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Nestled off the southwest coast of British Columbia lies the picturesque Vancouver Island – a natural paradise waiting to be explored! The island boasts a truly diverse range of landscapes, from rugged coastlines teeming with marine life to towering old-growth forests with trees that are hundreds of years old.
You’ve probably already heard of Victoria, the historic city that is home to the gorgeous Butchart Gardens and the grand Fairmont Empress Hotel – but that’s just the start of what Vancouver Island has to offer! There’s also the beautiful harbor city of Nanaimo, Parksville with its amazing sandy beaches, Tofino with its wild natural scenery and incredible surfing – we could go on and on…
A trip to Vancouver Island is like taking a breath of fresh air (literally!) from our modern, hectic world. The island gracefully holds on to its past, while embracing modern tourism with sustainable and exciting activities like going whale watching, visiting the Malahat Skywalk, and much more.
We’ve put together this list of 33 activities you can discover during your next trip to this amazing destination, stuffed to the brim with useful tidbits we’ve learned from our adventures. Whether you’re a big fan of history or are looking for the next great place to catch a wave, we’ve got you covered.
I hope you enjoy the read and find some fun and entertaining activities to add to your travel itinerary!
- 1. Go whale watching
- 2. Malahat Skywalk
- 3. Surfing
- 4. Explore Victoria
- 5. Butchart Gardens
- 6. Wildlife watching
- 7. Take a trip over to Salt Spring Island
- 8. Visit local wineries
- 9. Visit local breweries
- 10. See HUGE trees
- 11. Check out Coombs and Goats on the Roof
- 12. Shop at farmers' markets and buy local produce
- 13. Enjoy a few relaxing beach days
- 14. Ride in a seaplane
- 15. Spa and treehouse dining experience in Parksville
- 16. Visit Lake Cowichan
- 17. Oyster River Potholes
- 18. See the salmon!
- 19. Visit Tofino
- 20. Buy local art!
- 21. Chase waterfalls
- 22. Visit Pacific Rim National Park
- 23. Go fishing
- 24. Golf
- 25. Skiing and snowboarding
- 26. Hiking
- 27. Check out local museums
- 28. Go camping!
- 29. Visit Horne Lake Caves
- 30. Eat INCREDIBLE food
- 31. See the sandcastles at the Parksville Beach Festival
- 32. Explore downtown Duncan and see the totem poles
- 33. Visit the north – Port Hardy
- How to Get to Vancouver Island
- Thanks for reading!
- Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
- Renting a Car in British Columbia
1. Go whale watching
The waters around Vancouver Island are home to four incredible species of whales! Orcas, humpback whales, gray whales, and minke whales all patrol the waters around the island, with some passing through on their annual migrations, and others staying here long term. If you’ve never been on a whale watching tour, your chances of seeing a whale don’t get much better than this.
In fact, many of the whale watching tours around Vancouver Island boast a 95% whale sighting success rate! While whales can be seen throughout the year, the best time to see them is between May and November, when the weather is warmer, and you can relax in the summer and fall sun.
If you’re heading to Victoria, why not check out one of the absolute best tours in Victoria aboard this half-day catamaran whale watching tour? Offering a comfortable and reliable whale watching experience, you’ll head out for three hours aboard a large catamaran, with both indoor and outdoor seating areas. Tickets for this experience cost $199 CAD.
You can also get even closer to the action on this zodiac whale watching tour. These 12-person boats have you sitting much lower down in the water, giving you an undisturbed view of everything going on around you! For your safety, you’ll be given all-weather exposure flotation suits to wear on top of your clothes. This tour welcomes guests over 7 years old and tickets start at $204 CAD per person during the peak whale watching season of May-October.
We had an absolute blast on a three-hour whale watching tour with Jamie’s Whaling Station while in Tofino. This super cool organization cares deeply about whale conservation and leaving these graceful animals undisturbed. You’ll have the choice between a covered boat and a zodiac boat – if you’re feeling adventurous, we highly recommend the zodiac!
Tours run between February and November each year, and there’s a really high probability that you’ll see orcas and gray whales. Boats depart multiple times per day and tours last between 2.5 and 3 hours for $149 CAD per person. You can check availability and book your tickets here.
This town is known for its quiet and peaceful atmosphere, which is perfect for taking a whale watching tour! On this Parksville half-day whale and wildlife adventure, you’ll set sail on a 4-hour adventure through the Salish Sea. Along the way, you’ll have the chance to spot orcas, humpback whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, sea lions, Pacific harbor seals, and so many other amazing marine species.
At $184 CAD per person, this tour includes all the necessary safety equipment, and you’ll be joined by a knowledgeable guide who will be imparting their wisdom as you explore! You can book your tickets for this incredible experience here.
Related Read: If you’re spending an evening in Vancouver before your trip, we HIGHLY recommend enjoying a beautiful sunset dinner cruise!
2. Malahat Skywalk
Opening to the public in 2021, the Malahat Skywalk is actually one of the most recent attractions to be built on Vancouver Island. It offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding fjords, forests, and mountains! Situated on the traditional territory of the Malahat Nation, the skywalk will give you a true appreciation for the beauty of this area as you’ll have a view from 250 meters (820 feet) above sea level.
You’ll find the Malahat Skywalk on the southern end of Vancouver Island, around a 30-minute drive from Victoria. It’s one of our must-visits when we’re driving from Victoria to Nanaimo! As you walk up the 600 meter (1,969 foot) tall spiraling walkway, you’ll enjoy 360° views of Brentwood Bay as well as Washington’s famous Mount Baker!
Single-entry adult tickets are $35 CAD, senior tickets cost $31 CAD, kids (6-17) tickets cost $21 CAD, and children under 6 are free. You can purchase tickets at the gate; however, we’d recommend buying tickets online, so you can skip the line!
You also have the option of taking a shuttle from Victoria, such as this Malahat Skywalk shuttle, which includes pick-up from various locations around Victoria and your entry ticket all for $108 CAD. This is best for small groups, as the shuttle takes 4–6 people per shuttle, allowing 2 hours for you to explore the skywalk.
Vancouver Island is home to some truly fantastic surfing spots, from Willows Beach in Victoria all the way to Chesterman Beach in Tofino. But if we had to pick just one place that stands above the rest, it’d have to be Tofino on the west coast!
Not only is this cute surfing town a fantastic place for beginners to learn, but pros also love to come down here too 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 take their boards and earn their stripes. While it’s also popular with the pros, the waves here tend to be more forgiving, so it’s an amazing place to find your feet surfing on the west coast.
You’ll find the main parking lot for Cox Bay by following the Pacific Rim Highway out of town for about 10 minutes before turning right about halfway down the beach. While there are quite a few parking spaces here, there isn’t much in the way of facilities like washrooms or showers.
Chesterman Beach is a beautiful 2.7 km (1.67 mi) sandy beach which is actually split into two different beaches! There’s North Chesterman which tends to be the more reliable when it comes to catching a wave, as well as South Chesterman which can be a lot of fun if the conditions are right. These beaches are also quite beginner-friendly as well.
The beach is located a little closer to town than Cox Bay, with it being about a 7-minute drive to the northern end parking lot. To reach the southern parking lot, carry on down the Pacific Highway for about 1.3 km (0.8 mi) before turning right into the car park.
