Highlights from The Great Western Canada Bucket List

With the second edition of his national bestseller, Bucket Listed columnist Robin Esrock adds new adventures to timeless experiences in British Columbia and Alberta

  • May 23, 2024
  • 1,109 words
  • 5 minutes
Cycling across British Columbia's Myra Canyon Trestles with Great Canadian Trails. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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“I thought I lived in God’s Country, and then I came here.” These are not my words, but those belonging to an Australian tourist sharing the carriage with me on our way up the Sea to Sky Gondola outside of Squamish, British Columbia. The Howe Sound put on a show that morning: glowing teal waters, snow-capped mountains, a crisp blue sky. Regardless of your relationship with the Almighty, we can all understand the sentiment: God’s Country is a location of such incredible beauty that it surely belongs in a higher realm. Canada is quintessential God’s Country, and yet I’d argue that the dense coastal forests, sweeping Pacific, soaring Rockies and vibrant cities elevate B.C. and Alberta to an even higher plain. Updated, expanded, and beautifully re-designed, the second edition of my Great Western Canada Bucket List explores memorable activities and destinations you won’t find anywhere else. It’s a personal journey – packed with history, trivia and characters – written to inspire visitors, newcomers, retirees, graduates, and the locals too. Nobody needs an excuse to explore the wonders of B.C. and Alta., but I decided to give them one anyway. Below are some of my favourite new entries.

British Columbia

Robin Esrock's second edition of his national bestseller, The Great Canadian Western Bucket List.
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Cycle the Kettle Valley Railway

A passenger route through the beautiful Okanagan, the Kettle Valley Railway ceased operations in 1989, finding new life as a trail for cyclists and hikers. With a maximum incline of just 2.2 per cent, it results in exceptional riding through forests and tunnels, along gorgeous lakes, lush vineyards, and across some of the most striking trestle bridges on the continent. Ottawa’s Great Canadian Trails have curated a five-day cycling experience, booking accommodation along the KVR, coordinating the bikes (hybrid mountain bikes or electric), a handy GPS map, transfers, and information along the way. The result is an active, scenic and delicious adventure as you traverse one of Canada’s largest fruit and wine regions.

Hike the Lions

Looming in the distance on the North Shore, two rocky peaks taunted me since I arrived in Vancouver more than 25 years ago. Known as the Lions, Squamish people regard the peaks as markers of peace, formed by the Creator to honour a treaty between the Squamish and the Haida. Ambitious hikers see the challenge of a knee-creaking day or overnight hike, complete with an extreme scramble to the summit. It’s about 15 kilometres round-trip, with a hefty 1,525-metre elevation gain, and is not for the faint of heart or the weak of ankle. The technical hike has its rewards, though: stellar views of the city and Coastal Mountains and the accomplishment of gazing at those peaks from the city, knowing you’ve been all the way to the top.

The view over a Lion in B.C. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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Heli-fishing along B.C.'s Skeena River. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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Fly Fish with a Helicopter

Located outside of Terrace, B.C., Northern Escape’s Mountain Lodge attracts heli-skiers to the Skeena and Coastal Mountains with a promise of deep powder and epic alpine bowls. In summer, the boutique lodge flips to offer wildlife viewing, mountain biking, jetboat excursions and ghost-town tours. It’s also an angler’s dream, as migrating steelhead trout and salmon swell the region’s waterways. Elevating that dream into reality, Northern Escape also offers heli-fishing, with Agusta Koala helicopters landing on the remote banks of inaccessible streams, where anglers can catch and release hordes of feisty, migrating fish. Experienced guides are on hand to assist with tackle and technique. Norman Maclean wrote there’s no clear line between religion and fly-fishing. A day of heli-fishing turns both amateur and pro into enthusiastic believers.


Trail ride to Allenby Pass

My first multi-day horseback ride was also my first excursion as a Canadian Geographic Travel Ambassador. It was not my first visit to Banff National Park, but after riding single file to Banff Trail Rider’s backcountry lodges and spending a few days at their off-grid Halfway House, it easily became my most memorable. Experienced trail riders confirmed my hunch that the ride to Allenby Pass is not only a highlight for Western Canada it’s an unforgettable global bucket list experience too. Sure-footed horses scramble up a narrow ridge, cresting above the tree-line and below the peaks, resulting in dazzling views and pure wilderness pleasure.

The Gopher Hole Museum

I search for bucket list experiences that are unique, memorable, achievable, and make great stories. These can be epic destinations, but they can also be bizarre attractions you won’t find anywhere else. Firmly residing in that eclectic latter category, Torrington’s world-famous Gopher Hole Museum is so outrageously fun and bonkers I just had to include it in my book. Located off the highway between Calgary and Red Deer, Torrington was overrun with Richardson squirrels until someone had the bright idea of getting creative with the furry critters. The result is 44 dioramas depicting the stuffed squirrels – gophers sound better – in various scenes of small-town life in the prairies. Fully dressed gophers engage in commerce at the barbershop, garage sale and beauty salon. They date under the moonlight, curl at the rink, wed in the church, and check books out of the library. Delighting (and bewildering) all ages, the museum is open in summer, and entrance is by much-appreciated donation.

Protect a Wolfdog

Wolfdogs are hybrid species controversially bred as exotic pets for owners who have no idea what they’re getting themselves into. Wolves make terrible pets: they’re aggressive, territorial, destructive, and have a strong prey instinct. Wolfdogs need large, secure enclosures, raw meat diets, and specialized veterinary care. As a result, they’re often banned in communities, abandoned, or need rescue. Located outside of Cochrane, Alta., the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary is a safe haven for dozens of rescued and donated wolfdogs. Stroll through a lovely wooded sanctuary, peering into fenced enclosures for glimpses of different packs. Interpretative signs, daily trainer interactions and various programs inform visitors about the species, wolf conservation, and the surrounding ecosystem too. Yamnuska’s staff, supporters and volunteers do inspiring work, while advocating for the protection of wolfdogs and the ultimate ban of commercial breeding.

Published by Dundurn Press, The Great Western Canada Bucket List (2nd Edition) is now available nationwide in bookstores and online through retailers like Amazon and Indigo.


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