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25 Things To Do On Vancouver Island

25 Things to Do on Vancouver Island

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 the island, especially by bike and kayak. I think you’ll find some travel inspiration with these 25 ideas of things to do on Vancouver Island.

Some facts

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.

25 Must Do Activities on Vancouver Island
The view from the Mt Washington Chairlift

25 Things to do on Vancouver Island

1. 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.

Read: Muddy but Fabulous: The Cape Scott Trail 

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

See nature in the wild – one of the exceptional things to do on Vancouver Island

2. 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 clientale.

Hidden Cove Lodge near Telegraph Cove
Hidden Cove Lodge near Telegraph Cove

3. Try a Stubbs Island whale watching trip – the first company to offer such a trip in British Columbia.

4. 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.

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

5. 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. 

6. 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. 

8. Go hiking in Strathcona Provincial Park. In the summer do the Forbidden Plateau. Ski Mount Washington in the winter. One hike I loved was the Kwai Lake loop.

25 Must Do Activities on Vancouver Island
Hiking in Strathcona Provincial Park

9. Kayak the Broken Group of Islands in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

25 Must Do Activities on Vancouver Island
Kayaking the Broken Group

10. Visit the towns of Tofino and Ucluelet. Try surfing on Long Beach. Go whale watching.

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.

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

11. 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.

25 Must Do Activities on Vancouver Island
Hiking in Cathedral Forest

12. 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.

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

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

14. 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. 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. Visit the Damali Lavender Farm in the Cowichan Valley.

17. If you’re in the Campbell River try to hook up with a marine wildlife tour. Not only do you get a look at the wild currents around the Discovery Islands but you get a chance to see everything from bald eagles to whales, seals and sea lions. You also get to check out Ripple Rock – the sight of the largest non-nuclear explosion in the world.

Read: Nature Up Close on a Campbell River Wildlife Tour

You’ll see lots of seals on a marine safari
You’ll see lots of seals on a Campbell River wildlife tour

18. 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.

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

19. 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. It’s also a great base for a day or a week of sea kayaking.

Read: 8 0f the Best Things to do in Sidney, BC

The Sidney pier at sunrise
The Sidney pier at sunrise

20. 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

21. 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.

Views of the Inner Harbour in Victoria
Views of the Inner Harbour in Victoria

22. Take a harbour ferry cruise.

23. Cycle 55 kilometres 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

Backpacking on Vancouver Island

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

Read: A Four Day Hiking Trip on the Juan de Fuca Trail

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

25. If you want a longer (75 kms) more difficult hike then try the West Coast Trail – north of the Juan de Fuca Trail. Allow 5 – 8 days to hike it.

A view from the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island
The West Coast Trail

This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. Thank you very much.

Where to stay on Vancouver Island

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

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.

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

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

In Cowichan Bay, The Cube offers a modern apartment with a hot tub. It’s rated superb.

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

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

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.

Also in Victoria 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! The Sooke Harbour House is a real treat to stay at and the dining room is outstanding. For a cottage with a private beach area, a fully equipped kitchen and a fireplace the Orca View Cottage might do just the trick.  

The Sooke Harbour House is surrounded by gardens
The Sooke Harbour House is surrounded by gardens

More suggestions for things to do in British Columbia

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

25 Must Do Activities on Vancouver Island

 

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 35 Comments
  1. 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.

  2. 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!

    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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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:)

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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 🙂

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