British Columbia is a land of dramatic mountain peaks, azure alpine lakes and spectacular coastal scenery with two modern cosmopolitan cities at its heart. It’s a place to hike, ski, whale watch and eat great sushi.

But British Columbia also has some other, sometimes surprising, activities on offer. Here are just a few of my favourite unexpected things to do in British Columbia.

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Go back in time at Barkerville

British Columbia is home to many excellent museums, but the most interactive of these has to be the most excellent historic town of Barkerville near Wells.

At Barkerville, visitors can spend a day as a Cariboo Gold Rush miner. Immersive activities include a trip to church, gold panning, calligraphy lessons, theatre productions and drinks in the local saloon.

Resident actors bring the town to life with tours of the town, waterwheel demonstrations, trials in the courthouse, miner shareholder meetings and more. It’s a time warp back to the late 19th century.

Things to do in British Columbia - Going back in time in Barkerville
Barkerville’s main street
cariboo amateur dramatic association barkerville bc
Cariboo Amateur Dramatic Association, Barkerville, BC

Learn to surf in Tofino

Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand all rank as some of the world’s top places to surf. But did you know that the tiny town of Tofino, British Columbia, is also often listed right next to them?

OK, so the water is usually a little chillier here than other surfing spots, but the breaks are good, the vibe laid back and the backdrop just so darn picturesque.

With over 35 kilometres of golden beaches and ancient rainforest looming right behind them, Vancouver Island’s west coast is a memorable place to learn to surf.

Things to do in British Columbia - JR having a go at surfing in Tofino
JR surfing in Tofino
Ocean waves breaking on Botanical Beach
Botanical Beach, Juan de Fuca coast, Vancouver Island

Snorkel with the salmon in Campbell River

Seeing the spectacle of bright red salmon swimming and jumping upstream during spawning time is an essential late summer BC experience.

If you want a more immersive experience, however, look no further than Campbell River on Vancouver Island. Here, you can actually swim fin-to-fin with the sea of salmon.

Several companies in town offer this unusual perspective on the annual salmon run. Of course, you can also bring your own snorkel too but be sure to read this advice from Beaver Aquatics first to avoid disturbing the fish. This definitely must be one of the most unusual things to do in British Columbia.

A river full of salmon

Explore a desert in Osoyoos

BC’s southern interior region features a Canadian landscape almost no visitor would expect. It’s an area characterised by arid ground, high plateaus, scrubland, sun-scorched grasslands and small clumps of cacti.

Trees are few and far between. One of the native residents is the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. 

And encompassing it all is a very, very dry climate. At the southern edge (near Osoyoos), there is even an area commonly referred to as a desert. This is the Canada you never imagined!

The Spotted Lakes of Osoyoos
The Spotted Lakes of Osoyoos
Osoyoos and hill views from Anarchist Mountain, British Columbia
The town of Osoyoos from Anarchist Mountain, British Columbia

Try caving on Vancouver island

The highest concentration of caves in the world is found on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. Just under 5% of the surface area here is actually comprised of so-called “karst,” a type of landscape formed by rock erosion (think sinkholes, caves and underground streams).

For this reason, the Island is a spelunker’s dream. Day-long guided tours leave from Horne Lake while independent explorers should check out Little Huson and Upana Caves a little further north. Be sure to bring a helmet and headlamp for the latter.

JR with cave looming over him, Vancouver Island
Little Huson Caves on Vancouver Island
JR climbing through a cave, Upana Caves near Gold River
Exploring Upana Caves near Gold River

Go wine tasting in the Okanagan Valley

Canadian wine may not be world renowned (yet) but there’s probably a lot more wine produced here than you would think. British Columbia, in particular, is home to one of the top wine producing regions in Canada – the Okanagan Valley.

The hot, dry summers with long daylight hours and moderately cold winters lend themselves to grape growing.

