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22 BEST Places to Visit and See on Vancouver Island

22 BEST Places to Visit and See on Vancouver Island

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Vancouver Island is a rugged paradise island that feels a world away from its closest mainland city – Vancouver. Even though the two destinations are just a short ferry journey apart, Vancouver Island’s relaxed atmosphere and untamed natural beauty mean it’s our go-to place in BC to get away from it all. 

This island is full of must-see destinations like Victoria, BC’s capital city, which is home to the world-famous Butchart Gardens and incredible whale watching. There are also laid-back beach towns like Tofino and Nanaimo, and hidden gems like Salt Spring Island and Ucluelet!

There really are so many places to visit and explore on Vancouver Island, so we put together the best stops so you can maximize your Vancouver Island itinerary!

Don’t have time to read the full article? There are so many incredible spots on Vancouver Island! But we’ve narrowed down our absolute favorites below:

  1. Go on a whale-watching tour in Victoria to see up to 4 different types of whales!
  2. Wander the colorful Butchart Gardens on a guided tour.
  3. Check out our favorite small town in Canada – the surf haven of Tofino.
  4. Visit the Malahat Skywalk for incredible views.
  5. Join an epic caving tour of the Horne Lake Caves.

22 Best Places to Visit on Vancouver Island

1. Cathedral Grove

Bailey walks along a boardwalk enjoying the trees at Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island
Bailey stands along a boardwalk in Cathedral Grove!
Bailey with the largest tree in Cathedral Grove, Canada
Bailey with the largest tree here! It’s MASSIVE!

If seeing colossal trees tops your list of must-see things in Vancouver Island, adding Cathedral Grove to your Vancouver Island itinerary is a no-brainer!

Cathedral Grove is home to hundreds of majestic, giant trees – some of which are over 800 years old, and the most common type found here is the Douglas fir.  

A fun fact if you’re a movie buff is that George Lucas shot scenes from Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi in Cathedral Grove. The mystical-looking Grove was used as the backdrop for Endor, the planet on which the Ewoks live.

A little lesser-known fact about Cathedral Grove is that there are many culturally modified trees, or CMTs, here. What’s that, you may ask? Well, CMTs are living trees that were used by Indigenous peoples in cultural and practical ways.

For example, the bark of the western red cedar tree was, and still is, used by First Nations people to make things like clothing, baskets, and blankets. On the northern side of the grove, keep your eyes peeled for cedars where large sections of bark have been removed. But don’t fret too much because, amazingly, these trees naturally resist decay and have an incredible ability to heal themselves. 

I highly recommend carving out some time to hike past these giants. There are two hiking trails here, one on the north side of the highway and the other on the south side, and both trails are around 1 km (0.6 mi) long. On the southern side, you’ll find the Big Tree Trail, which is full of giant Douglas fir trees and boasts the largest tree in Cathedral Grove. On the northern side, there are lots of beautiful western red cedars and they smell absolutely amazing, especially in the rain. 

You’ll find Cathedral Grove about halfway between Tofino and Victoria. It’s located in MacMillillian Park, which is about a 2-hour drive from either location. The entrance to Cathedral Grove can be easy to miss – as it just looks like a rest stop on the side of the highway.

I think the ideal amount of time to spend here would be 1-2 hours, but you could also just make a quick pit stop if you’re driving past. Lastly, we love that entry to Cathedral Grove is completely free! However, you will find a donation box if you want to leave a contribution. 

2. Victoria

The-parliamentary-building-in-Victoria-BC-1
The history and architecture are rich in Victoria!
An orca swims in the ocean near Victoria on a whale watching tour
Whale-watching is one of the top things to do in Victoria!

Obviously, the beautiful coastal city of Victoria made our list of the best places to visit on Vancouver Island. As the capital of BC and the largest city on the island, Victoria has heaps of incredible things to do. And after spending a day in Victoria, you’ll see why it’s one of the most popular day trips from Vancouver.

There are plenty of awesome tours in Victoria. Or, you can choose to explore independently and visit some of our top spots we’ll mention below!

We loved taking a stroll down Fan Tan Alley, which will give you major Harry Potter vibes. Even if you aren’t a fan of the movies, you’ll love this cute and quirky narrow street! It’s actually the narrowest street in the country, at just 1.8 m (6 ft) wide. There are loads of cool shops here to check out, including the Just Matcha Tea Shop – the only Matcha shop in Canada.

Considering Victoria is the seat of the BC Government, a stop at the Legislative Building is an essential thing to do in the city. It was constructed way back in the 1890s and it is a beautiful example of Neo-Baroque architecture. Free guided tours are available year-round, with each tour lasting around 45 minutes (you can find the schedule on their website here).

The Royal BC Museum is another great stopping point in the city and the entrance fee is $18 CAD per person. As you walk through the exhibits, you’ll learn all about the history of Victoria and Vancouver Island, including the fascinating lives of its indigenous people.

Also, you can’t visit this city without walking along the waterfront! We recommend first making a beeline for Fisherman’s Wharf, which is a bustling hub with plenty of restaurants, cafés, and more. If you’re hungry, pop into Barb’s Fish & Chips to try the most delicious seafood chowder we’ve ever had!

Another one of our favorite places in Victoria is the Butchart Gardens. However, we’ll cover that separately in the next section since it deserves much more detail!

Whale watching in Victoria

If you have more time to spend in the city, we highly recommend booking a whale-watching tour from Victoria. After all, the waters surrounding Victoria are teeming with marine life – most famously whales. Would you believe there are four species of whales waiting to be spotted on a boat tour? Yep, orcas, humpback, gray, and minke whales all call the waters here home at certain times of the year. 

So, if you’ve never been on a whale-watching tour, we say make Victoria your first place to do so. Peak whale-watching season in Victoria runs from May to October and your chances of seeing one are during this time!

We highly recommend this half-day catamaran whale-watching tour, which takes place onboard a large catamaran with indoor and outdoor seating options. On this 3-hour tour, we sat on the open-air deck and saw a pod of orcas jumping through the water. We also visited a lighthouse where we watched around 30 sea lions sunbathing on the rocks with many marine birds!

I stand by this tour company because it’s one of the most trusted tour operators on Vancouver Island and advertises an over 95% whale sighting success rate. Their lifetime whale guarantee means that if you don’t see whales, you can keep booking tours until you do. Tickets for this experience cost $199 CAD and can be booked online with free cancellation up to 24 hours beforehand.

You can also get even closer to the action on this zodiac whale-watching tour. These 12-person boats have you sitting much lower in the water, giving you an undisturbed view of everything around you! This helped us feel even closer to the marine life that we saw!

This tour welcomes guests over 7 years old, and tickets start at $204 CAD per person during the peak whale-watching season. It also offers free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance and you can book it here!

Related Read: We always say that a walking tour is the perfect way to experience a new city. So, why not book a Victoria walking tour for your first day here?!

3. Butchart Gardens

Stairs leading up to a viewpoint at The Butchart Gardens in Victoria BC
The flower-laden stairs lead to the viewpoint!
Bailey sits on a bench surounded by greenery at The Butchart Gardens
It’s so green here!

The Butchart Gardens are an essential addition to every Vancouver Island bucket list – and I’m here to share why! First, they’re a designated National Historic Site of Canada and include five different colorful gardens. We loved the Italian and Mediterranean Gardens but also the Rose Garden, Sunken Garden, and Japanese Garden (okay, okay…we loved them all!). 

Secondly, the gardens have been around since 1906, and they’re still owned and operated by the same family which I think is pretty cool. Jennie Butchart was this masterpiece’s founding mother, and she started by transforming a former limestone quarry into a sunken garden. The gardens have passed through the generations, and each has added its personal touch. Today, as well as the colorful gardens, you’ll find a Single Jet Pond and a Carousel on the property.

Lastly, the Butchart Gardens are HUGE. They’re spread across 22 hectares (55 acres) and home to over 900 different types of plants. You can visit on your own and they are located in Brentwood Bay, around a 25-minute drive north of Victoria. Ticket prices vary depending on the season and age of the guests, but typically cost around $34 CAD for adults,

However, because of the sheer size of this place, I recommend taking one of these fantastic tours to Butchart Gardens from Victoria.

We really enjoyed this private half-day tour that provides your own personal tour guide and driver. You’ll start with time to stroll through the flower-lined paths of Butchart Gardens before driving around to see Victoria’s best sights, such as Fisherman’s Wharf, the Parliament Buildings, the Empress Hotel, and Craigdarroch Castle. 

Taking a tour is a great way to maximize your time in the gardens and learn all about its history. Plus, this tour has a 5-star rating on Viator, in addition to that great cancellation policy. It costs $580 CAD per group of up to 6 people, although admission to the gardens isn’t included. You can click here to book this private Victoria and Butchart Gardens tour today.

4. Lake Cowichan

lake cowichan river tubing The Tube Shack
River tubing here is epic! Photo credit: The Tube Shack
Food and beers at Jake's at the Lake  in Lake Cowichan
The food at Jakes on the Lake is so good!

The town of Lake Cowichan is named after the stunning lake of the same name, which is the largest freshwater lake on the island. This hidden gem is located about a 20-minute drive from Duncan and is well-known to locals for its exhilarating river tubing.

The area also boasts some super cute lakeside villages, such as the ever-charming Youbou and Honeymoon Bay – one of the warmest parts of Canada. Yup, Honeymoon Bay has an average maximum summer temperature of 24 Celsius (75 Fahrenheit)!

As I said, one of the most popular things to do here is to go river tubing on the Cowichan River! Everything you could possibly need for this can be rented at the Tube Shack in town. Their tube rentals are only available in summer, it’s a good idea to book in advance – as this is a busy period. 

Rental prices at the Tube Shack include transportation back to your car (the shuttle runs every 10 to 15 minutes). A single tube is $20 CAD (for 2.5 hours). The family pass includes 4 tubes for 2 adults and 2 children, and it’s $60 CAD (also 2.5 hours).

If you fancy a swim, head over to Gordon Bay Park – a 15-minute drive from town. It boasts a lovely beach and warm water (by Canadian standards, anyway) and is a great sunset-watching spot. However, it’s most renowned for the Gordon Bay Campsite, which is spacious and well-maintained. So, if you’re keen to camp during your time on the island – this is a great place to do it! 

For the best scenic views in the region, make your way to Cowichan River Provincial Park, which has tons of different hiking trails, swim spots, and a few hidden campsites tucked away in the woods. The hiking trails are beginner-friendly and give you an excellent overview of the beautiful nature and wildlife here.

Jake’s at the Lake is one of our favorite restaurants at Lake Cowichan, with super-friendly staff and delicious weekly specials. We loved the popcorn prawns and their signature deluxe cheddar burger! They’re located right in Lake Cowichan town and open daily from 11:30 am – 8 pm (but close at 9 pm on Fridays and Saturdays).

5. Salt Spring Island

Coastline on Salt Spring Island
Take a drive and just explore the island’s beauty!

Just off the southeast coast of Vancouver Island lies the quirky, bohemian Salt Spring Island. Known for being an art mecca, it’s also a great place to try hearty, locally grown food, taste uniquely flavored craft beers, and immerse yourself in breathtaking coastal scenery. 

