Vancouver Island is the perfect destination for outdoor and nature lovers. There are so many things to do on Vancouver Island…
You can go hiking in the beautiful forests and mountains, there are rugged beaches, lovely little villages and amazing wildlife, both on land as well as in the water.
Vancouver Island is located just off Canada’s Pacific Coast and can easily be reached from Vancouver. The island is about 500 km long and 100 km wide and is a perfect ‘miniature version’ of Canada.
You’ll be spoiled for choice as there are so many places to go on Vancouver Island!
The best things to do on Vancouver Island: a complete guide
Disclosure: Some links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you!). I’m very grateful when you use my links to make a purchase:-).
2 weeks on Vancouver island
We spent two weeks on Vancouver island but still only managed to see the lower half of the island. There are lots of must-do activities on Vancouver Island and you could easily spend much more time there!
In this Vancouver Island guide, you’ll find Vancouver Island must-sees and highlights, practical advice, and a map with all the places mentioned in the post.
If you’ve got 3 weeks on Vancouver Island, be sure to read all the way to the end of the post. I’ve added a couple of activities that fit perfectly in a Vancouver Island 3-week itinerary.
What to do on Vancouver Island: map
Where to stay on Vancouver Island
There are lots of accommodation options on Vancouver Island. You can go camping, glamping, or stay at one of the many cute boutique hotels.
If you are traveling on a budget, campsites are your best bet. Expect to pay between 30-50CAD for a campsite, depending on the season and the onsite facilities.
Boutique hotels are more expensive, especially in peak season. However, there are great options available, such as the cute By the Sea BnB in Sidney or the lovely Middle Beach Lodge on the rugged coast in Tofino
Luxury travelers can stay at the iconic Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria (pictured below), definitely a special place to spend your time on Vancouver Island.
Here are my best accommodation tips for Victoria, Nanaimo, and Tofino.
Note: Prices for these hotels depend on the time of year and how far in advance you book. Therefore, the prices mentioned in the tables below are a rough indication of the price per night to help you compare the different options. Use ‘click here’ to see the latest prices on Booking and book ahead to get the best deal.
Where to stay in Victoria
|5-star hotel||Fairmont Empress Hotel||8.3||S$440||Click here|
|4-star hotel||Royal Scot Hotel & Suites||8.6||US$144||Click here|
|4-star hotel||Oswego Hotel||8.9||US$139||Click here|
|2-star hotel||Helms Inn||8.5||US$108||Click here|
|3-star hotel||Red Lion Inn||7.9||US$79||Click here|
|Campground||Goldstream Campground||Click here|
Where to stay in Nanaimo
|3-star hotel||Coast Bastion Hotel||8.4||US$198||Click here|
|3-star hotel||The Buccaneer Inn||8.7||US$186||Click here|
|3-star hotel||Best Western Northgate||8.2||US$205||Click here|
|Apartment||AnnArthur Guest House||9.5||US$115||Click here|
Where to stay in Tofino
|Ocean view studio||Island Village||8.5||US$240||Click here|
|Motel||Tofino Motel Harborview||8.7||US$180||Click here|
|Lodge||Middle Beach Lodge||8.5||US$175||Click here|
|Campground||Green Point Campground||Website|
How to get to Vancouver Island?
There are several ferries going to Vancouver Island.
If you are traveling to Vancouver Island from Vancouver, you can take the ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay (close to Victoria) or to Duke Point (close to Nanaimo).
Alternatively, you can take a ferry from Horseshoe Bay (just north of Vancouver) to Departure Bay (also close to Nanaimo).
Check the ferry schedule and price info here.
This boat trip in itself is already worthwhile, especially the Tsawassen – Swartz Bay route.
You’ll sail along the spectacular Gulf Islands and if you’re very lucky, you may even spot a (killer) whale.
You can also fly to Victoria, there is an international airport in North Saanich (about 20km from Victoria).
How to get around Vancouver Island?
Vancouver is the largest island on the Pacific coast of North America and driving from Victoria in the southeast to Port Hardy in the northwest takes approximately 5.5 hours.
