Vancouver Island is renowned for its rugged coastline, giant trees, and abundance of wildlife. The stunning natural surroundings and mild climate make for spectacular hiking, biking, camping and paddling opportunities. Quite simply, Vancouver Island is a nature and outdoor lover’s paradise with much more to offer.
One of the Top Islands in the World
The prestigious U.S. leisure travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler consistently lists Vancouver Island as one of the top islands in the world. To take a direct quote, “because there’s so damn much to do.” And I couldn’t agree more!
Stretching 460 kilometres, Vancouver Island is the largest island on the Pacific Coast of North America; the 11th largest island in Canada; and, the 42nd largest island in the world. The area has over 120 Provincial Parks, three National Parks and hundreds of Regional Parks to explore.
It’s home to British Columbia’s historic and ornate capital, Victoria, well known for being the most “British” city in Canada. In Victoria, one can walk among many public gardens, tour castles, have high-tea, eat in an English pub, and ride a double-decker bus.
There are over 3000 tourism businesses on Vancouver Island offering a little something for everyone. A few more popular themed experiences include First Nations heritage and art, ocean adventures, cosmopolitan pleasures, spas, and a rising culinary scene.
It’s safe to say, even after living on the island for over 15 years, making it a priority to explore my surroundings, I’ve barely scratched the surface. And the more I explore, the more I agree it’s one of the most special places to live and visit.
Vancouver Island is located off southwestern British Columbia (BC), Canada. It’s surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and separated from mainland BC by the straits of Georgia, Johnstone and Queen Charlotte. It is served by ferry and air service from Vancouver, BC.
Ferry service to Victoria is also available from Washington State in the U.S. with a valid passport.
The climate on Vancouver Island varies and is dependent on proximity to the coast as well as altitude. Winds from the Pacific Ocean and mountains along the centre of the island protect many areas from harsh weather systems. Vancouver Island is also in a rain shadow, giving it a “Mediterranean type climate,” which means the climate is temperate. We have relatively dry and warm summers and mild, wet winters.
Areas exposed to the Pacific ocean, such as Tofino on the west coast, experience an Oceanic climate. Expect mild temperatures, but lots of rain. (Tofino gets more than three times the amount of rainfall than Victoria does!).
Best Time to Visit
The temperate climate of Vancouver Island allows for outdoor recreational activities to be enjoyed year-round, but each season offers something unique. If you plan on visiting during spring, fall or winter, just make sure to bring your rain gear.
Summer is by far the most popular time to visit.
The island receives over *4,000,000 visitors each year, and *42% of those visitors are here during the peak season of July until September. (*based on a Regional Tourism Profile published May 2017).
But don’t let those numbers scare you, for there’s plenty of island for everyone. And there are many good reasons to visit during the summer. The island comes alive during this season. Every establishment and campground is open for business, and there is always something happening. There are a ton of festivals, restaurant patios to sit at, plenty of ocean activities, beaches to explore, rivers and lakes to swim in. . . you name it. It’s all here for you during our peak season.
This ultimate Vancouver Island bucket list should help you develop a ton of ideas if you are visiting during the summer. (Probably way more than you need!).
The next most popular time to visit is the spring or, more specifically, April to June. I think anytime between March and June is a spectacular time to come. Spring is when our forests and creeks come alive. Forests are lush and green, and waterways are gushing. If you are a waterfall chaser (like me), this season is for you! Vancouver Island has an overabundance of impressive waterfalls to view. A great place to start is the mid-island.
Spring is also the perfect time to stroll through our many public gardens, as they are bursting with colour. Victoria has the highest concentration of manicured public gardens, and many are free of charge!
The majestic creatures of the Pacific Ocean come out to play in abundance at this time of year. Migrating gray whales on their way up to Alaska are frequently seen during March and April. Humpback sightings happen from May onwards, and resident Orca, sea lions, dolphins and seals can be spotted at any time of year.
Unless you bring your boat with you, guided tours are the best way to see ocean wildlife.
