The Southern Interior of British Columbia stretches from the Fraser River Valley in the west to the Canadian Rockies in the east. To the south is the U.S. border and to the north is the TransCanada Highway. Geographically, the region is dominated by a series north-to-south-trending mountain ranges. The valleys are generally populated while the mountains remain forested, wild, and full of wildlife such as bears, elk, deer, and moose.
The region’s best-known destination is the Okanagan Valley, which is also closest to Vancouver (around four hours by road). This warm, sunny valley extends 180 kilometers (112 miles) between the U.S.–Canada border in the south and the TransCanada Highway in the north. Lush orchards and vineyards, fertile irrigated croplands, low rolling hills, and a string of beautiful lakes line the valley floor, where you’ll also find 40 golf courses, dozens of commercial attractions, and lots and lots of people—especially in summer.
To the east of the Okanagan is the historic city of Nelson, which is surrounded by more dramatic mountains, as well as being within easy reach of lakes, parks, hot springs, and even a ghost town. The highest peaks of the Canadian Rockies form British Columbia’s eastern boundary, separating the province from neighboring Alberta. On the British Columbia side of the Canadian Rockies (often called the “BC Rockies”) are Kootenay and Yoho National Parks, which may lack the bustling resort towns of their famous Albertan neighbors, Banff and Jasper, but they boast the same magnificent mountain vistas, glacially fed streams and rivers, unlimited hiking opportunities, and abundant wildlife.
Recreational opportunities abound throughout the Southern Interior in all seasons. In summer, vacationers descend on the region for its water-related recreation, which revolves around dozens of lakes, some stretching as far as the eye can see, others notable simply for having warm water. Anglers chase trout, kokanee, and bass while others enjoy canoeing, swimming, or sunbathing on the beaches. Much of the region’s higher elevations are protected in rugged parks, including Kootenay and Yoho National Parks, along the Continental Divide.
While these natural preserves offer plenty of opportunities for day-trippers, it takes extended backcountry trips to fully experience their beauty. But there are also ample opportunities for hiking in more accessible locales, like along the historic Kettle Valley Railway. In winter, a dozen alpine resorts cater to skiers and snowboarders from around the world, but unlike Whistler and the Banff resorts, the emphasis is on low-key powder days and family fun.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition