Vancouver Island attracts millions of visitors each year, with the biggest draw being our fantastic beaches. While I can attest that our beaches are amazing, there is so much more Vancouver Island has to offer. From being considered the best diving spot in BC, to having the tallest and oldest trees in the world, this article showcases the unique and fascinating finds on Vancouver Island. Some of which many locals may not know about!
What’s unique about Vancouver Island? Let us show you!
23 Unique Facts and Fascinating Finds on Vancouver Island
#1 – BC’s Oldest Working Farm
Salt Spring Island has the oldest working farm in BC.
When on Salt Spring Island, take the drive to Beaver Point Road. This is where you’ll find Ruckle Heritage Farm. It’s the oldest working farm in British Columbia and is still owned by the original family. One of Salt Spring Island’s earliest settlers, Henry Ruckle went to the island in 1872 in hopes of acquiring farmland. By 1948 the family’s total holding was 1196 acres.
In 1974, the Province of British Columbia was deeded 1000 acres of the Ruckle Farm for public use as parkland, camping, and trail use. This area is now called Ruckle Provincial Park, and is “one of the most beautiful parks in the Southern Gulf Islands”.
#2 – Petroglyphs a Plenty
If you are looking for an archaeological adventure, there are many easily accessible Petroglyph viewing locations.
- You’ll find them scattered all over Gabriola Island. One of the best viewing spots, however, is the Weldwood site. Located behind the United Church, and close to the government wharf in Degnen Bay, there is a path that leads to a clearing in the woods. This is where you find large etchings of fish, birds, sea serpents and stick-men.
- The Gabriola Island museum displays replicas from the more prominent stone carvings around the island. These concrete replicas allow you to touch and take rubbings without worrying about disturbing the delicate sandstone of the originals.
- Quadra Island has an aptly named road where you can view carvings near the end of Petroglyph Road. There are also a few on the beach in front of Tsa-kwa-luten Lodge and RV Park, as well as around Cape Mudge Lighthouse in Cape Mudge Village.
- Petroglyph Provincial Park in south Nanaimo has the most concentrated collection of these rock art creations of previous generations. A clearly marked trail will lead you through the park to view the petroglyphs. Visitors can also make their own petroglyph rubbings here as a souvenir.
- One of the finest carvings in BC is located on Sprout Lake in Port Alberni. Head to the east end of the Lake to Sproat Lake Provincial Park.
- Petroglyphs can also be found at Alldridge Point in East Sooke Regional Park. The trail to the petroglyphs starts at the parking lot of the Aylard Farm entrance. This approximately 1.5 hour (round trip) hike/walk is reached by the way of two paths. One path takes you on a relatively easy trail through the forest, while the other follows the rugged, but scenic, shores of the Coast Trail.
#3 – Hot Springs
Tofino has untouched Geo-Thermal Hot Springs!
Approximately 27 nautical miles northwest of Tofino lies Maquinna Provincial Park where you can find Hot Springs Cove. Boiling spring water bubbles up from deep in the earth and cascades down a small cliff into a series of natural layered rock pools. The hot water is then cooled down by the incoming Pacific Ocean surf. These naturally heated pools range from temperatures of at least 109ºC (228ºF) to approximately 50°C (122ºF). So yes, they are hot, darn hot!
There are several tour companies out of Tofino that will take you to and from Hot Springs Cove. By boat, the trip takes a little over an hour. Opting for a floatplane gets you there in about 20 minutes.
#4 – Caves
Vancouver Island has the largest concentration of caves in North America.
With over 1000 known cave entrances recorded, many of these passages are largely unexplored. The most popular caving areas are as follows:
- For the best-guided tour, head to Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park (near Qualicum Beach). They offer plenty of options for the beginner, as well as those wishing for something a little more extreme.
- For some of the longest and deepest caves in Canada, head to Weymer Creek Provincial Park, located just south-east of Tahsis. Cave exploration is ongoing here, and new discoveries are made every year. Guides are mandatory, as the cave systems found here are considered to be moderate to high risk.
- The Upana Caves are located 17km north-west of Gold River (near Campbell River) on Head Bay Forest Road. The Upana caves contain scenic, self-guided trails that lead to several entrances, and are comprised of several different caves within one group. The caves offer a wide variety of sizes and lengths, and the interiors remain in a relatively wild and undeveloped state.
- Head towards the town of Zeballos to explore the caves in Huson Cave Regional Park. There are two caves that are exceptional in this park: The Vanishing River Cave and the Eternal Foundation Cave. Although both caves are self-guided, it is a great spot for the inexperienced caver.
#5 – Big Trees
Port Renfrew is known as the “Big Trees Capital” of Canada and is home to the two largest Douglas fir trees in Canada. It’s also home to Canada’s largest Sitka Spruce, and Canada’s “Gnarliest Tree”. To help you find all of the above, please read: Finding Port Renfrew’s Biggest Trees
#6 – Old Trees
Tofino has one of the oldest known Red Cedars.