You’ll find Long Beach a little bit further out of town, and it’s definitely one for the more experienced surfers. That doesn’t mean that you can’t come along to enjoy the waves from a distance though, and if you’re really lucky, you may even spot a gray or humpback whale breaching in the distance!
There are a couple of areas to park dotted along the beach next to the highway, with the closest parking lot on the beach being about a 17-minute drive from downtown Tofino. Even if you don’t fancy surfing, grabbing a beer or two and heading to watch the sunset makes for a great evening!
Where to rent boards
Unless you’ve brought your own boards as part of your surfing tour (and more power to you if you have!), you’ll likely want to rent a board while you’re here. From our own experience, we’d recommend Surf Grove Campground on Cox Beach, as we paid $55 CAD each for a 24-hour rental, and this price also included a wetsuit. But as Tofino is such a popular place to surf, there really are a ton of places to rent out a board, like Pacific Surf Co, Tofino Paddle Surf, and Swell Tofino!
4. Explore Victoria
Victoria is a city chock-full of so many amazing things to do! There’s an incredible amount of history to uncover here, with unique streets and grand buildings around every corner.
If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, or just love exploring fun and quirky places, then you have to walk down Fan Tan Alley! This is actually the narrowest street in Canada, at just 6 feet (1.8 m) wide. There are loads of cool shops here to check out too, including the Just Matcha Tea Shop – the only Matcha shop in Canada.
No visit to Victoria is complete without a stop at the Legislative Building, which was constructed back in the 1890s. Today, the building is still standing strong in the heart of the city, and is a sight to behold. 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 stop at $18 CAD for adults and $11 CAD for youth (6-18). 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.
What we loved about the museum was that they’re always updating their displays with new and exciting exhibitions every month – don’t forget to check out their current exhibitions page for a sneak peek!
While in downtwon Victoria, be sure to also wander Fantan Alley in Chinatown, where you can find heaps of cool shops and restaurants. Also, take advantage of the little steamships that can be used as public transport.
If you have a little extra time on your hands, then a stroll along Victoria’s waterfront is well worth it. We’d recommend checking out Fisherman’s Wharf, which was actually built just after the Second World War. Nowadays, it’s a bustling hub of activity that’s fun for all the family, with a whole array of restaurants, cafés, and more. Don’t forget to check out Barb’s Fish & Chips for some of the most incredible seafood chowder we’ve ever tasted!
5. Butchart Gardens
The winner of countless national and international awards, there’s no doubt in our minds that Butchart Gardens completely deserves its title as a National Historic Site of Canada. This lush, 55-acre display garden boasts 900 plant varieties, 26 greenhouses, and a whole lotta fun!
It really is the perfect attraction to visit year-round – we always find ourselves coming back here to discover some of the latest seasonal displays. You may find it hard to believe, but the area was actually a quarry before Jenny Butchart put her transformational plan into action and turned it into a garden about 120 years ago.
The gardens themselves are located in Brentwood Bay, around a 25-minute drive north of Victoria. Whether you’re visiting on your own or as part of one of these Butchart Garden tours from Victoria, wandering around here is a fantastic way to spend a few hours.
Pricing for tickets does vary depending on the season and age of the guests. You can find the full breakdown on the Butchart Gardens website, but on average, it costs $34 CAD for adults, $17 CAD for youths (13-17), and $2.40 CAD for children (5-12). Kids under 5 go free!
6. Wildlife watching
We’ve already touched on the amazing whale watching tours on Vancouver Island, but there’s so much amazing wildlife to be found on dry land too! The island is home to a temperate rainforest that thousands of incredible species call home, including black-tailed deer, grizzly bears, cougars, gray wolves, and much more.
Go bear watching!
The city of Campbell River is situated on the eastern coast of the island and should be high on your list of places to visit if you love wildlife and nature. It’s the gateway into Vancouver Island’s wild side, with activities like this full-day bear watching tour giving you an incredibly immersive experience.
This tour is Indigenous-owned and run, with the money from your ticket going to help the economy and cultural recovery initiatives of the Homalco First Nation people. It’s a great way to give back to the local people while enjoying an incredible glimpse into the wildlife of Vancouver Island.
For $503 CAD per person, you get an 8-hour tour that includes bear viewing, opportunities to learn about the local culture, and even a spot of whale watching! You can reserve your spot and book this tour online here.
See the raptors
It’s one thing to see falcons, eagles, and owls from afar, and something entirely different seeing them up close!
We had such a fun time visiting the Pacific Northwest Raptors in the town of Duncan, which can be found about halfway between Nanaimo and Victoria. This amazing sanctuary is dedicated to teaching visitors about the wonderful world of our feathered friends, helping raise awareness and supporting conservation efforts across the island.
There are actually three levels of admission to the raptor sanctuary, starting with their “Close” general admission (Adults $22 CAD; Children $14 CAD; Under 3: Free) which includes all-day admission, as well as access to the flying demonstration.
Throughout the course of about 45 minutes, you’ll get up close and personal with these beautiful creatures and even get to watch a flying demonstration. They swoop down so low, I could have sworn their feathers touched us!
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even upgrade to their “closer” and “closest” admission tickets, which are a bit pricier but include extra perks like a “hawk walk”, where you can have a hawk fly right down onto your gloved wrist.
The sanctuary is open 7 days a week, however, their opening times and flying demo times do vary by season. Make sure to check in advance on their website to make sure your visit goes smoothly!
7. Take a trip over to Salt Spring Island
If you have a love of the arts and locally-grown food, you’re going to want to pay a visit to Salt Spring Island, which is located just off the southeast coast of Vancouver Island. There are plenty of amazing galleries, artistic events, and handcrafted souvenirs to be found here, making it the perfect place to pick up a few presents for friends and family back home!
There are a few different ferries that you can take to reach the island, including ones departing from Victoria’s Swartz Bay Terminal, the Crofton Ferry Terminal (about a 17-minute drive from Duncan), as well as Vancouver’s Tsawwassen Terminal. The journey itself isn’t very long at all – it takes around 35 minutes to travel on the Victoria to Salt Spring Island ferry, for example.
While you’re here, don’t forget to head over to Ganges, the cultural center of the island! Listen to awesome live music at the Treehouse Cafe, or wander through the Saturday market in search of hidden gems. The options here are endless and there’s surely something for everyone!
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 Friday to Sunday from 12 pm to 6 pm, and are also dog-friendly too – so stop by in the afternoon to 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 amazing local produce, so it’s only fitting that you should spend some time shopping here too!
For a tasty treat, we recommend visiting Barb’s Bakery and Bistro, which, in our opinion, has some of the best food on Salt Spring Island. There’s a wide array of freshly baked goods available, including breads, muffins, pastries, and so much more. You should get here early though, as their products tend to sell out by the late morning.
North End Farm is another one of our favorite places when it comes to getting fresh produce on the island. From the freshest meats and veggies to delicious baked pies, you’ll find all sorts of delicious food here. We were surprised to learn that the shop works on an honor system, where 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!
