March 26, 2018
Welcome to the Alaska Highway, where you’re more likely to see wildlife than people. Local photographer Ryan Dickie shows us his favourite places to photograph…
By Michelle Pentz Glave October 19, 2017 #php comments_number('0 Comment', '1 Comment', '% Comments'); ?> #php echo wpb_get_post_views(get_the_ID()); ?>
Small towns might not get all the attention of big towns, or the cachet of big cities, but they’re often fiercely independent, impressively creative, and wonderfully quirky. You might find anything from century-old fruit stands to a collection of chainsaw art and rowdy rodeos in BC’s most appealing villages. These top places are well worth a visit.
Best farm-to-table locavore haven
Claim to fame: Mountain biking—see the Nimby Fifty
Try: August’s signature Slow Food Cycle Sunday
Why: To fish, hike, eat local, and picnic at the farm
Just 20 minutes north of high-profile ski resort Whistler, low-key Pemberton is unpretentious and happily down-to-earth. A handful of family farms cradled in a fertile green valley are flanked by towering, snow-dusted Mount Currie. Spend an afternoon on 24-hectare (60-acre) North Arm Farm or join Wednesday yoga at potato-focused Helmer’s Organic Farm. You’ll find great craft beer (at Mile One Eating House), spirits distillers, and some of the best trout fishing around on gin-clear rivers. Did we mention it’s drop-dead gorgeous?
Best communing with wildlife
Population: 135 (1,900 in the valley)
Claim to fame: Grizzly country
Try: Yoga along the cliffside ribbons of Hunlen Falls, Canada’s highest free-falling cascade
Why: Bear watching and swimming with salmon, plus fishing and hiking (the Rainbow Ridge Trail)
Bella Coola is bear country. On BC’s rugged central coast north of Vancouver Island, it’s near the Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park wilderness and boasts the planet’s highest concentration of grizzlies. It’s also the gateway to the ancient Great Bear Rainforest, a large temperate rainforest officially protected in 2016 after a long battle over the vast ecologically sensitive area. In the 1890s, Norwegian settlers discovered Bella Coola: a steep, green valley in the shadow of the snow-dusted Coastal Range, bisected by the Bella Coola River. The place has long been famed for its First Nations art; specifically, the Nuxalk Nation’s wood carving, masks, and ceremonial garments. Stroll the mist-shrouded wharf and town, looking for bald eagles and totems, and take a guided hike to see petroglyphs, some 10,000 years old. It’s remote, but an easy 70-minute flight from Vancouver—your chance to photograph a 600-pound (272-kilogram) grizzly at Tweedsmuir Park Lodge.
Best place to slurp a peach
Claim to fame: Produce central
Try: Homemade bread at Keremeos Grist Mill and Gardens, an historic Gold Rush-era site with an 1877 water mill. Picnic in the heritage garden.
Why: To pick up luscious, fragrant apples, cherries, peaches, tomatoes, and sweet corn
Canada’s “Fruit Stand Capital” is in southern BC’s arid Similkameen Valley, near the Okanagan Valley, aka Wine Country. Old-style Keremeos is hot, desert-y, and leisurely. It’s filled with vineyards, orchards, farm gate stands, and roadside markets—some dating back a century—selling a delightful array of local produce, honey, canned peaches and chili jam, and goodies like herb oils, beef jerky, salt water taffy, and spice rubs. Aside from summer, an especially fun time to visit is in fall during the grape crush and when the pumpkin patches start cropping up. Head to the Red Bridge, a cool covered 1907 vintage railway bridge, and take an innertube or rafting ride down the river. Bonus: At the Highway 3-3A junction, it’s just another 40 minutes to the vineyards of Penticton.
Best natural wonders
Claim to fame: The UNESCO Global Geopark, one of two in North America
Try: The network of 47 trails passing dozens of waterfalls
Why: For outdoor adventure with a dash of Jurassic Park geology
Tumbler Ridge was a sleepy ex-coal mining town in 2000 when two kids playing near a creek stumbled across dinosaur tracks. Today, it’s a site of international significance with Cretaceous-period dinosaur footprints, bones, fish, and plants in the geopark, plus BC’s sole ancient fossil and dinosaur research center. Take an educational tour and check out fossil replicas in the gallery housed in an old school. Set in northeastern BC’s pretty Peace River country at the base of the Canadian Rockies, Tumbler Ridge has even more going for it: enormous picturesque cascades including the namesake Tumbler Ridge Falls, unusual rock formations, and three provincial parks in its backyard— Monkman, Bearhole Lake, and Gwillim Lake. The town’s half marathon is billed as the toughest in the world. Close by, best tiny town runners-up are historic Dawson Creek on Mile 0 of the wild Alaska Highway and further on, friendly outdoor adventure basecamp Fort Nelson.
Best for an island getaway
Claim to fame: The “Gateway to the Wild West Coast”
Try: The Alice Lake Loop passing ancient limestone and karst formations, and the flooded sinkhole called Devil’s Bath, Canada’s largest cenote at 359 m (1,178 ft) wide
Why: To have a little piece of the West Coast pretty much to yourself
The folks who live in Port Alice care about their community, and that’s clear. It’s tidy and cheery, known for its mild, wet climate—a place far off the beaten path tucked on a mountainside on Vancouver Island’s north coast. Just above Port McNeill looking out over Neroutsos Inlet, Port Alice was built as a pulp and paper mill operation and is still running. It’s also a great spot for picnicking and strolling along the coast, plus outstanding saltwater fishing in the inlets and bays and lake fishing, boating, whale watching, and kayaking, among other outdoor endeavors. A favorite is the Marble River Trail hike to Bear Falls. Pulp-mill workers, golfers, crafters, and artists live here; you can pick up local works at the Tourism & Heritage Centre, then enjoy some R&R and the fresh, salty air.
Best Canadiana outdoor adventure hub
Claim to fame: 50 chainsaw woodcarvings, including a 2.75-m- (9-ft-) tall lumberjack—a fixture since 1967
Try: The annual WinterLights celebration, international carving competition, or rodeo
Why: Sample the primo forest trail network specially designed for hikers and mountain bikers
Not too far from Tumbler Ridge, Chetwynd is a youthful town filled with outdoor aficionados and lots of leafy public green spaces. Near four provincial parks in the Rockies foothills just north of Prince George, it’s the go-to for singletrack, rock climbing, angling, hiking, and camping, plus winter snow fun like Nordic skiing and snowmobiling. The place feels easygoing, but still has plenty of “town” options for the ranchers and resource extraction workers who live here: Namely, the heritage museum, curling at the village rink, and a handful of eateries and bars. In an old flood plain turned railroad stop surrounded by hills, it’s got a big sky, wide-open feel. You can see why this frontier outpost was once dubbed Little Prairie.
Featured image: Enjoying the festive Pemberton Farmers’ Market. Photo: Tourism Whistler/Andrew Strain
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