British Columbia, commonly referred to as B.C., is Canada’s third-largest province. In fact, B.C. is known to be nearly four times the size of the United Kingdom and larger than every U.S. state, with the exception of Alaska.
The westernmost province in Canada, B.C is bounded by the Pacific Ocean, its eastern neighbor, Alberta, and U.S. states, Alaska to the northeast, and Washington, Idaho, and Montana to the south. Remarkably, a large portion of British Columbia’s almost 400,000 square miles is wilderness - rugged mountain ranges, lush forest, and glacial peaks define the landscape. In fact, there are 8,476 mountains in British Columbia, 103 of its most significant peaks are ultra-prominent summits that exceed 1500m (4,921 ft) or more.
Dominated by breathtaking mountain ranges, like the Canadian Rockies, Coast Mountains, Cassiar Mountains, and the Columbia Mountains, B.C. is often designated as one of, if not the most, mountainous region in North America.
Major mountain ranges and landforms of British Columbia are generally categorized by four distinct systems, the eastern system, interior system, western system, and insular system.
B.C.’s Eastern Mountain System contains the incredible Canadian Rockies or Canada’s segment of the North American Rocky Mountains. A legendary outdoor paradise, the B.C. Rockies are the first mountains visitors see when driving from the neighboring province, Alberta, and what most people mistakenly consider to be the only major mountain range in British Columbia. Nevertheless, the B.C. Rockies are best-known for heavily glaciated, craggy mountain peaks like Mount Robson, the highest point in the Canadian Rockies, and beautiful mountainous parks, like Kootenay National Park, Top of the World Provincial Park, and Yoho National Park. Recognizable peaks in the B.C. Rockies include Mount Clemenceau, the north and south tower of Mount Goodsir, Mount Bryce, and the impressive, pyramidal peak, Mount Assiniboine, which sits on the Alberta/British Columbia boundary.
The Interior Mountains, or Interior Ranges, encompass the northern two-thirds of B.C. and a significant portion of the southern Yukon. Tucked between the Coast Mountains to the west and the Canadian Rockies to the east, the Interior Mountains contain mostly uninhabited and undeveloped peaks. However, some impressive mountain ranges, like the Cassiar Mountains and Omineca Mountains are found in the Interior Mountains. The Cassiar Mountains, in particular, are the remnants of an ancient shield volcano named the Maitland Volcano and has a fascinating history. Notable peaks in this region of B.C. include Thudaka Peak, the highest mountain in the Cassiar Mountains, Sharktooth Mountain, Toodoggone Peak, and Mount McNamara.
The Western System contains the famed Canadian portion of the Cascade Mountains, the Coast Mountains, which cover the majority of coastal British Columbia. The Coast Mountains are comprised of three major subdivisions, the Pacific Ranges, the Kitimat Ranges, and the Boundary Ranges. The Pacific Ranges subdivision is home to Mount Waddington, the highest mountain in British Columbia, while largest subdivision, the Boundary Ranges, include several impressive icefields. Prominent peaks in the Coast Mountains include Combatant Mountain, Asperity Mountain, Serra Peaks, and Monarch Mountain.
The Insular System includes the Insular Mountains, a rugged set of peaks that spans Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii. Two subranges are found within the Insular Mountains, the Vancouver Island Ranges and the Queen Charlotte Mountains. The oldest provincial park in British Columbia, Strathcona Provincial Park, contains the highest peaks of the Vancouver Island Ranges including Golden Hinde, Elkhorn Mountain, and Mount Colonel Foster. These peaks, in addition to pristine alpine lakes and glaciers, make Strathcona Provincial Park a popular destination for hikers, climbers, and canoers.
Unbeknownst to some, British Columbia, which is located in the legendary Pacific Ring of Fire, is also home to a large number of volcanoes. Although most of B.C.’s volcanoes are considered dormant, several prominent peaks in the province have erupted or are connected to seismic activity in the past 10,000 years. Mount Meager, Mount Garibaldi, Mount Cayley, Castle Rock, Hoodoo Mountain, and Mount Edziza, for example, have all been connected to seismic activity since 1975.
Scattered amidst the mountains, charming, laid-back mountain towns and ski villages serve as the perfect adventure basecamps for travelers looking to explore the B.C. mountain ranges. These small mountain towns coupled with B.C.’s iconic, incredible wilderness, create the ideal environment for outdoor adventure and recreation.
Not to mention, there are also 14 designated parks and protected areas that safeguard over 12% of B.C.’s wild places. In fact, British Columbia is home to seven distinct national parks and a network of impressive provincial parks that are run by BC Parks.
The climate in British Columbia is incredibly diverse, and mountainous terrain heavily influences changes in weather and climate. The coast of British Columbia is generally the wettest area in Canada because the Coast Mountains and the Cascades trap most of the precipitation on the west side of the province. Northern regions of B.C. tend to have long, cold winters with significant snowfall, while southern regions have mild winters and warmer summers. Still, visitors to B.C. are able to appreciate a wide variety of outdoor recreation opportunities in this four-seasons province.
