9 Days Road Trip in British Columbia - Picturesque Southwest Mainland
I am a Canadian photographer from Quebec. I’ve always been told about the beauty of the west but until recently, I had never seen it myself. I was initially planning on visiting another country but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and I was stuck at home in Canada. Fortunately for Canadians, our country is incredibly diverse and beautiful and is filled with amazing opportunities for travel.
I decided to visit British Columbia but only had 9 days, so I had to make some tough decisions. British Columbia is huge, there is the south where Vancouver is and a massive island under Vancouver called Vancouver island that would take at least a week to see entirely.
Then there’s the rockies which have so many awe-inspiring spots that make it difficult to condense in a one week trip. I would like to spend at least a month in British Columbia if I were to visit the rockies.
Further up, there’s the north of British Columbia which is vast and mostly unexplored. This would be a perfect trip for someone who’s been to BC many times but wants to see something completely different.
Finally, there’s the mainland which is filled with amazing spots that often are overlooked by visitors to British Columbia. This is where I decided I would spend my 9 days, visiting these often overlooked spots and looking for some beauty to capture.
This article is a guide for travelers and photographers who want to see as much as they can about lesser known photography spots all around British Columbia Southwest Mainland. In this blog post, I will go over my itinerary, including exactly how to get to the spots I visited, what I ate, where I slept, and more. Continue reading for my 9 day itinerary for British Columbia Mainland road trip from Vancouver.
Day 1: Vancouver and Whistler
On the first day, I arrived in Vancouver in what I would call the worst possible weather conditions. Unfortunately, there were wildfires raging across the western coast of the United States. This was a disappointment, but a reminder of how lucky I was, because I was traveling while many people were currently experiencing the worst moment of their lives.
I rented a Rav 4 (which turned out to be an amazing choice) for my trip. When we got the car we immediately left Vancouver and headed on the Sea-to-Sky Highway. The sea-to-sky highway is supposed to be one of the most scenic drives in British Columbia with views of the ocean and mountains. Unfortunately, all we saw was a wall of smoke blocking any possible views of the landscapes. If you were to visit BC any other time, this is what you could expect from the Sea-to-Sky Highway:
We had a planned stop on the Sea-to-Sky highway which I would recommend based on what other people say. Unfortunately, because of the smoke, this stop didn’t seem worth it. This is the Sea-to-Sky gondola, which runs year round. There is a parking space and you simply take the gondola up. The Sea-to-Sky gondola takes you high into the mountains with incredible views over the Howe Sound. There are some trails that will take you around the mountain, they are short and offer more incredible views of the Howe Sound, including an awesome suspension bridge perfect for a late evening Instagram shot. Here is the type of picture you can expect to take from the top of the Sea-to-Sky gondola:
Not all was lost however, once we arrived in Whistler at the Aava Whistler Hotel, we chilled for a bit and then headed out to see two specific waterfalls.
The first waterfall we saw was Alexander Falls, a 43 meter tall waterfall located a few minutes away from Whistler. We mostly had the waterfall to ourselves. There is a parking spot near an observation deck where you will be able to see the entire fall. You can also walk around the observation deck for a lower viewpoint of the falls without anything in the way for your tripod. I wouldn’t recommend coming all the way out here only for this fall, but it is a great spot to hit during your visit to Whistler. Here’s a picture I took of the Alexander Falls:
Next up, we visited the more famous Brandywine Waterfalls. Fortunately, the smoke had no effect on the visibility of the falls; we got to see it in all its glory. Brandywine falls is a 70m high waterfall located only 15 minutes away from Whistler. It is accessible through a free parking lot and a quick five minute walk to the falls crossing a very cool looking railway (not sure if any actual trains use it). Once at the waterfall, you will have access to an observation deck to see Brandywine in all of its splendor. Make sure to follow the fence walking in the opposite direction of the falls to reach a vast viewpoint over Daisy Lake and the valley. Here’s a shot I took of Brandywine Falls:
We finished the day with some delicious pub grub at La Brasserie. I would recommend visiting the Whistler village center and looking around at all the different restaurants, there are so many options to choose from here for any palette.
Day 2: Panorama Ridge Trail (Garibaldi Provincial Park)
On our second day in British Columbia, we planned to hit one of the most popular trails in the Garibaldi Provincial Park, the Panorama Ridge Trail. It is a massive 30km in-and-out hike that you can do in a day or two depending on if you are camping in the park. We decided to do it all in a single day.