Go for a stroll at Fernwood Point Beach
If you’re blessed with good weather on your trip, then Fernwood Point Beach and Wharf is a great place to relax and go for a stroll. You can find it towards the northern end of the island, at about a 10-minute drive from Ganges. Don’t forget to stop by Fernwood Road Cafe to grab a sweet treat and a hot drink too.
8. Visit local wineries
Vancouver Island is home to several amazing wineries that high on the priority list for wine lovers like me! Just a short drive from downtown Victoria, on the Saanich Peninsula, you’ll discover a cluster of wineries that enjoy mild temperatures and stunning views of the surrounding valleys. It’s no wonder wines from this area have won so many awards!
You’ll find Church and State Winery on the way to Butchart Gardens, with wine tasting here for only $10-20 CAD. We love that you can create your own flight of the wines they have, leaving you to sip them in peace as you take in the scenic views all around.
Whether you’re embarking on a grand wine tasting tour across Canada or are simply curious about local specialties, you’ll want to visit Unsworth Vineyards as well. This award-winning winery boasts a picturesque patio and a charming restaurant located in a beautifully restored farmhouse from the 1900s – we both had the black pepper spaghetti here and loved it!
Visiting wineries can be a bit tricky without a designated driver, so if you’d like to check out some of the best wineries in the area with ease, then we suggest heading out on a private winery tour! This half-day tour from Victoria lets YOU decide which of the incredible vineyards, distilleries, cider-house farms, and craft breweries in the area you’d like to visit. You’ll feel like a VIP as you’re chauffeured to each destination, indulging in tastings without any worries.
The tour’s cost varies based on the length of tour you choose and how many people you’re booking for. You can opt for a full-day version for $450 CAD each for 4 people or $350 CAD per person for the half-day option. For the ultimate wine tasting on Vancouver Island, it doesn’t get much better than this – you can book your private wine tasting tour here.
9. Visit local breweries
Attention beer enthusiasts! If you’re on the hunt for local craft breweries that serve up tasty beverages, you’ll be pleased to know that almost every town on Vancouver Island actually has its own local brewery. It’s safe to say you’ll have plenty of options to satisfy your thirst for some unique and flavorful beer.
Driftwood Brewery in Victoria is a must-visit destination for beer enthusiasts who appreciate a visually stunning atmosphere with a cold one. The brewery’s underwater theme and mural, which wraps around the entire building, will surely stick in your memory almost as much as the great-tasting beer!
You can curate your own beer flight by selecting four distinct brews, or simply opt for one of their local favorites, such as the Fat Tug IPA, which boasts fruity hints of grapefruit, mango, melon, and passionfruit.
This is another popular destination in Victoria among beer enthusiasts, and for good reason too! With an extensive selection of beers on tap, as well as their own gin and whisky, there’s something to soothe every palate. For the perfect pairing, try one of their brews with a fresh giant pretzel, a mouth-watering snack that had us coming back for more.
Phillips Brewing promises a memorable and enjoyable experience, making it a must-visit destination for anyone seeking exceptional craft beer.
Tofino Brewing Co.
If you’re looking for a unique and locally-inspired craft beer experience on the west coast, Tofino Brewing Co. should be right at the top of your list. Their brewing process is all about quality, with small-batch brewing using the best malted barley and Pacific Northwest hops.
What sets them apart is their great-tasting beer with equally creative names, like Kelp Stout, Spruce Tree Ale, and Hunt and Gather – all drawing inspiration from Vancouver Island’s gorgeous environment.
Related Read: There are a ton of incredible brewery tours in Vancouver too – run by some of the friendliest guides we’ve ever met!
10. See HUGE trees
What do you get when you mix abundant rainfall with a mild climate? Well, one visit to Vancouver Island and you’ll find out! The island is home to some of Canada’s largest trees, which thrive in the misty valleys for hundreds of years. Here are a couple of our favorite spots to see these amazing trees!
Cathedral Grove is Vancouver Island’s ancient trees Mecca and should definitely be on your itinerary if you’re on the hunt for these graceful giants. At the same time, it can be easy to miss this area of magnificent trees, as the grove appears to be just a rest stop on the side of the highway. But don’t be fooled – this sanctuary of towering trees (some of which are around 800 years old) is actually one of the most remarkable places to visit in British Columbia!
You’ll find Cathedral Grove about halfway between Tofino and Victoria, about a 2-hour drive from either location.
Ancient Cedars Trail
The Ancient Cedars Trail is a short loop trail around 40 km (24.9 mi) outside of Tofino and is a much quieter alternative to visiting Cathedral Grove. Despite its short length of only 800 meters (2,624 feet), the trail offers a brilliant opportunity to see huge, old-growth giant cedars, making it a great place to visit if you’re short on time.
It takes around 15 minutes to complete the trail, but you should be careful as there is no parking lot, meaning you have to park on the side of the highway to access the trailhead.
11. Check out Coombs and Goats on the Roof
When a family of goats moves onto your property and is quite content to stay there, what do you do? Well, the folks over at the Goats on the Roof Farm know how it feels, and they’ve made a hilarious attraction out of it!
Located in the small community of Coombs, only a 10-minute drive from Parksville, a visit to the farm really is a great day out for the whole family. Of course, a visit here isn’t complete without meeting with the esteemed local residents, the goats which moved in 30 years ago and continue to graze on the rooftops of the farm to this day.
At the farm, 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 to explore, making this a great spot to grab some lunch and do a little shopping.
The farm is open from 9 am to 7 pm daily, however, some of the restaurants on the premises have their own special hours, so if you’re interested in eating here, then it’s best to call ahead.
12. Shop at farmers’ markets and buy local produce
We absolutely love visiting farmers’ markets on our travels – they’re such a great way to meet members of the local community, get a souvenir or two, and get a taste of the freshest possible produce. If you’re just like us, then Vancouver Island is the place for you!
There are so many markets popping up across the island that it would be impossible to describe every one of them, but here are a few of our favorites:
The Saturday market on Salt Spring Island
The Salt Spring Saturday Market can be found in Centennial Park in the small village of Ganges, beginning as a place for farmers to sell their organic produce and homemade snacks. Nowadays, it’s transformed into a bustling hub of artistic expression, with awesome and unique souvenirs, art pieces, jewelry, and more to take your fancy!
This Saturday market truly has something for everyone, so if you find yourself on Salt Spring Island, it’s a great way to immerse yourself in the local community’s creative and entrepreneurial spirit.
Another of our favorites is the farmer’s market on Qualicum Beach where vendors sell some of the most delicious local produce we’ve ever tasted! Actually, everything found here really is grown or made by locals, including the incredible fruits and vegetables which are of a variety specific to the island.
Here, the motto is “package-free food” – sounds like a plus to us! You’ll find the market open year-round, with parking available nearby too. While you’re here, don’t miss out on the chance to grab a delicious pancake breakfast with a hot drink! Now that’s a good way to start your Saturday.
There are loads of markets that are held in Victoria, such as the Bastion Square Public Market, which can be found right around the corner from the Old Town Wharf. We didn’t know that much about the market when we first arrived in Victoria, but we were pleasantly surprised by just how many cute cafés and shops there were here to explore.
The Bastion Square Public Market runs every Thursday – Saturday, 11 am – 5:30 pm and Sunday 11 am – 4 pm. Other markets in Victoria that are worth a visit include (but are definitely not limited to) Victoria Public Market at the Hudson and Victoria Inner Harbour Market.
