What makes southern British Columbia unique? (Besides Vancouver)- 9 Cool Reasons 🇨🇦

lake at Garibaldi Provincial Park in British Columbia's coastal mountains
Garibaldi Lesly Derksen

Welcome to the south of British Columbia, a province like none of the rest. Distinct habitats and identities come out to make this place as unique as it gets in Canada. The Pacific Northwest meets the Rockies in this western frontier.

Provincial Flag of British Columbia
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At times infamously expensive, other times open and welcoming to immigrants, British Columbia has a whole lot of fames and features that make it unique in the world. And a pretty large concentration of those features happens to be in the south. Learn more about this spectacular province with a quick profile. Then see some of what makes this region so special.

southern BRITISH COLUMBIA: Quick Profile

Again when talking about Canada, the south of any province is where most of the action happens since it’s further from the Arctic. Southern British Columbia is generally considered what lies south of Queen Charlotte Sound on the coast and Prince George or Mount Robson, maybe. It is the location of the provincial capital, Victoria, as well as the biggest urban area of Vancouver.

BC takes up Canada’s whole west Pacific coast and in the south borders the United States. There are many large mountainous regions throughout, especially along the coast and with the Rockies and the Columbia Mountains in the east. The province overall has about 6,000 islands off its shores and around the Inside Passage. Here can be found large fjords and islands like the big Vancouver Island.

There’s also an Interior Plateau which has drier forests and valleys with a major wine-making region. The coast and islands have mostly oceanic climates with wet temperate forests, similar to the rest of Cascadia. Some areas in the interior are humid continental and some drier Mediterranean regions. The mountains generally have a tundra or Alpine climate.

The province is called British Columbia after the old mainland colony of the same name. This was for the basin around the Columbia River, called to distinguish it from the American-owned Columbia that would later become the Oregon Territory. The mainland was named after the Columbia River, named for a boat called the Columbia Rediviva, which comes from an old name for the New World, “Columbia.” Eventually, it all goes back to explorer Christopher Columbus.

Read more: about Canada; Earth’s Face places in Canada & beyond

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Why is southern British Columbia unique? …

1. Because of Okanagan

Vineyards of the central Okanagan Valley, Canada
valleys of OkanaganMack Male

What is it?:

The Okanagan Valley is that nice wine-making region I mentioned earlier. The weather here is among the most pleasant in Canada and the scenery is beautiful to match.

What’s it have?:

Besides those features, Okanagan has a number of valley towns and cities to check out. Kelowna, for instance, has the scenic Knox Mountain Park in the hills, as well as beach parks and waterfronts to enjoy on its beautiful lake. Kamloops has a cool Heritage Railway tracking the backbone of British Columbian history, along with the natural Lac du Bois Grasslands nearby.

The city of Vernon has excellent natural areas on its lakes like Ellison Provincial Park, or in Silver Star Mountain for skiing. There’s also the Davison Orchard’s Country Village which is like a fun frontier town inside Vernon. There are a bunch of other towns that seem popular for visitors … and they’ve all got wineries.

Read more: Okanagan Wine Country Tours

2. Because of its Frontier Parks

Takakkaw Falls and a rainbow in Yoho National Park, southern British Columbia
Takakkaw Falls, YohoFir0002

What are those?:

By this, I’m just talking about the national parks out near the border with Alberta. The Rocky Mountains of British Columbia are very pretty like all the other Rockies and are home to some unique parks. Two that stand out are Yoho National Park and Kootenay National Park.

What do they have?:

Other than amazing montane landscapes and deep blue lakes surrounded by serene forest? Well, Yoho is home to the famed Lake O’Hara which is popular for photographers and nature-goers.

Also here are Takakkaw Falls, Canada’s second-tallest and an amazing sight to see. Over in Kootenay are similar attractions, although there is a majestic glacier there, as well as its very own Grand Canyon to explore. This one has a lot more trees around it though.

