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There are places where the word "great" just doesn't do justice to the outdoors – and British Columbia, in Canada, is one of them. The great outdoors? Try the spectacular outdoors. The jaw-dropping outdoors. The wild, rugged, stunning outdoors.
This is a province of almost unbelievable natural beauty, of vast wilderness areas that range from alpine splendour to coastal and underwater majesty. There are forests and lakes, mountains and valleys, rivers and glaciers; in other words, British Columbia is an outdoor-lover's paradise, a place that can be explored and enjoyed in a huge variety of ways.
Canoeing in Wells Grey Provincial Park
Murtle Lake is the largest canoe-only lake in North America, a crystal-clear, cedar-lined body of water in central BC. Best way to tackle this area is with a multi-day canoe trip, loading up with a tent and supplies, dipping the paddles in and just going. While Murtle is the most popular lake in Wells Grey Provincial Park, a 5000-square-kilometre wilderness area in the Cariboo Mountains, the interconnected lakes of Clearwater and Azure lakes also provide ample opportunity for multi-day canoe and camping trips, with 13 wilderness camping areas dotted along the shores. Each makes the perfect spot to hunker down for the night and gaze at the stars.
Kayaking from Vancouver Island
Those up for more water-borne adventure should head straight to Vancouver Island, off BC's west coast, for one of the most memorable wildlife experiences you're ever likely to have: kayaking with orcas, humpback whales and sea lions. North Island Kayak runs four-day sea-kayaking trips from Telegraph Bay, paddling from campsite to campsite, searching out the sea-life, waiting for that heart-stopping moment when a dorsal fin appears. Even if you don't spot orcas or humpbacks, the scenery here in the Johnstone Strait, which separates Vancouver Island from the Canadian mainland, is spectacular.
Heli-skiing at Revelstoke
You'll find stunning alpine scenery at any ski resort in British Columbia, from Whistler to Sun Peaks to Big White; however, to really get the feel for everything the BC mountains have to offer, you have to go heli-skiing. And you can do it at Revelstoke. This area provides some of North America's best heli-ski opportunities, with half a million acres of terrain to suit everyone from intermediate skiers and snowboarders to hardcore experts. There's no feeling quite like leaping out of a heli in the middle of untouched alpine wilderness, spotting your run through deep, untracked powder, pointing your skis and going.
Dog-sledding at Columbia-Shuswap
You better be ready. You better be hanging on tight. Because the moment you yell to your pack of dogs, the moment these huskies hear the signal, they're off. You're dog-sledding. This amazing experience is available in the Columbia-Shuswap region, an area of eastern BC near the Alberta border, a part of the world known for its mountains and valleys blanketed in snow every winter. Best way to experience this wilderness is in the company of a local musher, who will guide you through the stunning countryside with a pack of indefatigable huskies leading the way.
Snow-shoeing in Fernie
There's no experience quite like snow-shoeing: while so many winter sports are all about adrenalin and speed, snow-shoeing is the opposite. This pursuit encourages people to slow down, to take everything in, to appreciate the natural beauty at a gentle pace. Fernie, a small alpine town in south-eastern BC, is the perfect base for budding snow-shoers. There are plenty of great trails around here, from short morning hikes to full-day adventures; all are well marked and easy to follow, and explore the best of the East Kootenay region.
Mountain-biking at Whistler
Whistler is well known for its winter sports offerings – some of the best skiing and snowboarding on the planet – but in the warmer months the area still has plenty to offer, in particular to mountain-bikers. There's biking for all levels of ability here, from the 40 kilometres of gentle, paved trails through the valley, perfect for beginners to take in some of the area's best scenery, to the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, one of the world's best facilities, featuring downhill single-track riding, and enough jumps and bumps to keep the most fearless adrenalin junkie happy. Nearby Sun Peaks Resort is also an excellent alternative for those hoping to explore on two wheels.
Hiking at Schooner Cove
Sometimes the simplest way to experience the outdoors is the best. And that's why we end with hiking, the act of exploring the wilderness with nothing more than a few lungfuls of fresh air and a good pair of boots. There are opportunities to hike through untouched areas of incredible natural beauty throughout BC, and one of the best of them might just be the Schooner Cove Trail, a rugged coastal track in the west of Vancouver Island. This short, 2km path follows a wooden boardwalk through cedar and hemlock forest in the Pacific Rim National Park before arriving at a huge stretch of beach, full of tidal pools ripe for exploration.