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Top 7 Vacation Ideas Around Vancouver Island

By: Swena Kalra

Edited By: Scott Sidders

Updated on November 6, 2023

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Vancouver Island, it's a stunning coastal paradise and a haven for any traveler seeking adventure, relaxation, and breathtaking views. Whether it's exploring the island's rugged coastline, discovering the region's undiscovered natural wonders, or indulging in local cuisine, Vancouver Island has something to offer for every type of traveler.

There's something about the cool ocean breeze, the sound of waves crashing against rocks, and the salty air that has a magnetic draw on people. Vancouver Island is home to some of the most picturesque landscapes that will leave you in awe.

So, without further ado, let's dive into the top vacation ideas around Vancouver Island!

1. Explore Victoria

Historic British Columbia provincial parliament building with spring tulips, Victoria, BC, Canada

One of the first things you'll notice when exploring Victoria is its stunning architecture. With beautifully preserved historical buildings lining streets like Government and Fort, you'll feel like you've stepped back in time to the early days of this Canadian city. Don't miss the chance to tour Victoria's iconic Parliament Buildings or check out the impressive Fairmont Empress Hotel.

Of course, the natural beauty of Victoria is equally as impressive as its architecture. Take a stroll along the picturesque Inner Harbour, where you can catch a glimpse of everything from floatplanes taking off to sea otters swimming in the harbor waters. If you're interested in marine life, don't miss the chance to visit the world-famous Butchart Gardens, located just a short drive from downtown Victoria. With 55 acres of stunning floral displays and several themed gardens, including a sunken garden and a rose garden, there's plenty to explore here.

But it's not just nature and architecture that make Victoria special - it's also the city's rich history. Founded in the mid-1800s, Victoria has played an important role in Canadian history, and you can get a taste of that by visiting the Royal BC Museum. This museum is home to countless exhibits on everything from First Nations history to modern art and culture.

And when it comes to dining, Victoria has something for everyone. From fresh seafood straight from the harbor to international cuisine, you'll find a diverse range of dining options here. Don't miss the chance to indulge in a classic afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel or explore the local craft beer scene at one of Victoria's many breweries.


2. Hike in Vancouver Island's Old-Growth Forests

MacMillan Provincial Park Cathedral Grove Vancouver Island

The island is home to some of the world's most incredible old-growth forests that are sure to leave you in awe. These forests have captivated the attention of travelers and locals alike for millennia.

One of the most popular old-growth forests to hike in is Cathedral Grove located in MacMillan Provincial Park. This site is easily accessible and is renowned for its impressive collection of gigantic trees that are more than 800 years old. It's an excellent opportunity to explore nature's masterpiece and escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Visitors have the chance to wind their way through the trails and immerse themselves in the serene surroundings.

Another famous destination is Meares Island's Big Tree Trail, which is accessible by a short water taxi ride from Tofino docks. This trail is a chance to witness the vastness and beauty of primeval times before civilization changed the world. It's a glimpse into the past, a time when nature reigned supreme, and awe-inspiring trees towered above us.

For adventurous individuals who love to explore off the beaten path, the Old Growth and Living Forest Trail near Port Alberni is an excellent option. This trail is a 1.0-mile loop, perfect for families and hikers looking for an easy hike. It offers a unique experience that blends the old-growth forest with the living forest, showcasing the contrast between the two.

Take the opportunity to experience the natural wonders of Vancouver Island, and immerse yourself in the beauty of its old-growth forests. You'll create unforgettable memories and connect with nature in ways you never thought possible.

3. Enjoy a Getaway to Tofino

Aerial shot of Cox Bay Beach, Tofino, BC

Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit this charming town on the west coast of British Columbia every year, and it's not hard to see why.

Tofino is a true paradise for nature lovers. With miles of pristine coastline, lush rainforests, and wildlife sightings, you'll be in awe of the beauty of your surroundings. But Tofino has more to offer than just great views. This town also boasts a vibrant culinary scene, unique shopping experiences, and a thriving arts community. With so much to see and do, you'll never want to leave!