While there is public transport on Vancouver Island, it’s not an extensive network. Services are limited to cities and larger towns.
Getting to trails is very hard if not impossible when relying only on public transport. You can find more information here.
Or, if you are planning to stay in Canada for a longer period of time, you can consider buying a car instead of renting one.
In any case, having your own wheels gives you the freedom to stop wherever you want and explore the best places on Vancouver Island!
What is the best time to visit Vancouver Island?
While you can visit Vancouver Island the entire year due to its mild climate, the weather is the nicest between April and October.
These are also the best months for whale watching on Vancouver Island.
Visit Vancouver Island in Spring
Spring is a great time to visit Vancouver Island as the entire island turns green and there are lots of pretty blossoms and flowers.
Furthermore, there are fewer tourists, and accommodation prices are generally lower.
Visit Vancouver Island in Summer
Vancouver Island is a very popular tourist destination during the summer months, both for international visitors as well as for Canadians.
Temperatures are highest in summer, the average temperature on Vancouver Island in July and August is around 17 degrees Celsius.
Also, there are lots of festivals and activities on Vancouver Island during the summer months, so it’s definitely a fun time to visit.
However, it is also the busiest time on Vancouver Island as this is peak season, and accommodation prices are at their highest.
Visit Vancouver Island in Autumn
Fall is a nice time to visit Vancouver Island as the leaves on the trees turn to fiery autumn colors.
When visiting Vancouver Island in autumn, you can watch the fall foliage in The Butchart Gardens or visit one of the Harvest Festivals.
Visit Vancouver Island in Winter
While the winter months on Vancouver Island aren’t necessarily cold, they are generally quite wet. November, December, and January in particular (6 rainy days on average).
If you bring a raincoat (a smart thing to do no matter the time of year) you can still visit Vancouver Island in winter. That being said, for outdoor activities, this isn’t the best time to visit.
40 great places to visit on Vancouver island
1. Take a free tour of the British Columbia Parliament Buildings
With beautiful buildings, lots of cafes and restaurants, and a friendly vibe, Victoria is a great place to start exploring Vancouver Island.
Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia and it’s therefore not surprising to find the imposing British Columbia Parliament here.
While the BC Parliament is home to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, this beautiful building is accessible to the public!
You can visit the British Columbia Parliament independently or join one of the free guided tours. There are several tours a day which last between 30-45 minutes.
Read more about the free tours here.
2. Admire the Fairmont Empress (or have a high tea)
The luxurious Fairmont Empress hotel opened its doors at the start of the 20th century and is a true city icon.
If you like a high-tea (and even if you don’t;-), be sure to have a ‘Tea at the Empress‘ which has been a tremendously popular Victoria activity since 1908!
Looking for a place to stay in Victoria? Check my Victoria hotel guide with great options for any budget.
3. Explore Victoria Old Town
Victoria has a lovely historic center that can easily be navigated on foot. Pick up a map at the Visitor Centre and spend the day wandering from one beautiful old building to the next.
In my Victoria itinerary, you can read about more top things to do in this beautiful capital.
4. Whale-watching tour
The waters around Vancouver Island are rich in marine life, therefore it comes as no surprise that going on a whale-watching tour is one of the most popular things to do in Victoria.
Victoria is one of the top spots to see killer whales (orca) but you’re also likely to encounter gray whales and humpback whales.
5. Butchart Gardens (20 km from Victoria)
One of the best things to see on Vancouver Island is the famous Butchart Gardens. These beautiful gardens are a National Historic Site of Canada and the result of the vision, passion, and dedication of Jenny Butchart.
Walk the winding paths through the Sunken Garden, smell the fragrant roses at the Rose Garden and find your inner zen at the Japanese Garden.
The easiest way to visit Butchart Gardens (if you don’t have your own transport) is via this popular bus tour.
Included in the tour: transportation in a comfortable touring car, a professional guide, and entrance to the gardens.
If your schedule allows it and you have time for another great outdoor activity, consider taking a kayaking trip.
