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Top 14 Things to Do in Vancouver Island, BC

Living just across the water from Vancouver Island in northern Washington State for many years, I was lucky to be able to visit frequently. It’s a place I never tire of returning to. The largest island in the Pacific east of New Zealand, it 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 the beautiful British Columbia capital city of Victoria and Pacific Rim National Park, which features unspoiled beaches and old-growth coastal rainforests 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 much more.

Watch for Whales a pod of orcas off Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada
Credit: a pod of orcas off Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada by © Lynda Dobbin Turner - Dreamstime.com

Watch for Whales

What Is It? Orcas, gray whales, humpbacks, and minkes all inhabit the waters that surround Vancouver Island and many whale-watching boat tours offer guaranteed sightings, with options for both smaller Zodiac boats and larger catamarans.

Why Do It? Vancouver Island is one of the world’s best places to watch whales in the wild, something that’s far more exciting than seeing them in a captive environment.

Good to Know: The best area to see orcas is around Telegraph Cove at the north end of the island, where they frequently appear from July through September. They can also be spotted around Victoria between May and October too, while Tofino is ideal for gray whales from March through September. Humpbacks are fairly common in all areas off the island’s shores throughout the summer.

Go Bear Watching black bear on Vancouver Island
Credit: black bear on Vancouver Island by © Daniel Sobolic - Dreamstime.com

Go Bear Watching

What Is It? Black bear-watching trips are taken on small boats that allow visitors to get up close to bears that like to feast on crab and other shellfish along the island’s shores.

Why Do It? If you like wildlife, this is right up there with whale watching, if not more so, as there aren’t many places in the world where you can enjoy such close encounters with the bears, providing fabulous photo ops. Sometimes they’ll even swim very close to the boat.

Good to Know: Trips are available through multiple outfitters departing from Tofino on the west coast, and they will take you to beaches around the Clayoquot Sound.

Cool Off at Sooke Potholes Provincial Park Sooke Potholes
Credit: Sooke Potholes by Kyle Pearce via Flickr

Cool Off at Sooke Potholes Provincial Park

What Is It? Sooke Potholes Provincial Park is the ideal place to cool off on a hot summer’s day and enjoy other activities like hiking to lookout points with gorgeous views while watching for diverse wildlife, from bald eagles soaring above to salmon swimming below.

Why Do It? There are pools for refreshing dips that can be found up and down the river in the park. Each one is unique, with smooth rocks for sunbathing and pebble beaches.

Good to Know: The river is so vast that there is plenty of room to find your own little paradise with the areas by all three of the park’s parking lots close to calm, shallow water. The park is great for picnicking too.

Take a Hike in Pacific Rim National Park Pacific Rim National Park, Vancouver Island, BC
Credit: Pacific Rim National Park, Vancouver Island, BC by bigstock.com

Take a Hike in Pacific Rim National Park

What Is It? Pacific Rim National Park offers a mix of wild, windswept beaches dotted with driftwood to lush rainforest. There are many short hiking trails, but the 47-mile-long West Coast Trail is one of Canada’s most famous hiking trails as a bucket-list trek.

Why Do It? It’s a strenuous physical and mental challenge that provides a great sense of accomplishment while boasting breathtaking coastal scenery. Plus, there may be no better way to experience this unique landscape with crashing waves, rock formations, tide pools, old-growth forests, and wildlife than to stroll along a beach.

Good to Know: Keep in mind that even if you are only planning a day hike, a permit and participation in an orientation session are required, done through Parks Canada.

Surf or Stroll Long Beach Long Beach at low tide, Vancouver Island, B.C.
Credit: Long Beach at low tide, Vancouver Island, B.C. by © Isabela66 - Dreamstime.com

Surf or Stroll Long Beach

What Is It? Long Beach is one of the best beaches on Vancouver Island.

Why Do It? This beach is aptly named, stretching for an astounding 10 miles while offering everything from surfing to exploring tide pools. Or, just relax on the sand while watching for marine life, including whales.

Good to Know: This area has a thriving community of surfers and is ideal for beginners who want to learn and seasoned professionals.

Visit the 'Salmon Capital of the World,' Campbell River Boats in the harbor, Campbell River, Vancouver Island
Credit: Boats in the harbor, Campbell River, Vancouver Island by © Alpegor - Dreamstime.com

Visit the 'Salmon Capital of the World,' Campbell River

What Is It? The town of Campbell River on the island’s east coast is known as the “Salmon Capital of the World.” It not only offers some of the best salmon fishing on the planet, but it’s also home to the Quinsam Hatchery, one of Canada’s largest salmon-rearing facilities where visitors can see some of the famous salmon.

Why Do It? Visiting the Quinsam Hatchery, you’ll see a recreation of the area’s rivers with salmon, trout, and other native aquatic species. A number of excursions can be enjoyed here as well, including rafting tours that will take you to Butte Inlet to watch bears that like to feast on the fish from August through October.

Good to Know: While you’re in town, you can learn more about the area’s rich fishing history by visiting the Maritime Heritage Centre. If you want to stretch your legs, Elk Falls Provincial Park is great for a hike with multiple waterfalls and a suspension bridge.

Walk Through the Big Trees at Cathedral Grove - MacMillan Provincial Park trail through Cathedral Grove Provincial Park, Vancouver Island, BC
Credit: trail through Cathedral Grove Provincial Park, Vancouver Island, BC by Bigstock.com

Walk Through the Big Trees at Cathedral Grove - MacMillan Provincial Park

What Is It? Cathedral Grove – MacMillan Provincial Park preserves an impressive section of old-growth forest that’s unique to the island.

Why Do It? Seeing the sunlight filter through the trees while gazing up at their grandeur is almost surreal. Something referred to as “forest bathing,” it’s a great way to immerse yourself in nature while enjoying a practice that’s been scientifically found to relieve stress and lower blood pressure.

