While most of us might associate rainforest with the Amazon basin, Central Africa or Southeast Asia, the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) boasts fully one-quarter of the world's remaining ancient (or "old-growth") temperate rainforests.
The Great Bear Rainforest drapes 24,000 square miles of BC's Pacific coast — from the Discovery Islands in the south to Alaska in the north — in unspoiled, lush primeval forest ripe for adventure and escape.
Sandwiched between ocean and mountains, the Great Bear Rainforest (also known as the Central and North Coast forest) is home to 1,000-year-old Western Red Cedar trees and Sitka Spruces soaring to over 300 feet. Beneath these majestic giants lurk wolves, cougars, salmon and – true to the forest's evocative name – grizzly bears and the area-exclusive Kermode (or "spirit") bear: an elusive subspecies of black bear of which around one in ten have distinctive cream-colored coats.
At the heart of the forest, accessible only by air or boat, the luxury Nimmo Bay Resort reveals the Great Bear to visitors in comfort and style. Its "Wilderness and Wildlife Adventure" package (available May 15-October 25; $1,535 per person per day) includes bear and whale watching, kayaking and paddleboarding, hiking, and marine-life boat tours; while "Heli-Fishing" packages (July 19 – October 20; from $2,640 per person per day) offer guided trips to secluded, salmon-rich rivers and streams. With just nine cozy cabins and gourmet coastal fare, Nimmo Bay is the ultimate in Great Bear "glamping".
Off BC's north coast, the Haida Gwaii archipelago (aka the Queen Charlotte Islands) is spiked with totem poles, some hundreds of years old, amid massive, moss-clad trees. Overlooking what were once the windswept shoreline villages of the seafaring Haida people, many of these evocative spirit guardians are now leaning precariously and visibly deteriorating (some native people believe that totems should be allowed to be reclaimed by the earth). The first new totem on the islands in over 130 years was erected on Lyell Island, in the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, in 2013.
On Vancouver Island, Cathedral Grove lives up to its name. The towering Douglas firs of this storied stand in MacMillan Provincial Park, some of which are more than 800 years old (one with a 30-foot circumference), really do resemble the mighty pillars of some ethereal structure. Easily accessible from the Alberni Highway, Cathedral Grove is one of those rare places where you can lose yourself, metaphorically at least, in minutes.
British Columbia's rainforest even graces the city of Vancouver, where Stanley Park is a 1,000-acre green oasis with epic ocean and mountain views from its escapist trails, beaches, and paved 5.5-mile seawall. Stanley Park was named "top park in the entire world" by TripAdvisor last year.
For Vancouver visitors keen to leave a minimal footprint on such natural wonders, Fairmont Waterfront Hotel is on a mission to be certified zero waste by the end of next year. The opulent property has a rooftop garden and apiary producing herbs and honey for its kitchen, electric-vehicle charging stations, and a restaurant serving sustainable Ocean Wise seafood.