Vancouver Island is a great place to visit from both the British Columbia mainland and Washington State. It is home to cute towns, BC’s capital city, and gorgeous provincial parks. Here are the 15 attractions you have to visit when exploring the island.
Victoria Inner Harbour
British Columbia’s capital, Victoria, is a picture-perfect city home to beautiful architecture, friendly locals, plenty of pubs, and a very pretty harbor. Located in the heart of the city, the Inner Harbour is where you will find Fairmont Empress (a Canadian castle and hotel) and the BC Parliament Building. It’s also where the seaplanes land and depart, and it’s the place to be during the warmer months to see buskers and attend festivals.
Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park
Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park lies in Parksville, just north of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. The park has a cove of Douglas fir trees and a 1.2-mile (2km) stretch of sandy beach that’s a favorite with families in the summertime. At low tide, the beach can stretch up to 0.6 miles (1km) out into the Strait of Georgia. This natural attraction is what makes the park so popular. There’s a large campground at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park too.
Long Beach is one of three parts that make up the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The other two units are the Broken Group of Islands and the West Coast Trail. The beach is the largest, and longest, on Vancouver Island’s west coast. It lies in Wickaninnish Bay, between Tofino and Ucluelet. Long Beach is popular with everyone, including surfers, wildlife watchers, kayakers, and swimmers. It’s also why Tofino is known as Canada’s surf capital.
Old Country Market
The Old Country Market near Coombs on Vancouver Island is world famous for its sloping grass roof that is home to several goats. In addition to saying hello to the roof’s residents, there are plenty of treats to enjoy at Old Country Market, including a gift shop, imported groceries, a deli, delicious ice cream, a take-out taqueria joint, Cuckoo’s Trattoria and Pizzeria, The Market Restaurant, Wabisabi Surf Shop, and so much more.
Located on the Royal Roads University campus just outside Victoria, Hatley Castle is part of the Hatley Park National Historic Site. The Scottish Baronial-style, 40-room castle, built in the early 1900s for the Dunsmuir family, sees manicured gardens surrounding it. After the Dunsmuirs passed, the Government of Canada purchased the property in 1939. It then became a military college; today, it is a museum. Hatley Castle might look quite familiar too, as it’s been used in several TV shows and films over the years.
Mount Washington Alpine Resort
Vancouver Island has beaches, world-famous trails, picturesque towns, and an award-winning ski resort. Mount Washington Alpine Resort is in the top 10 for best powder in Canada, according to specialist ski publication Ski Canada Magazine. It also has a very high annual snowfall of 38ft (11.5m). The ski resort is home to 81 runs, 10 lifts, and 34 miles (55km) of cross-country skiing trails.
Wild Pacific Trail
The Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet, on Vancouver Island’s west coast, is a great hiking trail that everyone can enjoy. The Wild Pacific Trail was created by local Oyster Jim Martin, who began construction on the trail’s three routes in 1999; they include the Lighthouse Loop, Brown’s Beach to Artist Loops, and the coastal Rocky Bluffs Trail, which has an additional Ancient Cedar section too.
Royal BC Museum
Founded in 1886, the Royal BC Museum is a must-visit attraction when in Victoria. Queen Elizabeth II approved of the museum’s royal title in 1987, and it was bestowed by Prince Philip during their royal tour that year. The institution is home to the province’s natural and human history museum, as well as the British Columbia Provincial Archives. It has three main galleries: local First Nations history, modern history, and natural history. The Royal BC Museum is also the location of BC’s largest IMAX screen.
Greenpeace calls Clayoquot Sound “an ecological treasure of global significance”. It includes water, inlets, islands, and one of the world’s most famous coastal temperate rainforests: 265,000 hectares that’s home to 45 endangered or threatened animal species. Due to its importance, it became British Columbia’s first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2000. August and September is the best time to visit to view black bears.
Cape Scott Provincial Park
Cape Scott Provincial Park lies on Vancouver Island’s northwestern tip. It was established in 1973 and named after the park’s lighthouse. It’s an area many visitors don’t get to explore, but its sandy beaches, rainforest, and rocky coastline are worth the trip north. There are more than 18.6 miles (30km) of remote beaches in Cape Scott, with Nels Bight being the most impressive and popular. It also has many hiking trails, such as the Cape Scott Trail and all of its extensions, which are listed in detail on the BC Parks website.
Chemainus, located in the Cowichan Valley in southeastern Vancouver Island, began as a logging town in 1858. Today, it is known for its world-famous outdoor murals, which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. The 39 murals mostly depict moments and people of local historical significance. There are arrows leading visitors to each painting, which is great for children. As well as the murals, the town is home to many independent stores, such as a Christmas shop and a delectable sweets store.
West Coast Trail
A part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, the West Coast Trail is a world-famous multi-day hike. The 47 mile (75km) trail follows in the footsteps of the region’s First Nations ancestors, who have lived in the area for more than 4,000 years. The hike goes through various landscapes, such as along the beach, across rugged coastlines, and through the rainforest. Whether you want to do half or the entire hike, you must reserve a spot on the Parks Canada website.
Butchart Gardens are a 55 acre (22 hectare) floral wonderland and National Historic Site on Vancouver Island, receiving more than a million visitors annually. The gardens, near Victoria, are famous around the world and perfect to visit year-round. Spring is when the tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths bloom; summer comes with entertainment, nighttime illuminations, and a fireworks show. The Japanese Garden shines in fall, and it’s all about the lights and the Magic of Christmas event in winter.
Cathedral Grove has been attracting tourists since the 1920s. It’s the largest and most accessible collection of Douglas-fir trees on Vancouver Island. Some of the ancient trees have been standing in the grove for over 800 years. The largest tree reaches 29.5ft (9m) in circumference. There are walking trails to take you up close to these beauties. These paths, however, can get crowded in the summer months, so it’s best to arrive early.
Wolf in the Fog
“Fish. Forage. Feast.” This tagline belongs to Wolf in the Fog, a dining experience everyone should experience in Tofino. Wolf in the Fog’s menu is based on seasonal ingredients, and includes plates to share, such as the wintertime Roasted Arctic Char with smoked bone marrow risotto and wild mushrooms.
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