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25 Must Do Activities on Vancouver Island

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Vancouver Island is a mere 90 minute ferry ride from Vancouver or a 25 minute hopper flight away. The 460 km by 80 km island offers an incredibly diverse array of activities – but there are a lot of people who don’t make it past the Victoria area.

First some Vancouver Island facts.

  • It’s the world’s 43rd largest island.
  • It’s Canada’s 11th largest island.
  • Nearly half the Vancouver Island population lives in the greater Victoria area.
  • The island is named after George Vancouver, a British Royal navy officer who explored the North American coast between 1791 and 1794.
  • Victoria is the capital of British Columbia.

25 Must Do Activities on Vancouver Island

  • Hike out to the Cape Scott Lighthouse at the wild northwest tip of Vancouver Island. This area is famous for its winter storms – and waves 70 feet tall have been reported.
"Cape Scott area"

Cape Scott area on the North Coast Trail – Photo credit: Brendan Lally on Flickr

"Telegraph Cove scenery"

Telegraph Cove scenery

  • Drive to Zeballos – an old mining town – on dirt roads used by huge logging trucks. Picture yourself living in such a remote community and then hop on a fishing boat for the day. Reel in huge halibut and salmon.
  • Take a scenic boat ride on the M.V. Lady Rose. The boat is being retired but the Frances Barkley will still offer daily scheduled boat trips – just like they have for 70 years – to points along Alberni Inlet and Barkley Sound.
  • Visit Strathcona Provincial Park. Hike the Forbidden Plateau in the summer. Ski Mount Washington in the winter.
"Mount Washington"

Mount Washington – Photo credit: Moosealope on Flickr

  • Kayak the Broken Group of Islands in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Reservations are now required but campsites are guaranteed.
  • Visit the town of Tofino and Ucluelet. Try surfing on Long Beach. Go whale watching – in fact the spring migration is on. Kayak Clayoquot Sound. Take a boat ride to Hot Springs Cove and immerse yourself in natural pools. The boardwalk to get to the hotsprings is itself an interesting attraction. Boaters from all over the world have carved their names in individual boards so you can see the history of who has visited. Fish. Dine well. Sleep on the beach.
25 Must Do Activities on Vancouver Island

Tofino Harbour

  • Visit Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park. Here you’ll find Douglas fir trees 800 years old – measuring 250 feet in height and 25 feet around. You could have a religious experience in the grove – the trees inspire such awe.
"Cathedral Grove"

Cathedral Grove – Photo credit: chuntera on Flickr

  • Tour the Vancouver Island wineries. In the summer season many of them offer a fine dining option too. You might also want to try Merridale Cider – a business offering everything cider including seasonal spa services.
  • Stop off in Chemainus and experience professional theater in a small town. There are lots of matinees too.
  • Take a cooking class at Kilrenny Farm.
  • Cowichan Bay is a not to be missed stop – notable for its cheese shop, fantastic bakery and delicious ice cream. Bring your appetite.
"Eating local on Vancouver Island"

Eating local on Vancouver Island

  • Visit the Damali Lavender Farm in the Cowichan Valley.
  • Take the 4.5 hour train ride from Victoria to Courtney. Enjoy the views of a spectacular gorge and the Gulf Islands as you zip along the Strait of Georgia.
  • Stop by the Butchart Gardens – a 55 acre property that close to one million people visit every year. It takes 50 full time and 12 part time gardeners to look after the place.
Butchart Gardens in October

Butchart Gardens in October

  • Make a stopover in Sidney-by-the-Sea. The town offers lovely oceanside walking, a vibrant main street and the most used book stores per capita of anywhere in Canada. Read: 8 0f the Best Things to do in Sidney, BC
"Sidney-by-the-Sea"

Sidney-by-the-Sea (photo credit: Gustave Pellerin)

"Tea at the Empress Hotel"

Tea at the Empress Hotel – Photo credit: EvinDC on Flickr

  • Use the dedicated walkway and saunter along Victoria’s Inner Harbour. If you have extra time visit the Royal BC Museum and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. If you’re hungry try the perennially busy Rebar Modern Food – a restaurant offering inventive vegan and vegetarian food.
"Victoria's Inner Harbour"

Victoria’s Inner Harbour (Photo credit: Gustave Pellerin)

  • Take a harbour ferry cruise.
  • Try one of the local brews – at the Canoe or Swan Brewpub.
  • Cycle the 55 kms on the Galloping Goose Trail from downtown Victoria to the Sooke Potholes.
  • Hike all or a portion of the 47 km Juan de Fuca Trail that follows the western shoreline of southern Vancouver Island.
  • If you want a longer (75 kms) more difficult hike then try the West Coast Trail – north of the Juan de Fuca Trail.
"A beach along the West Coast Trail"

A beach along the West Coast Trail

This list of 25 must do activities on Vancouver Island should get you started. Any other suggestions would be welcomed in the comment section.

