A Guide to Vacationing on Vancouver Island
Canada may be a surprising answer for travelers in search of a non-traditional island getaway. But there are tens of thousands of islands scattered around the country's 125,567 mile-long coast, making it a perfect option for travelers seeking lesser-known isles. And one of the best islands in Canada is Vancouver Island.
This wild, rugged sweep of land off the coast of British Columbia has everything from quaint fishing villages speckling the coastline to a sparkling harbor flanked by grand, provincial landmarks. There's an impressive wine region that could rival even the Mediterranean and ample opportunities for skiing, hiking, and whale watching. Travelers who find persistent fog romantic and want every trip to be something of an adventure should reserve a seat on a seaplane (or plan for a scenic ferry ride from Vancouver) and plan a trip to Vancouver Island.
Spend the night outdoors
One of the best ways to experience Vancouver Island is to spend a night under the stars. Containing almost 620,000 acres, Strathcona Park is full of snow-capped peaks and alpine lakes, and is a great spot to pitch a tent. Heading deep into the Strathcona backcountry can be one of the most rewarding experiences you have during a trip to the island. For those who might prefer not to haul gear deep into the wilderness, Buttle Lake and Ralph River campgrounds offer vehicle-accessible sites from April through October.
Or book a room at the Wick
Formally known as the Wickanninish Inn, this resort is hailed as the best resort in Canada. From its perch on a headland above Chesterman Beach, the Wick affords guests impressive sunrises and sunsets from modest but polished rooms with gas fireplaces and cozy armchairs. Pay a visit to the on-site Ancient Cedars spa (think: pine-scented massages) and enjoy a seafood feast by chef Warren Barr at the Wick's restaurant.
Ski with ocean views
During the winter months, the Mount Washington Alpine Resort offers downhill skiing with views of the Pacific Ocean on one side and Strathcona Park peaks on the other. (And with an annual average snowfall of 36 feet, no shortage of fresh powder.) Trails range from beginner to advanced. The resort offers plenty of diversions for travelers during the summer, too. Take a chair lift ride to the 5,200-foot summit for panoramic views of the island — or try your hand at lift-access downhill mountain biking.
Take a serious hike
Vancouver Island has countless miles of hiking trails, ranging from one-hour strolls along sandy beaches to multi-day alpine excursions. For those with the backcountry skills, gear, and time to spare, the 47-mile West Coast Trail meanders along the coast through bogs and old growth forests. Permits must be acquired in advance for overnight stays on this trail. Travelers interested in this trail will find many expert guide services available for hire.
Visit a winery
More than 100 different varieties of grapes can be found growing in the region, including Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Ortega. The island keeps a low profile compared to Napa, but the climate here is similar to the famous regions of northern Germany and France — meaning the vintages are just as good. Spend a day in the Cowichan Valley, which has an impressive artisanal culinary scene (roadside honey stands, Saturday farmers' markets) and an approachable, rustic vibe. Vancouver Island Wine Tours offers day trips out of Victoria.
Wander around the harbor
Victoria's wide streets lined with street vendors, cafes, and restaurants give way to the city's picturesque harbor. Here, fishing vessels and house boats are moored alongside float planes and small cruise ships. The Royal British Columbia Museum and the Parliament Buildings, two of Victoria’s most popular attractions, hug the Inner Harbor.