To do the Panorama Ridge trail you need to be in good physical condition. I tend to think of myself as someone in good condition but I found the trail painfully excruciating. The first six kilometers are difficult and boring and go up in a steady incline. Near the end of these first six kilometers, my legs were already sore. Luckily for campers, the camping grounds are not too far from this first six kilometer leg, but for single day hikers like us, we still have a long way to go.
The mid-part of the hike is very beautiful. You have the option of going through the wildflower meadows or through the Garibaldi lake which will add 2km to the hike. I would recommend going through the flower meadows on your way to the Panorama Ridge and if you have time, come back through the Garibaldi lake on your return hike.
The flower meadows offer spectacular views of the Black Tusk mountain and are the easiest part of the hike. The best part of the hike for me was when we could see Black Tusk mountain in a beautiful open meadow of flowers and trees:
The final stretch of the hike is the hardest part. You will be making your final ascent by climbing rocks in a very steep incline to the top of a glacier where you will be able to have a bird’s eye view of the magnificent Garibaldi lake and surrounding mountains:
Unfortunately for us, because of the wildfires, the view was non-existent. Which is why we will eventually have to go back, probably by helicopter, to see the view we missed out on during the hike.
The hike took us around twelve hours to do including our breakfast and lunch breaks. We left at approximately 7:30AM and came back at 7:30PM right on time for the sunset. To begin the trail, you have to reach the Rubble Creek Parking Lot. There are many parking spots available but keep in mind that I went in September, you might have some trouble finding parking later in the morning during high season.
Overall, I would recommend the trail but would not recommend it if the air is filled with smoke from wildfires. You will not see a thing and because the trail is very hard, this might be the only time you ever do it and you’ll want to see the view the one time you do it.
Our night ended with an epic dinner at Bearfoot Bistro. The prices there are very high, but when we visited, there was a special three course meal on lobster for only $49 per person. It was delicious and paired with a bottle of British Columbia wine made our post-hike dinner very rewarding.
Day 3: Nairn Falls Provincial Park, Drive to Clearwater, BC
The third day in British Columbia also required some sacrifices. We had originally planned to hike the Cheakamus Lake, but given the poor conditions due to the smoke from the wildfires, we knew we wouldn’t be able to see anything on the lake. Coupled with massively sore muscles from our hike the day before, we decided to skip this hike entirely. This is what we missed out on:
Alternatively, we would have also loved to do the Joffre Lakes hike, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Provincial Park remains closed so we weren’t able to do that instead. This is what Joffre Lakes Provincial Park looks like:
Instead, we decided we would drive to Clearwater, British Columbia and stop at any point of interest on the way there (if we could see anything that is).
One of those stops was the Nairn Falls. Right outside Whistler, we stopped at the Nairn Falls parking lot and did the approximately 20 minute hike all the way to the falls. It was a very easy hike to do and was worth it. I had not heard of these falls when researching places in British Columbia but I was glad that I stopped. The whole area is very beautiful. The falls are unique because they are carved in stone which give the area a whole Jurassic Park feel to it. This is a picture I took of the waterfall:
After our one hour stop at the Nairn Falls, we headed back toward Clearwater on the highway. We stopped at many little points of interest on the side of the highway when we had a chance but the drive was mostly uneventful. The drive itself was very beautiful traveling through many different types of landscapes including massive mountains, dry deserts, and tall evergreens:
Once we got into Clearwater, it was already night and the sky was overcast so we decided to have a quick bite at a local restaurant that we both didn’t like so we won’t mention it here. We then went to bed early to get some rest and prepare for our day in Wells Gray.
Day 4: Wells Gray Provincial Park
Our fourth day in British Columbia was one of my favorite days. Wells Gray Provincial Park is home to many different jaw-dropping waterfalls and landscapes. As a photographer I was having a field-day taking pictures of all the different spots in the park.
All the waterfalls and hikes in Wells Gray have parking spots and are quite far apart which make a car essential to your journey in the park.
Our first stop of the day was Spahat Falls. Spahat Falls is a 60m tall waterfall built into an epic looking canyon. From the parking lot, the walk is only five minutes to the viewing platform that will give you gorgeous views of the waterfall and surrounding canyon. This is the picture I took of Spahat Falls:
There was also a nice little viewing platform in another parking lot very close to Spahat Falls, it’s worth a detour when visiting the falls as it will give you an incredible vista over the Wells Gray forest:
Our next stop was Moul Falls. Moul Falls is a must-stop in British Columbia. It was the highlight of the day for me. Pictures really don’t do it justice. Moul Falls is a beautiful waterfall with a cave built behind it which you can walk into. The entire experience of walking through the falls and inside the cave is simply incredible and well worth the approximately 90 minute hike.
For photographers, I would recommend getting some good shots of the fall from a higher vantage point, inside the cave, and on the water beneath the falls for some cool long exposures. Here is a picture that I took of the Moul Falls:
After the Moul Falls, we decided to have some lunch at the Green Mountain Viewing Platform. This is a platform that gives you a bird eyes view of the surrounding mountains inside the park. Unfortunately, the visibility was reduced from the smoke so there weren't really any opportunities for cool pictures here. If you have a 4x4 vehicle and the weather’s nice, I’d recommend a small detour to the viewing platform if you have time, there’s no hike and a parking lot right next to the platform.
Our next stop was Dawson Falls. Dawson Falls is a small waterfall on the Thompson River. From the parking lot, there’s a small 1 km hike to the fall’s viewing platform. The viewing platform is very cool because it brings your right next to the waterfall (you could probably reach it with your hand). The waterfall itself has a Niagara Falls vibe to it without the actual height of the Niagara but some very cool angles and opportunities for pictures.
From the viewing platform, there’s a secret spot that I found that will give you even better views of the falls. It’s a bit hazardous but if you’re willing to walk down the semi-used trail to the left of the platform, behind the bushes you’ll find a rock that takes you right in front of the waterfalls. This is an absolute killer spot for amazing photography. Here’s a picture I took of the Dawson Falls from that spot:
Finally, my last stop for the day was the world famous Helmcken Falls. This is the main attraction of the Wells Gray Provincial Park and for a reason, the waterfall stands at a massive 141 meters making it an impressive landscape to look at.
From the parking lot, the waterfall viewing platform is only a 2 minute walk away making it the most accessible waterfall in the Wells Gray Provincial Park.
Unfortunately for photographers, this waterfall is very popular and has been photographed to death. Getting a unique picture here will require some serious planning and skill. I went during a very average sunset so my picture was okay (there’s also no real way to take a different angle without a drone), hopefully you’re a bit more lucky than I am:
A nice addition to your day would be a stop at Bailey’s Chute during the salmon run in British Columbia. The salmon run is when salmon migrate from ocean to upper rivers to spawn on gravel beds. When these salmon make it to Bailey’s Chute, they try to jump the small waterfall but can’t make it over which makes it a nice show for bystanders or an easy meal for wild animals. We visited Bailey’s Chute pretty late so I don’t have any pictures to show for it due to poor lighting.
Wells Gray Provincial Park is also a perfect spot for astro photography due to the absence of light pollution. I would recommend arriving at the spot you plan on photographing before dusk though instead of making the same mistake I did. I went to Spahat Falls when it was already very dark and had to walk through bat-filled woods up to the viewing platform, it was scary and creepy. To top it off, I don’t have any picture to show for it because the waterfalls were already too dark. Instead, find a waterfall, shoot it before it’s completely dark, and then shoot the stars once they are visible and composite the pictures together. This would be a much better plan than whatever I did. Nonetheless, I found a cool way to shoot the stars regardless (minus the waterfall):
All in all, one day in Wells Gray Provincial Park was amazing. We finished our day off by eating some delicious 2-for-1 pizza in our hotel room and getting some well needed rest from our non-stop adventures.
Day 5: River Safari & Battle Bluffs Trail, Kamloops
For the fifth day in British Columbia, we headed to Blue River for a River Safari with the objective of seeing some wild black bears. Funnily enough, when we first arrived into Blue River, there was a black bear eating some hay by the side of a gas station. We quickly stopped for a few pictures before heading to the Safari:
The river safari was simply amazing and I would recommend it to anyone visiting this part of British Columbia. The ride itself is exhilarating, taking you through many twists and turns as you glide across turquoise waters surrounded by Canada’s rocky mountains. Here is one of the pictures taken from the boat of the landscapes the safari offers:
After a good 45 minute ride, we still hadn’t seen any bears. Our guide docked us in the forest where we disembarked to visit a beautiful hidden waterfall in the heart of the river’s forest. The waterfall itself was huge and impressive and definitely an added bonus to our safari adventure:
When we were close to the end of our tour, we got lucky and spotted a three-legged bear drinking on the side of the river. The bear quickly ran but after a few seconds, came back out from the bush and allowed us to capture some awesome shots before the end of our tour:
Following the River Safari, we headed back towards Salmon Arm and planned a hiking pit-stop before the sunset in Kamloops. We decided to do the Battle Bluffs trail which is a small 2 hour out-and-back trail that takes you through some unique British Columbia desert-like landscapes and ends with an amazingly rewarding view of the Kamloops Lake:
I didn’t expect to like the trail as much as I did, given the relative obscurity of the trail online in comparison to other popular British Columbia destinations, but it was an awesome stop that I would recommend to anyone going through Kamloops. Make sure that when you get to the top, you wait around for the train that passes on the mountain side nearby, it makes for some very cool instagram worthy shots:
We finished our day by driving to Salmon Arm as a rest stop before we continued our drive to Revelstoke the following day. We had some delicious pub grub and some well deserved sleep.