Overlooking rolling mountains and deep lakes, the wineries here must offer some of the prettiest vineyard views in the world. Wine tasting has to be one of my favourite things to do in all of British Columbia. There are plenty of wine tasting tours available or you can easily wine tour independently

Gemma walking through a vineyard on the Naramata Bench, British Columbia
The beautiful Naramata Bench, British Columbia
Naramata Bench vineyards with lake views behind
Therapy Vineyards, Naramata Bench wine region

Drive the Aaska Highway

Now this one is a bit of a head-scratcher. The Alaska Highway is a magnificent 2,2000km journey through the great northern wilderness. Think rugged mountains, azure lakes, raging rivers and limestone gorges. Here’s the clincher – over 1000km of it hat is actually in British Columbia.

While Yukon and Alaska are amazing in their own way (and I’d highly recommend visiting), this just goes to show that you don’t have to go all the way north to experience this epic road trip.

Moose crossing the Alaska Highway, one of the best road trips in Canada
Traffic on the Alaska Highway, British Columbia
JR with the Northern Rocky Mountains on the Alaska Highway, British Columbia
Northern Rocky Mountains on the Alaska Highway, British Columbia

Hike on a volcano

It may surprise you to discover that some of those mountains that BC is so famous for are actually volcanoes! A chain of volcanic peaks runs from southwestern British Columbia to northern California, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Keep in mind, however, there hasn’t been an eruption or serious volcanic activity for hundreds of years.

Beautiful in their slumber, many popular hikes summit these dormant giants or travel through inactive volcanic fields. The distinctive Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park (near Vancouver) for example, is an extinct stratovolcano.  

Garibaldi Lake covered with ice and snow
Garibaldi Lake, British Columbia

Go diving on the BC coast

In a similar manner to British Columbia’s surfing, the diving here is world class…as long as you prepare appropriately for the cooler temperatures. The famed diver Jacques Costeau apparently named diving in British Columbia second only to the Red Sea for clarity and marine diversity.  

With forests of giant sponges, delicate coral, tiny nudibranchs, vibrant sea stars and giant Pacific Octopus, BC’s underwater landscape teems with life and colour. Non-divers can also check out the Vancouver Aquarium for a taster of the experience.

Goose Spit beach, Courtenay, British Columbia
Goose Spit beach, Courtenay, Vancouver Island
Ocean views, North Vancouver Island
Ocean views, North Vancouver Island

Did any of these BC activities surprise you? What would be at the top of your things to do in British Columbia list?

9 Things You Didn't Know You Could Do in British Columbia, Canada from surfing and wine tasting to hiking on volcanoes and snorkelling with salmon!

Most people know that British Columbia, Canada, is a great place to hike, ski and go whale watching. But there are plenty of other, sometimes surprising, things to do in BC! Click here to discover nine of them now!

British Columbia is a land of dramatic mountain peaks, azure alpine lakes and spectacular coastal scenery with two modern cosmopolitan cities at its heart. It's a place to hike, ski, whale watch and eat great sushi. But British Columbia also has some other, sometimes surprising, activities on offer. Click here to discover just a few of our favourite unexpected things to do in British Columbia!

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One half of a Canadian/British couple currently based in British Columbia, Canada. Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure.


  1. Thanks Gemma,
    I just subscribed to your site and am loving the writing and ideas. I purchased a camper van this year and plan to start the “big” adventure early summer 2018. I will be following your conversion as well as adventures and look forward to learning more.

    • Gemma Reply

      Thank you for joining us, I’m glad you’re enjoying what you’ve found so far! I’d love to hear about your camper van adventures too!

    • Gemma Reply

      Do let me know if you plan a trip to BC! I have many, many suggestions and ideas!

  2. Mt. St Helens in Washington State erupted on May 18, 1980. It is not in BC but very close.

    Mount Meager by Pemberton was the site of one of the largest volcanic explosions in Canada. About 2,400 years ago, the mountain erupted, triggering a major landslide and spewing ash as far as Alberta. It has become active of late with fumaroles.

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