25+ BEST Things to Do on Vancouver Island

YYou'll be wowed by the sunsets at Long Beach Lodge
You'll be wowed by the sunsets at Long Beach Lodge

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. I’ve spent a lot of time exploring a huge swath of Vancouver Island, especially by bike and kayak. I think you’ll find some travel inspiration with these 25 plus best things to do on Vancouver Island.

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Some facts about Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island is the world’s 43rd largest island and 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.

The view from the Mt Washington Chairlift
The view from the Mt Washington Chairlift

Location map of things to do on Vancouver Island


  • Click on the three dots near the top right hand corner to email a copy of the map.

Best things to do on Vancouver Island

1. Visit the Cape Scott Lighthouse

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.

Enjoy beautiful sand beaches and the beauty of camping beside the Pacific Ocean.

Pacific Ocean views from Cape Scott beach
Pacific Ocean views from Cape Scott beach – Photo credit: Gemma Taylor, Offtrack Travel

2. See nature in the wild on or off Vancouver Island

Go grizzly bear watching in Knight Inlet. (Knight Inlet is on the mainland but tours originate from the island).

You might like Hidden Cove Lodge to be your base – not luxurious but a great location and interesting clientele.

Hidden Cove Lodge near Telegraph Cove
Hidden Cove Lodge near Telegraph Cove
A beautiful backdrop for Great Bear Lodge
A beautiful backdrop for Great Bear Lodge

3. Take a whale watching or nature tour

There is great whale watching all over Vancouver Island. I have had great experiences near Telegraph Cove seeing the Orca whales from my kayak.

On a Campbell River wildlife tour we got very close to humpback whales. And after hiking the West Coast Trail on the boat ride from Bamfield to Port Renfrew we say about six whales.

No matter where you go whale watching on Vancouver Island, chances are very high that you’ll see a whale – sometimes even on the ferry over to Vancouver Island.

We saw humpback whales on a nature tour out of Campbell River
We saw humpback whales on a nature tour out of Campbell River

4. Go kayaking with Orca whales

Go on a kayaking tour in search of the Orca whales. Kayaking with orcas is one of the best things to do in Telegraph Cove.

It can be a little nerve-wracking when you see the size of them from your kayak – but in the best way possible. It will be an experience you’ll never forget.

Hidden Cove Lodge near Telegraph Cove
The waters just north of Telegraph Cove

5. Visit Zeballos on the west coast of Vancouver Island

Drive to Zeballos in the northern part of Vancouver Island via 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. 

6. Take a boat ride on the M.V. Lady Rose

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.

You can dine onboard – enjoying a high chance of seeing wildlife. Cue bald eagle sightings, whales, seals, mink, and otters.

Barkley Sound near the Broken Group
Looking out at Barkley Sound near the Broken Group just off Vancouver Island

7. Take a hike in Strathcona Provincial Park

Go hiking in Strathcona Provincial Park. The Forbidden Plateau is a fine place to hike in summer. One hike I loved was the Kwai Lake loop. Ski Mount Washington in winter.

We stayed for just one night here on the way back from hiking the Nootka Trail. We were both blown away by the beauty of the area and how much there is to do.

25 Must Do Activities on Vancouver Island
Hiking in Strathcona Provincial Park
The view from our room of Strathcona Park Lodge
The view from our room at Strathcona Park Lodge

8. Go kayaking in the Broken Group of Islands  – one of the top things to do on Vancouver Island 

Kayak the Broken Group of Islands in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve just off the coast of Vancouver Island.

Aim for the shoulder season to avoid crowded campsites. Enjoy incredible white sand beaches, lots of wildlife including seabirds galore, deer, seals and occasionally whales. Explore temperate rain forest, go beachcombing, and enjoy the rugged beauty of these incredible islands.

25 Must Do Activities on Vancouver Island
Kayaking the Broken Group

9. Visit the west coast towns of Tofino and Ucluelet

Visit the town of Tofino. Hike a section of the Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet. Try surfing on Long Beach. Go whale watching.

Watching the waves roll in from the vantage point of the Wild Pacific Trail
Watching the waves roll in from the vantage point of the Wild Pacific Trail

It’s a beautiful area with classic west coast mountain and ocean scenery. In addition the area is home to a number of stunning white sand beaches – though you may have to walk to them unless you’re good at surf landings.

Hardy kayakers can continue to Hot Springs Cove (or you can take a boat tour from Tofino) and immerse yourself in natural hot springs.

The boardwalk to get to the hot springs 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. 

You'll be wowed by the sunsets at Long Beach Lodge Tofino
You’ll be wowed by the sunsets at Cox Bay Beach

11. Admire the big trees in Cathedral Grove – one of the awe-inspiring things to do on Vancouver Island

Visit Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park on Vancouver Island.

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.