There are a few different ferries that you can take to reach this free-spirited island. They depart from the Crofton Ferry Terminal (about a 17-minute drive from Duncan), as well as Vancouver’s Tsawwassen Terminal. We came from Victoria’s Swartz Bay Terminal and it took around 35 minutes to travel to Salt Spring Island. If you’re also coming from Victoria, tickets are purchased onboard and you can check the ferry schedule here.

Some of the best things to do on Salt Spring Island include: 

Go for a stroll at Fernwood Point Beach

If you’re blessed with warm weather during your visit to Salt Spring, then make a beeline for Fernwood Point Beach and Wharf. It’s located towards the northern end of the island and is a great spot to relax and take in the scenery or go for a stroll. Don’t forget to stop by Fernwood Road Cafe to grab a coffee and a baked treat. 

Explore Ganges

While you’re here, don’t forget to head over to Ganges, the island’s cultural center! Listen to awesome live music at the Treehouse Cafe, or wander through the Saturday Market in search of hidden gems (open 9 am – 3 pm, late March through late October). 

You can rent a kayak from the harbor here and head out to Chocolate Beach on the teeny-tiny nearby island called Third Sister Island. The beach got its name from the chocolate lily that once grew there, and it’s a sight for sore eyes, with white crushed shells in place of sand. 

Grab a cold one

Sit back and take a break at Salt Spring Brewing, a local brewery that serves beers and ales made from fresh, locally grown ingredients. With an impressive and creative menu (have a taste of the Crème Brulée Vanilla Stout!), you won’t regret stopping by!

The brewery and patio are open Wednesday to Sunday afternoons, but their hours vary and you can always call them to make sure they’ll be open (+1 (778) 354-1121). They’re dog-friendly too, so stop by with your pup and grab yourself an unforgettable brew.

Head to the shops

We’ve already mentioned that Salt Spring Island is a haven for the local arts, with plenty of handcrafted souvenirs to be found here, making it the perfect place to pick up a few presents for friends and family back home! So, it’s only right that you should spend some time shopping here too!

Our top shops in Ganges include Mondo & Company, which sells unique handcrafted fair trade items. And Salt Spring Soapworks, which sells, yep, you guessed right – handmade soaps! Lastly, I like Twang & Pearl, a clothing, accessories, and homeware store. 

North End Farm

North End Farm is one of our favorite places to purchase fresh produce on the island. It’s on North End Rd and is open Thursday through Sunday 10 am – 5 pm. You’ll find it all here, from the freshest meats and veggies to delicious baked pies. When we visited, we were fascinated to see that the store operates on an honor system. So, all you need to do is pick up what you want and put the money you owe in a box. Just goes to show how great the community is here!

6. Nanaimo

Food and drinks at Dinghy Dock Pub on Protection Island in Nanaimo, BC
Dinghy Dock Pub on Protection Island!
Bailey enjoys a Nanaimo bar in Nanaimo, BC
Bailey enjoys a Nanaimo bar in Nanaimo!

You’ll likely be starting your Vancouver Island adventure at the Nanaimo Duke Point Ferry Terminal. This is where you’ll dock if you take the ferry from Vancouver City, and this is how most tourists get to Vancouver Island from Vancouver

When visiting Nanaimo, the first thing you should do is wander the historic Old City Quarter, which is full of beautiful and quirky old buildings (some are 250 years old). These ancient buildings are home to specialty boutiques and some of Nanaimo’s best restaurants and cafes. We highly recommend La Isla Cafe for its strong coffee, baked goods, and Nanaimo bars.

To put it simply – you MUST try a Nanaimo bar while in Nanaimo. This classic chocolatey dessert was created here (hence the name) and has three layers: crumbled wafer, nuts, and coconut for the base, then custard icing, and a chocolate ganache on top. We LOVED the peanut butter crunch Nanaimo bar at Hearthstone Artisan Bakery

After getting your caffeine and sweet tooth fix, make a beeline for one of the most iconic buildings in the city – the Nanaimo Courthouse! It’s hard to miss with its distinct Richardsonian Romanesque style. 

A great lunch or dinner spot in Nanaimo in the summertime is the unique Dinghy Dock Pub. It’s a floating restaurant that’s located on Protection Island. At this casual eatery, you’ll be treated to yummy food (seafood is their specialty, of course) and incredible views of Nanaimo. To reach Protection Island, you can either take the ferry or rent a kayak. However, keep in mind that it closes for the winter.

One of the top things to do in Nanaimo is actually located a little outside town. Petroglyph Park is home to prehistoric rock carvings that are said to have been created over 1,000 years ago by the native First Nations people. A short trail leads you to information boards that will help you decipher the petroglyphs, and just a few minutes walk from these will have you at a sandstone gallery of petroglyphs, which overlooks Nanaimo harbor. 

Related Read: If you plan to do a road trip between Nanaimo and Victoria, as a lot of tourists do – you can check out our guide to the best stops between Nanaimo and Victoria!

7. Parksville

Bailey in the grotto at Tigh-Na-Mara, Parksville
Relaxing in the Grotto Spa at Tigh-Na-Mara!
Bailey on Little Mountain Lookout for Sunset in Parksville
The view from Hidden Mountain Lookout!

If it’s beachy vibes you’re after, look no further than Parksville, a super-popular beach destination for locals. Here, you’ll have countless beaches to laze on (we love the one at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park). But if you want to get your steps in, Parksville also has many hiking trails for all abilities. 

But, what Parksville is probably most renowned for is its foodie scene. The restaurants in town serve only the best local ingredients, and many farmers markets and culinary events are held in the area throughout the year. The Qualicum Beach Farmers Market and the Errington Farmers Market are two of our favorites. 

But, to be honest, one of the best things to do in Parksville involves spending the night here at Tigh-Na-Mara Resort. When staying here, you can visit the Grotto Spa which offers a unique indoor/outdoor experience and we recommend booking in advance.

