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Canada is a massive country, 5,780 miles east to west and over 12,427 miles of coastline. While you may not think of it as an island vacation destination, there are many reasons to do so. The islands have lots to offer for nearly every type of traveler, with everything from abundant wildlife and secluded beaches to outdoor adventures and fascinating history to explore.
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The largest island in the Pacific east of New Zealand, Vancouver Island lies off the west coast of British Columbia, accessed via ferry or a scenic seaplane flight from the city of Vancouver. Once there, you can experience some of the province’s, and the nation’s, most stunning natural wonders. It’s home to Pacific Rim National Park which features unspoiled beaches and old-growth coastal rainforest as well as a wide range of wildlife, including bears, bald eagles, bears, seals and multiple whale species. Look forward to hiking, kayaking, soaking in hot springs, boat tours and more.
Cape Breton Island is renowned for hosting one of the most scenic drives in the world, the breathtaking 185-mile route that winds along the Cabot Trail, passing lush, green seaside cliffs and beautiful beaches. It traverses through Cape Breton Highlands National Park with its forested river canyons that were carved into an ancient plateau and offers miles of hiking trails for enjoying ocean views and glimpses of whales along the way. In between, you’ll find all sorts of eateries for dining on fresh, local lobster and venues for taking in live traditional Celtic music after dark.
Fogo Island, the largest offshore island in Newfoundland and Labrador, offers a unique island experience in many ways. Situated off the northeast corner of the Newfoundland coast accessed by ferry from Farewell, here you’ll step into what feels like a lost time. It hosts 11 unique communities, like Tilting, a traditional Irish village where you’ll hear the sounds of thick Irish lilts and can wander across old wooden docks with red-painted fishing rooms. Look forward to strolling the walking trails and even visiting a beach that looks like it could be in the Caribbean with its soft white sands and clear turquoise waters. If price isn’t a concern, Fogo is home to the famous Fogo Island Inn – if it is, just capturing a photo of uniquely designed structure that sits on stilts makes it worth a visit.
Formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, Haida Gwaii isn’t just one island but a remote archipelago off the coast of British Columbia – many are uninhabited, with two major islands, Moresby and Graham, along with about 150 smaller islands. Home to a wealth of wildlife, six of the 10 native land mammals here are subspecies that can’t be found anywhere else on the planet. That includes the shermine, pine marten, dusky shrew, and the unique, rare Haida Gwaii black bear, the only bear in the islands. Twenty species of dolphins and whales pass through the waters, like orca, humpback and gray whales, while porpoise, sea lions and harbor seals are commonly spotted. Visitors can also delve into the rich history and culture of the indigenous Haida people at places like the Haida Heritage Centre which hosts fantastic exhibits that focus on Haida history as well as the natural history of the islands.
A 35-minute float-plane trip from downtown Vancouver, BC will bring you to Salt Spring Island, the crown jewel of the Southern Gulf Islands. The especially scenic flight touches town in Ganges Harbour, steps from one of the best outdoor markets in all of Canada. On Saturdays you’ll be able to browse or buy from the more than 100 stalls that sell everything from homegrown products like farmstead cheeses to arts and crafts and more. Salt Spring Vineyards & Tasting Room hosts Sunday Afternoons in the Vineyard, where you can bring a blanket, pick up a bottle of wine and take in live music among the vines.
One of the Atlantic Maritime provinces, Prince Edward Island is Canada’s smallest province in size and population, but it has lots to offer. If you’re a fan of Anne of Green Gables fans, it’s really a must visit as this serene island is the home of the novel’s heroine, Anne Shirley. The provincial capital, Charlottetown, is particularly romantic and offers an ideal mix of culture, history, mouthwatering cuisine and friendly locals. Take a stroll on the scenic walking trails and waterside boardwalks, browse craft and specialty shops, and dine at the many eateries serving fresh seafood and local produce.
The fifth largest island in the world, “Canada’s Arctic Playground” lies in the Arctic Archipelago, separated from Greenland by Baffin Bay and Davis Strait, and from northern Quebec by Hudson Strait. It boasts a spectacular wild landscape that offers a wide range of outdoor adventure, from climbing fjords to spotting polar bears, tusked narwhal, seals, walruses and belugas on an Arctic sledding safari across the ice to paddling the Soper River in Katannalik Territorial Park. It’s also one of the world’s best destinations for viewing the northern lights.
This island located 190 miles southeast of Halifax doesn’t have a human population, but it is home to wild ponies. Not easy to reach, you’ll have to travel by private plane or boat and get permission from Parks Canada first. You won’t be able to spend the night, there are no accommodations or opportunities for hiking, but for many, it is worth the day trip to make the journey here, with about 400 visitors arriving each year, often via One Ocean Expeditions, with voyages that stop here several times during the summer.