These Are the Canadian Islands You Need to Know About
You don’t need to board a plane to New Zealand or Maui to find rocky coastlines, quaint fishing villages by the sea, or snow-capped glacial peaks protruding straight up from the depths of the ocean.
The islands off of both of Canada’s coastlines offer travelers anything from quiet fishing towns dotted with bed and breakfasts to downhill skiing terrain that rivals some of the best resorts of North America.
While many associate an island vacation with sipping cocktails out of a coconut on a palm-tree lined beach, the islands of Canada offer something much more unique: natural charm paired with a history and culture that can’t be found elsewhere.
While the widely known areas such as Vancouver and Prince Edward Islands are must-see destinations for good reason, some of the most rewarding experiences will be the result of travel into the unknown. With thousands of both freshwater and saltwater islands throughout Canada, everyone will find something to exceed their expectations.
Here are just a few islands that may be worth a trip.
If you picture the green cliffs of Scotland combined with the sand beaches of Cape Cod, what you might envision would look a lot like the Magdalen Islands. Located on the far eastern side of the province of Quebec, the Magdalen Islands are easily accessible by plane, cruise, or ferry out of Montreal, Souris, or many of the surrounding east coast cities or Canadian coastal towns.
Once on the islands, visitors can explore via a network of on and off-road bicycle trails. Companies such as La Pedalier offer bicycle rentals, while cycling maps and suggested routes can be found on the island’s tourism website. Travelers can also embark on a hike along the coastal cliffs on their own or with one of the tour guide companies that can be found on the island. Stay at one of the many bed and breakfasts available, such as the Oasis Liberte.
Located off of the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland and Labrador, Bell Island's 13 square miles of land and fewer than 3,000 inhabitants are often overlooked. The island, once the largest producer of iron ore in Northeast America, is a great place for history buffs to visit. During the second World War, the island experienced multiple direct German attacks; notably the only place in North America that can make this claim.
A great way to experience the island is via the 13-mile Gregory Normore Walking Trail, which leads visitors to panoramic views of Conception Bay and its surrounding cliffs, a lighthouse, multiple coves, a memorial, and artillery used during World War II. Another must-do activity during your stay on Bell Island is a kayak and snorkeling tour of the sea caves off of the coast. The town of Wabana, the largest on the island, is a great place to spend the night, find a bite to eat, and learn a bit about the local culture. Consider a night at the Grand Wabana Inn. For more information, including things to do and a ferry schedule, visit the island’s official tourism website.
Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world, is located in Lake Huron. Situated towards the Ontario side of the lake, the island is accessible by car from Espanola, or by ferry from Tobermory between late May and early October. Visitors will find many lakes and rivers within the island, and even smaller interior islands within those, offering great recreational opportunities such as salmon and trout fishing.
While on the island, be sure to visit bridal veil falls, accessible by a short hiking trail in the small town of Kagawong, or hike amongst the two-hundred foot tall cliffs of the Cup and Saucer hiking trail. There are many options for accommodations throughout the island, including On the Bay Bed and Breakfast, located in Providence Bay.
Located 109 miles off the coast of mainland Nova Scotia, Sable Island has a grand population total of approximately five people. This extremely remote island is less than a mile wide at it’s widest point, and is currently protected by the National Park Service.
It can be reached by an hour-and-fifteen-minute charter flight out of Halifax, or by sea out of St. Johns, although permission must first be obtained from Canada’s park service. The best way to see the park is through an organized tour, in which visitors will spend three nights on a boat, moored just off-shore of the island, and four days exploring the island itself. Those willing to make the effort to venture away from the beaten path will find 26 miles of sand beaches and dunes, teeming with over 550 wild horses amongst an abundance of other wildlife. Visitors will also have the opportunity to see abandoned settlements and a few of the hundreds of shipwrecks, the result of the bad weather that such an exposed island is sure to encounter. For more information, visit the Parks Canada website.