At the Grotto Spa, it costs $95 CAD for a 2-hour stay and you can add extras like the Sip and Dine experience. This package is very popular and for good reason as it involves sitting down to an impressive 17-course tapas-style tasting menu in your bathrobe. Yes, you read correctly – the restaurant here has a robe-only dress code. 

Some of our other favorite things to do in Parksville include wandering the Parksville Waterfront Walkway. This walkway boasts stunning coastal and mountain views and is a good place to stretch your legs. We also suggest driving the winding road up to Little Mountain Lookout for sweeping views of the surrounding valley. 

8. Elk Falls Provincial Park

Views of the cliffs and waterfall at Elk Falls Provincial Park and Protected Area, Vancouver Island
The entire area is stunning!
person on the suspension bridge at Elk Falls
The bridge was my favorite part!

Next, allow us to introduce you to one of the most beautiful destinations on Vancouver Island. The incredible Elk Falls Provincial Park is one of our favorite places to escape on the island when we want to disconnect from our busy lives. 

This scenic park is located only a 5-minute drive from Campbell River. The star of the show at this park is, of course, Elk Falls, a 25-meter (82-foot) waterfall that certainly draws the crowds in. 

When we visited, we took the Elk Falls Loop Trail. It’s an easy 1.4-kilometer (0.9-mile) walk from the day-use parking lot to Elk Falls and back, so it’s perfect for families with young kids. The trail follows past some mystical-looking old-growth Douglas fir trees and will take most people around an hour to complete. That’s there and back! It leads down to a 60-meter-high (197 feet) suspension bridge, where you can see the falls perfectly.

Quinsam Campground is just 3 km (1.9 miles) from the Elk Falls Day use area, so if you fancy spending the night amongst nature, you can do it year-round. It’s $22 CAD per group in summer and $11 CAD in winter. If you love fishing, several great fishing spots along the river run through the campsites. 

9. Englishman River Falls Provincial Park

The waterfall at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park
The waterfall at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park
Englishman River Falls Provincial Park canyon
The entire area is stunning!

Another place to get your nature fix on Vancouver Island is Englishman River Falls Park, around a 20-minute drive from Qualicum Beach

The best thing to do here is go for a hike! Head to the parking lot and from here, you can walk the Englishman River Falls Trail. This is a beautiful 1.3-kilometer (0.8-mile) looped hiking trail, and although it’s listed as moderate difficulty, I’d consider it fairly easy. Despite being a short trail, it rewards you with impressive views of two spectacular waterfalls and you’ll also come across lots of old-growth Douglas fir trees and breathtaking views of the narrow canyon and rocky river below.  

If you’re visiting during the summer, you’re in for a treat! The lower waterfalls empty out into a beautiful clear pool that’s simply the best for swimming – it’s got our stamp of approval!

Similar to Elk Falls Provincial Park above, there’s a campground here with tent and RV sites that’s a great place to spend a peaceful night surrounded by nature. You can check prices and reserve a campsite right here.

10. Oyster River Pot Holes

The Oyster River Potholes are so cool!

Potholes are the last thing you’d want to experience on a Vancouver Island road trip. But, hear me out, the Oyster River Potholes aren’t your typical potholes. Yep, these natural potholes are actually small pools found in the Oyster River, not too far from Campbell River. These potholes are fed by glacial runoffs, which results in a beautiful, but very cold, natural spa!

It’s worth mentioning that you can only experience these potholes in summer and fall as spring runoff from the mountains raises the river level above the pools.

If you’re staying in Campbell River, the Oyster Potholes make a great side trip since they’re just a 15-minute drive away. You’ll find them just off Highway 19. Keep in mind that parking here can be a little bit tricky, as it’s right on the highway, but there is space to pull over safely. 

11. Tofino

Daniel surfing at Long Beach in Tofino, Vancouver Island
Surfing at Long Beach is a must if you love the water!
Bailey with a tasting flight at Tofino Brewing
The beer at Tofino Brewing Co. is world-class!

You didn’t think we’d put together a list of the best places to visit on Vancouver Island and leave out the charming surf town of Tofino, did you?! Known for its gorgeous natural scenery, laid-back vibes, and whale-watching opportunities – Tofino is an essential addition to any BC itinerary. Of course, surfing is the main reason many tourists make their way to this relaxed town, and dare I say it’s one of the best places on the West Coast of Canada to ‘catch a wave’?

One of our favorite ways to get to Tofino is by taking a Vancouver Island road trip. And once you arrive, being such a popular tourist destination, there’s plenty to keep you busy. Or, you can book a Tofino tour from Vancouver to have all the details handled for you!

Here are some of our favorite things to do in Tofino:

Visit a cafe or brewery

Because it attracts a hip, mainly young crowd – some great coffee shops and craft beer breweries have been opening up here over the years. Great news for a coffee and craft beer lover like myself. 

One of our favorite coffee spots here is the Little Costa Rica Café, which you can find in the Clayoquot Campus (aka The Tofino Botanical Gardens!). Just be aware that it’s open seasonally, so you can’t visit in winter.

Or, if you’d prefer something a little stronger after all the exploring you’ll be doing here, why not check out the Tofino Distillery, which is known for its delicious craft cocktails? It’s located right off the Pacific Rim Hwy and is open from 12 pm – 7 pm.

If you love craft beer like us, visiting Tofino Brewing Co. should be right at the top of your itinerary. Their brewing process is all about quality, with small-batch brewing using the best-malted barley and Pacific Northwest hops. Their awesome-tasting beers have memorable names like Kelp Stout, Spruce Tree Ale, and Hunt and Gather. They’re open daily from 12 pm – 9 pm and located just a few doors down from the Tofino Distillery (how can you not visit both?!).