Day 6: Salmon Arm & Mount Revelstoke National Park
Day 6 was easily my most productive day in terms of photography. The weather was finally on our side and we hit one of the best trails on the west side of the rocky mountains!
We started off by heading to the Salmon Arm Quarry to see some of the birds that nest around the quarry in the early morning. Salmon Arm was still pretty smoky but I still managed to snag a nice looking picture of the Quarry:
I wouldn’t specifically recommend going out of your way to see the Salmon Arm Quarry but if you’re in town it’s definitely worth the detour. There’s also some great opportunities for bird photography which my girlfriend took advantage of (I should have too!).
We followed up the Salmon Arm shoot with a drive to Mount Revelstoke National Park to hike the famous Eva Lake and Miller Lake Trail.
Mount Revelstoke National Park is a really small national park next to the city of Revelstoke. It’s built on a mountain with a really nice road zig-zagging all the way to the summit. There’s also a few viewpoints to stop by on the way to the summit that are definitely worth stopping at.
The trail to the Eva Lake and Miller Lake trail is all the way up the mountain in the last parking lot on the paved road called Meadows in the Sky Parkway. The actual trail itself is not easy to find, you aren’t allowed to take your car all the way to the top of the summit, you have to park 1km lower from the summit and a bus can then take you to the top depending on the time and season.
Otherwise, there’s a 1km hike to the top of the summit right next to the parking lot. Once you actually get on the trail, the actual hike itself is not too hard. After doing a trail like Panorama Ridge, the difficulty level for the Eva Lake and Miller Lake Trail seemed like a medium level trail. My legs were completely beat by the end of the trail not because of the trail itself but because of remnants of my previous hikes in such a short amount of time.
As for the trail itself, it is absolutely beautiful. In the Eva Lake and Miller Lake trail, you’ll be walking through beautiful flower meadows, rocky mountain passes, snow capped mountains, and you’ll be rewarded with two of the most beautiful lakes in Canada.
I wholeheartedly recommend visiting both lakes. They are very close together on the trail and both beautiful in their own way. Miller Lake is the smallest of both lakes and has amazing close-up reflections right next to the water which will help you create some beautiful shots for your portfolio. Here’s a shot I took of Miller Lake:
The next lake on the list is Miller Lake. This is simply one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, from the lake itself, to the surrounding mountains, and to the viewpoints of the mountains across the lake, there are so many opportunities for awesome shots on Miller Lake. Here are a few shots I took of Miller Lake and the surrounding area:
If you have some time and are up for it, there’s also a third lake approximately 6km further away called Jade lake. I decided not to go because I was already tight on time and because my legs were probably going to give in which would have likely made me prime food for predators.
Eva Lake and Miller Lake are managed by Canada Parks which means you will need to get a day pass at the gate before going on to the trail. In high season, I would also recommend getting here early because the parking spots are limited and the trail seems to be very popular (although very underrated online).
We finished the day by getting some dinner at my favorite fast food joint: Denny’s. There are no Denny’s restaurants in Montreal so when I’m traveling in the US or in English Canada I always try to get some brinner (breakfast for dinner) at Dennys.
Day 7: Mission Hill Winery, Kelowna
We started off the seventh day of our adventure by driving directly to Kelowna. Unfortunately, I completely forgot to go see Revelstoke center village. So if you’re in Revelstoke, make sure to stop by and visit this amazing looking place unlike what I did and immediately leaving the city.
Anyways, we immediately left for Kelowna from Revelstoke with a plan to visit Knox Mountain Park. Unfortunately, the Knox Mountain Park road to the top was closed off, so if we wanted to visit the top of Knox Mountain Park, we had to walk up the mountain which our legs couldn’t even handle anymore (I was walking with a limp by this point).
So instead we decided to stop for some very delicious sushi in a nearby restaurant before going to our bed and breakfast.