Here are some of the most popular kayaking tours in and around Victoria:
- Victoria Harbour Kayak Tour (3 hours)
- Discovery Island Kayak Tour (6-7 hours)
- Broken Islands Kayaking Expedition (5 days)
7. Stroll around Fisherman’s Wharf
A popular hotspot in Victoria is quirky Fisherman’s Wharf, a floating village with colorful houses and cute little shops.
Don’t be surprised to see some other inhabitants of the wharf floating in the bay (yup, that’s a seal!).
8. Go for a walk in Beacon Hill Park
Victoria is a green city surrounded by the ocean. From Beacon Hill Park you have a great view over the Strait of Juan de Fuca. On a clear day, you can easily see the U.S.A. on the other side of the strait.
As an alternative option (families with kids will love this in particular), I recommend this Beacon Hill Park tour in a horse-drawn carriage. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported back in time!
9. Refill your energy at Crust Bakery
All that walking around Victoria makes you hungry and a great spot to replenish your energy is Crust Bakery.
There are so many mouthwatering options to choose from, ranging from pretty pastries and buttery croissants to healthy whole-meal loaves and their soft and fragrant garlic-rosemary focaccia (my personal favorite)!
If you’re a foodie like me, you can also try this food tour and treat your taste buds in full.
10. Eat the best tacos on Vancouver Island at Tacofino
I love Mexican food and was very happy to stumble upon Tacofino. The staff kindly recommended their favorites to help us decide.
But no worries, it doesn’t matter which taco or burrito you choose, they are all delicious…
11. Go for a walk (or a swim) at Sooke Potholes Provincial Park
One of the best places to visit on Vancouver Island is Sooke Potholes Provincial Park. The name says it all, you can see potholes in this park.
But not those annoying potholes on ill-maintained roads…
No, these huge potholes were created by massive boulders being carried downstream by the thundering river when the glaciers melted a long time ago.
Nowadays the river is much calmer and you can even go for a swim in designated areas!
12. Admire Sheringham Point Lighthouse
I love old lighthouses, don’t you? The Sheringham Point Lighthouse is quite possibly the most picturesque one I’ve ever seen.
In any case, Sheringham Point Lighthouse was built in 1912 and has since then guided countless ships along the treacherous south coast of Vancouver Island.
You can’t enter the Lighthouse itself, however, the grounds are open to the public.
Park at the head of the Sheringham Lighthouse Trail (Sheringham Point Rd) and hike the lovely 3.4-kilometer loop trail.
13. Hike the Botanical Beach Loop Trail
The Botanical Beach Loop Trail is just a short trail (less than 3 kilometers) but very worthwhile. The trail leads through the forest and over the rugged beach with rocky pools.
The reason this was an epic trail for us is that we saw our first bear! A young and therefore relatively small black bear walking around on the beach…
It’s so cool to see wild animals in their natural habitat though obviously, we kept an appropriate distance.
Apologies for the poor quality of the picture, not being able to take proper wildlife pictures is what convinced me to finally buy a great DSLR camera.
14. Hike the West Coast Trail
Avid hikers may want to tackle the famous West Coast Trail, an iconic backcountry, multi-day backpacking trail.
This 75-kilometer trail leads from Bamfield to Port Renfrew and is not something to take lightly. This epic track requires some serious preparation, you can read all the nitty details on the Parks Canada website.
That being said, this trail is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and something I’d love to do during a future trip to Vancouver Island.
15. Check out Canada’s Gnarliest Tree in Avatar Grove
If you are looking for an off-the-beaten-path place to visit, this is it! The road leading to Avatar Grove is rather bumpy, we drove very slowly and walked the last kilometer to the trailhead.
But it’s pretty fun to see the Gnarliest Tree in Canada, it looks like a giant tied a knot in it!
16. Have a pick-nick at Fairy Lake
A lovely little lake surrounded by trees and mountains, the perfect place for a pick-nick. Keep an eye out for otters and other wildlife!
17. Drive the beautiful Pacific Marine Road
The road between Port Renfrew and Honeymoon Bay is very quiet and very beautiful.
My advice: wake up early, pack enough water, food, and fuel for the road (there are no services along this road) and enjoy the ride!