Fall is my favourite season, predominantly because of the colour changes. There are many fantastic island locations to see autumn in all its glory, but my fave is Port Alberni. Then there’s the salmon run, which is fantastic to watch, and the grizzly bear tours. And let’s not forget about all those pumpkin patches, corn mazes, Halloween activities, and haunted places to explore.
Have I convinced you yet?
Because there’s so much to do here during this spectacular season, I wrote a Vancouver Island Fall Bucket list (to help keep it all organized). If any of the above activities are of interest to you, fall is the time to visit!
Winter is pretty quiet on Vancouver Island. Many businesses, especially in the smaller towns, have limited hours and days of operation. This is even true for those places who market themselves as winter destinations, like Tofino. Storm watching is becoming more popular (and something I recommend); however, it’s still considered an off-season activity.
And although I mentioned we have mild winters here, we do get a few snowfalls here and there. However, they don’t tend to stick around very long (much to my children’s chagrin). When we do get snow, the local hills are packed with kids and their sleds.
When we want to seek out snow, we head to the mountains. The mountain range in the centre of the island provides an ideal climate for snow activities. Mount Washington Alpine Resort, located in the Comox Valley, is the island’s largest year-round family resort. Visitors can experience winter snow activities, such as downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and sledding. (During the summer, the area becomes a popular mountain biking, hiking and zip-lining destination).
Places to Explore (and Stay)
Visitors are often confused as to where they should spend their time when coming to Vancouver Island. It depends on what you enjoy doing the most, as each region offers something a little different.
South Vancouver Island
Greater Victoria – is best for those seeking city-like experiences. Victoria provides some great restaurants, museums and shopping opportunities, and some outdoor activities, such as whale watching tours. As the city dates back to the late 1800s and is BC’s capital, expect to see plenty of ornate historic buildings. Victoria receives the most visitors throughout the year, compared to the rest of the island.
Cowichan Valley – is becoming a culinary destination. There are many fantastic wineries, breweries and cideries, as well as a few great food establishments. Home to Vancouver Island’s second-largest lake, Lake Cowichan is a popular destination to camp and boat during the summer.
Mid Vancouver Island
Nanaimo – has a fair amount of great outdoor places to explore, but it’s also the perfect central location that allows day trips to various other destinations. And let’s not forget about its namesake, the Nanaimo Bar. If this sweet treat is something you wish to try, then the Nanaimo Bar trail might be for you!
Oceanside consists of Parksville, Coombs, and Qualicum Beach, plus a few other even smaller destinations. Each of the small towns/villages in this region offers something unique, and there are plenty of excellent outdoor opportunities to be had here.
Comox Valley – if mountain biking is your thing, you want to explore this area! Cumberland, in particular, is renowned for its mountain biking culture. But the entire valley has some fantastic hiking trails, and as mentioned above, is home to Mount Washington.
West Coast – People flock here for the wild coastlines, stunning beaches, surfing, outdoor exploration, whale watching, storm watching, and eco-tourism destinations, like Tofino, Ucluelet, Sooke and Port Renfrew. After Victoria, Tofino is the next most popular location to visit on Vancouver Island.
Northern Vancouver Island
Campbell River – is home to amazing whale and bear watching tours, along with fantastic fishing opportunities. It’s also where you’ll find Strathcona Park, Vancouver Island’s oldest and largest Provincial Park.
Vancouver Island North – for remoteness, untouched beauty, incredible ocean experiences, First Nations heritage, and rugged coastal towns. The North end of the island is where you find Telegraph Cove, Port Hardy, Cape Scott, and Port McNeil (to name a few).
Need a Hotel?
If you are in need of a hotel, feel free to use this handy link: Vancouver Island Hotels
For Vacation Rentals around the island, check these out: Vancouver Island Vacation Rentals
Unique Facts and Finds
Vancouver Island has quite a few fascinating facts and finds you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
What’s unique about Vancouver Island? Read here: Fascinating Finds
So there you have it – a relatively brief explanation about Vancouver Island. I could write so much more, but to keep things as concise as possible, I’ll stop there. Use any of the links above to give you more ideas. Or, better yet, use the search bar to look up something specific. If you can’t find what you are looking for, feel free to send me an email with your queries.
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