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5 Unexpected Delights of B.C.’s Ale Trail

Discover a range of activities, visit breweries and—of course—sample beers on the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island

A flight of beers in Gibsons Tapworks glasses

The B.C. Ale Trail makes for a great summertime sojourn, where you can sip handcrafted brews and go on unique adventures along the Sunshine Coast and in Vancouver Island’s Comox Valley. Here are five hyper-local experiences to check out in between breweries.

1. Explore caves at Horne Lake

Learn about the spectacular crystal-filled cave systems zigzagging underneath Vancouver Island on interpretive spelunking (cave exploration) tours at Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park. From a one-hour beginners’ experience to the five-hour Extreme Cave Rappel, there’s something for everyone aged five and over. Even those who are afraid of the dark might discover they enjoy the thrill of climbing up a seven-storey underground waterfall. 

A group of people explore the dark caves at Horne Lake 

Brewery to Visit: Head to the outskirts of Nanaimo for naturally carbonated English-inspired beers at Wolf Brewing Company that are worth the trek. “We’re off the beaten track, but we’re a hidden gem,” says master brewer Kevin Ward.

Beer to Taste: Combining honey ale with porter, the Black & Tan beer blend is a happy marriage of light and dark brews.

2. Go forest foraging along the Vancouver Island coast

Book an eco tour with Coastal Revelations at Moorcroft Regional Park in Nanoose Bay and taste your way along the forest-to-ocean trails. Walking through the Vancouver Island woods is nice; walking with a trained guide who identifies the tastiest roots and finds the yummiest flowers to sample takes the experience to a whole new level.

Four people in warm hiking attire walk on a path through the tall, mossy trees in Moorcroft Region Park 

Brewery to Visit: In Chemainus, south of Nanaimo, you’ll find Riot Brewing Co., with creative beers and a chill vibe. “It’s all about the great people you meet through the beer,” says co-founder Aly Tomlin.

Beer to Taste: Lipslide Lager is named after a skateboarding move—another passion of the brewery’s owners—and goes down as smoothly as a perfectly executed trick. 

3. Feast on artisanal pizzas at Riders Pizza in the Comox Valley

Once a thriving mining town at the base of the Beaufort Mountain Range, Cumberland is now known as a mountain-biker mecca. Saddle up to Riders Pizza for a freshly baked pie delivered on a custom-made tire-spoke platter. (Try the unorthodox-but-delicious Harvest Moon pizza, which comes with butternut squash and roasted garlic on a walnut-purée base.)

A personal pizza topped with veggies sits atop a custom-made tire-spoke platter at Riders Pizza 

Brewery to Visit: A few doors down from Riders you’ll find Cumberland Brewing Co., bursting with small-town charm. Buy a stranger a pint through their “Beer It Forward” board and feel the community spirit.

Beer to Taste: Forest Fog, an unfiltered American wheat ale, takes its name from the moody alpine woods that surround Cumberland.

4. Zip along the Sunshine Coast on a Zodiac ocean tour

It’s rare to not spot a half-dozen bald eagles on one of Terracentric Coastal Adventures’ Zodiac tours through the protected waters of Desolation Sound. Sea lions, harbour seals, sandpipers and dolphins are also regular sights. The knowledgeable guides share stories about First Nations coastal culture and B.C.’s first European settlements, all while speeding around islands and inlets in a 21-foot inflatable boat.

Five smiling people wearing thick red jackets sit in a pontoon boat, the captain wearing sunglasses and smiling behind them on a Zodiac ocean tour 

Brewery to Visit: With a Belgian head brewer who’s trained as a brewing engineer (yes, really), Townsite Brewing in Powell River on the Sunshine Coast always offers something special in its craft-beer tasting flights.

Beer to Taste: Flaked oats and roasted barley lend rich flavours to the award-winning Perfect Storm Oatmeal Stout.

5. Taste local specialties at Gibsons Public Market

The newly opened Gibsons Public Market brings together the best that local food producers have to offer. Stock up for a private waterfront picnic at its seven permanent shops, which boast everything from artisanal chocolate to candied salmon, or stay in for a gourmet burger at Emelle’s Market Bistro.

A young man in a baseball cap and blazer smiles from behind the bar at Gibsons Public Market, five flights of beers in front of him 

Brewery to Visit: Set on 11 acres of beautiful agricultural land just north of downtown Gibsons, Persephone Brewing is doing what it can to make its brewing process self-sufficient—including growing its own hops.

Beer to Taste: Persephone’s Black Lager is light and airy like a lager, but looks and tastes like a chocolate porter.

Planning to get off the Ale Trail and explore more of B.C.’s natural wonders on a nature hike? From a quality jacket to the right socks, here are eight hiking essentials you shouldn’t forget.

Image credit: Rick Graham/Destination BC