One of the oldest known western red cedars, the Hanging Garden Tree, lives on Meares Island near Tofino. The tree is estimated to be between 1,500 and 2,000 years old. There is a boardwalk that takes you from the start of the trail to the Hanging Garden Tree. Once there, you can carry on and complete the Big Tree Trail, which is a 3.3k round-trip hike. Leave yourself a good 2 – 3 hours to enjoy your surroundings while hiking this loop.
Meares Island is accessible by boat. For a reasonable price, Tofino Water Taxi will take you on a return boat shuttle to and from Meares Island.
#7 – Tallest Waterfall
Strathcona Provincial Park has the highest waterfall in Canada.
Della Falls is claimed as being the highest waterfall in Canada, as well as one of the 10 highest in the world.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to get to.
The only way to reach the trail that leads up to Della Falls is by crossing the entire Great Central Lake by boat. After the 35 km (21 miles) crossing, there is a dock that marks the beginning of the trail. This area can also be used as a base camp before attempting the next 15 km (9 miles) ascent to the base of Della Falls. If you need to stop along the way, more campsites are available along the trail, as well as at the base of the falls. The hike, part of which follows an old logging railway, takes about seven hours one way and is suitable for intermediate-level hikers.
Expect a duration of three days for this hike.
Della Falls Water Taxi provides a safe and enjoyable ride across Great Central Lake and is the only authorized carrier to the trailhead.
#8 – Amazing Hiking Trails
According to besthike.com, the West Coast Trail is ranked the #1 hike in the world! The West Coast Trail is a 75 km (47 miles) backpacking trail, which typically takes five to seven days to complete. This challenging trail connects Port Renfrew with Bamfield and requires careful preparation and planning.
West Coast Trail Tips
- The trail is open May 1 – September 30 (travel during the off-season is hazardous and not recommended).
- The terrain is uneven, and you must be prepared for slippery conditions, wooden surfaces, boulders and rocky shorelines.
- At various parts of the trail, you will be wading through rivers, negotiating steep slopes, climbing ladders and using cable cars.
- You should be prepared for unpredictable weather conditions, as well as unexpected changes on the trail (from storm damage, etc.)
- To address the concern of the environmental impact on the trail, as well as maintain hiker safety and enjoyment, the Canadian Parks Service has instituted a reservation system. You must reserve ahead of time in order to hike the West Coast Trail.
- For those that only want to do part of the trail, there is a Comfort Camping option.
#9 – Cold-Water Diving
We have one of the best cold-water diving destinations in the world.
National Geographic Magazine recognizes Vancouver Island as one of the best cold-water diving destinations in the world. As well, the renowned Jacques Cousteau Society rates the area as one of the best for the diversity of marine life and water clarity.
The area they are referring to is called God’s Pocket Marine Provincial Park, which is located 10 km northwest of Port Hardy. The park can be accessed by boat or floatplane from Port Hardy.
Hornby Island is also one of the few places in the world where scuba divers can view primitive six-gill sharks.
#10 – Unique Species
We have unique species only found on Vancouver Island.
The Vancouver Island marmot is a distinct species of marmot found in the mountains of Vancouver Island. And with only 280-320 of them living in the wild today, the Vancouver Island marmot is one of the world’s rarest mammals.
Larger than other marmot species, and the largest member of the squirrel family, the Vancouver Island marmots were considered extinct in the 1990s. They have recently come back due to breeding and conservation efforts.
#11 – Animals Exempt from Vancouver Island
On the topic of animals…there are quite a few native to BC that haven’t made the trek over to Vancouver Island (yet!). On Vancouver Island, you won’t see:
- Mountain Goats
- Wild Sheep
- Poisonous snakes
- White-tailed deer and Black-tailed Mule deer. While we do have an abundance of deer here, they are Columbia Black-Tailed deer
Grizzly bears are also quite rare but are becoming more frequently seen, especially in the northern part of Vancouver Island.
#12 High Concentration of Particular Animals
While we don’t have any of the animals listed above, Vancouver Island does have an extremely high concentration of both black bears and cougars.
It is estimated that there are between 7000 and 12,000 black bears living on Vancouver Island, making it one of the more dense places in the world for finding this bear population. It’s not uncommon to see black bears while out hiking on Vancouver Island.
An interesting thing to note about the black bears found here is that they are a subspecies of the ones found throughout the rest of North America. Vancouver Island black bears (Ursus americanus vancouveri) are slightly larger than the Ursus americanus found on the mainland.
As for cougars, there are an estimated 600 – 800 who live here, making it the highest concentration of these mountain lions in North America. Despite the number of cougars here, coming in contact with one is still rare. This is true even for hikers who frequent our forested areas on a regular basis. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there watching YOU!
If you do intend to hike the trails around Vancouver Island, make sure to always follow the wildlife safety guidelines.
#13 – Tallest Totem Pole
Alert Bay has the world’s tallest totem pole.
Alert Bay has many elaborate carvings, but the big draw is the 173 foot (52 metres) totem pole, making it the world’s tallest. This particular totem pole is located next to the ‘Namgis Traditional Big House.
Alert Bay is accessed by a 35-minute ferry ride from Port McNeil.
Victoria’s Fascinating Facts
British Columbia’s capital has many fascinating finds and facts:
#14 – Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada
#15 – Victoria’s Fan Tan Alley (located in Chinatown) is the narrowest commercial street in Canada
#16 – Victoria has an amazing selection of restaurant options. Victoria has the second-highest number of restaurants per capita in North America. (San Francisco has the most).
#17 – Victoria has one of the top 10 most magnificent public gardens in the world. According to National Geographic, The Butchart Gardens was named one of the Top 10 most Magnificent Gardens.
#18 – Victoria has the warmest climate in Canada
#19 -There are four castles to view and explore in Victoria
#21 – Murals
The Chemainus mural project is the world’s leading community-driven art tourism experience.
The Chemainus mural project was brought on to save the community from economic collapse. Since then they have inspired communities throughout the world to beautify their towns. Using the Chemainus model, some communities have used the mural concept to develop their own revitalization for stronger economic development.
#21 – Floating Pub
Nanaimo has Canada’s only floating pub.
The Dinghy Dock Pub & Restaurant, located on Protection Island, is just a short 10-minute ferry ride from Nanaimo’s harbourfront. It’s a unique experience not found anywhere else in Canada!
#22 – Nanaimo Bars
Nanaimo bars were created here!
Although there is a bit of controversy over who created this bar first, according to Wikipedia the earliest confirmed printed copy of the recipe using the name “Nanaimo Bars” appeared in the Edith Adams’ prize cookbook (14th edition) in 1953. A copy of the book is on view at the Nanaimo Museum.
If you are a fan of this sweet indulgence, there is a Nanaimo Bar trail you might want to check out. From Lantzville to Yellow Point there are 34 stops that have created their own interpretations of the famous Nanaimo Bar.
# 23 – Unique Structures
The Cowichan Valley has the tallest free-standing timber rail trestle structure in the world!
The Kinsol Trestle, located near Shawnigan Lake, is one of the tallest free-standing and most spectacular timber rail trestle structures in the world. It is 614 feet in length and stands 145 feet above the Koksilah River.
Do you know of any other fascinating finds and/or unique facts about Vancouver Island? Please share in the comments below!
And don’t forget to save this image on Pinterest for future reference:
Just a slight correction on animals not found on Vancouver Island… We do indeed have skunk and chipmunks. We have chipmunks around here on our little farm as I’ve seen them in the summer getting upset at our cat, and once in a while we have a skunk that sprays that wakes us up at night from the stench… my poor cat came in stinking….
So interesting! I have yet to find any other reference, info, or sightings to chipmunks or skunks being on the island, but I will definitely keep my eyes and ears open to it now. Just a thought, however,…Marijuana plants have a similar smell to skunks, could you be smelling that!?
Love the VI info you write Kim. A couple more species to add to the list of those exempt from Vancouver Island are Chipmunks, Mountain Goat , Wild Sheep, White-tailed deer,& Black-tailed Mule deer. (We have Columbia Black-Tailed Deer on VI). We also do not have any poisonous snakes or Poison Ivy. Also absent is the Black-capped Chickadee. VI Chickadee is the Chestnut-backed. Our crow population is the native Northwestern Crow. Our Black Bear is a subspecies. We have Ursus americanus vancouveri rather than the North American Ursus americanus.
Thank you so much for all this amazing information, Ronda! I will update the post ASAP.
Market square in Victoria (between Johnson St. And Pandora ave, was once the site of the cities old jailing house and gallows. During that time a judge got the nickname of the ‘The Hanging Judge’ due to the amount of people he sentenced to be hung for their crimes that were far from deservant of death. Many of the bodies were buried at the site. When the jailing house was moved they did not unearth the bodies. To this day the victims of The Hanging Judges harsh sentencings are still buried underneath what is now Market square.
Awesome list! thanks for sharing these tips 🙂
Just wanted to point out a mistake as there are two floating bar/restaurants in Campbell River. Dockside fish and chips and The Narrows Floating Restaurant at Brown’s Bay Resort.
Hmmm, interesting. I got the information about being Canada’s only registered floating pub right from the Dinghy Dock website. I will look into it. Thank you for the information, Esther!
We have lived on the island 14 years….but it’s just now since my husband has retired that we will be able to do a lot more exploring. Thankyou for all the wonderful information!
That is so wonderful to hear! I am so glad we have inspired you to get out and explore.
Thank you so much for the travel/ adventure itinerary. We are on our way to Nanaimo this weekend for a 7-nite stay. Your Nanaimo area hilites and guide will be so helpful in planning our day trips.
You are so welcome! Make sure to check out all of the other posts regarding Nanaimo and surrounding areas under the “Out and About” menu tab. I am sure you will find many more ideas for your travels. I hope you enjoy your stay here!!
A marvellous compilation of extraordinary places to visit right here on Vancouver Island!
Thank you so much, Deborah! And yes, we really do have the most extraordinary places to visit!
This is spectacular!!! all the places and information is great. I feel I am wasting time by staying indoors.
we are going to explore more Thanks Kim!
It is my pleasure! I am so glad that it inspires you to get out and explore!