Everybody loves a road trip and kitschy, small-town landmarks are part of the fun. We’ve all seen them on highways and rural byways, massive roadside attractions that elicit a gasp or a guffaw — buffalo as big as locomotives, a helicopter-sized mosquito or a cowboy boot that would fit King Kong.More than 30 totem poles stand tall along the streets of Hope, 150 kilometres (93 miles) east of Vancouver along the Fraser Valley.
British Columbia has its share of mammoth landmarks and — since this is Canada — the Guinness Book of World Records’ holder for the world’s largest hockey stick (and puck), seems a good place to start. Recognized by the Hockey Hall of Fame, the 207-foot (63-metre), 33-tonne wooden goal-maker was created for Vancouver’s Expo 86 and now graces the community centre in Duncan, north of Victoria on Vancouver Island. And when hockey fans need to refuel? You’re in the heart of the Cowichan Valley, where produce is showcased weekly at the town’s lively Saturday farmers market. A short drive from Duncan promises a lush mini-Provence, where you can navigate scenic, winding country roads along “Gourmet Trail” tasting routes, dropping in on cheesemakers, wineries, cideries and organic farms. If adventure is your game, head west of Duncan for hiking and paddling around Cowichan Lake; 20 minutes to the south, Shawnigan Lake is the site of the historic Kinsol Trestle, one of the world’s largest free-standing wooden trestles at 187 metres (614 feet) in length and 46 metres (150 feet) in height. With views of the Koksilah River, this eye-popper can be found on a hiking/biking route that is part of the Trans-Canada Trail.
While Duncan is renowned for having more than 30 totem poles that stand tall along its downtown streets, the community of Hope, 150 kilometres (93 miles) east of Vancouver along the Fraser Valley, has its own wooden statue bragging rights. The town is an outdoor menagerie of more than 30 of Pete Ryan’s giant chainsaw-carved bears, cougars, eagles, foxes and mountain sheep that you’ll spot on a Carving Walk. Those critters in real life reside in the surrounding wilds since the town sits between the Coast and Cascade mountain ranges with dramatic rainforests, alpine meadows and whitewater rivers to explore. Between Vancouver and Hope, the broad Fraser Valley is a fertile rural region where self-guided driving tours, Circle Farm Tours, lead to everything from hazelnut orchards and goat dairies to small wineries like Township 7 and Domaine de Chaberton with its fine bistro — some of the Lower Mainland’s best-kept secrets.
Serious wine lovers will want to continue from Hope 240 kilometres (149 miles) further northeast to Kelowna and the Thompson Okanagan grape-growing/wine-making Mecca where there is another quirky landmark worth searching out: a real pyramid. Summerhill Pyramid Winery is Canada’s largest certified organic winery and owner Stephen Cipes places his award-winning products — mostly sparkling wines — into the cool pyramid as the final step in production. Bonus: visitors can experience the serenity of the winery’s authentic, sacred geometric chamber on a tour. Post exploration, continue south along the vineyard-lined shores of Okanagan, Skaha and Osoyoos lakes, stopping in for tastings at dozens of wineries en route. Some of the province’s best reds ripen in the hot sun of Canada’s only true desert just shy of the US border in the Osoyoos region. And that’s not all; winery touring and tasting — even by bicycle — is year-round fun, while opportunities to raise a glass mark the seasons, thanks to lively celebrations hosted by the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society.
East of the Okanagan Valley, the Rocky Mountains provide a spectacular backdrop along the highway through Revelstoke, Golden and Invermere to Fernie, communities known for their heaps of snow and prime downhill and heli-skiing. But there’s another draw that is sure to captivate: just 30 minutes from the slopes of Fernie, in the mining town of Sparwood, a colossal roadside attraction — the world’s largest tandem axel dump truck — will take your breath away. Twenty metres (66 feet) long with 3,300 horsepower, its box can hold two Greyhound buses and a pair of pickup trucks — all at once! While here, be sure to explore the history of underground coal mining on a Sparwood Mining History Walking Tour and see antique mining machinery as well as giant murals around town. Surrounded by the Rockies, Sparwood is known for its fishing and has an extensive hiking and snowshoeing/cross-country ski network.
But for one of the province’s true epicentres of world-class cross-country skiing, drive 450 kilometres (280 miles) northeast of Vancouver into the South Cariboo region to 100 Mile House whose surroundings have one of Canada’s most extensive groomed ski trail networks, about 150 kilometres (93 miles) with warming huts en route. There are trails for beginners to experts, even an Adventure Trail for parents and kids. So it’s logical that this is where you’ll also encounter the world’s largest pair of cross-country skis — the poles alone tower nine metres (30 feet). Want to ditch the woollies? During warm, dry, sunny summers the region’s trails and backcountry are popular with hikers, bikers, campers and horseback riders.
Continue due north from 100 Mile House on Highway 97 — the route of the original Cariboo Wagon Road through wide-open cowboy country — passing Williams Lake and Quesnel. Your journey will take you to the Northern BC city of Prince George, where the tight-knit community is saluted by Mr. PG, an eight-metre (26-foot) tall figure made out of … fake “logs” (a nod to its forestry roots). Originally designed as an inclusion for the 1963 Grey Cup Parade in Vancouver, Mr. PG became a proud symbol of the city; he routinely took part in many parades that followed and has even been featured on a Canada Post stamp. (Perhaps these days he should be sporting a crown to celebrate the arrival of a newly born Prince George.) Today, he sits permanently at the intersection of Highways 97 and 16, occasionally waving a flag to welcome folks to this outdoor adventure playground, where summer beckons with hiking and biking and winter promises equal allure with snow shoeing, cross-country, downhill and heli-skiing.
Want more zany roadside attractions? There are so many across British Columbia. Make a mission and plan a roadside-attraction-themed road trip — after all, who knows what you might discover around the world’s biggest fly-fishing rod in Houston or near Alert Bay’s 53-metre (174-foot) totem pole, a contender for the world’s tallest.
Article by Margo Pfeiff, guest blogger.
For more on British Columbia’s destinations and travel information, visit www.HelloBC.com.
Tourism Cowichan: www.tourismcowichan.com
Pete Ryan: www.pete-ryan.ca
Circle Farm Tours: www.circlefarmtour.com
Domaine de Chaberton Estate Winery: www.domainedechaberton.com
Township 7 Vineyards & Winery: www.township7.com
Summerhill Pyramid Winery: www.summerhill.bc.ca
Okanagan Wine Festivals: www.thewinefestivals.com
Skiing in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast: skithehills.com; www.100milenordics.com
Tourism Prince George: www.tourismpg.com