The historic buildings with businesses, shops and cafes along Baker Street in the town center of Nelson, BC, Canada.

7 Most Underrated Towns in British Columbia

Canada’s most western province, British Columbia, is widely considered one of the most beautiful parts of the country. Surrounded on one side by the Pacific Ocean and on the other by the Canadian Rockies, BC, as it’s usually referred to, is also home to plenty of great small-town destinations worth visiting.

Indeed, from the alpine charm of Rossland to the coastal beauty of Gibsons, and from Nelson’s thriving arts scene to the rugged shores of Tofino on Vancouver Island, each of these often overlooked communities in BC offers unique experiences that warrant their inclusion on any Canadian travel itinerary. Find out more with this list of the seven most underrated towns in British Columbia.


Mountain panorama in Smithers, British Columbia
Mountain panorama in Smithers, British Columbia

Often overlooked by travelers for its relatively remote location in Northern British Columbia – it’s closer to Alaska than it is to Vancouver, a13 hour drive to the south – Smithers is located in Bulkley Valley and is surrounded by majestic mountain ranges and endless acres of unspoiled wilderness. Some of the best scenery is found around Hudson Bay Mountain, a stunning backdrop for the town, and one of the region’s top recreational destinations. Much of the action revolves around Hudson Bay Mountain Resort which offers excellent skiing and snowboarding opportunities with its well-maintained ski runs and beautiful alpine scenery.

In summer, the mountain transforms into a hiking and mountain biking mecca, attracting outdoor enthusiasts from across Canada and the USA. The Bulkley River is another big draw for its steelhead fishing, as well as canoeing and kayaking adventures. Other fun things to do in Smithers include the Bulkley Valley Museum with its exhibits relating to natural history to the region's First Nations cultures. The Smithers Art Gallery, showcasing local and regional artists, is a testament to the town's thriving artistic community.


Street view in Nelson, British Columbia
Street view in Nelson, British Columbia, via Kirk Fisher /

Nelson is a charming town in the Selkirk Mountains in southern BC and is only a short drive from the states of Washington and Montana. Baker Street is at the heart of the town’s tourist appeal and is a delight to explore on foot with its independent shops, galleries, and eateries being fun to explore along with attractions such as the Nelson Museum & Art Gallery. Housed in an old former post office building, this first-rate museum features exhibits relating to regional history and showcases both local and national artists.

Nelson also serves as the gateway to Kootenay Lake, one of British Columbia's largest lakes and a popular spot for fishing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Nearby Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park is another big draw, this time for hikers and nature lovers with its stunning alpine scenery and abundant wildlife. Winter sports are also a major draw, with the Whitewater Ski Resort just a short drive from Nelson. Renowned for its deep powder and varied terrain, Whitewater attracts skiers and snowboarders from around the world. 


View of the Squamish town from the summit of the Stawamus Chief, British Columbia, Canada.
View of the Squamish town from the summit of the Stawamus Chief, British Columbia, Canada.

Squamish is often overlooked by travelers as they head from Vancouver to Whistler, Canada’s biggest and best-known ski resort, along the scenic Sea-to-Sky Highway. Those who do pull over for a visit will enjoy great views of the town’s best-known natural landmark, the Stawamus Chief. Often simply called "The Chief," this massive granite monolith is a favorite for rock climbers and offers several challenging routes to its summit. Prefer a less strenuous experience? Gentler hiking trails lead to viewpoints where the beauty of Howe Sound and the surrounding mountains can be fully appreciated.

The Sea to Sky Gondola is another popular destination and provides a fun scenic ride up to a mountain station with great views of the surrounding region and coastal fjords. Hiking trails, a suspension bridge, and dining with a view await those who do venture to the top. The Britannia Mine Museum, a former copper mine, offers underground tours that shed light on the mining history of the region and its impact on the community. 


Main Street Old Town Fernie British Columbia In Summer
Main Street Old Town Fernie British Columbia In Summer, via Solidago /

Fernie is located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies and is only a three-hour scenic drive from Calgary, Alberta’s largest city. This picturesque mountain town has become a year-round hotspot for adventurers, with Fernie Alpine Resort being the big draw. During the winter months, this 2,500-acre resort is bustling with skiers and snowboarders, here for its powder snow, ski trails, as well as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Come summer and Fernie becomes a hotspot for mountain bikers and hikers, with the same slopes presenting challenging mountain biking trails suitable for leisurely rides along the Elk River to adrenaline-pumping downhill tracks at the ski resort. Fernie's historic downtown is another good reason to include the town on a BC travel itinerary. In addition to a collection of well-preserved heritage buildings, downtown Fernie is home to the Fernie Museum which details the town's evolution.


A man walking through the beautiful downtown of Gibsons, surrounded by shops and restaurants, along the sunshine coast, British Columbia
A man walking through the beautiful downtown of Gibsons, surrounded by shops and restaurants, along the sunshine coast, British Columbia, via Chris Babcock /

The small town of Gibsons is situated on BC’s Sunshine Coast, an area of outstanding natural beauty on the province’s southern mainland coast opposite Vancouver Island. Accessible from Vancouver by a scenic ferry ride across the Georgia Strait, the town is well known among Canadians for its starring role in The Beachcombers which ran for 18 seasons and remains one of the country’s most beloved TV shows. Top attractions here include Gibsons Landing, a historic waterfront district lined with quaint shops, galleries, and eateries, as well as Gibsons Public Market, great spot to pick up local artisanal foods and crafts.

Outdoor enthusiasts will also enjoy exploring Gibsons’ many beaches and parks. Armours Beach, a popular spot for swimming and sunbathing, is one of the best and provides stunning views and a family-friendly atmosphere, while the challenging trails and scenic viewpoints of Soames Hill make it ideal for hiking. The Sunshine Coast Museum & Archives is another must visit and features exhibits covering the area's maritime heritage, First Nations culture, and the logging industry.


View of the downtown in Rossland, British Columbia
View of the downtown in Rossland, British Columbia, via Yvonne Hanson /

Rossland is another often overlooked destination in British Columbia that’s worthy of a visit. The town’s location in the heart of the Kootenay Rockies just 15 minutes from the US-Canada border has helped cement its reputation as the Mountain Bike Capital of Canada as well as its increasing popularity among winter sports enthusiasts. The star of the show for both seasons is Red Mountain Resort, which is particularly popular for its challenging runs and off-piste areas. Come summer, Red Mountain draws hordes of mountain bikers to some of the best trails in North America.

Rossland is also a great destination in Canada for mountain biking and features an extensive network of trails. One of the best is the Seven Summits Trail, a point-to-point singletrack ride suitable for experienced bikers. Another popular spot is the Rossland Museum & Discovery Centre which provides a deep dive into the town's gold mining history through interactive exhibits and artifacts


Kayaking in front of float homes, Tofino , British Columbia, Canada
Kayaking in front of float homes, Tofino , British Columbia, Canada

While strictly speaking, it is not an under-rated town. Tofino’s relatively remote location on the west coast of Vancouver Island does deter some travelers from venturing here in favor of easier-to-get-to destinations like Victoria, the province's capital. Those who do venture to Tofino, however, are in for a treat, with spectacular rugged coastlines, lush rainforests, and beautiful beaches of the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve providing a memorable back-to-nature experience.

Beach lovers should make their way to Long Beach. Part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, this long stretch of sand is popular for surfing, beachcombing, and wildlife watching. Chesterman Beach and Cox Bay are other popular spots for surfing and beach walks. Whale watching is another major draw in Tofino as its coastal waters are a migratory route for gray whales, humpbacks, and orcas. Reputable tour operators offer boat trips out of Tofino between March and October that provide up-close experiences with these majestic creatures. Other attractions include Naa'Waya'Sum Gardens, a lovely botanic garden, and the Roy Henry Vickers Gallery with its exhibits of Native artwork. 

The Final Word

While travelers to British Columbia sometimes overlook these attractive small towns, those in the know will be sure to include at least one or two of them on their BC travel itineraries. Whether it’s whale watching in Tofino, mountain biking in Rossland, or exploring the natural beauty on display in and around Smithers, these communities are perfect for travelers seeking to venture a little off the beaten path. Find out more about some of the best authentic Canadian travel experiences with this list of the seven most underrated towns in British Columbia.

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