One of the main attractions of Tofino is its beaches. Chesterman Beach, Cox Bay, and Long Beach are some of the most picturesque beaches you'll ever set your eyes on. Chesterman Beach, with its soft white sands, turquoise waters, and lush forest backdrop, is perfect for swimming, surfing, kayaking, or paddleboarding. It's an ideal spot to spend a day with your loved ones or just relax and enjoy the sunsets that are simply breathtaking.

Cox Bay, on the other hand, is known for its long rolling waves and being a premier surf destination. If you're a beginner, don't worry – there are plenty of rentals and lessons available for you to take advantage of. For those who want to relax and take in the breathtaking views, the nearby restaurant with stunning oceanfront views is the perfect place.

Lastly, Long Beach – a world-renowned surf spot, stretches a staggering 10 kilometers alongside the Pacific Ocean. Visitors can stroll the beach, watch surfers tackle the waves, or catch a glimpse of some of the local wildlife like black bears, bald eagles, and even migrating whales in the winter. With all of this excitement, there's never a dull moment in Tofino.

4. Marvel at the Kinsol Trestle

Kinsol Railway Trestle near Shawnigan lake on Vancouver Island

This engineering marvel, standing at 44 meters tall and spanning across the Koksilah River for 187 kilometers, is a must-see destination for all travelers exploring Vancouver Island.

Construction on the Kinsol Trestle began in 1911 during a time when the forestry industry gained momentum on the island. The trestle was a more efficient way to transport the region's lumber and goods from the surrounding area. The trestle's impressive wooden beams and intricate design made it a standout piece of engineering work when first built, and it remains a spectacle to marvel at in modern times.

Today, the Kinsol Trestle is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike, offering an easy hike with stunning views. The trail surrounding the trestle is an easy walk, making it accessible for all ages and abilities. Even wheelchair users can access the trail via ramps.

As you make your way along the trail, the trestle's impressive size and attention to detail are impossible to miss. You can't help but feel a sense of awe as you look up at its towering height and admire the intricate design of its wooden beams. And when you're standing on the trestle itself, the views of the surrounding area are simply breathtaking.

But the Kinsol Trestle isn't just an attraction for nature enthusiasts and sightseers. It's also an important piece of Canadian history. The trestle played an essential role in the growth and development of Vancouver Island and was a crucial infrastructure development during British Columbia's early years.
It's a testament to the region's natural beauty and innovative spirit, all wrapped up in an impressive engineering marvel that's sure to leave you in awe.

5. Discover Cowichan Valley

Cowichan Valley BC, Canada

As you venture into the heart of Vancouver Island, you'll find yourself immersed in the lush landscape of Cowichan Valley. This haven for nature lovers, avid hikers, and wine connoisseurs offers an idyllic escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Discover charming towns, each with its unique attributes, and a plethora of activities to enjoy.

Nestled within the valley is the town of Duncan, known as the "City of Totems." Unravel the history and culture of the Cowichan Tribes as you explore the world's largest collection of First Nations totem poles. Take your taste buds on a journey with local delicacies such as bannock bread and smoked salmon. Rest your head at the charming Valley View Bed and Breakfast, located within walking distance of historic downtown Duncan.

Indulge in a glass of locally crafted wine in the town of Cobble Hill, where you'll find some of the island's finest vineyards within minutes of each other. Be sure to visit Blue Grouse Estate Winery for a captivating wine-tasting experience or choose to stay at the luxurious Arbutus Ridge Golf and Country Club for a serene getaway.

Shawnigan Lake located on Vancouver Island

The quaint town of Shawnigan Lake offers an abundance of outdoor activities, including hiking, swimming, and tubing on the crystal-clear lake. Take a break and satiate your appetite with a farm-to-table meal at the cozy Westholme Tea Farm, where every dish is crafted with locally sourced and sustainable ingredients.