Good to Know: By visiting in the late afternoon, you can take advantage of magnificent golden light for photos. The Big Trees trail is just over a half-mile and includes the area’s tallest tree. The Giant Douglas Fir is massive, with a circumference of 29 feet and a height of over 250 feet tall.

See The Goats at Old Country Market - Coombs Goats on roof at Old Country Market, Coombs, British Columbia
Credit: Goats on roof at Old Country Market, Coombs, British Columbia by © Dasya11 - Dreamstime.com

See The Goats at Old Country Market - Coombs

What Is It? One of the more unique and time-honored attractions on Vancouver Island is Old Country Market, a popular spot for visitors for over three decades, the Old Country Market has a sod roof where its goat residences live.

Why Do It? Seeing goats hanging out on the roof is fun and offers a great way to fill your Instagram feed. The Old Country Mart also offers restaurants, gift shops, a vegetable and fruit market, an ice cream sand, a surf shop, and a garden center.

Good to Know: The goats are only out in the summer.

Kayak Clayoquot Sound Kayaking in Clayoquot Sound, Vancouver Island, B.C.
Credit: Kayaking in Clayoquot Sound, Vancouver Island, B.C. by © Jaahnlieb - Dreamstime.com

Kayak Clayoquot Sound

What Is It? Clayoquot Sound is a remote area on the island’s west coast, most of which lies just northwest of Tofino, providing a fabulous place to paddle out in a kayak with gorgeous fiords, little islands, and one of the last remaining areas of temperate forest that still survives.

Why Do It? It’s a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve with breathtaking scenery and abundant wildlife.

Good to Know: There are guided kayaking tours that are available, some of which will bring you to see black bears or other wildlife.

Check Out Victoria's Museums Royal BC Museum
Credit: Royal BC Museum by Bigstock.com

Check Out Victoria's Museums

What Is It? Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia and home to a wide range of world-class museums, whether you want to browse fine art or learn about its history.

Why Do It? If you only have time for one museum, don’t miss the Royal BC Museum, which is often ranked as the very best museum in the country and one of the city’s top attractions. It hosts some seven million artifacts focused on the land and the people of coastal British Columbia.

Good to Know: Some of the highlights at the Royal BC Museum include collections from the RMS Titanic, the Vikings, Genghis Khan, and Leonardo da Vinci. Those interested in nautical history shouldn’t miss the Maritime Museum of British Columbia either.

Explore Butchart Gardens Butchart Gardens
Credit: Butchart Gardens by butchartgardens.com

Explore Butchart Gardens

What Is It? Butchart Gardens is the reason Victoria is known as the “City of Gardens.” It’s one of the best display gardens in the world, with 55 acres of gardens, including some 700 varieties of plants in bloom from March through October.

Why Do It? It’s filled with color providing fabulous photo ops as well as the chance to enjoy a tranquil oasis, with highlights including the Japanese Garden, Italian Garden, and the Rose Garden, which has around 300 different species.

Good to Know: Summer is the best time to visit to enjoy the full array of beauty, including the Rose Garden, which will be at its peak between late June and September. If you come in early summer, the delphiniums provide a dramatic backdrop to the roses.

Enjoy Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Empress Fairmont Empress, Victoria, B.C.
Credit: Fairmont Empress, Victoria, B.C. by Fairmont Empress

Enjoy Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Empress

What Is It? The Fairmont Empress Hotel is an iconic landmark in Victoria, renowned for its romantic setting on the banks of the Inner Harbour and a popular spot for afternoon tea, drawing visitors from across the globe to enjoy the tradition that started when the hotel opened more than a century ago.

Why Do It? The hotel is stunningly beautiful and boasts magnificent views of the bay. You don’t have to stay here to immerse yourself in its beauty and take advantage of afternoon tea during the summer months. Experiencing the historical grandeur of the hotel provides a great taste of what the city was like when the hotel opened back in 1908

Good to Know: Tea at the Empress is a VIP experience hosted in the storied Lobby Lounge that includes ethically sourced teas from some of the world’s top tea producers. It also offers an elevated food menu with dishes featuring fresh, locally sourced ingredients, including lavender and honey from the hotel’s bee hives and rooftop garden.

Tour the British Columbia Parliament Buildings Victoria, British Columbia
Credit: Victoria, British Columbia by © minnystock | Dreamstime.com

Tour the British Columbia Parliament Buildings

What Is It? The British Columbia Parliament Buildings are just around the corner from the famous Fairmont Empress along the Inner Harbour and visitors can explore them on free 45-minute guided tours.

Why Do It? The collection of buildings is a sight to see, with domes, turrets, and stained glass. The tours will reveal more about the history of the province, the architecture of the buildings, and the parliamentary process.

Good to Know: The Parliamentary Dining Room is the “secret” politicians’ restaurant providing an ideal spot for breakfast or lunch from Monday through Friday.

Hang out at Fisherman’s Wharf Fisherman's Wharf, Victoria, B.C.
Credit: Fisherman's Wharf, Victoria, B.C. by © Bornin54 - Dreamstime.com

Hang out at Fisherman’s Wharf

What Is It? Located along the waterfront, picturesque Fisherman’s Wharf includes many colorful buildings that are home to unique shops, eateries, and attractions.

Why Do It? It’s enjoyable just to stroll through the wharf, wander down to the docks to watch the fishing boats unload their fresh catch and other wares, and check out the many unique vessels. Seals can often be seen hanging around as well.

Good to Know: Some of the best seafood, fresh off the boat, can be enjoyed here, including mouthwatering fish ‘n chips. There are open-air picnic tables at many eateries where you can dine while watching the seaplanes take off and land while seals splash around in the water.

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