From listening to the sea lions roaring in the distance to watching a whale breach for the first time to having a playful sea otter follow alongside our kayak – it was pure magic. It was definitely a departure from my normal environment growing up in Toronto, Ontario.
I have always loved travelling and being outdoors but Vancouver Island is on another level. It was on this trip that I decided this was where I wanted to permanently live. Two years later I was packing up and heading west.
Why Vancouver Island should be on your Bucket List
The draw of Vancouver Island is its mountains, glaciers, old-growth forests, pristine lakes, epic waterfalls, coastal trails and rugged beaches. The island is also home to British Columbia’s oldest provincial park.
I have made it my mission to explore as much of this island as I possibly can over the last six years. Although I love all of it, I am drawn to the mountains and would have to say Strathcona Provincial Park is my personal favourite place. It’s home to world class alpine trails and beautiful glacial lakes.
My love of photography developed while living on the island. The landscape is so breathtaking and capturing my adventures on the island has become a passion. I would consider myself more of an adventurer who likes to take photos than a photographer who likes to adventure.
Waterfalls are one of my favourite things to photograph and there are no shortage of them on the stunning Vancouver Island.
Top 10 Things To Do on Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island is the ideal destination for adventurers and nature lovers. You can hike through forests and mountains, discover rugged beaches, visit quaint villages and see incredible wildlife. My Top 10 places to explore and things to do (in no particular order) are:
1. Explore the Tide Pools of Botanical Beach, Port Renfrew
Port Renfrew is located on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island and is known as ‘The Jewel of the West Coast’. Exploring the tide pools at Botanical Beach in Port Renfrew is always a fun time for everyone. It’s filled with colourful sea creatures in little mini pockets all over the beach.
2. See the Salmon Run at Goldstream Provincial Park
Goldstream Provincial Park is situated just 17 kilometres from downtown Victoria. In the Fall you can see an incredible salmon-spawning stream with thousands of Chum Salmon returning between October and December. This is a great time of year to see the salmon and explore the wider park.
3. Discover the Old-Growth Forest at MacMillan Orchard Provincial Park
The MacMillan Orchard Provincial Park is home to a famous 157-hectare stand of ancient Douglas fir – evergreen pine trees – known as Cathedral Grove. Here you can wander through a network of trails under these majestic trees. Make sure you stop at Port Alberni on your way through to grab a delicious Nanaimo bar.
4. Surf at the Small Coastal Village of Tofino
The coastal village of Tofino is best described as a surfers paradise. Here the forest meets the sea with beautiful stretches of sandy beaches. Not to mention it’s a great launching spot to go sea kayaking. Cox Bay and Chesterman Beach are the two most popular surfing spots in Tofino.
5. Get Lost in the Coastal Beauty of Cape Scott
Cape Scott Provincial Park is a north island coastal trail that is located at the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island. Explore the sea stacks and listen to the wolves howl while cozying up to a warm beach fire at night. Cape Scott is characterised by more than 115 kilometres of scenic ocean frontage.
6. Visit the Oldest Provincial Park in British Columbia, Strathcona Provincial Park
Strathcona Provincial Park is the oldest provincial park in British Columbia and my personal favourite place to explore in Vancouver Island. The park is home to beautiful alpine trails and pristine lakes that take your breath away. Summer is the best time to visit as winter can be quite mild, especially high up in the mountains where snow falls.
7. Hike the Juan de Fuca Trail on Vancouver Island
The Juan de Fuca Trail is one of the most accessible coastal trails on the island with secret beaches and epic little waterfalls to see along the way. Enjoy pleasant hiking through a 47km trail which can take up to five days to complete if you want to hike from start to finish. However, the trail can be divided up into different sections if you want a shorter hike.
8. Marvel at the Flora and Fauna of Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park
Discover the rugged beauty of Carmanah Walbran with its large Sitka spruce ecosystem and old-growth forests. Some of the spruce trees can reach heights of 95 metres and can live for longer than 800 years. Several hiking trails provide access to the main nature highlights of the park.
9. Trek in the Rugged Wilderness of West Coast Trail
The West Coast Trail is an iconic trail that takes you through rugged wilderness and beaches. This multi-day backpacking trail is a bucket-list experience for all avid hikers and nature junkies. It’s not easy as you trek through deep mud, fast-flowing rivers and endure the elements.
10. Visit Victoria, British Columbia’s Capital and My Home
Victoria is a beautiful harbour city known for its gardens and temperate weather. Take a stroll by the sea and make sure you stop at Barb’s Fish & Chips at Fishermans Wharf for some delicious fresh fish. Afterwards, stroll through the floating village and see how people on float homes live.
Tips for your Visit to Vancouver Island
If there is any advice I can give travellers to the island it would be to do your research and get off the beaten path. There are so many gems to be discovered. Although our temperate weather allows for all year round exploration, expect the unexpected and be prepared for anything!
What people don’t know is that there are over 1000 subterranean caves on the island. It’s a hotspot for caving. Another interesting fact is that you can fit all the Hawaiian islands combined inside Vancouver Island yet we have a third of the population which leaves a lot of wilderness to explore.
Lastly, I recommend learning about the people, culture and history of Vancouver Island. The people here have a strong connection with the land. There are three main First Nation groups on Vancouver Island: the Kwakwaka’wakw, the Nootka and the Coastal Salish.
Their way of life is based on the generous bounty of the earth and their spiritual culture on the natural world. There are beautiful and elaborate carved totem poles all over the island as a reminder of the heritage here.
It’s just another reason to visit Vancouver Island. Happy travelling!