Whale watching

Tofino is one of the best places on Vancouver Island to go whale watching – as it has quite a long whale-watching season, typically running from March to October. On a whale-watching tour here, expect to see gray whales, orcas, and humpback whales. Would you believe that at the start of the season, a whopping 20,000 gray whales swim past Tofino? 

As for the best whale-watching tours in Tofino, we had a blast on a three-hour whale-watching tour with Jamie’s Whaling Station. This super cool organization cares deeply about whale conservation. You’ll have the choice between a covered boat and a zodiac boat – if you’re feeling adventurous, we highly recommend the zodiac!

Boats depart multiple times per day in high season, and tours start at $129 CAD per person. You can check availability and book your tickets here.

Surfing

Not only is this cute surfing town a fantastic place for beginners to learn, but pros also love to come down here and catch some epic waves. We highly recommend visiting during the fall, as this is when the weather is warmest, and the waves are at their best. Summer is also a pretty good time to visit, especially for beginners, as the waves are gentler.

You’ll find three main surf beaches in Tofino – Cox Bay, Chesterman Beach, and Long Beach.

Hands down, Cox Bay is the best place for beginners to earn their stripes. Chesterman Beach is a little closer to town and is home to two beaches – South Chesterman and North Chesterman. Both are quite beginner-friendly. Lastly, Long Beach is more suitable for experienced surfers. 

Related Read: Check out the best stops on the drive between Victoria and Tofino here. It’s a very popular road trip on the island, and for good reason. It’s just so scenic!

12. Pacific Rim National Park

View over Pacific Rim National Park in Canada
Come and explore the beautiful coastal park!

Stretching along the Pacific Coast from Tofino in the north to Port Renfrow in the south, Pacific Rim National Park is made up of three separate sections – Long Beach (a popular surf beach which we touched on in the Tofino section above), the Broken Group Islands, and the West Coast Trail. 

The Pacific Rim National Park is one of the best day trips from Tofino, seeing as the two destinations are just an 18-minute drive apart. And for those who love to hike, you’ve got several options for hiking trails here.

The South Beach trail is a super-pretty hike. This one begins at the Kwisitis Visitor Centre and is 1.6 km (1 mi) long. It leads through a dense forest and ends at the rugged South Beach. We don’t advise swimming at South Beach due to the intense waves and rocky shore. 

Finally, the insanely popular West Coast Trail is a rite of passage for all hikers visiting Vancouver Island. It’s a trail for the outdoor enthusiasts out there, at over 75 km (46.6 miles) from Port Renfrew to Bamfield. Of course, you don’t have to hike the entire way, but for those looking for their next big challenge, you can’t miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime experience!

The least visited part of the park is the hard-to-reach Broken Group Islands, which consists of over 100 small islands. And you can only reach them via boat or kayak. In fact, for true adventure nuts, a 5-day kayaking tour to the islands will be very appealing. You’ll swim in crystal-clean water, see endless wildlife like sea lions, porpoises, and grey whales, and camp at secluded spots around the islands. Prices for this bucket-list-worthy tour start from $2,025 CAD per person.

FYI, entrance to Pacific Rim National Park costs $11 CAD per adult. However, if you have a Parks Canada Discovery Pass, it covers entry to the park. Simply display this on your windshield when parked in any parking lot here.

13. Ucluelet

The Amphitrite Lighthouse in Ucluelet, BC
The Amphitrite Lighthouse!
Bailey walks along the Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet, BC
Bailey walking along the Wild Pacific Trail!

Ucluelet is quintessential Vancouver Island with its wild beaches, rugged coastline, rainforest hiking trails, and low-key, friendly vibe. With a similar atmosphere to Tofino, many tourists choose to visit one or the other. It makes sense since they are just 40 minutes apart, but I still think it’s a shame because both spots are equally amazing!

There are many awesome things to do in Ucluelet. One of the most popular is the Wild Pacific Trail, aka “The Whale Trail” because of the chance to see whales from different viewpoints. The trail stretches for 8 km (5 miles), but you can do it in sections if you don’t fancy tackling it all at once.

The best and most popular sections include the Lighthouse Loop, Big Beach Trail, and Brown’s Beach to Ancient Cedars.

The Lighthouse Loop is 3 km (1.9 miles) long, and it’s an easy walk that shouldn’t take you more than 45 minutes. Follow the path to see the standout Amphitrite Lighthouse, a must-visit attraction in Ucluelet. It was originally built in 1906 after a shipwreck, and it’s a popular spot for photographers at sunrise and sunset. 

For the Big Beach Trail, start at the intersection between Marine Drive and Matterson Drive. It’s a 1-km (0.5-mile) trail, and there’s a picnic area that’s ideal for families, as well as an ancient shipwreck that you can learn all about.

Brown’s Beach to Rocky Bluffs is 4.6 km long (2.9 miles) and starts at the Sea Star parking lot. However, since it’s an out-and-back trail, you can turn around whenever you please (I suggest making it to Ancient Cedars). This is also the most challenging section of the trail, but it’s still accessible to anyone with a basic fitness level. You can check out the full hiking map here. You’ll see there’s an additional tangent called Artists Loop, which will take you closer to the shore if you have an extra 30 minutes to spare.

Back in town, stretch your legs once more along the Ucluelet waterfront. Grab a coffee and take the time to stroll along the waterfront. You’ll see this little fishing town in action, and it’s a great introduction to Ucluelet. 

You can even stroll out along the pier, which is not super long but still a great spot to enjoy the peace and quiet – and snap a photo or two. The waterfront is also perfect for catching a colorful sunset on a clear evening!

14. Stamp River Provincial Park

A salmon jumps up a waterfall in almon run at Stamp River Provincial Park
A salmon leaping at Stamp River!
A bear hunts salmon in almon run at Stamp River Provincial Park 
A bear fishes for salmon at Stamp River!

