There are three weeks to go until Victoria Day, the unofficial start of summer in B.C. Right around that time, Vancouverites wipe down their patio furniture, stock up on gas for the barbecue, and then—all of a sudden—jump into summer like kids doing cannonballs off a pier.
But why wait for the Queen’s blessing to get into the vacation spirit? Let’s face it: the weather is so variable in June and early July that May can be just as good for a getaway. Even if school holidays tie you to July and August, now’s the time to make those reservations.
What to do? Where to go? Here are 10 ideas that will shake you out of spring and into summer.
Ride Whistler’s Valley Trail
While exploring the heights of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains in the summer is undeniably glorious, you don’t need to ascend anything to enjoy the scenery. Just walk, run, or cycle Whistler’s Valley Trail, which connects the town’s neighbourhoods with over 40 kilometres of paved trail and boardwalk. The pleasant routes meander past lakes, golf courses, and playgrounds, making this a good outing for everyone in the family—including the dog, with plenty of off-leash areas. Find maps and recommended itineraries at the Whistler website, as well as a downloadable bicycle scavenger hunt that helps families discover the area through clues that lead to photo ops. You can rent bikes in the village if you don’t bring your own.
Celebrate Canada and cherries in Osoyoos
A new music festival is in the works for Osoyoos, slated for five days over the Canada Day long weekend (June 27 to July 1). While the lineup is still being finalized, the free concerts at the Desert Live Music Festival will span rock, reggae, funk, and more. They’ll take place on Gyro Beach beside Osoyoos Lake, where the 66th annual Cherry Fiesta also happens on July 1. The latter features a parade, a pancake breakfast, a cherry-pie eating contest, and more. See Destination Osoyoos website.
Soak up the artistic vibe of Nelson
Situated on the west arm of Kootenay Lake with the Selkirk Mountains as a backdrop, the city of Nelson retains its small-town charm. During the annual Artwalk from July to September, many local shops and restaurants double as galleries, displaying rotating works by more than 65 artists. There are also more traditional galleries and an outdoor sculpture exhibition to explore.
Dig into seafood in Tofino
From May 1 to 29, this coastal town will celebrate “boat-to-table” cuisine during its annual Feast Tofino festival. Successive weeks highlight salmon, shellfish, crab, and spot prawns, with restaurants offering prix fixe menus on each theme. Other events include dinners hosted by guest chefs from Vancouver restaurants, beachside barbecues, and a long-table dinner. The May 25 Dockside Festival features seafood tastings and educational tours on sustainable seafood processing. For something more active, there’s even a day of back-road dirt biking that ends in a gourmet barbecue in the forest.
Love a llama in the Rocky Mountains
Wouldn’t it be nice to hike through pristine mountain scenery unencumbered by a heavy pack? The Canadian Adventure Company sends llamas to accompany guests on their treks through the Punch Bowl area of the Rocky Mountains—along with a human guide, of course. This is remote country: to get there, you must first drive six hours from Kelowna to Valemount and then fly by helicopter for half an hour to the company’s Mallard Mountain Lodge. The three-, four-, and seven-day packages are priced on the high end, to be sure, but they let you get away from it all without carrying it with you.
Grab a lift in Squamish
Whether or not they’re interested in backcountry hiking, many people will climb aboard the new Sea to Sky Gondola this summer out of sheer curiosity. The long-anticipated project, located between the Stawamus Chief and Shannon Falls, will zip passengers from its base beside Highway 99 up to Habrich Ridge at an elevation of 885 metres. From there, visitors can walk the trails, take in views of Howe Sound and the surrounding mountains, cross a suspension bridge, or just kick back in the new restaurant and bar. The operation is slated to open May 16 and run daily through the summer, with reduced hours through winter; see Sea to Sky Gondola website.
Dip a paddle into Desolation Sound
For those who’d like to do remote, multiday kayaking but want to sleep on a real bed rather than camp at day’s end, there’s a new option in Desolation Sound Marine Park. Powell River Sea Kayak has built a cluster of cabanas on a 97-hectare, uninhabited island, complete with a café that serves locally harvested food. The outfit offers two- to four-night guided or unguided kayaking packages that include meals and accommodation. It takes four to six hours to paddle from the Okeover Inlet launch point to the cabins; or, you can motor over and paddle around from there. See the BC Kayak website.
Walk through history in Victoria
Besides offering a bit of exercise, the benefit of walking tours is that they actually make you stop walking and learn something. You may never look at Victoria the same way again after a 90-minute tour with Discovery Walks. Led by local historians, the tours cover a range of neighbourhoods like James Bay, Fernwood, and Uplands, and subjects such as Emily Carr (who lived in the city) and the city’s once-large Japanese population. The Jewish-history tour starts at the oldest continuously active synagogue in Canada, Congregation Emanu-El, which marked its 150th anniversary last year.
Meet the folk in Duncan
The Islands Folk Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary this summer with Spirit of the West as its headliner. The family-friendly event takes place from July 18 to 20 at Providence Farm in Duncan, where camping is available on a first-come basis. The festival supports songwriters from Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, and on opening night, the nine semifinalists of the festival’s songwriting competition will get their chance to perform. See the Islands Folk Festival website for the rest of the lineup.
Go for gold in Barkerville
If you’re up for a road trip through history, take a journey that starts in New Westminster and winds 740 kilometres north to a legendary town. The Gold Rush Trail is the route followed by pioneers in the late 1850s, and it includes parts of the original Cariboo Wagon Road. A Destination B.C. guide at the Gold Rush Trail website maps out the highlights, including Hell’s Gate—the deepest and narrowest point of the Fraser River—and Barkerville National Historic Site, where visitors can still pan for gold.