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
HikeBikeTravel
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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

More posts by Leigh

Join the discussion 24 Comments

  • Stephanie Scott says:

    1) Horne Lake Caves, just outside Qualicum Beach are worth a visit. Stay at the campsite on the lake in a traditional TeePee, kayak or paddleboat on the lake.
    2)Della Falls is located 60 km (37 mi) from the town of Port Alberni, British Columbia in Strathcona Provincial Park and considered the highest falls in Canada. The only way to reach Della Falls, other than by helicopter, is by crossing the entire Great Central Lake by boat; the only road access to the lake is at the opposite side from Strathcona Park. After the 35km (21 mi) crossing, there is a dock that marks the beginning of Strathcona Park, and a camping area which can be used as a base camp before trying the next 15km (9 mi) ascent to the base of Della Falls. More campsites are available along the trail and near the base of the falls. The hike, part of which follows an old logging railway, takes about seven hours one way and is suitable for intermediate level hikers. It ranks 16th in the world in terms of vertical drop. (wikipedia)
    3) Wild Play Element Park in Nanaimo. Bungy jump, king swing, monkido, canyon zip – a full day of FUN
    4) Hike, bike, ski, golf, golf, golf, surf – do it all or rest in any number of amazing spas.
    You’d need at the least a month to see Vancouver Island. Come to play, live to stay

    • You are a wealth of information Stephanie. Are the Horne Lake Caves where you can go spelunking?? I knew nothing about Della Falls and glad you added in the bungy jump. I agree you can spend well over a month – several summers worth – if you did all the outdoor activities suggested. Thanks for the thorough comment.

    • Christina W says:

      Sidney is a fantastic seaside town to spend the day in: shopping, books, coffee, all within a 6-7 block radius. There’s also a wonderful aquarium, the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, that highlights the local marine life beautifully. If you’re travelling with kids, or not, the aquarium is the perfect place to stop.

      • @Christina I’ve never taken the time to do the Shaw Discovery Center but should the next time I’m in the area. And you’re so right about the bookstores. You could easily spend a day just browsing. Thanks for the great suggestions.

  • Roy says:

    Wow, great tips – thanks.
    I’ve only been to Victoria and I thought it was great but hadn’t realize there was so much to do elsewhere on the island!

  • Beautiful. We have a friend who just recently moved to Vancouver for a job and he’s been trying to get us to vitis… can’t wait. I’ve only been there once and loved the area soo much.

    • I guess you’re not going to make it to TBEX 2011 in Vancouver this year?? Then at least you can visit some of the island as part of a day trip. Otherwise give the island a month – preferably in the summer – at some pother point in your life.

  • Carrie - PipeDreamJunkie says:

    I’m from Vancouver Island. Some other places:

    1) In Victoria, there are tours of the Parliament building and of the Governor General’s house out in Rockland. They’re both informative and entertaining (and I think they’re both free — Parliament definitely is!)
    2) Butchart Gardens in Brentwood Bay (near Sidney) is a religious experience. There’s a small fee to get in because it’s privately owned, but make sure you bring your camera and plan a picnic to boot. If you like seafood, grab some from the Sidney fishing pier!
    3) I second the Horne Lake Caves. There are guided tours (or you can go on your own), there’s camping, swimming kayaking there, and yes, the caves are meant for spelunking! Also, if you do some research on Google and can pick up some spelunking equipment there are over 500 spelunking caves on Vancouver Island alone.
    4) Hop a boat to Salt Spring Island and visit the renowned hot springs. Also, just walk around there… the scenery is amazing.
    5) From Nanaimo, hop a boat and go to Protection Island for the Dinghy Dock Pub. Great food is served there. :)
    6) From Nanaimo, ferries to Newcastle Island Provincial Park and Gabriola Island are available at minimal cost. Newcastle has great hiking and biking trails, and some fantastic beaches. Bring your own food and make a day of it! Gabriola has some wonderful beaches and is a great workout on the legs if you bring a bike. :)

    • Those are all great suggestions though I personlly will pass on the spelunking. Thanks for taking the time to add so many more suggesttions. The list does go on for Vancouver Island, doesn’t it.

  • Nice article Leigh!

    I see Carrie has mentioned mountain biking around Nanaimo.

    For those looking for more of a challenge, there are some really awesome trails at Mt Tzoulahem in Duncan.

    Or if you have some more time on your hands, head up the cost a bit further and check out the Cumberland MTB Trails in the Comox Valley. If you have the time, there are plenty of trails up that way, although I believe quite a few of them are still covered in snow!

  • Max Ikbal says:

    Love the Island. Wanna move there one day

  • Kayaking out of Telegraph Cove is one of the very best things to do on Vancouver Island. Due to its distance from the major Vancouver Island cities, it is still quiet, even in the middle of summer.

    The wildlife and scenery is exceptional!

    Kayak with killer whales – kayaking with Orcas – Telegraph Cove, North Vancouver Island. BC

  • Chris Walters says:

    Great info thanks, but you should know that your link to Strathcona Provincial Park (just above the shot of Mt Washington) has been hijacked by a spam money making site, pressing the back button just leads to another. The only escape was to shut down the tab entirely and start over.

  • Kristie says:

    How about a freshwater fishing trip? Many people only think of ocean fishing when they come to Vancouver Island, but hiking or drifting into a quiet peaceful fishing hole where the salmon come to spawn is an amazing experience:)

  • Crystal says:

    Where would be a great fishing spot with kids ? (6&7yrs old)

  • Ben says:

    This is a great list! Thanks a lot! We are heading to Vancouver Island within the next few days and this makes me really excited to go. Do you have any recommendations on campsites? Again, thanks for the list!

    • Leigh says:

      @Ben I’ve been offline for a week so I’m probably too late. I’m not as good at the campsite recommendations unless you’re hiking one of the long-distance trails. I do know that Rathtrevor Beach is always popular.

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