Open year-round, Kootenay National Park is 1,406 square kilometers (543 sq mi) of incredibly Rocky Mountain scenery. Located in southeastern British Columbia, Kootenay is packed with towering Rocky Mountain summits, hanging glaciers, forested valleys, and colorful mineral pools. One of the best ways to experience the park is by traveling the 106-kilometer Banff-Windermere Highway (Hwy 93 south), which stretches through the park from north to south and highlights iconic peaks like Mount Berland, Mount Kindersley, and Mount Sinclair. Along the parkway, visitors can choose from over 200 kilometers (125 miles) of hiking trails, like the iconic multi-day Rockwall Trail, 1-mile Marble Canyon trek, or the moderate hike to Stanley Glacier.
Hands down one of B.C.’s most popular destinations, Yoho National Park, which translates to ‘awe’ and ‘wonder,’ is a truly magical place to hike, camp, and explore year-round. Located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, Yoho is best-known for its accessible crystalline lakes, like Emerald Lake, towering waterfalls, like Takakkaw Falls, and unparalleled views of the Rockies.
Odaray Mountain behind Lake O’Hara
Lake O’Hara, a popular area for backcountry hiking, is one of the most sought-after remote outdoor experiences in the Canadian Rockies. The Lake O'Hara Alpine Circuit is a network of trails that travel along the shores of pristine alpine lakes and offers views of jagged peaks like Mount Huber, Mount Yukness, and Mount Schaffer. The Lake O’Hara area is isolated and is only accessible by reservation or by hiking the 7-mile access road.
Bordering Alberta and Jasper National Park, Mount Robson Provincial Park is the second oldest park in the Canadian park system. Named after the iconic Mount Robson, the highest point in the Canadian Rockies, Mount Robson Provincial Park offers visitors the chance to be immersed in the Canadian Rockies and experience glaciers, alpine lakes, cascading waterfalls, limestone caves, and deep canyons.
The Berg Lake Trail, one of the most popular multi-day trails in the park, treks through spectacular alpine wilderness to reach an aquamarine, subalpine lake, Berg Lake, which sits at the base of Mount Robson. Along the trek, hikers will pass Kinney Lake, Emperor Falls, and into the Valley of a Thousand Falls.
Mount Assiniboine is one of the most iconic peaks in British Columbia due to its striking resemblance to the Matterhorn in the Alps. Situated between Kootenay National Park and Banff National Park, along the British Columbia/Alberta border, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is an accessible, yet remote region filled with alpine meadows, sparkling lakes, and towering peaks. No roads lead to this pristine wilderness in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, so visitors are required to hike, cross-country ski, or take a helicopter into the park. There are five Naiset huts and a lodge to stay in, or visitors can opt to camp. Park highlights include Magog Lake, Sunburst Lake, Niblet Peak, Nub Peak, and Wonder Pass.
Consistent snowfall, deep powder, charming towns, and adventure-packed ski resorts define British Columbia’s 650-mile Powder Highway. Traversing the interior British Columbia Kootenay Rockies, adventure enthusiasts can not only enjoy the Rockies, but other notable mountain ranges like the Monashees, Selkirks, and Purcells.
Throughout the highway, B.C.’s most popular, scenic small towns like Fernie, Nelson, Rossland, Golden, Revelstoke, Invermere, and Kimberly offer access to world-renowned ski resorts, like Panorama Mountain Resort, Whitewater Ski Resort, RED Mountain Resort, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, and Fernie Alpine Resort. In terms of winter recreation, the powder highway simply can’t be beat. The highway, which is referred to as a snow-blessed route, is legendary among locals and backcountry skiers. In addition to the resorts mentioned above, along the powder highway adrenaline junkies can partake in heli-skiing and stay at highly-coveted backcountry lodges.
Arguably the most popular destination in British Columbia, Whistler is a quaint mountain town surrounded by incredible mountain peaks and the perfect basecamp for year-round outdoor adventure. Whistler Blackcomb, which is considered one of the top resorts in North America, offers over 8,100 acres of snow-covered slopes, 16 alpine bowls, 3 glaciers, and over 200 trails, ranging from novice to Olympic-level trails, to explore. Bounded by Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Peak, Whistler also offers an all-seasons Peak 2 Peak Gondola that grants easy access to alpine hiking trails with jaw-dropping mountain views.
A former railway hub at the heart of Bulkley Valley, Smithers is an alpine-style town off of Yellowhead Highway adjacent to Hudson Bay Mountain. Hudson Bay Mountain Resort, a popular alpine ski destination, towers over downtown Smithers. The city is rustic, authentic, and relatively off the grid in comparison to other B.C. towns. However, it is a popular destination for quirky festivals, fishing, hiking, skiing, and backcountry adventure.