3. Because of the Rocky & Columbia Mountains

Sunset by Wapta Falls.jpg
Wapta Falls, Canadian RockiesJakub Fryš

What are they?:

As you might know, the Rockies and the Columbia Mountains are two somewhat connected mountain chains that extend between the U.S. and Canada. They are home to some of the most gorgeous natural settings in all of North America. Snow-capped mountains and glaciers “cascade” down into picturesque lakes surrounded by pine forests and flowery meadows.

giant cedar trees and a forest boardwalk in Mount Revelstoke National Park, British Columbia
Giant Cedars Boardwalk, Mt. RevelstokeNatulive Canada

What do they have?:

To get more specific, there are a number of great parks to visit in the area. The Kakwa Wildland and Glacier National Park are two incredible choices, the former being the home of beautiful Kakwa Falls. In the Columbias is a range called the Selkirk Mountains.

These babies have a similar natural beauty to the Rockies but with some distinct rock compositions. The Purcell Wilderness is a notable park here, and the most incredible one based on what I’ve seen is Mount Revelstoke Provincial Park, a place that sure leaves visitors “reveling.”

4. Because of the Mountains around Squamish & Whistler

dense woodlands of the Joffre Lakes region of southern British Columbia, Canada
Joffre LakesAkshay Chauhan

What is that?:

So Squamish is a small rustic town amidst these towering mountains and wilderness areas. It seems like a cool getaway before going off on sporting adventures or to a cabin. Whistler is a similar mountain village a bit more in the hills. I’m sure it looks magical in the wintertime and with all the Christmas lights. As it happens, these two towns are surrounded by incredible mountain scenery, part of Canada’s Coastal Range.

Sea to Sky Gondola in the summertime outside of Squamish
Sea to Sky Gondola, SquamishJosephine Lin

What do they have?:

Squamish itself has a Sea to Sky Gondola which takes visitors from a sound on the ocean, basically, up high into the mountains. Whistler Blackcomb is set outside the town as a series of ski and snow sport resorts for athletes to take on. Not far is Garibaldi Provincial Park, a famed spot for hikers and explorers to reach (really high) heights and witness some of the calmest and snowiest parts of southern British Columbia.

The lake scenery there is just jaw-dropping too. Another lake haven is Joffre Lakes, similar but with a lot more forest. I’m telling you, just look up some pictures of these places, you won’t believe it. A little further out but in the general region is the Fraser River Canyon whose windy rapids lead to a cool cross-bridge called Hell’s Gate. Sinister.

5. Because of Nelson and Kokanee

people enjoying the beach at Kokanee Creek
Kokanee CreekPicryl

What are they?:

Nelson is a town out in southern BC that is utterly encircled by nature. It’s actually a quite pretty town situated on Lake Kootenay. Kokanee is really the name of a few natural parks around Nelson with amazing landscapes, as we should expect.

What do they have?:

Nelson seems like a cool forest getaway spot mixing in a unique availability of lake and wilderness excursions. Not far is Kokanee Lake with serene natural surroundings. Kokanee is also a glacier park and a creek park with some beaches to enjoy those winding waters.

6. Because of Vancouver Island

view from between trees at a lake and islet in Strathcona Provincial Park, Vancouver Island
Strathcona Provincial ParkLesly Derksen

What is it?:

Oh, only the biggest and most populous North American island in the Pacific Ocean. Vancouver Island was actually its own separate colony at one point until merging with British Columbia as a single province. Because of that, it’s got this separate Britain-y, colonial feel to it but with all the nature inclusive of the rest of BC. It’s even got a warmer climate than most of the country and is home to Victoria.

sunset on a beach near Tofino, Vancouver Island, British Columbia
beach near TofinoShlomo Shalev

What does it have?:

One of the best parts of Vancouver Island is the West Coast Trail. This trail rides the coast along with forests, quiet beaches, hidden coves, and even a waterfall or two. A major feature of this is the Pacific Rim (not the movie, sorry), a nature reserve filled with rocky tree-lined shores and some boardwalks that lead into the Pacific Northwest’s dense rainforests.

Popular coastal towns with a similar feel are Tofino and Ucluelet. Nanaimo is another important city with a rustic throwback village for visitors to wander back in time — and get good eats, of course. There is also a petroglyph park and Newcastle Island (Saysutshun) where the native heritage can be explored. Another quaint fishing village with just enough isolation is Ganges, set on Salt Spring Island just off the shore of larger Vancouver.

7. Because of Victoria

view of Parliament Buildings from a lamp around Victoria's inner harbour, British Columbia
Inner Harbour Reid Naaykens

What is it?

Located on the mighty Vancouver Island, Victoria is British Columbia’s coastal capital. The city sits along a pretty harbor and waterfront and is right next to an abundance of outdoor activities.

Craigdarroch Castle at evening, city of Victoria
Craigdarroch CastleMichal Klajban

What does it have?:

The main spot of Victoria is its Inner Harbour. Here are beautifully-built sights like the Parliament Buildings and the Empress Hotel, as well as the colorful Fisherman’s Wharf and park. There’s also the Royal BC Museum and Bug Zoo for you insect enthusiasts. Yep, one of a kind.

waterfall in Goldstream Provincial Park, south Vancouver Island outside of Victoria
Goldstream Provincial ParkRt44

Chinatown and Johnson Street are interesting neighborhoods to stroll through. Victoria has great urban parks like Beacon Hill and Abkhazi Gardens, and count the spectacular Butchart Gardens on the outskirts.

Nice coastal hangouts are Spiral Beach and Willows Beach, and there are even some full-out castles like Craigdarroch and Hatley. Outside of town are a number of great places to get into nature. To call out a few, you’ve got Gowlland Tod, the coastal East Sooke, and the falls-filled Goldstream Park.

8. Because of the Enchanted Forest & Big White

Big White village and ski resort covered in snow, Canada
Big White VillageFlickr

What are they?:

The Enchanted Forest is a woods area with themed forest adventures. Not far is Big White, another one of Canada’s famous ski resorts.

What do they have?:

Big White has snow activities in one of the most popular resorts in all BC. Within the Enchanted Forest is a setup like a fantasy world with fun adventures for whole families, including a skytrek, salmon run, and tons of fairies. Enjoy that.

9. Because of the Culture

Southern British Columbia is essentially the center of culture and identity for this province. Home to the biggest and most popular cities, resorts, and many an extraordinary wildlife wonderland. The outdoors are such a core part of this place, even if city life gets a little mixed in. This is the core of Canada’s West Coast culture since it’s really the only west coast it has. Traditional trains and logging tell their history amidst the booming new tech and business coming from all over the globe, especially with an Asia-Pacific flare.

The distinct Vancouver Island adds its special twist to the Cascades identity of this province that got its roots set by way of the railways. Trains, frontiers, western towns, and First Nations hold a deep significance here. That’s telling from the many places native traditions and symbols like totem poles are present. The diversity of its original and more contemporary settlers go hand in hand with the wide diversity of its landscapes.

With so much wilderness and unspoiled land, Southern British Columbia still hosts many of the animals that have diminished to rare in other parts of the continent. With wineries and vineyards running through some of Canada’s warmest locations, this is the nation’s setting sun to the far west. And the weather’s just a bit better than the north side.

**Thanks for reading about British Columbia’s southern portions. What’s your favorite part about this region? Are you from BC or have you been there? Share with us what else needs to be on this list! Contact me directly or collaborate at tietewaller@gmail.com. And please feel free to read some more posts here on the site. Take care and get out there! Peace.

Other reads: British Columbia ImmigrationBritish Columbia’s Unique GeographyBritish Columbia living & expensesBritish Columbia Wikipedia

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