British Columbia is blessed with natural good looks, oodles of space for adventure and a climate that makes it a joy to explore anytime
Nestled between high peaks and the Pacific, Vancouver is one of the world’s most spectacular cities. Warmed by ocean currents and protected by those marvellous mountains, it also has a temperate climate, remaining mild year-round.
Summers hit the mid-20°Cs, a delight for bathing on the city’s beaches. In winter it rarely snows, except where you want it to – on the nearby hills, enabling you to ski in sight of the skyscrapers. In this temperate rainforest, there’s a fair amount of rain, but that keeps the forests and city lush, and certainly doesn’t stop play.
However, spring and fall might just be Vancouver’s real seasonal secrets. Attractions are open, whales are migrating past (spot them March to October) but the city is quieter and offers great value, with a few other unique advantages too.
For instance, Vancouver is a foodie’s city. There isn’t a cuisine you can’t try or a tasting tour you can’t take here. These are delicious options year-round, but spring sees a fresh bounty of local, seasonal ingredients inspiring chefs to get extra creative, while fall brings a new harvest – produce such as apples, oysters and succulent sea urchins hit the menus. For a delicious overview with a bit of history, join a tour like Gastronomic Gastown, a culinary exploration of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood that combines comfort food, craft beer and historic tales told amid the cobblestones.
Vancouver is a real outdoorsy city too. The streets are lined with trees – especially lovely in spring, when they burst into bloom; the city even hosts an annual Cherry Blossom Festival (April). Vancouver also has its own slice of rainforest, Stanley Park, which has flower gardens that explode in spring and summer, and stands of trees that dazzle in fall. The park is enormous, so explore it via a Vancouver bike tour, utilising some of the city’s 270km of bike paths to wind along the seawall, between the old spruce and pines, and through rich First Nations history.
For more awe-inspiring trees, take the short (free) shuttlebus ride north of the centre to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, where since 1889 a wobbly bridge has crossed a verdant gorge above the Capilano River. Open year-round, the park, with its canopy adventure and vertiginous Cliffwalk, is always fun; in winter it’s festooned with fairylights for a festive treat. However, arguably the best time to visit is on a rainy shoulder-season day, when there are far fewer people, the treetops are hung with atmospheric mist, and the rainforest smells rich and alive.
Say the word ‘Whistler’ and you think champagne powder and good times on the piste. You wouldn’t be wrong. Further inland and at a higher elevation than Vancouver, Whistler’s alpine temperatures average a still-not-too-nippy -5°C during winter yet the snowfall is reliable and abundant, with dumps of 12m a year. Between them, Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains comprise over 8,100 acres of slopes, 16 alpine bowls, three glaciers, and world-class terrain parks. In Whistler there are opportunities for skiing/snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, tubing, ice climbing, ice fishing, dogsledding and ice skating, not to mention a lively après-ski scene.
But Whistler isn’t all about winter. In late spring, when the sun warms up but the white stuff remains, you can ski in a t-shirt on the summits then pop down to Whistler village for snow-free biking, early season hiking, paddling and possibly even a round of golf. Indeed, spring is a fine time for combining a bit of everything in Whistler, at a good price. It’s a quieter time in the village, and there are good deals to be found.
Spring is super for exploring the woods around Whistler too: as the snow melts, new growth appears and the forests feel more alive than ever. Lower trails begin to clear, perfect for mind-mellowing forest-bathing. However, to fully appreciate the flourishing canopy, try a zip line tour. Various high wires are strung above Whistler’s rivers, canyons and old-growth forest, including the 2.2km Sasquatch, the longest zip line in Canada and the USA.
Spring is also when the bears wake up. Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains are home to 60-or-so black bears. From April/May through to October, you can join an expert-led bear watching tour by 4WD and on foot through old growth forests, taking in feeding and hibernation sites. As the weather thaws, chipmunks, birds and deer appear too.
By summer Whistler has hotted up. Hike and bike trails are fully open and the cafe patios are busy with refuelling adventurers. The slopes are a floral fiesta of wildflowers, sun-lovers lounge on lake beaches and alfresco concerts, screenings and cook-ups keep everyone outside into the wee hours. It’s a mighty fine time to be in the mountains. But don’t rush off after the close of peak season. Autumn, with its turning leaves, crisper days, Fall for Arts culture festival and more laid-back pace, is arguably pick to the crop.
September is a fantastic time to hike. The trails are clear of both snow and people, the temperature is not too hot, not too cool, slopes are dappled with huckleberries and mountain blueberries and pockets of autumn colour add extra glow.
The trails are easily accessible too. The Peak 2 Peak gondola, the world’s longest and highest, provides easy access between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, each boasting alpine hiking trails with incredible views. Try the High Note Trail, which follows a ridge with magnificent views across to iconic Black Tusk and Helm Peak and down to dazzling-blue Cheakamus Lake.