Bonaventure Island, containing less than two square-miles of landmass, was an early fishing village of New France and saw its first settlers immigrate from Ireland in the early 1790’s. Today, the island is a must see for bird-watchers, as it is home to one of the largest colony of gannets in the world. In addition to the northern gannet, wildlife observers may find almost 300 other species of birds including herring gulls, Atlantic puffins, and blackpoll warblers.
There are many boat trips that leave out of the town of Percé, most of which allow travelers the opportunity to explore the island on their own for a portion of the day. Once on the island, visitors will find a variety of hiking trails through the forests and along beautiful shoreline. Keep your eyes peeled for one of the grey seals that inhabit the area. Consider a cruise trip to the island with Les Croisieres Julien Cloutier.
If your ideal island vacation includes glaciated alpine peaks exceeding 7,000 feet in elevation, surrounded by the deep blue waters of the Pacific ocean, then Vancouver Island should surely be on your list. Cut in half by the Vancouver Island Ranges, the island has two separate climates; wet and rugged to the west, drier and rolling to the east. Skiers and snowboarders enjoy views of the ocean and surrounding peaks from atop the 5,200 foot summit of Mt. Washington Alpine Resort, while visitors during the summer months may want to enjoy some of the island’s many miles of hiking trails.
Since Vancouver Island is a fairly popular destination with many year-round inhabitants, there is no shortage of places to eat and sleep. Enjoy a locally sourced meal at the 10 Acres Bistro in Victoria, one of the only restaurants in Western Canada with its own farm, and then spend the night at the Magnolia Hotel and Spa, located right downtown. For the more adventurous or budget-conscious traveler, a night amongst the stars in the Green Point campground, located in the Pacific Rim National Park, may be a better option.
Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island is amongst one of many that make up the smallest Canadian province of the same name. In addition to the combination of sandy beaches and rugged coastlines, Prince Edward Island is full of history, culture, and art. In 1864, the Charlottetown Conference was held in the town of Charlottetown, which resulted in Canada becoming an official nation.
Revisit this history on a walk along a portion of the Confederation Trail, a mellow hiking and bicycle trail that runs the length of the island with branch trails that will take hikers into Charlottetown. If visiting during the summer, be sure to line your trip up with the Jazz and Blues Festival, which features Canadian artists from across the country. For more suggestions on things to do and see, places to eat, and where to stay, visit the province’s official tourism website.
Baffin Island, located in the Nunavut Province of Northern Canada, is the largest island in the country. The mountainous glacial terrain contains a peak with arguably the greatest vertical drop in the world, and makes the island an arctic mecca for the adventurous and outdoorsy. Rock and ice climbers alike will find an unlimited amount of big-wall climbs in a true wilderness setting, such as those found on Mt. Thor.
This doesn’t leave the non-climber short of things to do, however. Visitors to the island are welcome to hike, ski, or paddle around, affording themselves the opportunity to see polar bears, white belugas, or tusked narwhal. Spend the night camping under a magnificent showing of the northern lights, and explore the Inuit culture during a visit to the small town of Pond Inlet. Tourism companies such as Black Feather offer many options such as multi-day ski, paddling, and trekking tours, sure to fit anyones needs. The island can only be reached by plane out of Iqaluit International Airport, or by cruise during the summer months.
Haida Gwaii Island
Haida Gwaii, situated off the northern coast of British Columbia, is made up of two main islands; Graham Island to the north and Moresby Island to the south. Visitors will find plenty of outdoor recreational opportunities throughout the island’s protected parks and preserves. In addition to fishing, hiking, and camping, travelers are welcome to surf in the only surf spot in Northern British Columbia.
The breaks can be world class during the winter months, and both gear and lessons can be purchased at the North Beach Surf Shop. While on the island, be sure to take the time to learn a bit about the local Haida culture through a culture-focused tour. Spend a night at Smillies Bed and Breakfast, and enjoy a home-cooked meal while overlooking the surrounding sea. The island can be reached via air out of Vancouver, or by ferry from Prince Rupert.