Another year of unprecedented events and uncertainty. Here in British Columbia, we were challenged by weather extremes as well as the continuing pandemic.
Fortunate enough to escape any kind of lockdown, it was the climate issues that brought me the most anxiety in 2021.
It started with a heat wave in late June, bringing 40°C+ temperatures and flooding. Wildfires followed, with evacuation alerts/orders and smoke covering most of the province for almost the entire summer.
In autumn, torrential rain resulted in deadly mudslides and highway closures. We were completely cut-off from Vancouver by road; grocery stores quickly emptied.
Needless to say, it’s been another weird year. I feel very lucky to have made so many amazing memories and also experience professional success despite it all.
Working online, we were privileged to be able to leave our Penticton home during the smokiest months. It did become a habit, however, to leave a bag of important documents with a neighbour in case a wildfire swept in and destroyed our home while we were gone. A very sobering thought.
Onto happier ones…here are our 2021 highlights!
South Okanagan exploration
With regional travel restrictions in place, we stayed close to home in spring. With the Okanagan Valley being one of the warmest places to be in Canada at that time of year, it wasn’t too much of a hardship.
As we did in 2020, we challenged ourselves to find even more local hiking trails. I’m pleased to say we were successful, finding new favourites near Okanagan Falls and Summerland.
With indoor dining temporarily banned in late March, I decided to highlight Penticton’s extensive patio scene (my favourite type of research). With another pandemic summer looming, I figured camping would be just as popular as it was in 2020 and rated the best options.
Autumn may well be my favourite time to be in the Okanagan. The weather is warm, the colours are changing, the vineyards are ready for harvest.
To make the most of the season, we headed down to Osoyoos to discover some new wineries, walk the trails and learn about the Osoyoos Indian Band at the Nk’Mip Cultural Centre.
Returning to Vernon
Vernon was one of our favourite 2020 discoveries. Less than two hours drive from our Penticton home, this northern Okanagan city features three gorgeous lakes, an incredible network of hiking trails and the best spa resort in Canada.
Visiting during both spring and fall in 2021, we’ve now been able to see Vernon through most of the seasons. Overall, though, I think fall is the best season to visit Vernon.
Coastal hiking adventures
As someone who prefers to avoid busy hiking trails, the West Coast Trail wasn’t really on my radar until last year. With the international borders closed, I figured 2021 would be an ideal year to try it.
And I admit, I enjoyed our eight day trek on the 75km WCT much more than I thought I would. Not only was the scenery outstanding, but the trail comradery was surprisingly comforting after a long day traversing boulders and fallen tree obstacles.
A few months later, JR and I headed back to Vancouver Island to try a similar but different coastal route – the remote 35km Nootka Trail. We saw no-one else but our hiking companions (Leigh and John from Hike Bike Travel) for five days.
Even getting to the trailhead of the hike was quite an adventure – we had to charter a seaplane from Gold River (about an hour from Campbell River).
Wandering the alpine
My happy place is in the mountains and 2021 really delivered.
We started the season with a quick two night trip to Spectrum Lake in Monashee Provincial Park. While it was still too early to hike up into the alpine proper, we enjoyed swimming and relaxing around this pretty lake.
Our first real mountain adventure took place on the restored HBC Heritage Trail, a 74km backpacking route across the Cascades between Hope and Tulameen. With many highs and lows (literally), our five days on the trail were a true challenge. We had to finish one day early due to wildfire smoke.
With the Berg Lake Trail out of commission due to flooding (caused by the June heat wave), we found ourselves with a gap in our schedule. The coast was the obvious choice, with BC’s interior being smoked out with wildfire.
We decided to try out the ‘beaten track’ for once, and hiked some of the most popular trails in the Squamish area (Elfin Lakes, Watersprite Lake) and check out summer operations at Whistler.
Later on in the summer, we managed to tick off a few more iconic trails – Trophy Mountain (Wells Gray Provincial Park), Cream Lake (Strathcona Provincial Park), Edith Cavell Meadows (Jasper NP) and the Sulphur Skyline (Jasper NP) – and also take a walk on Golden’s incredible new suspended Skybridge.
An iconic canoe trip
Paddling Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park had been on our ‘to do’ list for almost a decade. Home of Spirit Island and one of Canada’s most awe-inspiring views, Maligne Lake is also the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies.
After scoring a much coveted reservation back in January, we arrived to the lakeshore in August in a blizzard. Needless to say, our four day Maligne Lake canoe trip was certainly unforgettable.
Post-Maligne Lake, we spent three days at the gorgeous Overlander Lodge at the eastern border of Jasper National Park. It was the perfect way to reflect on our epic adventure.
Small town discoveries
As big supporters of local tourism, we were thrilled to work with so many small town/city destinations in Western Canada in 2021.
One of the big surprises was Merritt, a hub for so many travelling between BC’s Lower Mainland region and the Okanagan. We hiked as many local trails as possible in four days and fell in love with the easy accessibility.
Sundre, Alberta, was completely unknown to us before we headed there in August. In addition to an astonishing amount of things to do, we also found Sundre to be one of friendliest places we have ever visited.
Previously living on Vancouver Island, we had driven through Parksville so many times before. To spend dedicated time in the area was a true pleasure, especially when we hung out with wild orcas one afternoon!
Another ‘hiding in plain sight’ destination was Boundary Country, a scenic region of BC sandwiched between Castlegar and Osoyoos. Our early fall road trip was punctuated with great hiking, wholesome food and fascinating heritage sites.
While making all of the amazing memories listed above, 2021 was also our best business year so far. I’m as surprised as anyone to say that, especially with the pandemic in mind.
Back in 2012, I registered the offtracktravel.ca domain name and dreamed of being a successful, self employed travel blogger. I am so thankful for what we’ve been able to achieve in the last ten years and the lifestyle we now have.
Safety and sustainability
With more people heading outdoors than ever before, it’s never been more important to share messages of safety and sustainability.
This was a focus for me in 2021. I put together a number of outdoor safety guides, to be linked in every related blog post on Off Track Travel.
To continue this theme, we both completed a Wilderness First Aid course in June to help keep ourselves and other people safe on the trails.
10 years in Canada
Celebrating ten years in Canada feels like a very fitting end to this annual round-up. We flew from the UK to British Columbia in 2011 with no real plans, besides potentially working a ski season.
I would never have guessed how things would turn out. And I definitely would not have expected to still be living in BC a decade later! Even with the climate problems, I honestly wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Looking to 2022
2021 ended with more weather extremes, with record breaking freezing temperatures in December. This happened over the Christmas period, which we spent with my parents. After not seeing them in almost two years, it was a particularly special festive period.
At this point, I’d usually make a few comments about the year ahead….but since this post is being published later than usual, we’re already two weeks into 2022!
Late or not, I’m still excited about what lies ahead. A little apprehensive too, since it’s going to be hard to beat 2021 on a professional level.
Thank you for supporting and following us this past year. I hope you also had a enjoyable year, despite obvious circumstances. Here’s to 2022 being more ‘normal’ and better for everyone!
Read our other annual round-ups
One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada