On the road in British Columbia: 3 top routes for driving fanatics

The best way to experience Canada’s wilderness is in an RV motorhome. Follow our road trips and discover the vast setting where movies including Planet of the Apes, Highlander, Stargate and The X-Files were filmed...

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British Columbia has become a shooting haven for TV producers and film directors, and it’s easy to see why. This Canadian state is nearly four times larger than the UK. Outside the cities there are miles of roads darting into the horizon, pine carpets that cradle bodies of water so deep no one has ever found the bottom, and hidden ranches dotted across the terrain, where those in the know go off piste on horseback. 

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The best way to see Canada’s fourth largest province is by car. But not the titchy British cars made for driving through our UK country lanes and cobbled streets; this terrain calls for a vehicle that mirrors the enormity of the surroundings – an RV. In a sturdy portable home visitors can immerse themselves in the dense forests, lake towns and vineyards (yes vineyards!) in this wild, untamed region. In an RV it’s possible to camp next to vast canyons, spot brown bears and inhale air so clean you’ll want to bottle it. Here’s what not to miss on a road trip around BC…

Vancouver to Kelowna (Highway 5A, approx four hours) 

Flanked by chunky mountains and shiny bodies of water reflecting the big blue sky, this wide-open road is a great introduction to the BC countryside. Stops along the way include the cute little town of Hope. A worthy pit stop, for a coffee and a Mediterranean wrap, is the Blue Moose Café (322 Wallace St). Here hungry drivers can also stock up on road snacks at a local supermarket. However, it’s the final stop of the day that will make you gulp (in a good way). West Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley is a well-kept Canadian secret. Ninety percent of Canadian wine is produced within the surrounding microclimates. Incredibly, there are more than 60 varieties of grape, including pinot noir, chardonnay and merlot. Our favourite? The ice wine (the grapes are frozen while still on the vine, creating a more concentrated, sweet wine), truly unique.

What to do: Mountain bike 16km down Crystal Mountain with Monashee Adventure Tours. This is a great way to see the breathtaking wine region in its entirety, and experience the wind in your hair as you wind down the mountain. At the bottom, pop into the Gellatly Nut farm and learn about the nation’s famous exports.

Where to eat: Fine diners should book a table at the Mission Hill Estate Family Winery, where a variety of wines are paired with immaculately presented courses. The open air restaurant comes into its own during the early evening, as the sun dips on the horizon. However, do take a jacket, after dark it can get chilly (depending on the time of year you visit). For a hearty and healthy lunch, try our favourite in the area – Basket Case Picnics. This  gourmet delivery company only uses locally grown organic ingredients, and creates drool-inducing things like winter green salads, with spicy almonds, marinated olives and fresh parmesan, and locally farmed halibut and oyster ceviche. 

Where to stay: RV campsite West Bay Beach Resort (westbaybeachresort.com) is one of the most spectacular spots in the area. It has 400 feet of beautiful, clean sandy beaches against a gigantic fresh water lake and mountains in the background. Guests swim, wakeboard and go fishing right off the shore and can enjoy a communal bonfire on the beach of an evening.


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Kelowna to Clinton (Highway 97C, approx 5 hours)

Take the old wagon route through Canadian cowboy country to Clinton, a small town that once marked the fork in the road to two different Cariboo gold mines. The pace really slows down in this area – full of woodland trails, mountain meadows and open ranchlands, it has more ranch guesthouses than anywhere else in BC, giving it a distinctive Wild West flavour. In May, they hold annual ball with rodeo and dancing. While on the road keep your eyes peeled for big game – in the form of moose, deer, cougars and bears.

What to do:
Horseback riding, hiking, gold panning and fly fishing are the order of the day in these parts. Local guides such as John Perry offer fishing tours, and most ranches in the area provide horse-riding trips. Beginners can learn how to ride like a cowboy in the nearby area of Jesmond, along the foothills of Mount Bowman with Echo Valley Ranch and Spa (evranch.com). A gentle trot will take you to the spectacular Fraser Canyon.

What to eat: Echo Valley Ranch and Spa is run by an English man and Thai lady. One night a week they honour their Asian roots by dishing up organic Thai food, cooked from ingredients grown on their farms. Each night, guests can opt for a family-style meal, served in big sharing bowls on large sociable tables, and taste fresh spring rolls, stir fried beef and chicken with green beans and chili – it’s out of this world.

Where to stay: If you’re looking for a break from the RV, bed up in a proper Canadian ranch for the night. Echo Valley has luxury suites, cabins and lodge rooms for up to 40 people. Plus great activities such as yoga, massages and therapies.

Clinton to Whistler (Highway 99, approx 4.5 hours)

The landscape from Clinton to Whistler changes from hilly ranchland to dense forests and steep mountain passes, at inclines of 75 per cent. Driving here is thrilling stuff, the sharp bends, sheer drops and dramatic peaks make you and your five-tonne vehicle feel like a hobbit driving a toy car through the looming backdrop, in a Canadian Lord of the Rings. Upon entering Whistler the scenery turns into a Christmas card scene. This skiing epicentre has drawn the adventurous for decades, who come to conquer the town’s 2,181-metre Whistler Mountain. More recently, during the off peak months, it’s become a downhill biking Mecca. Hundreds of thrill-seekers take to the dry slopes, and use the gondolas to maximise their riding time. As a result, life in this small town is never boring. Bars, clubs and restaurants are open all year round.

What to do: Apart from the obvious (biking and skiing), there’s heli skiing, bungee jumping, white water rafting and ziplining to try. Whistler Ziptrek Ecotours has built a web of lines to zip line down, in between platforms in the mountain forest, all connected by aerial stairways and bridges. The lines hover above rivers and gorges – the longest of which spans 2200 feet.

What to eat: In the centre of Whistler village, Araxi restaurant is a trendy spot to come for a sophisticated après-ski (or bike) bite. Off-season the place is still packed with locals, who come to tuck into oysters, seafood and carefully presented mains (think: yarrow meadow duck breast, roasted saddle of rabbit and ranch steak) presented Araxi Restaurant (araxi.com) bar.

Where to stay: Whistler is packed with mega hotels, which cater for the hordes of visitors during the ski season. Crystal Lodges (crystal-lodge.bc.ca) is a mega hotel, right in the centre of the action. Rooms range from tradition alpine suites to gigantic 800 square feet loft suites, complete with balconies overlooking the village, open fireplaces and multiple bedrooms.

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How to rent an RV: Cruise Canada RV is a good place to start. This company offers C25 motorhomes, complete with beds for four (larger vans available), linen, a dining table, sink and a fridge freezer that is probably bigger than the one you have at home. Plus, each comes with a flushing loo, shower and a full cooker and kitchen set. Prices start from £24 per night depending on where you collect and the model you select. Don’t forget to factor in gas as an extra cost.

Package deal:  Alternatively, try a seven night fly-drive package to British Columbia with Virgin Holidays British Columbia from £1,999pp.

Radio Times was hosted by Virgin Holidays


Visit Canada’s vast British Columbia area with Radio Times Travel, click here for more details

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