You’ll find two different farmers’ markets in Nanaimo, however only one of them is open year-round. The Island Roots Market is open every Wednesday. You’ll find the market in the northern part of Nanaimo at Beban Park during the summer and then it relocated to the Centennial Building nearby in the winter.
There is also the Nanaimo Downtown Farmer’s Market, which is actually the oldest farmer’s market in Nanaimo! While it only runs from May to September (10 am to 2 pm), it’s a great way to enjoy the downtown area as it’s situated in the easy-to-access Pioneer Waterfront Plaza.
13. Enjoy a few relaxing beach days
Nothing quite beats kicking back and relaxing at the beach, and boy are there some epic beaches on Vancouver Island. From Qualicum Beach all the way to Nanaimo, Tofino, and Victoria, you’ll have a hard time deciding which spot to bring a friend and hang out (and surf!) on Vancouver Island.
Qualicum Beach, BC is a charming small town situated just 15 km (9.3 mi) west of Parksville on Vancouver Island. You can easily reach it by taking a ferry to Nanaimo or Victoria, which will take approximately 40 minutes or 2.5 hours by car, respectively.
If you’ve got a few minutes to spare, we’d say to go for a little stroll along the beachfront, although just know that it can get quite crowded at times! Despite its name, Qualicum Beach also has loads of other great spots to visit such as Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, the Fern + Cedar Brewing Company, The Qualicum Beach Memorial Golf Club, and much more.
You’ll find Miracle Beach about a 30-minute drive from Campbell River. This beautiful stretch of beach is a really popular spot to visit during the warm summer months. There’s also the Miracle Beach Campground located nearby, with sites at $33 CAD per night in the summer and $13 CAD in the winter. If you fancy a night or two out in the countryside, it’s best to book ahead online.
You’ll feel just like a local as you hang out at Community Park in Parksville, a really pretty beach that’s the perfect place to take in all the amazing scenery. Once you’re all finished up at the beach, Community Park has plenty of super fun activities like volleyball and also some picnic tables. Make sure to give it a visit if you’re spending some time over in Parksville!
Departure Bay Beach
Located about 8 minutes from downtown Nanaimo, Departure Bay Beach is a hit with coffee enthusiasts and kayakers alike. The long and skinny stretch of beach is perfect for walking, and there are occasionally food trucks around where you can grab a tasty bite to eat.
14. Ride in a seaplane
For the best views around, you just have to try riding in a seaplane. Don’t worry, you won’t have to sit through hours of security and check-in – trust us! Plus it’s a really cool (and fast!) way to get from Vancouver to Victoria to start your Vancouver Island trip!
Getting to see the sights from up high is a truly special experience unlike any other. Not only is the experience of taking off from the water an amazing feeling in itself but there’s no other way to get a better view of Vancouver Island than by plane.
One of our favorite tours in Vancouver we went on is this seaplane flight from Vancouver to Tofino, but you can also get the tour going in the other direction too. We saved ourselves tons of time with this tour, which got us from Vancouver to Tofino in an hour! Along the way, we had absolutely insane views (we really were blessed with the weather too). This tour starts from $283 CAD and is so, so worth it.
Another awesome seaplane tour is this one that lifts off from Nanaimo Harbour, cruising through the sky for a very scenic 40 minutes. The mountains and forests were even more spectacular from this height – we didn’t even know that was possible! Tickets for this tour are $223 CAD per person, which we think is really good value for money. You can grab your tickets for this tour online here.
Victoria is an amazing city to explore on a walking tour, but now you can also see it from above as well! This Victoria Seaplane Tour lasts around 20 minutes and prices start at $161 CAD. You’ll take off and land in the water, which is a really cool experience. The panoramic views of this historic city make for an awesome memory.
15. Spa and treehouse dining experience in Parksville
It’s easy to get swept up in the incredible nature and all the fun activities that Vancouver Island has to offer, but don’t forget to relax, unwind, and treat yourself!
The Grotto Spa at Tigh-Na-Mara in Parksville offers a unique experience called “Dip & Dine”, where you are treated to 3 hours of relaxation and gourmet food. We could feel all of the tension we had built up on our travels ease away within moments – the whole experience really was heavenly.
Dinner here is, of course, top-notch, with an incredible 17 courses, which we enjoyed in the compulsory dress – our spa robes! There’s nothing quite like a glass of wine, enjoying a superb dinner, and relaxing in silky soft robes. The best part? The entire experience cost just $145 CAD per person.
Once you’re all finished up with your treatments and dinner, why not spend the night away in nature, up in your very own treehouse? Free Spirit Spheres puts on a one-of-a-kind experience with these sphere-shaped treehouses. Each treehouse comes equipped with an electric heater, as well as filtered water and basic dishes, and a coffee and tea maker. Prices here start at around $355 CAD a night.
16. Visit Lake Cowichan
The town of Lake Cowichan is named after its stunning lake, which attracts visitors from all over the country, and the world! It’s the perfect place to spend a day out with a whole host of fantastic restaurants, as well as spots to relax and take in the views.
One of our favorite activities 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, although if you’re heading in summer it’s a good idea to book in advance – they can get quite busy during this period.
Tubing is a super fun and relaxing activity that’s just as much fun for kids as it is for adults! 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).
Jake’s at the Lake is one of our favorite restaurants at Lake Cowichan, with the staff doing everything they can to make sure you have an incredible experience. They put on delicious specials every week – we highly recommend the popcorn prawns and their signature deluxe cheddar burger!
For the best scenic views of the area, head over to Cowichan River Provincial Park, which has tons of different trails, places to swim, and a few hidden campsites tucked away in the woods. The trails are beginner-friendly and give you an excellent overview of the beautiful nature and wildlife here.
17. Oyster River Potholes
Normally, potholes are the last things you want to find yourself in, but the Oyster River Potholes are something entirely different! These natural potholes are actually small pools found in the Oyster River, fed by glacial run-offs which results in a beautiful, albeit cold natural spa!
It’s worth mentioning that the pools only appear in summer and fall as spring runoff from the mountains raises the river level above the pools. They’re perfect for taking a refreshing short dip on a hot summer day.
You’ll find the Oyster Pothols just off Highway 19, about a 15-minute drive from Campbell River. If you’re traveling from Courtenay to Campbell River, it makes a perfect stop en route! Parking can be a little bit tricky, as it’s right on the highway, but there is room to pull over.
18. See the salmon!
The lives of salmon really are fascinating, with some species traveling 1,500 km (932 miles) upriver to spawn! Vancouver Island is home to quite a few salmon hatcheries, which help raise conservation awareness and are generally great places to see local wildlife.
The Thornton Creek Fish Hatchery is a must-see if you’re spending time in Ucluelet, not just for the great fishing here, but also because it’s a great spot to see wild black bears. We were lucky enough to see one the last time we visited!
As with all hatcheries, it’s important to follow any safety rules that are in place, and you should always carry bear spray with you. At the Thornton Creek Hatchery, you should never walk down the driveway from the main road due to the number of black bears in the area.
Quinsam River Hatchery is another great hatchery that’s not far from Campbell River. For the best chances of seeing returning salmon, you must go during the right season – from the end of July until mid-November. Quinsam River is actually one of the largest hatcheries in the country, with juvenile salmon here year-round!
