Vancouver Island, located just off the coast of Canada, is a large piece of land in the northeastern Pacific Ocean. Known for its mild climate, this rich, nurturing landscape has one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, including rainforests, meadows, beaches, marshes, mountains, rivers, lakes, and oceans. Its biosphere is so extensive, it generates habitats for a multitude of species.
Comprised of nearly 1,000 National Parks, Provincial Parks, Regional Parks, Marine Parks, Conservancy Areas, Protected Areas, and Ecological Reserves, it is an incomparable, natural paradise to delve into. As most of Vancouver Island is protected parkland, beauty can be seen in every direction.
I’ve created a list of things to see and do on this captivating stretch of land. As I didn’t have the chance to explore every part of the island, this is merely an opinion of what I found interesting and worth visiting.
EXPLORE PACIFIC RIM NATIONAL PARK RESERVE’S TRAILS
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is only one of the many parks on Vancouver Island. A scenic nature reserve of rocky Pacific Ocean coast and tranquil rainforests, this region is divided into three areas: the West Coast Trail, the Broken Group Islands, and Long Beach.
Near Long Beach, the Rainforest Trail is among Pacific Rim National Park Reserve’s most popular trails, and brings you right into the center of an ancient rainforest. Perhaps the most scenic trail on Vancouver Island, giant cedar trees, thick layers of moss, and charming green ferns welcome you into this double-looped trail totalling just over two kilometers, leaving you deeply humbled as you step onto the intricate wooden boardwalk system.
Here is a list of other popular and equally beautiful trails to try in the area:
- Big Tree Trail (3.5 kilometers, 106 stairs)
- Tonquin Beach (3 kilometers, 91 stairs)
- Schooner Cove Trail (2 kilometers, 336 stairs)
- Combers Beach Trail (0.5 kilometer, 6 stairs)
- Bog Trail (0.8 kilometer, no elevation)
- South Beach Trail (1.6 kilometers, 46 stairs)
- Nuu Chah Nulth Trail (3.8 kilometers, 284 stairs)
- Willowbrae Trail (2.8 kilometers, 173 stairs)
- Halfmoon Bay Trail (1 kilometer, 123 stairs)
- Wild Pacific Trail (8.8 kilometers, no elevation)
The extensive network of trails in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is intended for hikers only. Bicycles, horses, and other motorized vehicles are not permitted on the park’s trails.
SMELL THE FLOWERS AT THE BUTCHART GARDENS
At this National Historic Site of Canada, you can enjoy thousands of flowers and plants all year round. These acclaimed floral garden displays in Brentwood Bay receive over a million visitors each year, and look just as incredible in the summer as they do in the winter.
This colossal 55 acres of land is comprised of a Sunken Garden, a Rose Garden, a Japanese Garden, an Italian Garden, as well as a Mediterranean Garden. It also has a Concert Lawn Walk where you can enjoy daily performances in July and August from a wide variety of artists.
Don’t miss the Butchart Gardens once the sun has set, for some believe it holds an even more spectacular sight at night. Kaleidoscopic lights caress the flora in a delicate manner, forming a truly surreal scene.
CATCH A WAVE IN TOFINO
You can expect only the most picturesque of landscapes on the west coast of this island, with profound inlets, breathtaking views, and sandy shores that seem to go on endlessly.
With 35 kilometers of exposed coast and beaches, the surfing capital of Canada, Tofino, has been dubbed one of the world’s best surf towns on numerous occasions by National Geographic, Outside Magazine, CNN Travel, and many other recognized sources. This unhurried, mellow town has an abundant collection of surf schools and shops, with lessons available to people of all ages.
Planning on giving this watersport a try? Here are great surf schools to help you up your surf game:
- Tofino Surf School
- Sister Surf School
- Tofino Surf Adventures
- Westside Surf
- Pacific Surf School
- Tofino Surf Club
Surfers of any skill level have access to year-round surfing, but it’s important to be aware of a few things before heading out into the ever-changing waters of Tofino.
How cold is the water? The water temperature usually fluctuates between 7 and 15 degrees Celsius, so wearing a wetsuit is an absolute necessity. During winter, surfers will also wear gloves, boots, and a hood to keep warm.
Do I need to know how to swim? Unquestionably. Surfing requires a lot of time in deep waters, so knowing how to swim is a must. You will also spend some time underwater, whether it’s because you get flung into the water or you let go of your board, which happens even to the best surfers!
What is a rip current? A rip current is a strong, narrow current of water that rushes away from the shoreline, rapidly taking you away from the shallows to deeper water, which can wipe out even the most experienced of swimmers out to sea. If you are an inexperienced surfer, your instructor will show you what they are, so you can learn to recognize them when you’re out on the water.
Want to know more about coastal hazards? Visit CoastSmart for more information.
WALK AMONG GIANTS AT CATHEDRAL GROVE
A unique and threatened Douglas fir ecosystem, Cathedral Grove is located in MacMillan Provincial Park on the edge of Cameron Lake about an hour away from Nanaimo. Loop trails that remain on both sides of the highway guide visitors through this wondrous and alluring coastal forest. Its biggest trees are over 800 years old standing tall at 250 feet, and are the sole survivors from a fire that devastated the area about 350 years ago, as well as a European invasion that colonized Vancouver Island from 1849.
Although Cathedral Grove’s towering trees will continue to live for several more years, it’s awfully important to be cautious when visiting. Root system disease will cause some of the trees to die and fall without warning, so always be attentive, and try to avoid the trails on windy days. MacMillan Provincial Park has been facing restoration of their trails ever since the dreadful 1997 windstorm that caused extreme damage. Some of their paths were so critically wounded, they were never reopened to the public. However, these fallen trees are tremendously valued as they open the canopy to contribute shelter, light, and nutrients for the forest’s next generation of flora, also offering the visitors a chance to count their annual rings!
SHOP, DINE, AND UNWINE AT VICTORIA’S MARKET SQUARE
Looking for cute coffee shops, locally made jewelry, and endearing little boutiques? Victoria’s Market Square offers a truly one-of-a-kind shopping experience, from authentic cuisine to the latest fashion trends, and it’s located in the historic part of Old Town Victoria. With over 35 restaurants and shops, you can find almost anything here!
What’s your favourite thing to do on Vancouver Island?