One of the best places to see wildlife (specifically salmon and bears) on Vancouver Island is the lesser-known Stamp River Provincial Park. This outdoor paradise is situated just 20 minutes from Port Alberni.

This peaceful park is filled with scenic hiking trails that weave their way through mythical-looking old-growth forests and alongside the Stamp River. But, the park is perhaps best known for the annual salmon run, a phenomenon which occurs here between late August and December.

During the salmon run, thousands of Pacific salmon circle in the pool beneath Stamp Falls before swimming up the fish ladders on their way to the spawning beds. There are several lookout points along the river where you can watch this natural phenomenon. If you visit in late August, you’ll see sockeye salmon, and later in the season, you’ll spot coho and chinook salmon.

The salmon attract black bears, too, who head to the river for an easy meal. Please note that fishing within the park boundaries is not permitted. Instead, many keen anglers use it as a base camp to go fishing in other parts of the Stamp River.

15. Goldstream Provincial Park

Goldstream Falls in Goldstream Provincial Park
Goldstream Falls!
Bailey walks down some steps in Goldstream Provincial Park, Vancouver Island
Bailey walks down some steps in the park!

Another glorious park on Vancouver Island is located just 16 km (10 miles) from the island’s biggest city – Victoria. Goldstream Provincial Park feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and here, you can experience gushing waterfalls and old-growth forests and see wildlife like black bears, cougars, and deer. 

There are many hiking trails within the park, and for most of the way, you’ll be passing ancient Douglas fir trees (some of which are 600 years old!). There are also accessible trails for strollers or wheelchairs and more challenging hikes where you’ll pass by abandoned digging sites from the Gold Rush.

Like Stamp River Provincial Park above, you can spot chum salmon in the Goldstream River between October and December when they come here to spawn. There’s also a high chance you’ll glimpse a bald eagle at this time of year as they swoop down into the river looking to catch a tasty salmon for their next meal. 

If you plan to visit in the summer, we recommend packing your swimwear and going for a swim in the gorgeous Goldstream Falls. There are several other waterfalls in the park – there’s even one named Niagara Falls! But don’t get confused – this waterfall is only a fraction of the size of the real Niagara Falls in Canada.  

16. Malahat Skywalk

The spirral slide at the Malahat Skywalk in Malahat, British Columbia
The slide is huge!
Bailey reads a sign at the top of the Malahat Skywalk in Malahat, British Columbia
The view from the top is epic!

The Malahat Skywalk offers gorgeous views over Vancouver Island and the surrounding waters. It’s located within the beautiful Cowichan Valley, a 40-minute drive from Victoria. If you love epic vistas and nature and don’t mind heights, I highly suggest visiting!

Would you believe it cost a massive $17 million CAD to build? It took two years to construct and is made from steel and Douglas fir timber. The Malahat Skywalk is actually part of the traditional territory of the Malahat Nation, and interestingly, developers partnered with the Malahat people to operate the skywalk. Hence, it’s a great spot to learn about the importance of this region to the Malahat people. 

On your visit to the Malahat Skywalk, you will climb the gentle spiral walkway to the viewing platform, which boasts breathtaking 360-degree views of the area. After all, the viewpoint is 250 meters (820 feet) above sea level, so you’ll be above the HUGE trees below! 

There is also a net at the top with a large drop below it, showing you just how high you are from the ground. I admit it’s pretty scary to walk on, but it’s completely safe. Once you’ve finished taking in the glorious views, it’s time for the best part – the huge slide! Yep, you can slide down the 20-meter (65-foot) slide. Reaching the bottom takes just 8 seconds, and it’s so much fun! 

The Malahat Skywalk is wheelchair and stroller-friendly, so everyone can experience the wow-worthy views! It’s open from 9 am – 3 pm in winter, 9 am – 6 pm in spring and fall, and 9 am – 8 pm in summer. Adult tickets are $39 CAD when you book through Viator, which includes all taxes and fees.

17. Port Renfrew

beach in Port Renfrew on vancouver Island, canada
China Beach in Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, Canada

Known locally as the “Jewel of the West Coast,” the small village of Port Renfrew is the perfect place to get away from it all. This is where we come to truly savor the peacefulness and natural beauty that Vancouver Island is famous for.

This area is brimming with abundant wildlife, epic hiking opportunities, and a couple of great surf beaches (we love China Beach, pictured above). It’s popular with outdoor enthusiasts who come here to hike, camp, fish, and surf. However, it remains relatively unknown to the “typical” tourist, which is what we love about it – it’s not crowded!

Port Renfrew is best known as being the starting (or end) point for the challenging Juan de Fuca Marine Trail and the historic West Coast Trail, which we touched on earlier in the Pacific Rim section. It’s also a popular sport fishing spot – with mostly salmon and halibut caught here.

Two other must-see attractions in this remote area include the tidal pools at Botanical Beach and the massive western red cedar trees and Douglas fir trees at Avatar Grove.

Related Read: For help planning the perfect getaway, our step-by-step guide on spending two weeks on Vancouver Island is here for you!

18. Mount Washington

view from the top of Mount Washington Alpine Resort in the winter
The views are my favorite part about skiing at Mount Washington!

If you plan to visit Vancouver Island in the winter and love to ski (or snowboard, like us), then a visit to Mount Washington is a must! After all, this is the most popular ski resort on the island for a reason.

It’s nestled in the Comox Valley, a 40-minute drive from Campbell River, and is typically open from December to April. However, the exact dates vary from year to year as it’s dependent on snowfall. 

But the skiing conditions here are typically great, boasting over 11 meters (36 feet) of average annual snowfall – similar to the world-famous Whistler on the mainland. The skiable terrain here is impressive with over 688 hectares (1,700 acres) and 505 vertical meters (1,657 ft) of alpine terrain.

