Mountains, (rain) forests, lakes, beaches, the sea, islands, rivers, waterfalls, cities – Vancouver Island has it all. So the question “What to do on Vancouver Island?” actually doesn’t arise: Get out of the house / tent / camper and simply drive on or hike – or be inspired by my favorite places.
Wild west coast – Tofino and Ucluelet
The west coast of Vancouver Island is the surfer hotspot par excellence. I found campervans and surfers of all ages in almost every parking lot. The beaches: between white sand beaches and rugged rocks surrounded by mystical mist the west coast has everything. There are rainforests through which you can walk on wooden paths. I didn’t look at the two cities myself, but I hiked part of the Wild Pacific Trail. The scenery is unique. If you are ever on Vancouver Island, a trip here is a must.
Sand as far as the eye can see
Well, not entirely, but there are many beautiful sandy beaches along the Vancouver Island coast. In the east, for example, this is Miracle Beach. Located in the middle of the Provincial Park of the same name and near Black Creek, the sandy beach stretches along the coast for a few kilometers. Good to know: There is ebb and flow here. From here, hikers can also see the mountains on the mainland.
I could put together a whole gallery of sunset photos that I took on Vancouver Island. The play of colors in the sky and the haze over the mountains are like out of this world. A particularly nice place to watch the sunset is Little Mountain near Parksville.
From Crofton you can take the ferry to Saltspring Island. I recommend: just start driving. The island is not that big – and between lots of nature there are also some nice villages.
A piece of Provence
The lavender flowers shine in rich purple, swing gently in the wind, which distributes their honey-sweet fragrance. What sounds like Provence is in the southeast of Vancouver Island. Damali Lavender & Winery is located outside of Cobble Hill. If you like, you can stroll through the lavender fields, do a wine tasting, or have a look at various lavender products in the gift shop.
Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park
This small, single-level hike leads along crystal-clear water, rushing waterfalls and through the forest. About an hour is enough to explore the park. The stopover is ideal on the way to Cameron Lake or Cathedral Grove and well worth it.
Discovering Cathedral Grove
Cathedral Grove is a huge jungle. An 800 year old, powerful Douglas fir is said to be the oldest and largest tree in this area. The sight: breathtaking. It is particularly beautiful here in the late afternoon or before sunset. Then the golden sunlight shines through the leaves and creates a magical atmosphere.
Walking Cable Bay Trail
The path itself leads through the forest and is particularly exciting for children. At the end of the way you can‘t only see seals. On the way, hikers should also look for very small, colorful animals (see photo). The trail ends at the narrowing between Vancouver Island and Mudge Island. Here, hikers can literally watch the battle of the tides.
Rosewall Creek Provincial Park
You feel a little like Fangorn, the forest in the „Lord of the Rings“, when you walk through Rosewall Creek Provincial Park. Lush greenery, rooted paths and massive trunks, from which moss hangs like fairy hair, line the path. Fun fact: the Canadians (and probably other English speaking cultures, too) call this type of moss “Old Man’s Beard”. But seriously: fairy hair is so much prettier. The park is located in the east of the island between Fanny Bay and Bowser. At the end there is a waterfall. The hike is mostly at ground level and takes one to two hours.
Spider Lake Provincial Park
Another place that seems to be out of this world. I experienced Spider Lake crystal clear and with a mirror-smooth surface. Only a few canoeists and ducks made light waves on the water. A good place to spend a day at the lake, canoeing, picnicking, or watching the sunset.
Elk Falls Provincial Park
The suspension bridge that runs high above the Campbell River in Elk Falls Provincial Park is 60 meters long. From there, hikers have an amazing view of the large waterfall. There are also a number of smaller waterfalls in the park. In some places bathing is allowed. Here you should definitely follow the signs, because the current in the water is incredibly strong.
Mount Benson Regional Park
There are so many hiking trails to different heights that I don’t want to list them all here. I recommend www.alltrails.com for more detailed information. The paths in the park are well signposted. In fall this area is worth collecting mushrooms. (Photo Robert’s Roost)
From here a ferry leaves for Vancouver. The park next to it is wonderful to walk around. A beautiful stretch of coast with a view of Nanaimo, and otters can be seen in the water.
Hike up to Heart Lake
The climb is very steep, but worth it. Through the forest, hikers reach Heart Lake. There you can end the hike or hike around the crystal clear lake.
Climb Mount Arrowsmith
The view from the top of Mount Arrowsmith is simply breathtaking. At 1,819 meters, it is one of the higher mountains on Vancouver Island. The path along the Judges Route to the summit is steep. Sturdy shoes are highly recommended. Snacks and plenty of water for on the go as well. According to the official route description, the hiking time is five hours. We needed more than seven hours due to some breaks and a long stay at the summit.
Finding the start of the trail is not that easy. So: Drive on Highway 4 towards Port Alberni. It is best to enter “Cameron Main” into the navigation device on the way. This makes you go in the right direction. Cameron Main is a logging street. Attention: The trucks with the heavy tree trunks drive quite quickly here. After a while it goes over the Cameron River. A sign then points left towards Mount Arrowsmith. About three kilometers further a narrow, steep path leads to the right. At the end there is a parking lot and the hiking trail begins. For more info on my Arrowsmith hike please see here.
The capital of the province of British Columbia is in the south of the island. Downtown and many residential areas are characterized by Victorian houses. Just beautiful. What visitors should definitely see:
- China Town and the narrow Fan Tan Alley
- Lower Johnson Street
- Fisherman’s Wharf
- At least one of the numerous museums
- Butchard Gardens
- Mile 0
I summarize more detailed information about Victoria here.
In addition to Victoria, Vancouver Island has other cities with a nice downtown area. Nanaimo for example or Ladysmith. In addition to a visit to a restaurant, it is also worth visiting the local retail here. Artisanal Soaps, hats or oils can be found here.
Why I have to go to the island again
I visited Vancouver Island in summer, fall and winter – and yet I didn’t see everything I wanted. The island is so diverse that I could probably fill an entire travel guide with excursions. For example, whale watching was on my list, I haven‘t yet visited the north of the island and I would also like to see Denman and Hornby Island, where many artists live. Next time.
Always keep an eye out for deer, bears, bald eagles and Co. Flora and fauna are very diverse on Vancouver Island.
By ferry from Horseshoe Bay (north of Vancouver) to Nanaimo, Vancouver Island.
By ferry from Tsawwassen (south of Vancouver) to Duke Point (near Nanaimo).
By plane from Vancouver Airport to Nanaimo Airport.
By ferry from Seattle, USA, to Victoria.
There are a few more (ferry) connections. However, the above mentioned are the most common.
I have always lived in private homes through wwoofing and friends. Those who love nature should go camping. There are several very well maintained and very nice campsites. Early booking is recommended during peak travel times – especially if you are traveling with a motorhome / campervan.
There are bus connections in the larger cities and also some between important transport hubs. It is said that many people hitchhike on the island. If you want to be flexible, it’s best to rent a car or a campervan.
Thank you, Dug (and friends) for having me and for showing me your island.