Hitting Close to Home

Travel destinations you may have missed

Freya Wasteneys, Features Editor // Illustration by Victoria Steinebach

If you spend your summer scrolling through newsfeeds wishing you were somewhere else, that makes you, me, and at least 52 per cent of Facebook users according to an AdWeek survey. But while most of us waste our time looking at the sun-bronzed, parachute-pant-wearing travellers exploring exotic locales, we rarely take advantage of our own highly explorable backyard.

BC destinations are often just a few hours or a ferry ride away, and generally provide some sanctuary away from the hordes crowding the Sea to Sky. They are often a little out of the way, but the travel time is a relatively small inconvenience compared to traffic jams and masses of people haunting the more popular destinations (I’m looking at you, Whistler). Bonus: there’s no need to blow the bank on a one-way ticket, quit your job or leave loved ones behind. Oh, and you won’t require immunizations, which, to be quite frank, are the absolute worst and require oh so much pre-planning.

As the popular BC spots become rapidly overrun with tourists, it’s time to get a little more creative with our exploring. Summer may be over, but if you’ve planned wisely and have a few free Fridays begging to be used, there are plenty of overlooked areas to discover. Most of us don’t really need to add to our already extensive travel bucket lists, but here are a few hidden gems, all close to home, underrated and ripe for exploration.

Crest Creek Crags

With goliaths like Squamish in our backyard, most climbers flock to the Smoke Bluffs to climb the same Burgers and Fries route repeatedly. Stop. If you’re a climber with a few days to kill, hop on the ferry and make your way towards Gold River on Vancouver Island. There isn’t much of a town to see, but the climbing network is extensive.

This rock-haven on the western edge of Strathcona Provincial Park has existed in near obscurity for about thirty years. Up until 2017, this area didn’t even have a guidebook. Now, thanks to Chris Barner and Ahren Rankin, locals no longer have to rely on the photocopied hand-drawn topos and can instead refer to the glossy pages of the “heathens’ guide to Vancouver Island’s coolest climbing area.” Make the trek and experience the cruisey climbing, excellent views and meticulous trails. Don’t forget to take advantage of the blissfully cool lakes and jump in at the end of the day. Bring a tent, some brews and your closest climbing pals.

EC Manning Provincial Park

Home to the Cascade Mountain range and over 70,000 hectares of wilderness, Manning Park is well loved by those who know it best. About a three-hour drive from Vancouver, both park and resort are a sanctuary for those who have grown tired of Whistler’s crowds.

There are ample opportunities for hiking and paddling in the spring, summer and fall, and the park is a quaint and quiet wonderland in winter. At the resort, lucky lookers will find a small downhill ski area, a Nordic ski network, plenty of backcountry to explore, camping and glamping (camping in luxury) opportunities, a pub, a restaurant, a small store and accommodation for up to 450 people in rustic cabins and hotel-style rooms.

The rest of the area isn’t highly developed, which is part of the draw for reclusive curmudgeons like myself, but the area provides plenty of scope for adventure. Hikers looking for a challenge can follow the 74 kilometre Hudson Bay Heritage Trail from Tulameen River all the way to Hope. The trail has been under restoration since 2009, the loving labour performed by volunteers, and is a historic fur-trading route that was once taken by the Hudson’s Bay Company’s horse brigades.

Strathcona Park Lodge and Outdoor Education Centre

Just seven kilometres outside of Strathcona Provincial Park, Strathcona Park Lodge seems destined to forever be mistaken for the park information centre. “The Lodge,” as it’s affectionately known, serves this purpose often, but is not actually associated with the park, despite its name and proximity. However, it’s a leading centre for outdoor education and recreation that’s relatively well known in the outdoorsy community.

In the spring and fall, school groups flock to northern Vancouver Island to learn leadership skills, camp craft and everything from paddle strokes to scaling rocks. In the summer, the whiz of the zipline and the sound of families splashing in the boat bay are common. With weddings, guiding, outdoor leadership training and other tomfoolery, there is something for everyone and rarely a dull moment. The view isn’t bad either.

Accommodation ranges from rustic to luxurious, and the food is wholesome, delicious, and all you can eat (necessary after all of the vigorous activities). If you decide to visit over the weekend in the fall, you can enjoy the mecca of activities at the Lodge and in the surrounding area. Oh, and enjoy ignoring important emails and phone calls with the unapologetic refrain of, “sorry, no cell service.”

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