If there’s one place to see the annual salmon run that you just have to visit, it’s Stamp River Provincial Park. You’ll find this area about 20 minutes away from Port Alberni, with thousands of salmon returning here from late August to December. There’s also the chance to see bears here too!
Depending on the time of year, you can observe different types of salmon making their impressive journey. Late August is the ideal time to catch a glimpse of the Sockeye salmon, while the best time to see Coho and Chinook salmon is from late September to early December.
19. Visit Tofino
Tofino is a charming town that offers a winning combo of breathtaking natural scenery and exceptional waves for surfing. It’s about a 3-hour drive from Nanaimo to Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Although the town has around 2,500 residents, its incredible beaches and cute atmosphere attract visitors from all over the island and beyond.
One of the best ways to explore Tofino’s coastline is by going on a kayaking tour. We happened to take one that was run by Paddle West Kayaking, and we had an awesome time! They have a bunch of different tours available; we went for the islands tour, which took about 2.5 hours, but they also have a 6-hour Barkley Sound kayaking tour if you’re feeling adventurous.
If relaxing with a craft cocktail is more your thing, then you’ll enjoy spending some time at the Tofino Distillery. Here, you can sample some premium spirits inside of a cocktail, with gin, absinthe, and vodka all available to try. Trying these in the form of a cocktail certainly beats taking them straight!
20. Buy local art!
Drawing inspiration from the Indigenous culture and the beautiful natural scenery, it’s easy to see why the art scene on Vancouver Island is booming. There are tons of art galleries and artisan shops all over the island, don’t be afraid to take a peak inside when you come across one!
The Salt Spring Gallery is one of our favorites, with some of the most beautiful ceramics, stained-glass works, and paintings on display. They are always bringing in new exhibitions as well, so there’s always something new whenever we pop in.
Another great gallery on Salt Spring is Steffich Fine Art, which showcases incredible pieces of art from a truly diverse cast of artists. The staff here are fantastic, offering helpful advice and guidance whenever you may need it. Well worth a visit!
The small town of Tofino also has a great art scene, with the House of Himwitsa being a First Nations-owned native art gallery. Here, you can learn all about Indigenous Canadian culture with handcrafted souvenirs available too! There’s also the Mark Hobson Gallery, which showcases the artist’s love of wilderness landscapes through his amazing art.
21. Chase waterfalls
When we’re out hiking in nature, few things are more rewarding than coming across a beautiful and thundering waterfall. If you love visiting these magical spots as much as we do, then you’re in luck! Vancouver Island is home to some of our all-time favorites, including Elk Falls, Little Qualicum Falls, and Englishman River Falls.
Roughly a five-minute car journey from Campbell River, you’ll find the incredible Elk Falls Provincial Park, one of our favorite places on Vancouver Island to visit for a day out in nature. The star of the show here is, of course, Elk Falls, a 25-meter (82-foot) waterfall that draws crowds from all over the island.
It’s an easy 1.4 km (0.9 mi) walk from the day-use car park to get to Elk Falls, so we’d say it’s perfect for families with young kids. When we last visited, it only took us about an hour to walk there and back – after filling up our phones with plenty of new photos, of course.
Little Qualicum Falls
No road trip is complete without a visit to a waterfall or two, and on the drive from Nanaimo to Tofino you can’t miss out on the Little Qualicum Falls! Rushing through a rocky gorge, the waterfalls from the Little Qualicum River are seriously impressive.
From the car park area, it’s about a 45-minute walk down the 3-kilometer (1.8-mile) return trail to reach the upper portion of the falls.
Englishman River Falls
The last (but no means least!) waterfall on our list can be found in the Englishman River Falls Park, which is about a 20-minute drive from Qualicum Beach on the eastern side of the island. From the parking lot, you’ll walk a beautiful 3-kilometer (1.9-mile) hiking trail which rewards you with impressive views of two spectacular waterfalls.
If you’re visiting during the summer months, then 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 definitely got our stamp of approval.
Related Read: To see Canada’s most famous waterfall, we put together a guide on our favorite Niagara Falls tours from Toronto!
22. Visit Pacific Rim National 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 the beautiful Long Beach, the Broken Group Islands, and the West Coast Trail.
When we first visited Vancouver Island together, we knew that we couldn’t miss out on a stop by the national park – the adventurer inside of us wouldn’t let it go, and we’re so glad that we decided to visit! It’s the dream destination for anyone who loves the outdoors and there really is never enough time to explore all of the things to do here.
For those who love to hike, you’re really spoiled for choice. For a short and beginner-friendly introduction to the park, we’d recommend walking the Schooner Cove Trail, which starts just south of Long Beach Airport and is about 1.9 km (1.2 miles) long. Winding through ancient cedars and Sitka spruce trees, this route rewards you with a beautiful sandy beach to explore. Now that’s our kind of prize!
The ever-popular West Coast Trail is a rite of passage for all hikers coming to the island, and has been right at the top of our list of the best trails on the island ever since when we first visited the park. It’s definitely a trail for the outdoor enthusiasts out there, at over 75 kilometers (46.6 miles) all the way 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!
23. Go fishing
Vancouver Island is full to the brim with so much marine life, that a fishing trip here really is a no-brainer. From the calm and pristine waters of Lake Cowichan, to the churning Pacific waters off the coast of Tofino, there are loads of options for both casual and pro fishermen.
Tofino is a very popular spot with local and traveling fishermen alike, and you don’t even need a boat to enjoy a great day out fishing! The public pier is completely free to use, but if you do fancy going out into deeper waters, then you can also go on a guided fishing charter, such as this full-day fishing tour to the Clayoquot Sound.
As a private tour that can take up to 8 people, this is the perfect way for you and your friends to experience the beautiful wildlife of the Pacific West Coast with state-of-the-art fishing equipment at your disposal! Chartering the boat costs $2,000 CAD, which is definitely on the pricier end, but it’s much more reasonable when you split the 8-hour adventure up between friends who share a passion for fishing. You can get your tickets online here.
Lake Cowichan is one of our favorite holiday destinations on the whole of Vancouver Island, surrounded by incredible scenery with loads of fun and relaxing things to do. In fact, we’d say that the lake has some of the best fishing spots on the island, with the waters teeming with trout, bass, and more.
Kenzie’s Fishing Adventure is one of our favorite excursions which operates along the nearby Cowichan River, offering private fishing tours for two people for 6 hours! The best part is that everything is included, from the equipment you need to drinks, snacks, and lunch. And the cherry on top is that you’ll have the guidance of local professional fishers throughout your adventure!
For those who love some time out there on the greens, you’re in luck! There are lots of great courses on the island, with some of the most popular ones close to Nanaimo and Qualicum Beach.
The Qualicum Beach Memorial Golf Club was first opened back in 1913 and has been a hit with local and visiting golfers ever since. Hosting various tournaments throughout the year, it’s not the biggest golf course with only 9 holes, but its location right next to the beach makes for a spectacular game. Make sure to look out for the local, curious deer who like to come and say hello.
Green fees here are $35 CAD for 9 holes. We recommend grabbing a bit to eat at the clubhouse afterward, the food is really nice!
