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Canada. Vancouver Island and the Rockies

Updated on December 10, 2014

Discover Vancouver Island and the Rocky Mountains

Vancouver is a big city with an interesting history and a good range of restaurants and bars, that will keep a tourist busy for several days, but it is also in a fantastic location if you are interested in wildlife viewing. Whale watching is possible in a half day trip from Vancouver and Vancouver Island is a short drive away, if you are interested in seeing bears, sea otters and many other interesting creatures.

This article gives travel advice, tips and hotel recommendations based on my experiences while touring Canada and my journeys to Vancouver and Vancouver Island by boat, seaplane and car and taking the Rocky Mountaineer train to Jasper then by car to Calgary.

Please also see my USA and Canada Photo Gallery

And my other Photo Gallery

Canada Travel Recommendations

Vancouver

In September 2005 I took a two-week holiday in Canada with my partner, starting in Vancouver, exploring Vancouver Island by car, then taking the Rocky Mountaineer train to Jasper and on to Lake Louise, Banff and Calgary. Our main objective was to experience the beauty of the vast wide open-spaces, but also spend a few days enjoying Canadian culture in some of the towns and cities.

Vancouver

We flew with Air Canada from Heathrow Terminal 3 into Vancouver. Rather than having a car while in Vancouver, we took a taxi to our hotel and explored the city mostly on foot. We stayed at an hotel called "Rosedale on Robson" for two nights, which served as a good base for exploring the city. The hotel is a comfortable modern place with little character and has an American style restaurant, called "Rosie's" which was O.K. for breakfast but not particularly inspiring.

There were quite a wide variety of things to keep us amused in Vancouver. Chinatown is good, although not the best Chinatown in the world, with reasonable food at affordable prices from a wide variety of restaurants, and the usual Chinese markets and architecture certainly making it worth visiting. It is the second biggest Chinatown in North America, due to the huge Mandarin and Cantonese speaking community making up about 30% of the population of the city. Perhaps a more interesting place to visit, to experience Vancouver's history is Gastown, which was established in 1867 and incorporated into Vancouver in 1886, and retains many old buildings and some of its character. It is quite a tourist y area with many souvenir shops but also has a good selection of cafes and makes an excellent place for a slightly overpriced lunch. Granville Island, actually a small peninsula underneath the Granville Street Bridge and connected to downtown, is also popular with tourists and gets very busy. It is again historically interesting, and quite British in character, with a variety of architecture, markets, galleries and theatres. Stanley Park is a pleasant place to get away from the city, while being walking distance from downtown and it houses the aquarium which is quite small, but with reasonable selection of things to see. The cute sea otters make it definitely worthwhile.

Robson Street also has history running back to the late 1800s but it is less evident here. It runs through the middle of downtown and is good for shopping, restaurants, cafes and the Vancouver Art Gallery. I didn't find it as interesting as the other locations mentioned above, but then I hate shopping. There were however bars in which to seek refuge while my other-half shopped.

There are wildlife watching opportunities accessible from Vancouver. We checked-in at 7:15am at a jetty near downtown for a seaplane flight to Victoria, Vancouver Island and within a couple of hours we were on an orca whale watching excursion in a Zodiac motor boat. Equipped with bright orange floatation suits we managed to almost stay warm (it was mid-Septamber) as we blasted out into the cold waters for a couple of hours. We saw sea lions, seals and sea otters but no whales. We were a little disappointed, but still a great trip. We had coffee in the splendid Empress Hotel while trying to thaw out. The journey back was less exciting: a bus to Vancouver via the ferry.

Wildlife watching from Vancouver

There are wildlife watching opportunities accessible from Vancouver. We checked-in at 7:15am at a jetty near downtown for a seaplane flight to Victoria, Vancouver Island and within a couple of hours we were on an orca whale watching excursion in a Zodiac motor boat. Equipped with bright orange floatation suits we managed to almost stay warm (it was mid-Septamber) as we blasted out into the cold waters for a couple of hours. We saw sea lions, seals and sea otters but no whales. We were a little disappointed, but still a great trip. We had coffee in the splendid Empress Hotel while trying to thaw out. The journey back was less exciting: a bus to Vancouver via the ferry.

Map of Vancouver Island and The Canadian Rocky Mountains

show route and directions
A markerVancouver, Canada -
Vancouver, Canada
get directions

B markerJasper, Canada -
Jasper, Canada
get directions

C markerLake Louise, Canada -
Lake Louise, Canada
get directions

D markerVictoria, Canada -
Victoria, Canada
get directions

E markerBanff, Canada -
Banff, Canada
get directions

Vancouver Island

The next stage of the holiday was the real adventure. We collected our hire car from Thrifty, in the basement of Century Plaza Hotel on Robson St. and took the BC Ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo then drove to Tofino. We spent 2 nights at the Middle Beach Resort, staying in log-cabin style room with terrace overlooking Pacific Ocean. This is a small friendly establishment in a fantastic location. Dinner was served in the main lodge, overlooking Pacific Ocean, with one sitting for everyone. Appetizers and drinks served in the bar at 6pm and fresh crab served at 7pm.