18. Admire the massive and ancient Harris Creek Sitka Spruce
That’s what you call a big tree, the trunk has a diameter of 4 meters! Nobody knows exactly how old the Harris Creek Sitka Spruce is, but these types of trees can live up to 800 years…
19. Have lunch, dinner, or a drink at Jakes at the Lake
Jakes at the Lake (Cowichan Lake) is the perfect pub in the perfect location… We had a tasty dinner on the patio while watching the sunset over the lake.
20. Take a short hike to the Stocking Creek Waterfall
I’ll be honest: this isn’t the most impressive waterfall you’ll find in Canada.
Nevertheless, it’s a lovely short walk through the forest and a good place to stretch your legs when driving from the Cowichan Valley to Nanaimo (or vice versa).
21. Walk around Westwood Lake (or go for a swim)
This easy 5,5km trail goes around Westwood Lake and makes for a perfect afternoon stroll.
When we visited the weather couldn’t have been more perfect and the park was filled with families celebrating summer.
22. Hike to the top of Mount Benson
Make sure you have a proper breakfast or lunch before scaling this mountain. The loop is 8 kilometers and took us 3,5 hours (return).
I recommend wearing sturdy hiking boots, it was pretty muddy when we went up. It’s a steep climb but the view from the top more than makes up for that…
23. Check out the Abyss, but don’t fall in…
Even if the weather isn’t that great, this 1-kilometer trail (return) to the Abyss is a nice short stroll.
Once you are atop the rocks you’ll see the jagged crack in the ground, aka the Abyss. It’s deep, so be careful!
24. Explore the Old City Quarter of Nanaimo
Nanaimo is a great place to spend a couple of days and one of the places that can’t miss on your Nanaimo itinerary is the Old City Quarter.
Here you can find cute colorful houses, lovely cafes, and beautiful boutique shops. Read more about the Old District on their official website.
Extremely important note: don’t forget to sample some delicious Nanaimo bars during your Nanaimo trip!
25. Stroll around Nanaimo’s Harborfront Walkway
Nanaimo has a very nice harborfront with good views over Newcastle Island and Protection Island.
At Nanaimo Harbor, you can also catch a small ferry (only for pedestrians) to the Dinghy Dock Pub, the only floating pub in Canada!
26. Hike to the Ammonite Falls
This is an easy 5km (return) hike, walking to the Ammonite Falls and back took us a little over an hour.
The falls are beautiful, but most of the snow had already melted when we visited in June and the waterfalls were not as spectacular as in early Spring.
Nevertheless, do add the Ammonite Falls to your list of Vancouver Island points of interest, they are beautiful in any season!
27. Chill out at the French Creek Marine Pub
Sometimes it rains in Canada and on those days the best place to be is a cozy pub, like the French Creek Marine Pub.
We received a warm welcome from the staff and spend the rainy afternoon sampling beer and cider.
28. Spend the morning (or the entire day) at the Qualicum Foods Cafe
When the rain continues, don’t despair! The Qualicum Foods Cafe serves hot coffee and delicious sandwiches.
There is WiFi and sockets to charge your devices. What more could you wish for? Blue skies aside;-).
29. Visit Qualicum Beach
On a sunny day, head to Qualicum Beach instead. This beach is one of the best beaches for families, with wide expanses of white sand and shallow water.
There are plenty of benches along the boulevard where you can sit down to admire the beautiful views.
Qualicum Beach is famous for the Ocean Mile Swim, be sure to check if your travel dates coincide with this fun local event.
30. Admire the thundering Englishman River Falls
The upside of rainy days is all that rain makes for thundering waterfalls and the Englishman River Falls definitely falls (no pun intended;-) into that category.
It’s only a short and easy walk to these pretty falls, don’t miss them on your Vancouver Island trip!
Or try this tour of Vancouver’s most magnificent waterfalls and landscapes, where you’ll stop by the country market (see below) and enjoy marvelous views of the rainforest.
31. Visit the Old Country Market
The Old Country Market in Coombs (which is included in the last mentioned Vancouver Island waterfall tour) is famous for the grazing goats on the roof of the market, but there is much more to see!