Hiking in Cathedral Forest
Hiking in Cathedral Forest

12. Go wine tasting on Vancouver Island 

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 along with seasonal spa services.

Grape vines in spring on Vancouver Island
Grape vines in spring on Vancouver Island

13. Attend professional theatre in Chemainus 

Stop off in Chemainus and experience professional theater in a small town. There are lots of matinees too.

14. Take a hike Near Victoria

Go hiking in Victoria. One of the easy trails takes you to the top of Lone Tree Hill where the views are amazing – and so are the arbutus trees.

The beautiful hike up Lone Tree Hill in Victoria
The beautiful hike up Lone Tree Hill in Victoria

15. Enjoy a foodie stop in Cowichan Bay

Cowichan Bay is a not to be missed stop – notable for its cheese shop, fantastic bakery and delicious ice cream. Bring your appetite.

Colourful stores in Cowichan Bay
Colourful stores in Cowichan Bay

16. Take a tour of a lavender farm

Visit the Damali Lavender Farm in the Cowichan Valley. Prime time to catch lavender in all its blue and purple glory is summer. 

Damali Lavender Farm in the off-season
Damali Lavender Farm in the off-season

17. Go salmon fishing in Campbell River

If you’re in the Campbell River area go salmon fishing. When I went I didn’t care if I got anything (and I didn’t) but I sure enjoyed being outside and the backdrop was spectacular. 

The Campbell River salmon fishing experience
The Campbell River salmon fishing experience

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.

There is no bad time of the year to visit as even in winter there are shrubs and flowers blooming and the twinkling lights in December are a sight to behold.

The famous Sunken Gardens in spring
The famous Sunken Gardens in spring
The Butchart Gardens in October
The Butchart Gardens in October

19. Explore Sidney-by-the-Sea near the Swartz Bay ferry

Plan a stop 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.

It’s also a great base for a day or a week of sea kayaking. Sidney Spit, pictured in the distance in the photo below is a wonderful destination for the day or even a night.

The Sidney pier at sunrise
The Sidney pier at sunrise
Enjoy beautiful beaches on Sidney Spit
Enjoy beautiful beaches on Sidney Spit

20. Take tea at the Empress Hotel or Abkhazi Gardens

Take tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria or at the Abkhazi Gardens. At the Empress, tea is served in the relaxing atmosphere of the elegantly restored Tea Lobby. Be prepared to drop $75 per person.

At the Abkhazi Gardens tea and lunch are more in the $50 per person range. And the garden though small, is very beautiful.

I’m enjoying a cup of the Philosopher’s Brew – with lemongrass, citrus peel, rosehips and lavender blossoms
I’m enjoying a cup of the Philosopher’s Brew – with lemongrass, citrus peel, rosehips and lavender blossoms at Abkhazi Gardens
It's best to make reservations for tea at the Empress Hotel
It’s best to make reservations for tea at the Empress Hotel

21. Explore Victoria’s inner harbour

Use the dedicated walkway and saunter along Victoria’s Inner Harbour at the southern end of Vancouver Island. If you have extra time visit the Royal BC Museum and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. If you’re not into walking, take one of Victoria’s harbour ferry cruises.

If you’re hungry try the perennially busy Rebar Modern Food – a restaurant offering inventive vegan and vegetarian food.

Walk Victoria's Inner Harbour
Walk Victoria’s Inner Harbour

22. Cycle the Galloping Goose Trail from Swartz Bay to Sooke via Victoria

Cycle 55 km on the Galloping Goose Trail from downtown Victoria to the Sooke Potholes. Even better, make a weekend of it and cycle from the ferry terminal to Sooke, spend the night and return the next day.

A pretty section of the Galloping Goose Trail near Sooke
A pretty section of the Galloping Goose Trail near Sooke

23. Hike the Juan de Fuca Trail

Hike all or a portion of the 47 km Juan de Fuca Trail. It follows the western shoreline of southern Vancouver Island.

Most people take four days to hike the trail. It’s one where you don’t need reservations….yet, and there is a trail bus that will make you up at one end, so you can do it as a one-way hike.

25 Must Do Activities on Vancouver Island
Hiking the Juan de Fuca Trail

24. Hike the famous West Coast Trail – one of the quintessential things to do on Vancouver Island

If you want a longer (75 km) more difficult hike try the West Coast Trail – north of the Juan de Fuca Trail.

Allow 5 – 8 days to hike it. Reserve well in advance. Get into hiking shape before you go as this trail will test you.

Be prepared to hike on slippery boardwalks, climb what feels like miles of ladders, walk through mud and along beaches. The rewards are spectacular campsites on beautiful beaches every night along with lots of trail camaraderie.