We continued with our search for whales and took three-hour whale watching tour on a Zodiac boat, from Tofino. This time we had success. We got close to several grey whales. A wonderful, if slightly chilly experience. Culinary experiences were not so good. We drove out looking for food and ended up at a small diner. Everything else was shut, including the Lodge Restaurant, although they were able to serve a glass of wine in the lodge overlooking the sea at the Middle Beach Resort.

We had ticked off whales, so now we wanted something furry to look at and took a three hour bear watching tour on a Zodiac boat from the same place in Tofino. A fantastic early morning trip cruising along the beaches watching the brown bears lifting rocks and searching for breakfast. Two baby bears watched from high up in a near-by tree. It was quite misty at that time in the morning, but this added to the experience.

Campbell River, Vancouver Island

Next day we drove to Campbell River, Vancouver Island, dropped the car in a car park and were picked up in a huge luxury motor boat (just the two of us) and taken to Sonora Resort. This is a luxury wildlife viewing and fishing resort on a small island. There was a slightly corporate "Meet & Greet" on arrival at Sonora, and an option to meet the staff, a glass of wine and the signing of disclaimers (in case we got eaten by a grizzly?) We had only signed-up for grizzly bear watching, but most other people there were apparently out to catch enormous salmon (along with a bit of corporate team building perhaps)

The room was luxurious, again in a log-cabin style, but with a fireplace open on both sides between the huge bathroom and bedroom. Views from the terrace, and even from the bath were stunning. There was a huge fully stocked bar in the room, which turned out to be free (shame I didn't know that when I arrived) as was all food and drink served at any time. There was however a suggested tip of $200 each, per day, for staff, guides and the spa (i.e. $600 each per day)

The grizzly bear watching excursion left at 7:00am by boat, then four-wheel drive and then some time in a wooden hide high up on stilts, with just two other guests. We were told that a sighting was highly probable. We saw eleven of them. We watched two bears catch enormous salmon from the hide a very short distance away. This was followed by barbeque lunch on a beautiful beach. Breakfast and lunch the following day with wonderful views of the sea preceded the water taxi back to Campbell River and the drive back to Vancouver via the ferry.

The Rockies to Jasper

"The Rocky Mountaineer"

The next leg of the journey into the Rockies was done by luxury train

The Rocky Mountaineer (see this separate article on that part of the journey)

Jasper

Jasper is a very pleasant town in a stunning setting. There are a selection of Canadian brewpubs and restaurants. Andy's Swiss/Canadian Restaurant came highly recommended and was quite good, by Canadian standards, and reasonably priced with a good atmosphere.

We collected another rental car in Jasper and explored the surrounding area.

There are plenty of things to do such as whitewater rafting or the gondola up to Whistlers Mountain for some hiking. We just drove around with the occasional "hike"

We stayed for two nights at the Bear Hill Lodge in Jasper, in a pleasant small cabin.

We continued the journey on the "beautiful "Icefield Parkway, which was really quite dull, but I suppose it would have been rude not to visit on the way to Lake Louise. Had another awful lunch there and continued.

Lake Louise and Banff

We stayed at Lake Louise Inn for one night. There was a power-cut, but eventually were able to have dinner in the "Lounge" pub/restaurant in the Lake Louise Inn, which was again, awful food. Lake Louise, however is stunningly beautiful and worth visiting.

Next there was a short drive to Banff for two nights in a small cabin at the Buffalo Mountain Lodge. Lunch in the bar next to a fire in the lodge was a great way to regain sensations in my fingers. I tried to light fire in the room and failed several times, but eventually was able to get that nice and warm too. Downtown Banff is small and interesting, with a museum worth a short visit, but the Banff Springs Hotel with its Victorian and Art Deco interior is a great place to spend a few hours. A good restaurant and bar, probably a very good, if rather expensive place to stay.

Finally there was a two-hour drive to Calgary and the Air Canada flight to the UK

Get yourself a good camera before you go...

I have written a review of the best digital SLR and digital compact cameras:

digital SLR cameras

digital compact cameras

High-end digital compact camera

Conclusion

A very enjoyable holiday with some wonderful wildlife viewing opportunities and scenery and pleasant places to stay in the Rockies and Vancouver Island, let down slightly by some of the culinary experiences and the rather over-priced Rocky Mountaineer. It was very easy to get around by car.

Summary: Stunning

Some More Travel Articles:

USA National Parks in an RV

Borneo Jungle Adventure

The Rocky Mountaineer

Namibian Safari

And a few more articles

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    • TheLittleCardShop profile image

      Malu Couttolenc 5 years ago

      Lovely page about Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies Andy. The bear photos are amazing.

    • profile image

      TomT44 6 years ago

      Cool photos of the bears

    • Redneck Lady Luck profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 6 years ago from Canada

      Where I live in Canada I am surrounded by mountains and I love it. Nature is so beautiful.

    • Redneck Lady Luck profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 6 years ago from Canada

      Where I live in Canada I am surrounded by mountains and I love it. Nature is so beautiful.

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 6 years ago

      Now this is a place I have to see!