Our plans for the night were to visit the Mission Hill Winery, a very popular (and very picturesque) winery in the Okanagan Valley. We had no particular reason to choose the Mission Hill Winery other than the fact that it is easily one of the most beautiful wineries in British Columbia which would allow a photographer like me to get really cool shots.
We weren’t disappointed at all by our visit at the Winery. We booked the chef tour, which included a private tour with a very knowledgeable staff member who took us around the grounds and told us about the history of the winery as well as the process of making the wine. We also were given a glass of delicious sparkling wine to start off the tour. Here is a picture taken during the tour of my girlfriend and the tour guide:
We toured the grounds outside the winery itself which included the beautiful gardens as well as the vines and we got to taste some of the delicious grapes. We saw some deer eating from the vines as well which was a very cool sight:
We then continued the tour into the cellar of the winery where they kept many barrels of aging wines. We got to test some of the wines directly from the barrel as well which was a unique experience. This is a picture taken from the wine cellar:
The tour finished with a five course meal accompanied by five different wines. Our guide stayed close by throughout our meal and presented each of the wines to allow us to understand the mix of flavors which definitely enhanced our experience of the meal. We had a great view from the restaurant of the surrounding mountains, which unfortunately was mostly smoky due to the presence of wildfires.
I would absolutely recommend visiting the Mission Hill Winery, the food is delicious, the staff is hospitable, and the grounds are breathtaking.
We finished off our day by grabbing some nice pictures of the winery itself:
Day 8: Silver Lake Provincial Park, Vancouver Whale Tour
This was easily the most brutal morning. Day 8 started at 3:30AM when we left Kelowna and headed in pitch black darkness towards Silver Lake Provincial Park with the intention of taking some early morning shots of the lake.
Silver Lakes Provincial Park is a small park located in the magnificent Skagit Valley. Easily the most underrated stop on our 9 day trip, Silver Lake Provincial Park is a place often visited by people looking for some backcountry camping, fishing, and boating on this very small lake.
There is a parking lot right next to the lake, so no hiking is involved to partake in these breathtaking sights.
What really sets Silver Lake Provincial Park apart from other lakes is the gorgeous mountainous backdrop the lake offers. There are basically immense mountains that surround the whole lake, which for photography, will probably help you capture some amazing and unique shots of an often overlooked destination. I would recommend a wide angle lens, as the mountains are extremely high and very close to the edge of the water, which is probably one of the reasons many of the online photographs are very average.
Unfortunately, due to the smoke from wildfires, the sunrise colors didn’t really break out, but we were still extremely lucky because mother nature created some beautiful mist on the mountains in the early morning which created some absolutely breathtaking shots of the lake. Here is a picture I took of the Silver Lake Provincial Park:
We followed up our visit to Silver Lake with some delicious morning breakfast at a close-by breakfast restaurant near the gas station. After filling our mouths with sugary goodness, we headed back towards Vancouver.
We had a planned excursion in Vancouver to go whale sightseeing. The whale tours in Vancouver offer amazing opportunities for photographers to catch pictures of humpback whales, killer whales, birds, sea lions, and seals.
The excursion left from the Fisherman’s Wharf in Vancouver, which is an awesome little spot filled with awesome seaside restaurants and a very lively seafood market right on the wharf where you can buy some daily catches directly from local fishermen. Definitely a must stop in Vancouver.
We had some fresh fish and chips before our whale tour, and they were absolutely delicious!
During our whale tour, we got to see some awesome sights such as the Vancouver islands, humpback whales spitting water and diving, sea lions, seals, and all sorts of cool looking birds. Unfortunately, we mainly wanted to see killer whales but it was the only sea animal we didn’t actually get to see! I recommend having a telephoto lens if you want to get some seriously good shots as the animals will often be far away. Here are a few shots I took during the tour:
We ended the day by having drinks with a friend and eating out at some Italian restaurant in the city. Be warned, on a Saturday night in Vancouver, getting a seat in a popular restaurant is next to impossible without a reservation, so make sure you get a spot in your favorite restaurant early, unlike us, who had to call a bunch of different places before finding a spot.
Day 9: Vancouver, Return Home
Day 9 was uneventful, it was our flight back to Montreal. I have so much positive to say about British Columbia, the overall trip was amazing and I would do it all over again. We didn’t visit the most popular destinations in the province, which means we definitely have to go back.
Overall, for photographers, British Columbia offers so many unique and beautiful sights that will allow you to capture shareable, engaging, and breathtaking photographs for your portfolio.
If you’re interested in other Canadian destinations, these other articles may interest you: