We snuck in a last-minute-ish trip to visit Northern British Columbia, where I spent every summer growing up, right before the kids had to go back to school and we managed to squeeze in so much fun in just those few short days. Here’s what did during our seven days in Smithers, B.C.!
We try to get back to Smithers to see my grandma as often as we can, but it’s a pretty big undertaking to get all the way across the country and the up into northern B.C.. Because of all of the pandemic restrictions, we hadn’t been back for four years, so we definitely tried to make up for lost time this trip and do everything we could possibly squeeze into our week there. The funny thing is that we barely scratched the surface in terms of trails to hike and beautiful sights to see even though we felt like we never stopped to breathe the whole time. There are just so many things to do! I did manage to check off a few new experiences that I hadn’t done before, despite having spent so many summers there growing up, so I’m counting this trip as a big win even though there were so many things we meant to do that we just didn’t get to. Sharing a few details about our trip today in case you’re thinking about taking a trip up to Northern British Columbia to see Smithers, B.C. for yourself!
Traveling to Smithers
Smithers is not the easiest place to get to if you’re coming from the other side of the country. Currently there’s only one plane a day that flies there, which leaves the Vancouver Airport at 8:40am and gets into Smithers around 10:30. There used to be three planes a day and I’m hoping that they’ll go back to that as we settle more into post-pandemic life around the world.
The plane trip was a bit tricky for us because our flight from Ontario arrived at Vancouver Airport at about 9pm. We had originally planned to stay for those 12-ish hours in the airport until our flight the next morning, but that was looking less and less appealing the more we looked into it because most restaurants in the airport seem to close around 9pm, leaving us with no options for food. Luckily, we eventually realized that there’s a Fairmont hotel that’s actually in the airport and you don’t even need to leave the building to get into it. We promptly booked a room there and had a great 8-or-so hours to relax before we had to get up and go through security again. We were able to order room service to our room when we got in, so what could have been a very uncomfortable night was actually super restful and set us up for a great first day in Smithers. That stay was a bit on the pricey side, but honestly well worth it.
Where We Stayed in Smithers, B.C.
There are actually quite a few hotels in Smithers, considering what a small town it is, which makes it a pretty convenient place to visit. We ended up getting an Airbnb about a ten minute walk from Main Street, which was just perfect for us because we were really able to make ourselves at home and have a normal-ish routine. Staying in town is ideal since it’s such a small place. Traffic really isn’t an issue so you can still drive to any trail out of town that you’d like to get to really easily, but you also have the option of walking to restaurants and shops. You also really don’t miss out on any views by being in town because you can see those amazing mountains from anywhere, in all directions.
Where We Ate
We mostly cooked our meals at the Airbnb because that was just the most easy and relaxing thing for us after going for a long hike, or chasing bunnies around my grandma’s property. There’s a Safeway and a No Frills grocery store in town and we were able to buy pretty much the same things we would normally eat at home. Finding all of our regular plant-based staples was not a problem at all. There’s also a really great Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and we took advantage of that for a few baked treats, locally grown veggies, and some amazing cold press green juice from Mount Press Juice Company.
Another great resource for grocery items is a store called Out of Hand. They have a good selection of local produce, as well as pre-made meals (frozen and ready-to-eat) and lots of other neat local handmade/homegrown items.
We visited a coffee stand on Main Street called Bugwood Coffee one morning. I was happy to see they had matcha available as well as oat milk and all the usual high-end coffee shop options, minus hot chocolate. The kids got vanilla steamers though and were happy. Two Sisters is another great cafe option with breakfast and lunch items too. We picked up a bunch of treats to bring to my Grandma’s house for tea later that day. They had a plant-based cheesecake on the menu, which was fun. 🙂
Chris and I popped into Smithers Brewing Company one evening and ordered a couple of flights so we could each try a little bit of all of their offerings. Lots of interesting craft beers to try there and a really beautiful patio and interior to enjoy them in. Loved that we had views of the mountains we’d just hiked while we sat on the patio.
We had dinner at both Bluewater Sushi and The Riverhouse and we were all happy with both. Both had kids menus and plant-based options and we were all able to find something we enjoyed.
Word on the street is that Roadhouse is currently considered the best place in town, but we didn’t get the chance to try it out. The menu looked good though!
What We Did
Oh gosh. There is just so much to do in Smithers and it’s impossible to do and see everything in a week. If you take into account all the amazing things there are to see and do in the surrounding areas just a short drive away, it would take years. I always think of so many things I’d like to show my family when we’re up there and we’re barely able to cover a tiny fraction of it. I’d love to stay longer and do a few overnight trips to places close by (Hyder in Alaska, Prince Rupert, Haida Gwaii aka Queen Charlotte Islands), but we always find we’re busy enough just getting out on our favorite hikes, visiting with family, and checking out one or two new places.
So many trails, so little time. Here’s a little list of some of our favorites that we did this time, as well as a few new ones that we would definitely do again. These are mostly within a few minutes of town and really easy to get to.
Ganokwa Falls: This trail is located within Babine Mountains Provincial Park and is probably the hardest to find of all the trails we did. It’s a pretty easy hike up and back, about 30 minutes each way, but what you find at the end of the hike is truly amazing. I was stunned and a little terrified, actually. 🙂 Definitely something that I have never seen before. At the end of the trail you find yourself suddenly perched on the edge of cliff next to a waterfall that goes straight down hundreds of feet. It was absolutely wild in a way that photos can’t really truly capture. The entrance to the trail was a little hidden and I’m not sure we would have found it if our local friend, Matt, hadn’t been there to guide us, but if you’re up for an adventure, it’s definitely a trail that’s worth looking for.
Hudson Bay Mountain Trail: This trail starts at the bottom of the ski hill and takes you up through the little village of ski chalets, above the tree line, across the alpine meadow, and eventually to Crater Lake, which we didn’t make it to this time because of the cold and wind that day and also because Kennedy just wasn’t feeling great. It takes about an hour to get up to the top and the trail is quite steep for awhile, but I find that once you get above the tree line and see those views, your legs magically stop hurting. If you want to make the hike a bit longer, I highly recommend walking up along the chair lift and then walking across the top of the alpine meadow toward the lake. It takes about twice as long, but the part at the top of the meadow is quite flat and absolutely delightful on a nice day. You feel like you’re in The Sounds of Music. 🙂
Twin Falls: A short hike (maybe ten minutes?) to a viewing platform at the bottom of Twin Falls. Not a long hike at all, but it was just a bit more steep than I remember it being. If you’re up for it, our favorite part was actually venturing out over the rocky creek banks that you can access next to the trail. A fun place to explore with kids and you get maybe an even better view of the falls than on the platform.
Glacier Gulch: You get the this trail from the same starting point as the Twin Falls trail, but it’s quite a bit more challenging. We’ve never made it to the top, but you can hike up it for a couple of hours and eventually reach a glacier up above the tree line. We only went up for about 45 minutes, so we were still within the forested bottom part of the trail. Even if you just go up for ten minutes, it’s still absolutely worth it. The trail follows switchbacks up the rocky side of the mountain and feels very lush and rainforesty. Lots of beautiful ferns and mossy rocks everywhere. We went on a rainy morning and it was a bit slippery and muddy, but it was still pretty easily passable with a bit of cautious stepping.
Harvey Mountain (Located in Babine Mountains Provincial Park): Chris found this trail for us to try and I’m a little annoyed at myself that we didn’t complete it, because it sounds like it was actually a pretty good one, I just didn’t realize it at first. Insert face palm emoji here. The road up gets a bit bumpy, but it’s a fun drive that takes you across a lot of little bridges over creeks. The actual trail is quite wide and smooth, and seemed well-traveled, but it was on the steeper side. This trail does take you up over the tree line, but I didn’t know that at the time so we didn’t get that far. The trail is about 5km and we only did the bottom first 2 kms or so, so we were in the forested area the whole time. Still a nice trail, but we did this on our last day and my intention was to do something quick and easy so I thought we should turn around and just head back before we got too far into it. Will definitely aim to do this whole trail the next time we’re there!
Tyhee Lake: This is a beautiful, still lake just a few minutes from town surrounded by hills and mountains with a nice little beach and swimming area. We saw quite a few boaters and paddle boarders out and it’s a great place if you’re in need of a family beach day. They also have a few nice, really easy trails if you’re up for a little walk while you’re there.
Witset Canyon (previously Moricetown Canyon): I think I must have driven by this spot about a hundred times growing up, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually stopped and taken the time to appreciate it. It’s right off the highway, so it’s very easy to get to, but truly an impressive sight to see. You’ll often see fishermen here with their nets on long poles, standing on the edges of the rocks, and apparently you can often see bears fishing in the river right alongside them as well. The rocky canyon walls and the turquoise blue water made me feel like I could have found a spot on a rock and just sat there all day.
Driftwood Canyon: This is an old favorite. This spot has a few very short, easy trails that take you past the most charming little rocky creek and end up at a couple of really impressive fossil beds. Just a beautiful little spot, and an easy one to get to for everyone, young and old.
If you’re looking to do a little shopping, Main Street is definitely the place to go. All the buildings have a charming Alpine theme and there’s a beautiful view of a mountain rising up at the end of the street. It’s a pretty easy place to spend an afternoon with lots of little cafes and restaurants as well as some really good shops. Heartstrings is a big home decor store with a really good selection of gifts and souvenir type items and Out of Hand is another really good one filled with little booths from different local artisans and all kinds of local handmade items. I absolutely loved Salt boutique, a beautifully curated clothing store and I was sad that I didn’t get to check out Illyria as well, which was closed on our “Main Streeting” day, but that I’ll definitely look into next time.
If you’re looking for an outdoorsy, but accessible place for your next adventure, I’d definitely recommend Smithers. Just be careful. People who visit there often find themselves living there permanently because they just can’t bring themselves to leave. 🙂
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.