Whether or not you’re aware of it, you’ve probably enjoyed one of BC’s many provincial parks

With almost one thousand provincial parks—972 to be exact—BC Parks has a lot to celebrate this year. Not only is its 100th anniversary on March 1, 2011, BC Parks' 13.5-million hectares of ecological reserves, conservancies, recreation areas and parks are also taking centre stage during Canada's Heritage Week.

February 21–27, 2011 is Heritage Week across Canada, an annual celebration surrounding Heritage Day (the third Monday in February), and in honour of BC Parks' big birthday, the Heritage Canada Foundation has dubbed this year’s theme Historic Parks and Landscapes.

One hundred years ago on this day, BC's first provincial park—Strathcona Provincial Park on Vancouver Island—was established. Strathcona Provincial Park is not the only park with awe-inspiring sights and an exceptional history.

If you haven't visited a BC Park lately, now's a good time. Here are a few of our favourites.

Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park, Shuswap

Adams River salmon run October 2010
IMAGE: Sockeye salmon in the Adams River. (Flickr / feetwet)

One of the largest sockeye salmon runs in North America takes place in early October up the 11 km Adams River in Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park. The Roderick Haig-Brown Park, located in the Sushwap, was established in 1977 to conserve and protect salmon spawning beds including coho, Chinook, sockeye and pink salmon.

Every fourth year is a ‘dominant’ run (2010 was a dominant run) and the Adams River Salmon Society coordinates a Salute to the Sockeye celebration for the dominant runs. The following year (2011 included) is a ‘sub-dominant’ run and visitors can still view substantial amounts of salmon. During the two years that aren’t dominant or sub-dominant, the salmon begin their spawning cycle.

Khutzeymateen Provincial Park, Prince Rupert

Grizzley habitat at Khutzeymateen Provincial Park
IMAGE: Flickr / gander178

Khutzeymateen Provincial Park is about 45 km northeast of Prince Rupert and is Canada's only grizzly bear sanctuary. Khutzeymateen Provincial Park is named after the Tsimshian First Nations word meaning ‘sheltered place of fish and bears.’

Located in the Western Kitimat Range of the Coast Mountains, Khutzeymateen is home to about 50 grizzlies, which is the highest known concentration along BC’s coast.

Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, Northwest BC

Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park
IMAGE: Fireweed growing wild beside the river. (Flickr / deepchi)

A UNESCO World Heritage site, the 947,026 hectare Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, with adjacent parks in Alaska and the Yukon, forms the world's largest international World Heritage Site. The park is located in the traditional lands of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations in northwest BC.

Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park is named for its river systems created by the Tatshenshini and Alsek rivers, which have carved out the coastal mountains allowing the ocean air to penetrate the cold interior. The provincial park draws recreational kayakers and rafters, hikers and mountain cyclists.

Strathcona Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

Paradise Meadows in Strathcona Park
IMAGE: Paradise Meadows in Strathcona Provincial Park (Flickr / msanseve)

Strathcona Provincial Park is the oldest provincial park in BC, created in 1911. Located in central Vancouver Island, the park covers more than 250,000 hectares including one of the highest falls in the world, Della Falls at 440 metres. The highest point on Vancouver Island is The Golden Hinde, at an elevation of 2,200 metres, and stands in the centre of the park west of Buttle Lake, the major body of water in the park.

The majority of the park is undeveloped and most sights require hiking, backpacking and roughing it in the alpine regions. Three regions within Strathcona Provincial Park have been designated nature conservancy areas and remain untouched by human activity.

Alexandra Bridge Provincial Park, Fraser Canyon

Alexandra Bridge Provincial Park
IMAGE: Flickr / brother XII

Alexandra Bridge Provincial Park, located in the Fraser Canyon, is named for the 1926 suspension bridge over the Fraser River. The Alexandra Bridge was a critical component of the famous Wagon Road during the Cariboo Gold Rush. While the historic bridge no longer carries traffic, it stands as a monument to BC’s heritage.

Stone Mountain Provincial Park, Northeast BC

Stone Mountain Provincial Park
IMAGE: Flickr / zoe52

If you’re driving the Alaska Highway 97 through northeast BC, one of the many provincial parks you’ll pass is Stone Mountain Provincial Park. Stone Mountain is located in the highest elevation pass of the Alaska Highway. The Summit pass is has an elevation of more than 1,200 metres and Summit Lake is just one of the sub alpine lakes you can hike along. 

Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park, Northern BC

Liard Hot Springs
IMAGE: Alpha Pool of the Liard Hot Springs (Flickr / walrus)

Also on the Alaska Highway is Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park, home to one of the top five of natural hot springs in North America. Liard River Hot Springs is the second largest in Canada and open year-round. Moose often frequent the warm water swamps, and a boreal spruce forest, which supports a variety of flora and fauna, surrounds the hot springs. The water temperatures in the Liard River Hot Springs ranges from 42° C to 52° C.

Anne Vallée (Triangle Island) Ecological Reserve, Vancouver Island

Puffin Rock on Triangle Island, BC
IMAGE: Puffin Rock on Triangle Island (SFU Centre for Wildlife Ecology)

Thirteen of BC’s ecological reserves protect more than 70% of the nesting seabirds in the province. Anne Vallée Ecological Reserve is located on Triangle Island off the northwest tip of Vancouver Island and is home to the tufted puffic, Cassin's auklet, rhinoceros auklet, and the common murre. While most ecological reserves are open to the public for non-destructive activities such as hiking, photography, and nature education, Triangle Island is off-limits to the public to protect the habitat of nesting birds.

The ecological reserve on Triangle Island is home to the largest seabird colony in BC and Canada’s largest Stellar’s sea lion rookery. Anne Vallée was one of the first researchers to link climate change to the decline of animal populations. She spent a number of summers on the Triangle Island Ecological Reserve but died in a tragic accident in 1982. The reserve was renamed in Anne’s honour the following year.

Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, Central BC

view from Crystal Lake in Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park
IMAGE: View from Crystal Lake in Tweedsmuir South (Flickr / alinnigan)

BC’s largest provincial park is Tweedsmuir Provincial Park with a total of 989,616 hectares of land. Tweedsmuir is not for the casual camper— the backcountry is isolated wilderness and visitors should be experienced, self-sufficient, or accompanied by a professional guide.

Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, divided into North and South regions, is northeast of the Coast Mountains and west of the Interior Plateau in central British Columbia. Due to the elevation, snow is not uncommon any time of the year but outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy boating, angling, camping, hiking and hunting, depending on the time of year.

Monica Miller is a writer, reader, editor, designer and crafter. She blogs at Monniblog.com about books, knitting, jewellery and life in general. She lives in Vancouver.