Another popular area for golf is Nanaimo, which is full of loads of amazing courses to try. The Nanaimo Golf Club is a top-rated course and one of our personal favorites, with 18 beautiful holes with stunning ocean views. It’s worth noting that public tee times are only offered after 1 pm and must be booked in advance. Green fees here do vary on the season, but start from $69 CAD for 18 holes in the off-season (Jan-Apr).
For beginners, we recommend taking a swing at the Beban Park Golf Course & Driving Range, with their 11-hole pitch-n-putt course that’s great for building up your confidence! They’ve also got a driving range here, with green fees at $17 CAD for adults and $12 CAD for youths (up to 14).
If you’re looking for something lighthearted and fun for all the family, we’d recommend trying out disc golf over at Hart Memorial Disc Golf Course on Salt Spring Island! With rules similar to traditional golf, disc golf is all about precision and a good throw with a frisbee. Dan’s always up for a game whenever we’re over on the island, and who could say no to some fun outdoors?
25. Skiing and snowboarding
Traveling to Vancouver Island in the winter? Then having a blast out on the snow is a no-brainer!
Our personal favorite ski resort on the island is Mount Washington, which is about a 40-minute drive from Campbell River and just so happens to also be the most popular resort on the island.
Like most ski resorts, Mount Washington is only open during the winter months, usually from December to April (although their dates do vary each year). With plenty of adrenaline-pumping slopes for beginners and pros, no ski trip to Vancouver Island is complete without a stop here.
If you’re just finding your feet on the slopes, you can also get a 1 hour and 45-minute lesson, including rentals and a ski lift ticket for $114 CAD for adults and teens (13+), and $79 CAD for kids (7-12). 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, $94 CAD for teens (13-18), and $65 CAD for kids (7-12).
It goes without saying, but Vancouver Island is FULL of incredible hiking trails. There really are too many to list – but we’ll give it a go by sharing some of our favorites!
Cox Bay Lookout
Heading over to the sandy beaches of Tofino? The Cox Bay Lookout trail takes you out across Cox Bay Beach and over to a beautiful vantage point over the Pacific Ocean. It’s a relatively easy hike, at 2.6 km (1.6 mi) with about 115 meters (377 feet) of elevation gain.
We’d recommend walking this route towards the end of the year (August onwards), as the trail can get quite muddy when it rains, but don’t forget to pack your hiking boots just in case! You’ll find the trailhead right next to the Cox Bay Beach Parking Lot.
Canso Plane Crash
The Canso Plane Crash route is a popular but challenging hike from Radar Hill through beautiful forest to the site of a Royal Canadian Air Force Canso 11007, that crashed all the way back in 1945. Luckily no one was hurt – this plane malfunctioned and the pilot managed to stall the aircraft and slow down the descent so the entire crew survived.
The out-and-back trail begins at the parking lot on Radar Hill, winding across 7.6 km (4.7 mi) towards the Pacific Rim Highway before heading down towards the crashed bomber. As the trail is in Pacific Rim National Park, you’ll need to have a valid park pass – you can grab a day pass at the kiosks by the parking lot.
Mount Erskine (Salt Spring)
Venture down trails straight out of a fantasy book over on Mount Erskine on Salt Spring Island, where the ancient and gnarled trees blend into blankets of deep green moss. In short – you’ll want your camera for this one!
The main trailhead for this route begins at the end of Trustee’s trail, where you’ll start the 3.5 km (2.1 mi) out-and-back loop with 175 m (574 ft) elevation gain. When we last hiked this trail, it took us about 2 hours to do the entire thing, but we were rewarded with some of the best views of Salt Spring Island we’ve ever seen!
You’ll also find a second trailhead on the other side of Mount Erskine, with this route being slightly shorter. Don’t forget to look out for boulders, roots, and other uneven terrain whichever route you decide to take, as the path can be a bit patchy in places.
Named by the Ancient Forest Alliance after the epic blockbuster film, the Avatar Grove trail was first mapped out back in 2009 and is now one of the most popular trails on the island! Home to ancient western red cedars, Douglas firs, and Canada’s gnarliest tree, with every step down the trail it really does feel like you’re stepping back in time.
Make sure to bring hiking boots as the trek through the forest can be very muddy, especially after it rains. The trail itself starts at the car park just off the side of the Gordon River Rd, about a 15-20 minute drive from Port Renfrew. From here, it’s about a 0.5 mi (0.8 km) loop up to the Upper Grove, and a 0.65 mi (1 km) loop down to the Lower Grove.
Cowichan Valley Trail
Stretching 122 km (75.8 mi) from Shawnigan Lake to the town of Lake Cowichan, The Cowichan Valley Trail is the ultimate trail for outdoor lovers – so you know we had to try it out. When we last visited, we saw hikers, cyclists, and even horseback riders heading up and down stretches of the trail, and some were even determined to go all the way to the end!
Of course, you don’t have to walk the entire length of the trail, which would take around 20 hours from start to finish. On the other hand, the trail is really well maintained and winds through gorgeous forests, alongside pristine rivers, and past stunning lakes, so if you’re feeling up for it – we say go for it!
There are a few different points of access to the trail, so check out these directions from the Island Corridor Foundation to find out the closest entry point for you. You can also find a detailed map of the entire trail here.
Related Read: Looking to cram in a hike before heading across to Vancouver Island – here are some of our favorite easy day-hikes in Vancouver!
27. Check out local museums
Vancouver Island is bursting with so much amazing history, you’ll find museums around every corner (literally!). In fact, pretty much every town has at least one museum, full of amazing exhibits that give you a glimpse into what life used to be like there.
We always love stopping at a local museum whenever we visit a town, even if we’re just traveling through it! Some of our favorites include:
Cowichan Valley Museum (Duncan)
Located right in the heart of Duncan, the Cowichan Valley Museum was a massive surprise for us. Despite being a pretty small museum, we really weren’t expecting to see towering totem poles as well as one of the famous Cowichan sweaters!
As we wandered past walls full of tidbits about the history of the city, Dan and I quickly learned a lot about the town’s colorful past and why it became such an important city back in the late 1800s. The entry fee is by donation, and they’re typically open Thursdays and Fridays 11 am – 4 pm, but the hours change seasonally.
Qualicum Museum (Qualicum Beach)
Qualicum Beach is known for its epic surfing spots, but hidden beneath its beautiful sandy beaches is a whole world of amazing history to explore! The Qualicum Museum was actually one of our first stops when we arrived, and we weren’t expecting to have such a great time.
Greeted by some of the most friendly and knowledgeable staff out there, we walked in to see some of the most beautiful fossils lining the walls, which came from all over Vancouver Island! And then, to top it all off, we saw some huge dinosaur fossils, as well as other fossils of all shapes and sizes. If you’ve got kids, they’re really going to love stopping off here.
There are a ton of other exhibits too, which showcase some of the most incredible history of the town, making this cozy museum a real hidden gem. Entrance to the museum is free, but you can leave a donation or purchase something from the gift shop as a way of saying thanks.
Nanaimo Museum (Nanaimo)
Before European settlers arrived in the 16th century, the area around Nanaimo had been inhabited by Indigenous populations for thousands of years. All of this incredible history comes together at the Nanaimo Museum, one of the best places to learn about the history of the Snuneymuxw First Nation communities that originated in this area!
