Western Canada generally includes British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. These four provinces are brimming with attractions and adventures, such as the Rocky Mountains, world-renowned ski resorts, and fantastic annual celebrations. Here are the 15 must-see attractions in Western Canada.
A part of the Canadian Rockies but located in British Columbia, Yoho National Park is a hiker’s paradise. It offers views of the Rocky Mountains without the mass of crowds inevitably found in nearby Jasper and Banff. The Iceline Trail is an epic 13-mile (21km) trek, where hikers will overlook Yoho Valley, hike past Daly Glacier, and marvel at Takakkaw Falls.
HelloBC says, “Victoria is a dynamic city that offers a seamless mix of the past and the present.” One of Victoria’s top attractions is Butchart Gardens. Each year, nearly one million people visit the gardens, which features groups of themed floral displays: there’s a Mediterranean Garden, a Japanese Garden, a Rose Garden, and Italian Garden. The National Historic Site has been called one of the best botanical and public gardens in the world by the likes of USA Today, National Geographic, and Condé Nast Traveler.
Banff National Park is one of the top attractions in the entire country. Within the park is stunning Lake Louise, which is known for its turquoise color and Rocky Mountain surroundings. The lake is fed by a glacier and is overlooked by the impressive Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. In summer, visitors can canoe on the lake, while in winter it becomes a popular skating rink. Visitors must also travel down the Icefields Parkway, which connects Lake Louise and Jasper, and has been named one of the most picturesque highways in the world.
Impressive ski resort Whistler Blackcomb has repeatedly been named the best ski resorts in North America. as well as one of the top resorts in the world, with over 8,000 acres (327.5ha) of skiable terrain over two mountains. Whistler Blackcomb has to be at the top of must-visit destinations for anyone who enjoys skiing and snowboarding. The village is right beside the resort, so people can head straight from the mountain to one of Whistler’s many après-ski spots. Don’t forget to visit the PEAK2PEAK Gondola, also an award-winner and record-breaker.
Churchill is, hands down, the best place to see polar bears in Canada. The best time to visit is in October and November, when the polar bears are heading into Hudson Bay. Once the bay freezes over, the polar bears head out for the winter. During this period, there’s usually around 600–1,000 polar bears around Churchill and along the coast, near the Nelson and Churchill Rivers. The best way to see the polar bears is through one of the local tour companies, which have specialized tundra vehicles.
Surfing in Tofino
Located on Vancouver Island and in the Pacific Rim National Reserve, Tofino has been named the best surf town in North America by Outside magazine. It’s also known as Canada’s surf capital, with Long Beach—known for its ethereal beauty—being the most popular place. But there’s over 22 miles (35km) of surfable beach in Tofino. Although surfing may be the main attraction, Tofino is also known for its farm-to-table restaurants, hiking, and whale-watching.
The Calgary Stampede calls itself the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” It’s a 10-day rodeo event held every July in Calgary. More than one million people visit the Stampede each year, making it one of the world’s richest rodeos. It’s one of Canada’s largest festivals and one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions. Although the rodeo is the biggest draw, the Stampede also includes concerts, agricultural competitions, exhibitions, and parades. Usher and The Roots will be headlining in 2017.
Adjacent to The Forks in Winnipeg is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It’s the city’s newest attraction and an important development for Canada as a whole. According to the Library of Parliament, the museum’s purpose it to “explore the subject of human rights with a special but not exclusive reference to Canada, in order to enhance the public’s understanding of human rights, to promote respect for others and to encourage reflection and dialogue.”
The Honda Celebration of Lights festival has happened every summer in Vancouver for the past 25 years. It’s the world’s longest-running offshore fireworks competition, and British Columbia’s biggest public event. For three nights in July or August, three different countries compete to win the fireworks festival with 20-minute-long fireworks extravaganzas. The competition occurs in English Bay and can, fortunately, be seen from a variety of viewpoints.
Known as the Queen Charlotte Islands until 2009, Haida Gwaii is a mystical 180-mile-long (290km) archipelago off the coast of British Columbia. National Geographic named it one of its best trips for 2015 for its remote and rugged beauty. The two main islands, Moresby and Graham, are home to rain forests, 60 miles (100 kilometers) of beach at Naikoon Provincial Park. Worth a visit is SGang Gwaay – a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site. Gwaii Haanas – translated from Haida meaning ‘Islands of Beauty’ – is nationally protected from mountaintop to sea floor and includes five Haida cultural sites where Haida Gwaii Watchmen camp from May to September to share their stories and to protect these precious cultural heritage places. Gwaii Haanas is only reachable by boat or plane.
Just up the Icefields Parkway from its sister park in Banff, Jasper National Park has just as many attractions amid the Rocky Mountains. One of its most popular attractions is the Columbia Icefield, which feeds eight glaciers. Suspended 900 feet (274 meters) in the air, the Icefield’s Glacier Skywalk has a glass observation platform with incredible views of glaciers, gorges, wildlife, fossils, and waterfalls.
The Inside Passage is a well-traveled and sheltered path for cruise ships and freighters generally beginning in Washington State’s Puget Sound and ending in Alaska. Weaving through the many islands scattered off North America’s Pacific Coast, the passage offers stunning views of mountains, fjords, glaciers, rain forests, and beaches. British Columbia’s portion consists of up to 25,000 mi, (40,000km) of coastline. Enjoy these views with cruises from BC Ferries: from Vancouver to the Sunshine Coast, Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands, or up the Inside Passage to Haida Gwaii.
Dinosaur Provincial Park—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—is one of the world’s richest dinosaur fossil locations. This very different landscape in Western Canada allows travelers to step into another world. The Badlands area trades snowy mountains for hoodoos, valleys, and barren lands. Go on walks where dinosaurs once roamed and participate in an authentic dinosaur dig.
The Okanagan Valley in British Columbia is filled with award-winning wineries, many of them located along Okanagan Lake’s shoreline. The 112-mile-long (180km) valley includes the towns of Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon, and Osoyoos. Visit Canada’s most popular winery, Summerhill Pyramid Winery, and enjoy organic and biodynamic wine specialties, panoramic lake views from its Sunset Organic Bistro, and a unique wine sculpture waiting to be photographed.
Festival du Voyageur is Western Canada’s largest winter festival. The annual 10-day event takes place every February in Winnipeg’s French Quarter, Saint-Boniface, every winter since 1970. The festival celebrates Canada’s French heritage and fur trading past with concerts, exhibits, fashion shows, and even outdoor discos. The biggest attraction each year is the impressive snow sculptures, which can reach 20 ft. (6m) tall.