One of the beautiful beaches along the West Coast Trail
One of the beautiful beaches along the West Coast Trail

25. Bike the 25 km tʔapsčiik t̓ašii trail starting in Tofino

It was just finished in 2022. It’s a gem of a trail that takes you through temperate rain forest past several entrances to Long Beach. Don’t forget a bike lock so you can spend some time here. It’s easy to continue all the way to Ucluelet and make it a 76 km day of biking.

John biking towards Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
John biking towards Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Where to Stay on Vancouver Island

Here are some suggestions on where to stay on Vancouver Island starting at the north end and heading south.

Port Hardy area

In Port Hardy check out the Port Hardy Cabins rated superb. John and I stayed at Ecoscape Cabins – nicely outfitted cabins with a view, just a short drive out of town.

Port Alice

If you want to make a side trip to Port Alice then have a look at Frigon Bed & Breakfast rated exceptional.

Campbell River

In Campbell River, Painter’s Lodge is a great choice. For a hotel check out the Coast Discovery Inn.


In Sidney, the Sidney Pier Hotel & Spa is lovely. It overlooks the water and is walking distance to most everything.

Malahat Highway

On top of the Malahat Summit sits Villa Eyrie Resort, offering scenic views of the Pacific Ocean and Finlayson Arm Inlet.

Brentwood Bay

In Brentwood Bay close to the Butchart Gardens, a stay in the upscale Brentwood Bay Resort & Spa would be a treat.


In Victoria, how does a stay in a floating home in the Inner Harbour sound? Check out A Float Home B&B in Fisherman’s Wharf. Guests book an individual bedroom on the boat. All have a private patio and bathroom.

Check out the exceptionally rated Robert Porter House Bed & Breakfast in a heritage home in the heart of Victoria. You can’t go wrong with a stay at either Abigail’s Hotel or the Inn at Laurel Point.


Near Sooke the SookePoint Ocean Cottage Resort looks amazing. I’ve always wanted to stay here! 


Tofino has loads of great places to stay. Some of my favourites include the following properties – Middle Beach Lodge, Long Beach Lodge Resort and Pacific Sands Beach Resort.

Views of the Inner Harbour from my room at the Laurel Point Inn
Views of the Inner Harbour from my room at the Laurel Point Inn in Victoria

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

25 unmissable things to do on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

  1. Wow this is a great guide to Vancouver Island! Many hidden gems on here that we haven’t hit yet. We’ve lived on the island for almost a year and absolutely love the nature. Have you been to Walbran Lookout in Victoria yet for sunset? It’s the coolest hidden gem spot we’ve found so far overlooking the city and mountains and ocean 🙂

  2. Hello – I am looking for recommendations for things to do in March 2018. My kids are 8 and 10 so we are less interested in sight-seeing and more interested in activities and adventures. Some of the suggestions in this list are no longer available or at in the wrong season, so I would appreciate some recommendations. Thanks in advance!

    1. @Kirsten Most activities are still weather dependent because if its pissing rain it’s really not much fun. In March I have ad a great time island hopping by bicycle. I also recommend hiking – for example the Coastal Trail in East Sooke Regional Park, 45 mins from Victoria. If it’s nature you’re after perhaps there’s a whale watching trip. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like, you can ‘t go wrong with a visit to Tofino. I just wrote a post yesterday on 25 of the very best outdoor adventures in BC – and maybe something will twig there. It can be a tough season. How about skiing at Mount Washington? Hope that helps.

  3. If you enjoy a serious hiking challenge you should try Bill’s Trail on Mt H’Kusam in Sayward. It’s a 23km wilderness mountain trail with about 1.5km elevation change, so not really for the feint hearted, it’s best tackled during the summer months as the snow at the top of the mountain can be too deep in winter/spring. Start early and allow the full day for the hike, the views of the island and Johnstone Strait are awesome at the top.
    The locals organise a timed event once a year, not really a race, but some people do run it! Lots more info on kusamklimb.com including some important preparation advice.
    Sayward is also a great place for fishing in summer, many people return year after year to this often overlooked spot. Don’t forget to visit the historic Cable Cookhouse, the building is actually made from salvaged steel cable!
    I can also vouch for the North Island Kayak trips, that’s one not to miss, you’ll come away with some fantastic memories.

  4. This is a great article. I’m hoping to go to Canada next year and will def use this article for inspiration.

  5. Great list Leigh. Thanks ! Do you know if north Vancouver, nearby Telegraph Cove is a good option during winter / December? We travel from Mexico to Seattle and then maybe BC Canada and I personally would love to explore that area. thx

    1. @Enrique I think you should count on a lot of rain. I’m not sure that it would be a rich an experience as the summer but you could try contacting Tourism Vancouver Island for detailed info on what there would be to do in winter. Have fun.

  6. 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!

    1. @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.

  7. 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:)

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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. 🙂

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

      1. @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.

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