    • profile image

      abacct 6 years ago

      Canada is wonderful. I always thank God for making this country so beautiful.

    • awakeningwellness profile image

      awakeningwellness 6 years ago

      I think Canada is one of the most beautiful places I have been, Lake Louise is breathtaking! It is definitely a great vacation spot and when we took the ferry from Seattle

      we saw lots of whales!

    • Andy-Po profile image
      Author

      Andy 7 years ago from London, England

      @squid-janices7: Thanks very much and thanks for the warning about my photos: The links all got broken some how, but I have fixed that now.

    • squid-janices7 profile image

      squid-janices7 7 years ago

      You are a traveller after my own heart....I always thoroughly enjoy your travel lenses. We are flying to Calgary in a few weeks for a trek through the Rockies over to Vancouver and Victoria and then flying home from there. Thanks for all the commentary on what you liked and what was a bit disappointing...it will help with some decision-making. We had decided to drive from Jasper/Lake Louise to Vancouver via Revelstoke, Kelowna, Whistler and some other towns along the way. Hopefully we'll see all the great scenery that we would have on the train...it was just too expensive in my opinion. Can't wait to go!

      P.S. Your pictures weren't showing up for me...,not sure if it is my browser or another problem, but thought I should let you know.

    • profile image

      EricEddler 7 years ago

      Nice lens. Sounds like a great vacation destination. You can find cheap hotels at http://www.itravel2000.com/Hotels.aspx

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      This lens is awesome. I love it. I am going to tell my editors on my Thai News website to write something about this lens and probably feature it.

      I will comment here again once we do.

      Great Work

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 7 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      Those are some amazing photos. Went to Vancouver Island a few times growing up.

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 7 years ago from Royalton

      I can't imagine being that close to a Grizzly. How brave of you!

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 8 years ago

      It looks so cool and pretty there.

      Thanks for sharing.

      Lizzy

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 8 years ago

      It feels like 103 degrees here today -- I think I'd like to visit Vancouver and the Rockies!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Hello. I really like this lens, really enjoyed reading it. Thank you for sharing this! 5 Stars! Great pictures too.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 8 years ago

      Say Andy -- have you tried taking one of those zany surveys of Zut_Moon aka Zut_Radio? I'd bet you could score a perfect score.

    • profile image

      mrrelic 8 years ago

      Hey, all these pics make me homesick...grew up on Vancouver Island, now I live on the East Coast on another Island. New to the squid, have a site set up for user rating their favorite beach. Looks like you could have a few! Cheers Dr. Sand

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 8 years ago

      Wow! Love those bear pictures -- has ChefKeem visited your lens yet? Another gem Andy. <--- from one BoBo to another! ;)

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 8 years ago

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Lizzy

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Thank you for taking me on a little adventure to Vancouver Island and the Rockies!

      What a beautiful place to go visit. As always the photography is excellent! - You are so blessed to travel to so many places! :) - Susie

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 8 years ago

      My brother visited Vancover Island a few years ago. He still talks about it. He said it was the best vacation he's ever been on. After seeing your pictures, I beleive him.

      Great lens

      Lizzy

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Great lens and loved the pictures! We lived on Vancouver Island for two years, and it is one place I truly miss. - Kathy

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      awesome pictures..next year I'm going there for a vacation..love that place..

      good job..

    • anthropos lm profile image

      Lamar Ross 8 years ago from Florida

      Andy, I'm having trouble keeping up with you. Your making lens faster than I can look them over. Keep it up. Thanks for joining ”Anything and Everything Travel” Group. We look forward to seeing your other travel related lenses in our group. Keep up the good work. For a categorized list of my travel lenses and other lenses see my Lensography..

    • naturegirl7s profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 8 years ago from Covington, LA

      Fantastic lens. Here's another place that I always wanted to visit. Welcome to the Naturally Native Squids group. Don't forget to add your lens link to the appropriate plexo and vote for it.

    • triathlontraini1 profile image

      triathlontraini1 8 years ago

      That's one area that I wish I visited while living in the Northwestern US.

    • dahlia369 profile image

      dahlia369 8 years ago

      I just love the lenses about places I haven't seen yet and your photos are beautiful!!!

    • WhiteOak50 profile image

      WhiteOak50 8 years ago

      Beautiful photography!

    • Wendy L Henderson profile image

      Wendy Henderson 8 years ago from PA

      Vancouver is one of my favorites!

    • Wendy L Henderson profile image

      Wendy Henderson 8 years ago from PA

      Vancouver is one of my favorites!

    • profile image

      The_Daz 8 years ago

      Vancouver and the Island is an awesome place. I went in 1999 and really enjoyed it. Such a mix of countryside, scenery, urban magnificence and of course - Canadians!!

    • profile image

      coopd 8 years ago

      You are a fortunate man to have visited so many wonderful places. Thank you for sharing your experiences and for joining my Nature Lovers group :)

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 8 years ago

      my cousin lives in Campbell River and just loves it there!someday I will visit Vancouver Island 5*s

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 8 years ago

      Canada is beautiful. Welcome to All Things Travel.

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      what a fabulous article, very well written and very informative