There are cute shops and the market has a great selection of fresh products (such as delicious smelling rosemary bread) and imported international products (real Italian espresso for coffee addicts like myself!).
32. Have a delicious homemade ice cream at Coombs
I usually restrain myself and get one scoop of ice cream, but there were just too many delicious options to choose from at the Billy Gruff Creamery!
Ultimately I went for the sea-salted caramel (their best-seller) and strawberry cheesecake, finger-licking good…
33. Visit Little Qualicum River Regional Park
I visited several waterfalls on Vancouver Island, but the ‘Little’ Qualicum Falls was the most impressive one. Cascading down several tiers these roaring falls took my breath away, nature is so powerful!
An added bonus is the photogenic abandoned railroad you’ll cross when entering the park.
Too bad it’s no longer in use though, what a ride that would have been…
34. Walk among giants in Cathedral Grove
Cathedral Grove is one of the many Vancouver Island attractions and I loved this old-growth forest with its massive trees, all covered in moss and lichen.
There are two short and easy boardwalks, one on each side of the road. It’s easy to lose yourself in this mysterious green world…
35. Admire the view from the Port Alberni Fire lookout
It’s a bit of a climb (300 meters elevation, 9 km return), but the view over the Port Alberni valley is splendid!
I completely understand why they built a fire lookout in this particular spot, you can see for miles and miles in all directions!
36. Stroll around the Harbour Quay in Port Alberni
Port Alberni isn’t very big or one of the main attractions on Vancouver Island.
However, the harbor front is rather cute and the view over the Alberni Inlet (with its 40km the longest inlet on Vancouver Island) is beautiful.
At the harbor front, you can climb a small lookout tower, there are several nice shops and the All Mex’D Up Taco Shop.
37. See the salmon migration at the Stamp River fish ladder
I had never seen salmon (alive;-) before, let alone seen them migrate up a river! At the Stamp River Falls a fish ladder has been installed, helping the salmon in their journey upstream.
The fun part: here is a big TV showing a lifestream from the fish ladder. So you can actually see the salmon swimming through!
38. Check out the Petroglyphs at Sproat Lake Provincial Park
A short trail leads along the lake to K’ak’awin, one of the best-preserved petroglyphs in British Columbia. What do you think it looks like? The Monster of Sprout Lake?
39. Drive the Pacific Rim Highway
One of the places to see on Vancouver Island is the beautiful Pacific Rim Highway.
This scenic drive to Ucluelet and Tofino leads along lakes and through green forests to the wild South coast of Vancouver Island and the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
Take your time and stop often to take pictures!
40. Hike the Wild Pacific Trail (part I & II)
We hiked these trails in the rain, but even so, the views were hauntingly beautiful…
This was one of my favorite Vancouver island activities, what an amazing and rugged coastline!
You can find detailed information about the hike (including a map) on this website. Be aware that bears and wolfs are often seen on the trail, so read up on what to do when you encounter one.
41. Feel the pounding of the waves at the Amphitrite Point Lighthouse
The Amphitrite Point Lighthouse may not be the prettiest of lighthouses, but it is very strong!
Interesting fact: being the Lighthouse keeper wasn’t an easy job back in the day… The first keeper lived a mile from the lighthouse, he hiked down every night at sunset to light the lamp.
The keeper would return at midnight to rewind the mechanism and again at sunrise to extinguish the lamp. So much for a good night’s sleep!
But it a good thing he did, before the lighthouse was built many ships sank in this treacherous part of the Pacific Ocean.
42. Get hot cocoa at the Gray Whale
Another great option for a rainy day on Vancouver Island is the cozy coffee bar we found in Ucluelet.
It’s called the Gray Whale and they serve steaming cups of hot chocolate and several freshly baked pies…
43. Hike the Schooner Cove Trail
The Schooner Cove Trail is a short and easy hike (4km return), but a beautiful one nonetheless. The trail leads to Schooner Cove Beach via a boardwalk through the ancient forest.
The beach is a great spot to spend some time and, depending on the weather, you can even go for a swim.
