April 6, 2017 7:00 am

Northern British Columbia: Discovering one of Canada’s most scenic landscapes


It’s mysterious, majestic and humbling all at once. A land where you feel like you’ve stepped into some faraway place that’s been waiting for you. You feel it too; a kind of rekindling that delights the soul. Sound overly romantic and a little over the top? It might be, but there’s truly no other way to describe the magnificence that is northern British Columbia. Its wondrous landscape is larger than Japan and double the size of the U.K., and yet it’s still one of Canada’s best-kept secrets.

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Those who have visited northern B.C. have been met with an abundance of captivating wildlife, pristine coastal waters and rugged mountainous ranges that stretch on and on. Whether you’re seeking a leisurely getaway or a wilderness adventure, there’s something for everyone. Here are some must-see highlights you won’t want to miss.

Cruise through the Inside Passage

The Inside Passage from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert is a breathtaking 15-hour boat cruise that takes you through massive fjords, interesting inlets and narrow seas that have you so close to the shoreline you can see eagles perched on trees and even coastal wolves searching for food. Orcas and dolphins have been known to swim right off the bow along the channel. The scenic voyage boasts both spectacular views of wildlife and cultural sites, including lively First Nation villages tucked away in several bays, as well as historic settlements. There’s certainly a lot to see, but during the summer months there’s plenty of sunlight to capture the stunning views from 7 a.m. to when the sun sets around 10:30 p.m.

Visit the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary

People from all around the world travel to Khutzeymateen Provincial Park, a protected estuary and home to one of the highest concentrations of grizzly bears in North America. From mid-May, boat tours sail through Chatham Sound to Khutzeymateen Valley to see the incredible animals in their natural environment.

“We try to get there at low tide (when) the bears dig for clams,” says Jared Davis, vice president at Prince Rupert Adventure Tours. “They’ll pull up these huge clams; it’s basically their diet (along with sedge grass) until the salmon starts running at the end of July and early August. We estimate that you’ll be anywhere from 50 to 100 metres from the bears, but every tour is different.”

The popular seven-hour grizzly bear tour onboard Prince Rupert Adventure Tour’s 100-passenger catamaran — complete with floor-to-ceiling windows on its three decks — books up quickly, so Davis advises to secure a booking at least a month or two ahead of time.

Explore Prince Rupert

This marine city is the gateway to many main attractions in northern B.C. It’s the port to get to Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, as well as a hot spot for ocean fishing. From the end of July to September, whale watching is plentiful in the area and tours go out daily to see humpback whales, grey whales, killer whales, as well as porpoises, Steller sea lions and historic lighthouses. Prince Rupert also has a rich First Nations culture — the Tsimshian First Nations have lived in the area for thousands of years — and you’ll get to discover aboriginal food, arts, crafts and artifacts.

Getting Around

There are a multitude of travel options to see the many highlights from Vancouver to northern B.C. Passengers could start in Vancouver and take the ferry over to Vancouver Island, then drive up to Port Hardy and go on an Inside Passage tour aboard the Northern Expedition to Prince Rupert.

“From Prince Rupert, visitors could carry on themselves and explore the towns that dot the Skeena River, continuing north through Terrace and then on to Smithers, a beautiful town at the base of Hudson Bay Mountain. With so much to see and do in northern B.C., you can really customize your trip however you like,” says Diana Lyons, Director, Travel Services at BC Ferries.

But be forewarned: accommodations need to be reserved ahead of time, particularly for the summer months. “Accommodation tends to be limited in the remote areas,” Lyons says. “If you’re booking a 5- or 14-night tour, you’ll want to book well in advance to get the accommodation of your choice.” For this reason, booking vacation packages are sometimes preferred as they guarantee lodging, local tour reservations and itineraries that can be customized.

The Northern Expedition that sails from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert has private sleeping cabins, as well as lots of food options, including a buffet, cafeteria and a barbecue on open decks. Passengers can also bring their vehicles onboard the ship, though there’s limited access to the car deck during the voyage.

More to discover

The northern region of B.C. has so much to see and travellers frequently visit again and again, exploring more possibilities each time. There’s no shortage of breathtaking views and fun activities in this incredible landscape. Visit BCFerries.com to discover more destinations.

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