If you’re just finding your feet on the slopes, you can book a 1 hour and 45-minute lesson for first-timers, which includes rentals and a ski lift ticket for $124 CAD. Cheaper rates are available for the 3:30 pm slot.

Their Alpine Passes, which give you access to the slopes and ski lifts, are sold for half-day, full-day, or nighttime skiing, with full-day passes costing $124 CAD for adults for the busy weekend days. There are discounted passes available for mid-week and night-time skiing. You can check out all the prices here.

There are also 55 km (34 miles) of cross-country trails and 25 km (15 miles) of snowshoeing trails, so if skiing isn’t your thing, you can try out one of these more relaxed sports. For kids or even big kids, there’s a fun Tube Park. And if you’ve never tried fat biking before, you can test your skills on the fat bike trails.  

19. Coombs and Goats on the Roof

Goats on the Roof Farm in Coombs
How funny!
Goats on the Roof Farm in Coombs, Vancouver Island

Now, for easily the most unique attraction on the list! The Goats on the Roof Farm is exactly as it sounds – a farm with goats on its roof! It’s a crazy sight to see on your drive around Vancouver Island, that’s for sure! 

The story goes that a family of goats moved onto the property over 30 years ago. To this day, they remain on the roof, grazing on the grass that grows on it. I mean, why not stick around…the grass isn’t always greener elsewhere, right?!

This hilarious attraction, also known as the Old Country Market, is located in the small community of Coombs, only a 10-minute drive from Parksville. And a visit to the farm is one of the most family-friendly things to do on the island. 

At the market, you can explore the booths of a variety of local vendors, picking up a sweet treat or two. There are also some boutique shops and restaurants (we loved Taqueria Cantina). Overall, it’s a great little market to explore, grab some lunch, and do a little shopping.

The farm is open from 9 am to 6 pm daily. However, some of the restaurants on the premises have their own special hours, so if you’re interested in eating here, it’s best to call ahead.

20. Horne Lake Caves

Horn Lake Caves and Outdoor Center
Photo credit: Horne Lake Caves and Outdoor Center

One of our favorite places on Vancouver Island is the Horne Lake Caves – these little-known caves are so much fun to explore. Discovering them was honestly one of the best surprises we had during our last trip to the island! Plus, this location is only a 30-minute drive from Qualicum Beach, which is easy if you’ve rented a car.

You’ll need a guided tour to explore this underground network. For those new to caving or who are a little short on time, we’d suggest trying out this Riverbend Cave Explorer tour, which is around two hours long. On our tour, we saw some of the most incredible fossils, which was a super unique experience! It’s obvious from the get-go that the team of volunteers and caving experts have so much passion for this unique underground system. And that enthusiasm really rubbed off on us.

With a maximum of 7 people per tour, this small group tour allows for a more personalized experience. For almost 2 hours of exploring, this experience is priced well at $54 CAD, which includes your guide and safety equipment. This tour was one of the best tours we did on Vancouver Island and is certainly popular, so I recommend booking it in advance!

If you want to explore the cave system here fully, then you can book this multi-cave experience, which is three hours long and involves diving into, exploring, and climbing out of some incredible caves. We enjoyed the climbing portion a lot more than we thought we would. But one of our favorite memories of being here was trying out the natural cave slide, which just so happens to be the only one of its kind in Canada!

This 3 hour-caving experience is $90 CAD, and worth every penny in my opinion! So if you’re feeling adventurous, don’t hesitate to book your spot online through Viator, which offers “reserve now pay later” so you can budget out your trip expenses.

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Lowest price guarantee – If you happen to find the same tour at a lower price elsewhere, Viator will refund you the price difference.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

21. Duncan

The Duncan Totem Poles
The Duncan Totem Poles!
A bald eagle at the Pacific Northwest Raptors show near Duncan, BC
A bald eagle at the Pacific Northwest Raptors show near Duncan!

Duncan is a cool little city located on Cowichan First Nation territory, pretty much smack-bang in the middle of the island. And interestingly, it’s the smallest city in Canada – by area size.

Its nickname is the “City of Totems” because it’s home to over 40 carefully crafted totem poles, each with its own unique story to tell. From raven to bear to eagle, each totem features animals that are strongly symbolic in First Nations culture. These totems are intricate and eye-catching – I loved admiring the details of each one during my time in Duncan. 

To see all 40 of the totems, you can do the Totem Tour Walk, which starts just outside the Cowichan Valley Museum. Simply follow the little yellow footprints painted on the sidewalk, which will lead you past all 40 unique totems. 

Another memorable thing to do in Duncan is to pay a visit to the Pacific Northwest Raptors, a sanctuary dedicated to educating visitors on beautiful birds of prey, like falcons, eagles, and owls, as a way to increase awareness and conservation efforts. 

Admission starts from $22 CAD per adult, which includes all-day admission and access to the flying demonstration. The birds swoop so low you feel like their wingtips might graze you! Opening hours and the flying demonstrations change depending on the season, so check their website in advance.

One of my favorite things to do in Duncan is simply wandering around downtown. It’s a super walkable city with lots of quirky specialty shops and boutiques to check out.

Start off by grabbing a coffee and a croissant at Duncan Garage Cafe & Bakery (open Monday to Saturday 7:30 am – 5 pm). Then, make your way over to Alvin’s Alley, a Duncan hidden gem. It reminded us of old-school alleyways in Europe, with some awesome murals done by local artists for everyone to enjoy. While you’re strolling down this alley, check out some of Duncan’s colorful thrift shops – we both loved Eclectic Avenue Vintage Boutique, which sells beautiful clothing and jewelry for a great price.

22. Port Hardy

wooden welcome to Port Hardy sign
Welcome!