You’ll find the museum close to the harbor on Museum Way, with entrance by donation (suggested amount is $2 CAD per person). We think this is the perfect place for a quick culture stop while you’re in the city – about 30 minutes to an hour to see everything. The Nanaimo Museum is open from 10 am to 4 pm, Tuesdays to Saturdays.
Tofino-Clayoquot Heritage Museum (Tofino)
We love that pretty much every town and city on Vancouver Island has its very own museum, and Tofino is no exception! The Tofino-Clayoquot Heritage Museum is quite small and cozy, but it’s packed with some incredible trinkets and plenty of awesome photos.
One of my favorite stories was about the 1908 Clayoquot lifeboat service, which patrolled the waters that were then known as the ‘Graveyard of the Pacific’. Learning about all of their incredible rescues and seeing the faces of the men who served in photographs was really cool! The Tofino Museum is located on Main Street and is open every day from 11 am to 4:30 pm, with entry being donation-based.
28. Go camping!
We’ve already gushed about how incredible Vancouver Island is for hiking, so you better believe it’s also a spectacular place for camping too! Dan and I have camped for weeks straight around the island, and we loved every second of it. Here are a few of our favorite places to camp on the island:
Ruckle Provincial Park (Salt Spring)
First things first, how often do you get to camp on a beautiful beach, surrounded by incredible wildlife?
Ruckle Provincial Park on Salt Spring Island offers all of this and so much more, with campsites overlooking the stunning Swanson Channel. There are all kinds of beautiful natural spots to explore while you’re here, from lush forests to scenic fields, and of course, the beaches! If you’re lucky and have a sharp eye, you may even spot some orcas and sea lions from the 7 km (4.3 mile) long shoreline.
The park is open year-round, with sites suitable for RVs, picnic areas dotted around, drinking water available, and also campfire pits ready to be enjoyed. It’s worth noting that the water system does shut down from November 1st to March 15th, so bear this in mind if you’re traveling in the winter.
There are a few campsites located within the park, with most being walk-in (some are also drive-in). If you fancy securing your spot ahead of time, you can do so over on their reservations page. As for camping fees, it’s typically around $20 CAD nightly for a site, which is a really good deal.
Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park (Parksville)
Hopping across the sea is Rathtrevor Provincial Park, which is about a 6-minute drive from downtown Parksville. Here you can take in stunning sunsets over the ocean, explore the magnificent old-growth forests that fill the park, and enjoy a stroll along the 5 km (3 miles) of pristine beachfront.
This area is so much fun for families, there’s mystery around every corner! From the magical trails through the old-growth Douglas fir forest to the tide pools revealed on the low tide that are teeming with aquatic life, kids and bigger kids like us have so much fun here. Even if you’re not planning to camp, there’s a large day-use and picnicking area too.
There are 250 campsites offered at the Rathtrevor campground, each one surrounded by beautiful trees and access to the beach, drinking water taps, firepits, and bathroom facilities including shower houses. If you’re planning a family or group trip, there are four spacious group sites with picnic tables, fire rings, bathrooms, and even a wash station!
Regular sites begin at $35 CAD per night, and can accommodate up to four adults and four children – check out their reservation portal to find out current availability and book in your trip.
Gordon Bay (Lake Cowichan)
Famous throughout Vancouver Island as one of the best campsites around, we couldn’t leave out Gordon Bay Campsite, which is a 15-minute drive from Lake Cowichan. With a super spacious campground, well-maintained facilities, and gorgeous views of the lake, it’s easy to see why campers flock here every year!
Whether you’re a casual or pro fisherman, the lake is also one of the best freshwater fishing spots on the island in spring, fall, and winter! The lake is full of rainbow, cutthroat, and Dolly Varden trout, so don’t forget to bring your rod and enjoy some time out in nature.
If you can, we suggest visiting in April, and you’ll be just in time to see the wildflowers bloom across the bay. To make sure you grab a spot, we suggest booking a site here in advance for $35 CAD per night.
29. Visit Horne Lake Caves
There are a whole bunch of incredible things to do above ground, but did you know that Vancouver Island holds some epic underground secrets as well?
Home to more than 1,000 caves, no trip to Vancouver Island would be complete without a visit to this incredible subterranean world. Whether you’re new to caving or a cave-delving pro, we’d suggest hitting up the Horne Lake Caves, about a 30-minute drive from Qualicum Beach – discovering it was honestly one of the best surprises we had during our last trip!
For those new to caving or are a little shorter on time, we’d suggest trying out their Riverbend Cave Explorer tour, which lasts for about 2 hours and takes you on a fun and accessible adventure through the caves. On our tour, we got to see some of the most incredible fossils, and we didn’t shy away from asking as many questions as we could!
It was clear from the moment we arrived that the team of volunteers and caving experts had so much passion for this underground world. Their work is all about making the experience as safe as possible, providing you with a helmet, a light, as well as your friendly tour guide.
With a maximum of 7 people per tour, you get plenty of time to get to know your tour guide and, if you’re like us, pick their brains for some incredible facts and stories.
Of course, if you want to discover even more, then the Horne Lake Caves team also offers a multi-cave experience, where you’ll get to spend three hours diving into, exploring, and climbing out of some incredible caves in the area.
We enjoyed the climbing portion a lot more than we thought we would, and our guide did an amazing job at keeping us on track every step of the way! One of our favorite moments was trying out the natural cave slide, which just so happens to be the only one of its type in Canada.
At $54 CAD for the 2-hour tour and $90 CAD for the 3-hour tour, there’s not a huge difference in pricing between the two – so we suggest picking the one that best fits your schedule and how adventurous you are feeling! You can check out dates and book the shorter tour here (we’d suggest this one for those new to caving), and you can also grab your spot for the longer tour here.
30. Eat INCREDIBLE food
You can’t say you’ve really experienced a place until you’ve tried out the local dishes, and we definitely needed some fuel after all that diving into caves and walking some incredible trails. Luckily for us (and you!), Vancouver Island really has some of the best food ever and a ton of standout restaurants. Here are just a few of our favorites:
Q Burger (Qualicum Beach)
Having one of the best burgers in Canada is high praise indeed, but Q Burger in downtown Qualicum Beach 100% deserves the title! Paired with a generous portion of crispy french fries, this incredible restaurant has such an incredible selection of burgers, you’ll want to keep coming back to try them all.
From their menu, we couldn’t resist trying out the Royal Q burger, which is made with hand-smashed beef, BBQ braised onions, local sausage, and a generous amount of beer cheese. They then put all of these ingredients in a bun, wrap it in a tortilla and toast it to transform it into a mouth-wateringly crispy delight.
Another awesome burger (of course we had to have seconds), was the Q-Boom, a classic burger with garlic and cream cheese and topped with a bacon crumble. The attention to detail and quality here is just next level – you can’t miss out on this place! Q Burger is open from Wednesday to Saturday 12 pm to 7 pm and is closed from Sunday to Tuesday.
Freyja’s Croissants (Campbell River)
You’ve heard about some of the best burgers in Canada, but what about the best croissants? If we had to pick one place for this, it’d have to be Freyja’s Croissants, located in Campbell River. Their amazing team follows Danish minimalist traditions to deliver some of the most deceptively simple, yet creative and tasty croissants we’ve ever had.
