Vancouver Island, nestled tightly along the lower south-western coast of British Columbia, Canada, is rich in history and ripe with opportunities for outdoor adventure. Roughly the size of Holland, Vancouver Island is home to the historic capital city of Victoria. Famous for both its historic buildings, accommodations and bustling inner harbour, no trip to the island is complete without visiting this jewel.
The Vancouver Island region also encompasses the Gulf Islands. These diverse, small islands are known for their rich artisan wares, wine and culinary adventures and scenic outdoor activities. Vancouver Island is an exciting region rich in First Nations history and culture, wine and agritourism, wildlife watching and a plethora of outdoor activities including fishing, whale watching and golf.
Whether you come for a short vacation, or plan on staying for the season, travel to Vancouver Island and let the wilderness, culture and heritage of this dynamic maritime region embrace you.
Vancouver Island Communities:
Shawnigan Lake/Cobble Hill/Mill Bay
With a population of approximately 16,000, the rural communities of Shawnigan Lake, Cobble Hill and Mill Bay make up the region of South Cowichan. Drive over the Malahat to reach these communities or take the Mill Bay ferry, operated by BC Ferries, which crosses the Saanich Inlet from Brentwood Bay, just north of Victoria. The area is steeped in farming, logging and mining history. Tour farms, vineyards and a cidery operating in this bountiful valley or attend the annual Cobble Hill Fair on the third Saturday of August. Visit the site of the historic last spike of the Canadian Railway at Cliffside or marvel at the Kinsol Trestle, a wooden train trestle built in 1921, spanning the Koksilah River. Play a round of golf while enjoying a fabulous view. Picnic, camp or swim in Bamberton Provincial Park. Shawnigan Provincial Park is ideal for water sports, while Koksilah Provincial park is great for hiking and mountain biking. For a breathtaking view of the area, climb Cobble Hill Mountain in Quarry Wilderness Park.
Duncan is the largest community and the commercial centre of the Cowichan Valley. It has a population of approximately 5,000 and serves approximately 80,000 area residents. Duncan is known as the City of Totems and is home to almost 80 totem poles. Plan for a self-guided walking tour, starting at the Cowichan Valley Museum of more than 40 totems. The museum is located in a 1912 train station and has a 1.5 metre (five foot) replica of a steam locomotive on the roof. The Quw'utsun Cultural and Conference Centre offers demonstrations of First Nation arts, storytelling, an audio-visual presentation and dance. Take a picture of the world's largest hockey stick, located at the community centre, or browse Duncan's shops and galleries. Play a round of golf or visit the Vancouver Island Trout hatchery. Minutes north of Duncan, the BC Forest Discovery Centre is a 40-hectare museum park with exhibits, demonstrations, historical collections, special events and a steam train.
Attractions in Duncan:
Quw'utsun' Cultural & Conference Centre
200 Cowichan Way
We offer a Coast Salish Native Experience rich in history unlike any other in British Columbia. All our cultural interpreters are indigenous from the Cowichan Tribes and share the oral legends, teachings and stories which began long before recorded history and have been passed from generation to generation. We will be providing regularly scheduled live native demonstrations and entertainment, cultural tours, and the Great Deeds DVD each day throughout the summer. Watch the local carvers transform cedar wood into time-honored symbolic figures. Visit our gallery and purchase a souvenir or gift to treasure for years to come. For Authentic Native Cuisine try our Salmon BBQ and Show package or visit the Riverwalk Cafe along the Cowichan River.
British Columbia Forest Discovery Centre
2892 Drinkwater Road
Train rides and a museum of logging machinery, forestry, and the Forest Service.
The BC Forest Discovery Centre offers interactive and educational activities for the whole family. Exhibits depicting logging machinery, camp life and the role of the B.C. Forest Service are found throughout the 100 acre site. Ride "Samson" the 1910 Steam train or the "Green Hornet" diesel locomotive.
Pacific NorthWest Raptors Ltd. Bird of Prey Centre
1877 Herd Road
'Thrilling', 'Informative', 'Unique' - visitor reaction to our daily Birds of Prey Flying Demonstrations.
Join us at our Falconry Centre in Duncan, just one hour North of Victoria, where visitors thrill to our daily flying demonstrations, guided tours, and hawk walks. We are open spring through fall, with two flying demonstrations daily in summer, and one demonstration daily in spring and fall (from April 1 - May 19 and Sept 5 - October 31).
We also offer exciting half and full-day hands-on falconry courses, by prior arrangement, as well as intensive 5-day falconry courses in April and October, each year. Join us and learn about Eagles, Hawks, Falcons & Owls, marvel at their fabulous flying & hunting strategies, and thrill to the sensation of handling these magnificent raptors up-close. For the young aspiring falconers and conservationists, we have Kids' Spring Break and Summer Camps in April, July & August.
With a population of approximately 4,500 people, Chemainus is one of the oldest European settlements on Vancouver Island and is world-famous for its murals. The festival of murals is a successful revitalization project that began in 1982 with the unveiling of five murals painted onto existing buildings. The number of murals has grown over the years and there are now more than 30 murals depicting the heritage and history of Chemainus. Follow the painted yellow footsteps for a self-guided tour. Chemainus also boasts dozens of shops and galleries and is an excellent place to find folk art, Native art, pottery and antiques. The Chemainus Dinner Theatre presents five productions a year and draws audiences from all over Vancouver Island. Tour the sawmill or the Chemainus Valley Museum. Chemainus has a wide range of accommodations, from small motels and hotels to campgrounds, hostels and bed and breakfasts. Chemainus is a perfect destination for a day trip or a weekend getaway.