And last but definitely not least is Port Hardy. It’s a bit of a secret spot, and not many tourists venture this way, which is a shame because some of our best Vancouver Island memories were made here! Located on the northern tip of Vancouver Island, Port Hardy is home to some incredible hiking trails and friendly locals. It has that inimitable laid-back atmosphere that we just fell in love with. 

As it’s situated within the traditional territory of the Kwakiutl First Nation, this tiny town has deep-rooted traditions and culture. Like Duncan we we discussed above, Port Hardy is full of totem poles, and interestingly, it’s said to be the oldest site of human habitation on the island. In fact, Port Hardy is estimated to be over 8,000 years old!

As I mentioned, our favorite thing to do in Port Hardy was hiking. There are some great trails here, such as the amazing Quatse Loop and Estuary Trail. This easy-ish trail is 3.4 km (2.1 miles) long, and you may be lucky enough to spot some nesting bald eagles or even some great blue herons along the way!

For those up for more of a challenge – we urge you to take on the tough Tex Lyon Trail, which leads to Dillon Point. This one will take most people around 8 hours to complete. At 12.7 km (8 miles) long and 484 meters (1,587 feet) of elevation gain, the trail is a hard one, and it can be sketchy in spots, with an uneven forest floor, muddy sections, and exposed roots. But when you reach Dillon Point, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best panoramic views of the Queen Charlotte Strait!

As for eating out in Port Hardy, we always recommend Sporty Bar and Grill to anyone who asks. It’s one of the most popular pub restaurants in the area for good reason. They do some killer chicken wings here, and their signature burgers are to die for! It’s located right downtown and is open Tuesday to Saturday from 11:30 am to 11 pm, making it the perfect place to refuel after a Port Hardy hike.

How to Get to Vancouver Island

There really are a ton of ways to visit Vancouver Island, ranging from a budget-friendly ferry ride to soaring through the skies on a seaplane! Here are a few of our favorite methods to get to the island:

  • Rent a car (and take the ferry) – There’s nothing quite like the freedom of driving wherever you want to go – if you’re planning the ultimate Vancouver Island road trip, having a car makes it so much easier! One of our favorite places to grab a rental in Vancouver is Discover Cars, as their prices are fair and there are a ton of options on offer. If you’re traveling in the peak season (May – September), we’d suggest booking quite a bit in advance to have the best choice.

    Once you’ve secured your rental, all you need to do is hop over on the ferry directly to Vancouver Island, which takes about 1 hour and 35 minutes. Don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for whales on the journey across! You can check the ferry schedule and book your trip in advance here. Tickets cost around $18 CAD per person and $50-$100 CAD per vehicle, depending on its height and length.
  • Take a bus (and the ferry) – If you wish to sort out transport when you arrive at the island, then another option is to book a seat on a bus heading to Vancouver Island. We’d say this Vancouver to Victoria Coach Bus Transfer is best if you have a little more time to get to the island, with a one-way trip taking about 4 hours.

    The fare for this transfer is $98 CAD per person, with 1 suitcase (max 50 lbs / 22.6 kg) and 1 carry-on bag per person. You can secure your seat online here.
  • Catch a seaplane – The fastest way to travel to the island is to fly by seaplane, and it’s also our favorite method! This seaplane flight to Victoria from Vancouver offers some of the most incredible views of the island and the Salish Sea – it really is the perfect introduction to the island, and we were in such a great mood after the 35-minute flight. In fact, taking a seaplane trip from Vancouver will likely end up being one of the highlights of your trip too!

    Taking off and landing in the harbor, there’s no time spent sitting around like at traditional airports. You just need to make your own way to the Vancouver Harbour Airport. As soon as you arrive at Victoria Harbour, you’ll be free to explore Vancouver Island from there. There are multiple departure times throughout the day, with tickets costing $296 CAD per adult.

    Tickets for these flights do sell out pretty quickly, so don’t forget to check your dates and book your slot online.
  • Take a tour – If you’ve only got a day or two to explore Vancouver Island, then taking a guided tour is the best way to fit in some of the best activities with zero stress! With all of your transport, accommodation, and entrance fees arranged for you, you’re free to enjoy your time on this incredible island.

    One of our favorite full-day tours is this Victoria and Butchart Gardens tour from Vancouver, which starts with a 90-minute ferry ride through the stunning Gulf Islands. Once you’ve arrived, it’s time to visit the wonderful Butchart Gardens, which are some of the best gardens in the world! Pair this visit with a stop by historic Victoria, and you’re onto a real winner of a day.

    At $265 CAD per person, we think this is an amazing introduction to the island – you’ll definitely be checking your calendar to work out when you can come here again! You can secure your spot on this tour here.

Renting a Car in British Columbia

A rural road with Mt Currie in the background
Road trips are the best way to explore Canada!

If you’re arriving in British Columbia via plane, then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. British Columbia is a large province, and traveling between the best places to visit in BC requires transport. Although you can use public transport on some occasions, this means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.

Car rental in Canada isn’t relatively cheap, but it’s not that expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with a pick-up and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though, depending on the time of year. For car rentals, I use the website Discover Cars. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used Discover Cars all over the world, including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.

Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic, you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a seflie in Tofino, Vancouver Island
Thanks for reading!

As you can see, there are so many incredible places to visit on Vancouver Island! We can’t wait to get back there soon and explore its snow-covered mountains, wander through its towering old-growth forests, and check out its wild beaches.  

If you’re planning more travels, have a look at our Vancouver Island and West Coast blogs for more ideas. And if you’ve enjoyed this blog, we’re sure you’ll like these, too:

7 Days on Vancouver Island – A Pre-Planned Itinerary!

14 BEST Stops on the Drive from Nanaimo to Tofino

How to Get from Vancouver to Tofino +BEST Road Trip Stops

15 Absolute BEST Tours in Vancouver (that you don’t want to miss!)