dancing through canyons along the Fraser River to Hell’s Gate, through semi-arid landscapes along the South Thompson River, to Kinbasket Lake, whose blue-green waters are fed by the Columbia River. You’ll also travel next to the rushing Kicking Horse River and other waterways that are best seen by train.
Explore 10 more incredible train trips across Canada.
Want that authentic alpine experience?
Instead of the Swiss Alps, soar up Grouse Mountain on the Skyride
Towering more than 1,200 metres above downtown Vancouver—a world-class city in every sense of the term—this all-seasons attraction offers alpine ski slopes in the winter and stunning scenery in the summer. Ride to the summit aboard an aerial tramway known as the Skyride, then take your pick of peak adventures, whether it’s a scenic helicopter ride, a visit with Grinder and Coola, two rescued Grizzlies, or a leisurely stroll along the mountain’s impressive overlooks.
You’ll also want to add these day trips from Vancouver to your itinerary.
Want a once-in-a-lifetime road trip?
Instead of Route 66, drive the Icefields Parkway
Arguably North America’s most scenic stretch of highway, this legendary link between Lake Louise and Jasper winds through the frontal range of the Canadian Rockies. Although you can easily complete the 230-kilometre route in a matter of hours, this is a drive to be savoured rather than endured. Give yourself ample time to explore roadside stops like the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre, where you can shift from driver to passenger on a massive all-terrain Ice Explorer vehicle onto the Athabasca Glacier itself. Or better yet, take a motorcoach tour between the two destinations, and skip the driving altogether.
Here are 10 Canadian road trips everyone should take at least once.
Want to conquer your fear of heights?
Instead of peering over the lip of the Grand Canyon, stroll the Glacier Skywalk
About five kilometres west of the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre, you’ll come across the next marvel on any Icefields Parkway must-see list: The Glacier Skywalk. This open-air observation deck boasts awe-inspiring views of the glacier-formed Sunwapta Valley—along with glass floors for an unobstructed view of the landscape 280 metres below.
Find out the best things to do in Banff on your next trip.
Instead of Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, plunge into Banff Upper Hot Springs
It’s been more than 130 years since the restorative properties of these natural hot springs were first tapped as a tourist attraction, and they remain as alluring as ever. Flowing out of Sulphur Mountain (best known as the summit of the famed Banff gondola), these naturally heated springs fill an outdoor pool, where you can bask in the steaming 40-degree temperature waters while taking in Banff’s impossibly pretty scenery, including a magnificent view of the iconic Mount Rundle.
Instead of Rio’s Sugarloaf cable car, ride the Peak 2 Peak Gondola
Connecting Whistler, B.C.’s two most famous mountains, this vertigo-inducing gondola shuttles curious sightseers and skiiers alike between Whistler Mountain Roundhouse and Blackcomb’s Rendezvous Lodge. This remarkable feat of engineering shattered a number of records when it opened to the public in late 2008, and can still claim to have the longest unsupported lift span in the world, with one span of cable stretching a staggering three-kilometres between towers. If you can time your visit just right, hop in one of the silver-coloured cable cars. These particular cars are fitted with glass bottoms that give a unique (and thrilling) perspective on the remarkable landscape that’s sometimes more than 400 metres below.
Looking for off-the-beaten-path western Canada attractions? Don’t miss these hidden gems in B.C.