Vancouver Island is a unique outcropping from the mainland of British Columbia. It is its own paradise and is a lot bigger than most people expect! The Island, as locals tend to call it, spans nearly 500km in length, and 100km across. Over 700,000 people live there! In fact, Vancouver Island is the 11th largest island in Canada. Vancouver Island covers everything an outdoor lover could want: Beaches, forests, mountains, hiking, skiing, camping, fishing, whale watching, bear watching – even surfing – and more. It’s also home to plenty of culture, and a fantastic art scene. Sold on the idea of Vancouver Island? Check out these top things to do and top places to visit to start planning your next trip!
The capital of British Columbia actually resides on Vancouver Island. Victoria, B.C. is a beautiful, waterfront city, the largest on Vancouver Island, filled with iconic buildings, a stunning inner harbour and plenty of history. It is the Island’s top destination, and is nicknamed the City of Gardens for its endless green space and blossoms. Every year the city does a flower count, and for 2018 it reached about 3 billion blossoms!
Port Renfrew is a secluded fishing town in the South Island. With hardly any cell service, a single bar and plenty of good fishing, it’s a destination for those who truly want to escape to the wilderness. The road to Renfrew is dotted with stunning provincial parks and unbelievable beaches fit with hidden waterfalls, caves and rope swings. One of the area’s highlights is the unique Botanical Beach, and Avatar Grove, a stunning stand of old-growth rainforest.
Located on the east coast of Vancouver Island, the Comox Valley is a tri-city haven for skiers, mountain bikers, kayakers and hikers. Consisting of Comox, Courtenay and Cumberland, the three make up a unique and beautiful area with endless outdoor adventures, plus a fantastic farmer’s market. Mount Washington takes care of the ski bums and hikers, along with Forbidden Plateau. Mountain bikers find a home in Cumberland, and the Strathcona Park is nearby as well. The three towns are incredibly artsy, so you’ll find no end to the artisan snacks and wares available, as well as fantastic restaurants, craft beer and even distilleries.
Tucked up in the remote North Island lies Telegraph Cove, the Island’s go-to for some of the best whale watching in British Columbia. Built on stilts and boardwalks, the unique village is more than picturesque and has a lot to offer. Its harbour spills out into the Juan de Fuca Strait and Broughton Archipelago Marine Provincial Park, where orca whales (killer whales), humpbacks and gray whales, along with plenty of other marine creatures, tend to spend their time.
The far west coast of Vancouver Island is one of the most unique places you can visit. Tofino is known as the Surf Capital of Canada, and the two share the Pacific Rim National Park, as well as several incredible stretches of beach. Long Beach is one of the most famous, with kilometers of soft, uninterrupted sand to enjoy. Incredible hikes reside in the tall temperate rainforest, hundreds of islands and islets wait to be explored by kayak in the Clayoquot and Barkley Sounds, and Broken Group Islands. Whale watching is easily a top thing to do, as is fishing. Ucluelet has some of the best salmon fishing in all of British Columbia. The west coast of Vancouver Island is unlike anywhere else in Canada, and you won’t believe you’re still in British Columbia.
Things to Do
While the most famous beaches reside in Tofino and Ucluelet, all of Vancouver Island has plenty of places perfect to soak up some sun and declare a beach day. In Victoria the beaches are often within walking distance of downtown. Parksville and Qualicum are famous as seaside vacation destinations, offering a famous sandcastle building competition each summer. The Comox Valley and Campbell River each have some incredible provincial park beaches that are local go-to’s and even the far North Island has beaches so beautiful, people hike for days just to reach them.
Vancouver Island is home to the Vancouver Island Mountain Range, which runs the length of the entire Island. There are two ski resorts located on the Island, Mount Washington Alpine Ski Resort just outside of the Comox Valley, and Mount Cain close to Campbell River. Mount Washington is the most developed, offering six chairlifts, sixty runs and terrain of all levels. There’s even a Nordic lodge with cross-country skiing and snow shoeing! Mount Cain quite different from Mount Washington, only open a few days a week. That being said, it is absolute paradise for those who love the outback, with an entire playground open for business beyond the t-bar.
The North Island is home to Cape Scott Provincial Park, which takes you to some of Vancouver Island’s most remote beaches. The Vancouver Island Mountain Range offers endless peaks to bag, and Strathcona Park is home to endless trail networks that will satisfy any type of hiker. From overnight excursions, to day summits and even ice caves on the Comox Valley Glacier, there are an overwhelming number of kilometers to hike here. Besides mountains, Vancouver Island has tons of regional and provincial parks that take hikers through incredible forests and beaches. There are even some famous, multi-day trails like the West Coast and North Coast Trails .
Check out the information on www.discovervancouverisland.com to get a handle on the hikes available on Vancouver Island, and to start planning!
Like most of B.C., Vancouver Island is a mountain biking haven. Forbidden Plateau and Cumberland are the go-to’s, with trails out in Campbell River, a summer bike park on Mount Washington and a number of other mountain trails across the Island. In fact, Cumberland has slowly been growing as a village and in popularity thanks to more and more avid bikers catching on to their fantastic trails – they have a backdrop of the Comox Valley Glacier, and the Cumberland Brewery x Rider’s Pizza has created the perfect spot to fuel up, and then head to Comox Lake for a refreshing post-bike swim.
Claiming you’ve been surfing in Canada is pretty unique! Tofino and Ucluelet are the destinations to go, and Tofino is even considered the Surf Capital of Canada. They aren’t even the only two places to surf on Vancouver Island! However, it’s definitely the easiest place to learn, as the endless stretches of soft sand are very forgiving, and the summer swell is often the perfect size to learn on. The laid-back surfer vibe of the area is fitting and contagious.
Surprisingly, Vancouver Island is an up-and-coming area for fantastic wines, and there are nearly 40 wineries on the Island. The top wine region resides in the Cowichan Valley, where there are dozens of tasting rooms to sample some fine sips of wine. Other areas include the Comox Valley and Victoria.
With so much hearty terrain, Vancouver Island is a cornucopia of fresh produce and artisan goods. There’s no better way to enjoy the benefits of the land than by visiting one of the many farmers markets that take to the streets in the summer. One in particular, the Duncan Farmers Market, was even voted the best farmers market in British Columbia. Nearly every neighbourhood in Victoria has its own on weekend days, and the Sidney Night Market is a worthwhile event. Comox Valley also puts on a great Saturday’s market worth checking out.
There are multiple destinations on Vancouver Island worth whale watching from depending on the kind of whales you want to see. Even if you’re visiting in the winter, whale watching is an option! In fact, it’s even quite a bit cheaper, and the resident whales are still seen more often than not. Orca whales (killer whales) are most common in the Juan de Fuca Strait, so places like Telegraph Cove and Campbell River, as well as Victoria, are great places to keep an eye out for these incredible creatures. Gray whales pass by the west coast of the Island by the thousands. In fact, there’s a two-week long festival in Tofino and Ucluelet to celebrate them as they pass by the coast during their migration. Tofino and Ucluelet also have a large number of humpback whales that explore the coast in the summer. Most companies are so confident in the summer that they offer a guarantee on sightings! Whale watching is definitely a top thing to do on Vancouver Island.
There is so much more to do on Vancouver Island than what is listed here. To get a better idea of the entire place, be sure to pay a visit to www.DiscoverVancouverIsland.com. Their blog is filled with incredible details and things to do!