We never knew there were so many different types of croissants out there! All of their incredible options are full of flavor and filling – Dan fell in love with the pistachio croissant and I couldn’t get enough of their beautiful raspberry-filled croissant either.
Constantly bringing out new and exciting flavors, with plenty of seasonal options, no two visits here are ever the same. Even their butter croissant, the most basic option on the menu, is on a whole other level. We really could have had breakfast here every day! Even if you’ve missed breakfast, there’s still time to grab a croissant or two, as Freyja’s is open from 7 am to 5 pm every day.
Discover where it all started at their original food truck, open from 11 am to 6 pm every day of the week. We’d call it one of the best places on Vancouver Island to grab a tasty lunch, with loads of amazing tacos and burritos to try. There are also vegetarian and vegan options available too, and of course, a classic selection of fish, beef, pork, and chicken too.
Jam Cafe (Victoria)
It’s no secret that Victoria is home to some of the best restaurants and cafés in BC, so our expectations tend to be pretty high whenever we try out a new food spot here! Jam Cafe quickly turned out to be one of our favorite all-day breakfast and lunch spots in the city, with their menu full of mouth-watering options like the Fat Elvis waffles and chicken French toast. It really is just as good as it sounds.
Jam Cafe is open weekdays from 8 am to 2 pm and on weekends from 8 am to 3 pm, so head down here for an indulgent breakfast or lunch that you definitely won’t regret!
Eat a Nanaimo bar (Nanaimo)
Nanaimo bars are famous across Canada, so if you’ve got a sweet tooth or are feeling nostalgic about your favorite childhood snack, you can’t miss out on a bar or two from the place that started it all.
The first layer of a Nanaimo bar is a mix of wafer, coconut, and nuts that gives it the most delicious crunch. The second layer is a thick and creamy custard icing that sits in the middle and will totally melt in your mouth. And to top it all off, there’s a scrumptious layer of chocolate ganache. Trust me, it’s worth giving it a try!
You can even take yourself on a self-guided Nanaimo bar tour through some of the best locations in the city that offer this sweet treat. For the best classic Nanaimo bars, head over to A Wee Cupcakery and Nanaimo Bakery, although the options don’t end there!
There are a ton of places that take the Nanaimo bar to a whole new level, like the Hearthstone Artisan Bakery, whose peanut butter crunch Nanaimo bars are totally out-of-this-world. Seriously, I’m drooling just thinking about it!
Dinghy Dock Pub (Protection Island)
For a different kind of treat, take the ferry from Nanaimo over to Protection Island to visit Dinghy Dock Pub, Canada’s one-and-only floating pub! We absolutely loved their fish tacos, but their beef burgers (drizzled in chipotle mayo) were so good too. They also offer a selection of gluten-free alternatives and cater really well to a variety of dietary requirements.
Built back in 1989, the pub offers some of the most gorgeous views of Nanaimo (it’s so amazing at sunset too!). Dinghy Dock Pub’s opening times do vary a bit depending on the weather, and a round-trip ferry ticket to the island costs $12 CAD for adults and $6 CAD for children (6-12). You can find out all the info about opening times and prices for the ferry shuttle from Nanaimo to the island on their website.
31. See the sandcastles at the Parksville Beach Festival
Every year, master sculptors from all around the world flock to the Parksville Beach Festival, where they create some of the most impressive art just from the sand at the beach! The official competition is held in mid-July, but the creations stay up all the way into late August.
On top of the amazing sand sculptures, the festival also brings together some incredible musicians for their concert series, and there’s also a super cute artisan market where local vendors sell their hand-crafted goods. So, if you’re in town in July (the weather is perfect at this time!), then you’ll want to poke your head around the beach – who knows what you’ll find?
32. Explore downtown Duncan and see the totem poles
Duncan is a really cool little city located on Cowichan First Nation territory in the heart of Vancouver Island. It’s known as the “City of Totems” and has a fascinating history dating back to 1912 when it was first established in the railway era.
The city is 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. They’re really beautiful, each one full of color and intricately carved.
If you head just outside the Cowichan Valley Museum, you’ll see some little yellow footprints painted on the sidewalk which will lead you on a self-guided tour to see 40 unique totems. You can also use the Totem Tour Walk interactive map, which we used on our last trip, taking your time to stop and admire each step along the way.
Duncan is also full of unique boutique shops, local eateries, and picturesque places to go for a walk! We’d say it’s the perfect spot for a day of low-key exploration, with our favorite local spots including the popular Duncan Garage Cafe & Bakery, as well as Alvin’s Alley, where you’ll find some amazing murals created by talented local artists.
If you love thrifting just as much as me, then you’ll want to check out spots like Eclectic Avenue Vintage Boutique, which has some of the most beautiful clothing and jewelry around, for a great price too!
33. Visit the north – Port Hardy
While it can be tempting to stick to the tourist hotspots like Victoria and Qualicum Beach, some of the best memories we made while on Vancouver Island happened when we ventured a little further afield!
Port Hardy is located right on the northern tip of the island, within the traditional territory of the Kwakiutl First Nation. With deep-rooted tradition and culture, the town is full of totem poles as well as tall houses throughout the municipality, telling the incredible stories of a history that started over 8,000 years ago.
The drive to Port Hardy from Campbell River takes about 2.5 hours, winding through gorgeous coastal rainforest and following the Nimpkish Valley mountain range. It’s definitely one of the most scenic drives on the entire island, although cellular service can be patchy at times, so make sure to always travel prepared.
You’ll also find some of the most incredible trails in the area too, such as the amazing Quatse Loop and Estuary Trail, which is 3.4 km (2.1 mi) long, and you may be lucky enough to spot some nesting bald eagles or even some great blue herons!
For those looking for a true challenge, the Tex Lyon Trail is a tough (though rewarding) trail that takes around 8 hours to complete. At 12.7 km (8 mi) long and 484 meters (1,587 feet) of elevation gain, the trail can be tough 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!
Of course, once you’ve finished up with your hike, you’ll want to grab some food to recharge, and that’s where we’d suggest heading across to the Sporty Bar and Grill, one of the most popular pub restaurants in the area. They do some killer chicken wings here, and nothing quite hits home after a day out sightseeing than one of their signature burgers!
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 (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 too. 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, with tickets costing around $18 CAD per person and $50-$100 CAD per vehicle, depending on its height and length.
- Take a coach (Ferry) – If you’re not too worried about driving yourself across, or wish to sort out transport when you arrive at the island, then another option is to book a seat on a coach 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 $99 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 too! 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. As soon as you arrive you’ll be free to explore Victoria and carry on your adventure from there. There are multiple departure times hourly from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm, with tickets costing $279 CAD per adult and $160 CAD per child (2-11).
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 really 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.
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Renting a Car in British Columbia
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!
We hope you’ve enjoyed discovering some of the amazing activities and adventures Vancouver Island has to offer. Whether you’re planning a day trip or a month-long road trip, we’re sure you’ll have a blast – we certainly did! If you’ve got some time to spare before or after your trip, don’t forget to check out some of the best things to do in Vancouver too!