Step into the town of Ladysmith, rich in both industrial history and natural beauty. Learn about the town's coal-mining past at the Ladysmith Museum and explore the tranquil Roberts Memorial Provincial Park, filled with breathtaking views, and picturesque waterfalls. Stay at the romantic Hillcrest Avenue Bed and Breakfast for a peaceful night's sleep.

As you wind down your adventure-filled days, indulge in the local cuisine at one of the many excellent restaurants throughout the valley. Savor the rich, earthy flavors of grilled meats and fresh vegetables at The Old Firehouse Wine and Cocktail Bar in Duncan or indulge in a decadent dessert at The Great Bear Pub in Cobble Hill.

Cowichan Valley will undoubtedly satiate your wanderlust with its picturesque towns, astounding natural beauty, and rich history.

6. Take a Whale-Watching Tour

A pod of Killer Whale. Victoria, B.C.

Vancouver Island boasts a unique and diverse habitat for marine wildlife, with nutrient-rich waters and a temperate climate that provides ideal conditions for whales. Among the most common species found in the area are killer whales, humpback whales, gray whales, and minke whales. In addition, visitors may also spot other marine animals such as dolphins, porpoises, sea lions, and seals.

To make the most of your whale-watching experience, make sure you bring along warm and comfortable clothing, including a waterproof jacket and a hat. Don't forget to also pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and binoculars to enhance your viewing experience. Reputable whale-watching tour operators provide passengers with life jackets, and they usually brief them on safety regulations and precautions to ensure the well-being of the whales.

Whale watching is a truly memorable experience, one that leaves visitors in awe. The grandeur of these creatures and their intelligence is indescribable. You'll feel a rush of adrenaline seeing the whales swim close to your boat, breaching or spy-hopping, and hearing their songs through a hydrophone might move you to tears.

7. Drive the Pacific Marine Circle Route

South coast of Vancouver Island, between Victoria and Port Renfrew, along the Pacific Marine Circle Route

Starting and ending in Victoria, the Pacific Marine Circle Route is a 163-mile scenic loop road that winds through southern Vancouver Island, offering panoramic views of the Juan de Fuca, Haro, and Georgia straits, as well as the Saanich Peninsula. And the best part? You can easily drive the entire route in a single day, though we recommend taking your time to truly appreciate all that this stunning region has to offer.

The Pacific Marine Circle Route has something for everyone, from rugged coastal trails to tranquil lakes, and rolling vineyards to picturesque beaches. Along the way, you'll have the opportunity to stop and explore a variety of delightful places to stay and dine, making this road trip as much about the journey as the destination.

One of the highlights of the Pacific Marine Circle Route is undoubtedly its stunning coastal views. Whether you're looking out over the sparkling waters of the Juan de Fuca Strait or the rugged, untouched coastline of the Pacific Ocean, you'll be awed by the natural beauty of this area.

But the Pacific Marine Circle Route isn't just about the coast; it also takes you through some of Vancouver Island's most beautiful rainforests, including the majestic old-growth forests of Avatar Grove. Here, you can wander among towering trees, spot rare flora and fauna, and breathe in the fresh, clean air of the Pacific Northwest.

Throughout the drive, you'll come across a variety of charming towns and villages, each offering its own unique attractions and experiences. From the charming seaside town of Sooke to the bustling city of Victoria, there's something for everyone on the Pacific Marine Circle Route.

The Pacific Northwest is an adventurer's paradise, and Vancouver Island offers some of its best attractions. With so much to explore and experience, it's no wonder why the island has become such a popular getaway destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Whether you're looking for ocean vistas, rainforest hikes, or whale-watching tours - you'll find it all on Vancouver Island. And if you're heading to the Mainland, check out all of these fantastic activities to do in Vancouver here. We wish you all the best on your adventure, have fun, and take care!

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