Vancouver Island is a large island just off the west coast of the Canadian mainland. The majestic snow-capped mountains at its core, covered with impressive conifer forests, and the rugged coastline with its many inlets and islands offer the visitor a wide range of exciting outdoor activities. Here are some of my favourite things to do on Vancouver Island, as well as suggested road trip routes to explore this stunning island”
Vancouver Island road trip routes
Vancouver Island, at 32,134 square kilometers (or roughly the size of Belgium), is the largest island on the North American west coast and boasts a spectacular nature. From towering snow-capped peaks and glistening glaciers to the thundering roar of the Pacific Ocean on its western shores and the serene Gulf Islands along its southeastern coast, Vancouver Island is truly stunning. I suggest spending at least a few days here to really appreciate the splendour of the island. You could for instance take the ferry that leaves from Tsawwassen, a short drive southwest of Vancouver, to Swartz Bay near Victoria. The journey on the ferry is gorgeous, especially when it slowly winds its way around the scenic Gulf Islands.
Alternatively, you could fly by seaplane from downtown Vancouver to various points on Vancouver Island, including Victoria.
Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, is a beautiful harbourside city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Interesting sights include the Empress Hotel, the British Columbia Legislature buildings and just north of the city, the charming Butchart Gardens. Victoria is also a great place from which to embark on a whale-watching trip (in the spring/summer months). Various companies operate from the Victoria waterfront and take visitors out for an exhilarating Zodiac trip or a more serene cruise with a marine biologist to search for killer whales and humpbacks.
There are also various excellent restaurants in Victoria – don’t forget to try the superb salmon and trout which are caught in the island’s surrounds. Read more about things to do in Victoria. Search for hotels in Victoria.
Across the Vancouver Island Ranges to Tofino
From Victoria, you can hire a car to explore the rest of the island. Head up north to Nanaimo, then head inland towards Port Alberni and down to Ucluelet, on the Pacific Coast.
On the way, you’ll pass impressive giant conifer forests and the towering peaks of the Vancouver Island Ranges at the core of the island. Covered in snow for a large part of the year, the highest peak in the Vancouver Island Ranges, Golden Hinde, reaches 2,198 meters.
You can continue the journey from Ucluelet along the coast to Tofino, passing the wild, rugged coastline along the way. Tofino is a small village situated at the very end of the Esowista Peninsula and is a favourite resort (especially in the summer) for surfers, whale-watchers, hikers and nature-lovers. Search for hotels in Tofino.
The western route to Strathcona Provincial Park
An alternative to taking the western route to Tofino is to head further up north from Nanaimo past the beautiful town of Comox, where various celebrities have holiday homes, to Campbell River. From Campbell River, head westwards to the Strathcona Provincial Park, which is the largest park on the island and the oldest in British Columbia. The park, at more than 2,000 square kilometers in size, encompases the highest peaks on the island and large swathes of coniferous forests that include unique firs and hemlocks. There are numerous stunning lakes such as Buttle Lake which attract swimmers, canoeists, kayakers and anglers.
The park is also home to the splendid Della Falls which are approximately 440 meters in height. With its large network of well-maintained trails, the park is also a magnet for the avid hiker. The trails are of varying difficulty and take you through pristine forests, crystal-clear streams, colourful meadows and gorgeous cascades with the mountains providing a stunning backdrop.
Returning to Vancouver
There are several ferry and seaplane terminals from which you can return to Vancouver. My favourite way is to head back to Victoria and take the seaplane back to Vancouver. The flight provides you with a spectacular bird’s eye view of the Gulf Islands.
The best part of the flight is right at the very end as the skyline of downtown Vancouver comes into view. The plane then swoops low past the Lion’s Gate Bridge and over the treetops of Stanley Park for a thrilling landing in Coal Harbour!
Read about things to do in Vancouver and seaplane tours from Vancouver.