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.
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.
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.
Another fantastic place to see grizzly and black bears is at Great Bear Lodge, accessed via a float plane from Port Hardy at the tip of Vancouver Island.
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.
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.
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.
Strathcona Park Lodgeis a lovely base for exploring Strathcona Park – and close to beautiful hiking trails. With its prime location on the waterfront, you can also enjoy hours of paddling and SUPing. 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.
8. Go kayaking in the Broken Group of Islands – one of the top things to do on Vancouver Island
Kayak the Broken Groupof 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.
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.
10. Go kayaking in Clayoquot Sound
Kayak Clayoquot Soundout of Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island is an unforgettable experience. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
18. Visit the Butchart Gardens – one of the most popular things to do on Vancouver Island
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.
19. Explore Sidney-by-the-Sea near the Swartz Bay ferry
One of the best things to do on Vancouver Island is to 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. Sidney Spit, pictured in the distance in the photo below is a wonderful destination for the day or even a night.
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 Gardenstea and lunch are more in the $50 per person range. And the garden though small, is very beautiful.
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.
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 itand cycle from the ferry terminal to Sooke, spend the night and return the next day.
23. Hike 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.
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.
25. Bike the 25 km tʔapsčiik t̓ašii trail starting in Tofino
One of the best things to do on Vancouver Island is to rent a bike and cycle from Tofino to Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park and beyond on the ʔapsčiik t̓ašii trail. 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.
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 Cabinsrated superb. John and I stayed at Ecoscape Cabins – nicely outfitted cabins with a view, just a short drive out of town.
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.