Like most places in British Columbia, Vancouver Island is paradise for people who love the outdoors and adventure. There’s a natural wonder waiting for you around every corner—whether it be hot springs, waterfalls, uninhabited islands, lakes, or beaches. The next time you visit Vancouver Island, check out these 12 stunning natural attractions.
BC Parks insists that “fresh water adventure seekers will not want to miss a visit to Sproat Lake Provincial Park in the Alberni Valley on central Vancouver Island.” The beautiful lake is popular for swimming, fishing, canoeing, scuba diving, water-skiing, and windsurfing (when the conditions are favourable). The park also has two separate campgrounds and K’ak’awin, British Columbia’s most impressive panel of ancient petroglyphs.
Clayoquot Sound partly overlaps Strathcona Provincial Park, and Pacific Rim National Park. But it’s an attraction in itself. In 2000, it became British Columbia’s first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve for two important reasons. Firstly, it is home to 265,000 hectares of coastal temperate rain forest — Vancouver Island’s largest area of unlogged rain forest. It’s also where 45 endangered, vulnerable, and threatened animal species live. Clayoquot Sound includes this rain forest as well as a marine area that’s brimming with inlets and islands.
Located in Clayoquot Sound northwest of Tofino, Maquinna Marine Provincial Park attracts visitors from around the world for one reason — Hot Springs Cove. The geothermal hot spring falls down a waterfall into several natural rock pools. The best part is the hot springs cascade from each pool to the next, with the water gradually getting cooler as it gets closer to the ocean swells. Hot Springs Cove is only accessible by water or plane, and visitors have to walk about 30 minutes through the rain forest to reach the hot springs. Maquinna Marine Provincial Park is also known for its hiking, camping, kayaking, and wildlife watching opportunities too.
Located near Parksville on the east side of Vancouver Island, Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park is a local favourite. It has a large campground, is surrounded by Douglas fir trees, has five kilometres (three miles) of hiking trails, and is home to a two-kilometre (1.2-mile) sandy beach. This beach is a must-visit at low tide and for sunsets. At low tide, the water can recede up to one kilometre (.6 miles) out into the Strait of Georgia. Kids will love venturing out onto the sand. Rathtrevor Beach is a popular place for bird watching too.
Macmillan Provincial Park is home to two star attractions: Cameron Lake and Cathedral Grove. The latter is an ecosystem of ancient Douglas fir trees. Some of the trees have existed for more than 800 years, and the biggest tree has a circumference of nine metres (29.5 ft). Cameron Lake is a part of Macmillan Provincial Park and Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. It’s a great spot for windsurfing, swimming, and fishing. The lake is also surrounded by beautiful ancient Western red cedar trees on the Macmillan side.
Established in 1973, Cape Scott Provincial Park got its name from the lighthouse within the park, which has guided boats since 1960. It’s located on Vancouver Island’s northwestern tip and is known for its incredible hikes, rain forest, and remote beaches — over 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) of them! Two popular hiking trails include the Cape Scott Trail to Nels Bight, which is 16.8 kilometres (10.4 miles) one way. There’s also the North Coast Trail, which opened in 2008, and is a 43-kilometre (27 mile) extension of the Cape Scott Trail.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is located on Vancouver Island’s west coast. It consists of three parts: Long Beach, the Broken Group of Islands, and the West Coast Trail. Long Beach is the west coast’s longest and largest beach, which is very popular with surfers and kayakers. A favourite way to see the uninhabited Broken Islands is by kayak too. Finally, the world-renowned West Coast Trail is a 75-kilometre (46.6-mile) multi-day hike, which takes people both along the national park’s rugged coastline and through its temperate rain forest.
Strathcona Provincial Park is the oldest provincial park in British Columbia, and the largest on Vancouver Island. Within the park, people will find extensive hiking trails, the most popular being around the Forbidden Plateau. Buttle Lake is great for swimmers, kayakers, and fisherman. The highest peaks of the Vancouver Island Ranges are also located within Strathcona Provincial Park. Adjacent to the park is Mount Washington Alpine Resort too, which is the island’s premier ski resort.
The Sooke Potholes are a group of naturally carved rock pools in Sooke River; filled with clean and clear water. They are a favourite swimming hole destination for both locals and visitors in the summertime. The rock pools and potholes were formed thanks to glacial action during the last Ice Age — a casual 15,000 years ago. Enthusiasts can ride to the Sooke Potholes from Victoria via the Galloping Goose Trail too.
The sandy Miracle Beach is a popular family destination on Vancouver Island. Located in the Comox Valley, Miracle Beach Provincial Park is home to private and group campgrounds, a playground, a day-use area, and easy walking trails through the forest. Kids will love visiting at low tide, when the water recedes to reveal little tide pools. Miracle Beach also hosts an annual sandcastle-building day every June. Nearby Saratoga Beach is also an option if Miracle Beach is bursting with people.
Englishman River Falls was named after a First Nations legend, which mentioned that there was once a man’s skeleton found at these falls. Located near Parksville, Englishman River Falls Provincial Park has both upper and lower falls, a campground, a large day-use area, and scenic hiking trails. The falls are surrounded by a forest, filled with Douglas fir trees, maples, and cedar trees too. In summer, people swim in the pool at the end of the lower falls.
Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park’s main purpose is to protect the Horne Lake Caves, known as Vancouver Island’s hidden jewel. The Lower Cave, Andres Annex, and the first 20 metres (65 ft) of the Main Cave can be self-explored. Otherwise, there are tours and other adventurous activities available at certain times of the year, including a multi-cave spelunking experience, as well as cave and outdoor rock rappelling. Don’t miss what BC Parks calls Canada’s best caves.