44. Take a stroll on Long Beach
This beach stretches over 16 kilometers and is the longest beach on Vancouver Island. Watch the surfers conquer the waves and search for driftwood.
Or simply sit down, build a sand castle with your kids and enjoy the breathtaking views.
45. Explore cute and artsy Tofino
I am not exaggerating when I say that every Canadian we spoke to asked if we would be visiting Tofino. Apparently, Tofino is pretty famous in Canada!
And while I’ll admit it’s hipster galore, Tofino is a nice place to visit.
It’s one of the cutest small towns in Canada, with bakeries, cafes, shops, and galleries, perfect to be explored on foot on a sunny afternoon.
46. Hike the Tonquin Trail (and watch the sunset)
Yet another nice little hike on Vancouver Island… The Tonquin trail is an easy 3km loop through the temperate rainforest and leads to Tonquin Beach.
We visited during the day, but Tonquin Beach is also a very popular place to watch the sunset.
More highlights on Vancouver Island
If you’ve got more time to spend on Vancouver Island, consider adding these popular spots to your Vancouver Island itinerary as well.
47. Visit Campbell River
Campbell River is about a 90-minute drive from Nanaimo and a 40 minutes drive from Comox (you’re point of arrival if you were to take a ferry from Power River on the Sunshine Coast, BC).
Campbell River is the third largest city on Vancouver Island and has a wonderfully friendly vibe.
Visit the Maritime Heritage Centre, go for a stroll along the 10-km-long Rotary Sea Walk, or have a fancy meal at the Harbour Grill.
48. Visit Elk Falls Provincial Park
One of the best things to do in Campbell River is to visit Elk Falls Provincial Park. Admire the waterfalls and walk the swinging suspension bridge.
Follow the easy Millenium Trail through the forest and feel dwarfed by the sky-high trees.
49. Go hiking in Strathcona Park
Strathcona Provincial Park is one of Vancouver Island’s hidden gems. The mountainous landscapes are perfect for hiking and some of the best day hikes on Vancouver Island can be found in this expansive Provincial Park.
Prepare well for each of these trails, you’re hiking in the wilderness and it’s crucial you know what you’re doing.
50. Conquer the north and visit Port Hardy
For those looking who want to go as far off the beaten path on Vancouver Island as possible, drive all the way up to Port Hardy.
From Campbell River, the drive takes around 2.5 hours. Nanaimo to Port Hardy is 4 hours of driving and Victoria to Port Hardy takes almost 5.5 hours.
Stop at Telegraph Cove (pictured above) along the way, this tiny and picturesque village is an excellent place to grab some lunch (the Killer whale café is highly recommended).
From Telegraph Cove it’s only a short drive (40 minutes) to Port Hardy, the northernmost town on Vancouver Island.
Frequently asked questions about Vancouver Island
Are there any grizzly bears on Vancouver Island?
Although grizzly bears are very rare on Vancouver Island, there have been several sightings in recent years, mostly in northern Vancouver Island.
Are there bald eagles on Vancouver Island?
Yes, there are many bald eagles living on Vancouver Island. Bring your binoculars and keep your eyes peeled for one of the most spectacular birds in the world.
Are there cougars on Vancouver Island?
It has long been said that the world’s highest concentration of cougars lives on Vancouver Island. Something to be mindful of when heading out into those beautiful forests.
Plan your Canada trip like a pro with these tools:
✈️ Find the best flight deals with Kiwi.com.
🚐 Rent a campervan for your Canada road trip (or a car via Rentalcars.com).
🌐 Arrange your Canada working holiday with Global Work & Travel.
📖 Plan your journey with the Canada Lonely Planet.
🛏️ Find the best hotel deals on Booking.com.
😎 Join the best tours in Canada via Get Your Guide or Viator.
🗺️ Travel safely and get reliable travel insurance from Safety Wing.
Vancouver Island things to do: in conclusion
I hope you enjoyed this post! Feel free to ask any questions you have by leaving a comment or sending me a message.
Also read my other Canada post for more Canada travel inspiration!
This post was updated in June 2022.