Vancouver Island Vacations

View above the Capilano Suspension Bridge, Vancouver Island
View above the Capilano Suspension Bridge, Vancouver Island (Canadian Tourism Commission)

There are few places in Canada that can pack a punch as powerful as Vancouver Island when it comes to showcasing natural wonders and wildlife spectacles. From December to mid-April, witness thousands of bald eagles and sea lions gathered to feast on the annual herring run off the island's east coast. Spring also brings talkative brant geese—up to 20,000 of them—to the beaches of Parksville and Qualicum. Bird watching in general is exceptional; the island's temperate climate makes it one of the best birding destinations in Canada, with 365 species sighted.

From late summer through fall, rivers swell with hundreds of thousands of salmon swimming upstream to spawning grounds. The phenomenon sparked interest in snorkeling downstream amid the massive Chinooks and also watching from riverside trails. Whales steal the show, however. Vancouver Island is one of the best places in the world to whale watch. On the west coast each spring, in easy view of the onlookers lining the beach, the planet's entire population of gray whales passes by on their northern migration. Meanwhile, on the other side of the island, orcas (also called killer whales) cruise Johnstone Strait with predictability all summer and can be viewed with a tour guide on foot or by boat, sailboat, zodiac, or sea kayak.

This fantastical island features long stretches of deserted, sandy beach, lush rain forests with Canada's largest trees, tide pools, caves, an explosion of spring wildflowers, and waterfalls galore, including the continent's highest cascade, Della Falls.

There's always a park nearby. The island boasts 150 government-designated parks, dominated by Strathcona Provincial Park in the island's center, which features six of the island's seven highest peaks and several glaciers. Trails lead everywhere—to hot springs, high points, alpine meadows, ancient petroglyphs, and old growth forest. Most renowned is the grueling 47-mile (75-kilometer) West Coast Trail in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

Geographically, Vancouver Island—the largest of more than 200 islands off the mainland of British Columbia—has a split personality. With a mountainous spine running down its length, its west side is wet and rugged, with long mountain fjords cutting deeply into a flank of wilderness. Its east side is drier and more rolling, with clusters of major settlements along the coast, including Victoria, British Columbia's capital city, on the southeast tip. For visitors, it provides an intriguing mix of city and country, coast and interior, popular and obscure, urban and wild.

Of course, outdoor adventure takes the cake. Scuba diving, surfing, sea kayaking, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, and even storm watching are prevalent pursuits. And thanks to the warming currents of the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver Island has the mildest climate in Canada, allowing golfing in December and kayaking in February.

Most visitors arrive by ferry from either Washington or British Columbia. Large ferries, carrying as many as 360 cars and more than 1,500 passengers, depart hourly in summer on two routes between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.

Published: 7 Oct 2009 | Last Updated: 30 Mar 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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