Attractions in Chemainus:
Chemainus: World-Famous Murals
Island Highway 19
The Little Town That Did earned its nickname after Chemainus residents decided to expand their forest industry past into a vibrant tourism-driven future. Through the dreams, imagination and energy of the community, huge heritage murals were painted on the sides of buildings, transforming the small coastal mill town into the world's largest outdoor art gallery.
Ladysmith's claim to fame is its location directly on the 49th parallel. Established by coal baron James Dunsmuir as a coal port, Ladysmith now has a population of approximately 7,500. Ladysmith has been named one of the 10 prettiest towns in Canada by Harrowsmith Country Life magazine and received a provincial award for being the most beautiful community on Vancouver Island and a national Main Street of Canada award as one of the four best revitalization projects in the country. Take a Ladysmith heritage walk; signs posted on the turn-of-the-century buildings tell the history of the town. Browse the numerous antique shops and arts and crafts galleries or visit the museum. Formerly a hotel, the museum displays artefacts in its restored saloon. Hike, walk or cycle along the waterfront or the Holland Creek Trails. A boat launch at the wharf provides access for fishing, diving and sailing. Each year, on the last Thursday of November, Ladysmith hosts its famous Festival of Lights, with displays continuing until the new year.
Nanaimo was established as a fort by the Hudson's Bay Company, in the 1850's, to take advantage of the rich coal deposits in the area. Once coal was discovered, the mines drew families from Scotland and England. Today, a population of approximately 140,000 makes Nanaimo Vancouver Island's second-largest city. Nanaimo is known as The Harbour City and, like Victoria, boats a picturesque harbour. Visitors can stroll the four kilometre Harbourside Walkway and, every day at noon during the summer, watch the cannon-firing ceremony, complete with Scottish bagpipes and Highland dancing, at the Bastion, a fortified tower erected on the waterfront in 1853. Each July, Nanaimo hosts the internationally-renowned World Championship Bathtub Race. The Cadillac Van Isle 360 Yacht Race, a two week, 580-nautical-mile race around Vancouver Island, also begins and ends in Nanaimo. Fish, kayak, sail or cruise the waters. Divers will discover why Jacques Cousteau called this area The Emerald Sea while diving around two artificial reefs, the sunken HMCS Saskatchewan and HMSC Cape Breton. See a play or concert at the state-of-the-art Port Theatre or browse any of the unique galleries, boutiques and shopping centres.
North of Nanaimo is the protected harbour of Nanoose Bay, which has a population of 5,000. The local marinas (one as large as 400 berths) are a destination for boaters from throughout the Pacific Northwest and around the world. Needless to say, boating, sailing, fishing, kayaking, canoeing and water sports are popular activities in Nanoose Bay. The area also boasts a picturesque and challenging 18-hole golf course. Hike Nanoose Hill for an outstanding view of the ocean, Garry oak and arbutus trees. Follow the art loop and scenic drive for an inspiring look into the working studios of the Nanoose Bay peninsula's many artisans.
Parksville is graced with expansive beaches so it is fitting that the town hosts the week-long Parksville Beach Festival. When the tide is low, hundreds of metres of sand beckon beachcombers and sandcastle builders to the spectacular waterfront. When the tide comes in, the water is warmed by the hot sand and is perfect for swimming. Parksville is a golfer's paradise, with six exceptional courses, and kids will enjoy mini-golf at one of the courses near the beach. The city has a population of approximately 11,000 and accommodations here offer more than 800 rooms, all on or close to the beach. Camping, hiking and bird watching are superb at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park. Mountain biking is also very popular and Top Bridge Park, located between Parksville and Englishman River Falls, is one of only three BC parks designated for mountain biking. Hammerfest, a world-class calibre mountain biking competition, is held at Englishman River Falls every year.
A charming resort town with a population of approximately 8,500, Qualicum Beach is located 10 minutes north of Parksville along the same magnificent stretch of shoreline. Colourful flower beds and hanging baskets adorn the downtown area and streets are lined with quaint tea rooms, restaurants and specialty shops. Known for its gardens, Qualicum Beach was the recipient of a Four Blooms Award in the Communities in Bloom province-wide competition. In addition to its beaches and gardens, Qualicum Beach is also renowned for five impressive, scenic golf courses. With more than 250 species of birds making their home in the area, Qualicum Beach is an ideal destination for bird watchers. In April, Qualicum Beach hosts the Brant Festival, a three day event celebrating the arrival of thousands of Brant geese. Museums, artisans and theatres also abound in Qualicum Beach.
Attractions in Qualicum Beach:
Milner Gardens & Woodlands
2179 West Island Highway
Qualicum Beach, BC
Milner Gardens and Woodland - a beautiful estate garden in its natural coastal Douglas fir woodland setting.
Come discover the unspoiled natural beauty and unique heritage home found within Milner Gardens & Woodland. Stroll through the forest to the woodland garden with its rhododendron-lined glades carpeted with cyclamen, trillium, erythroniums and other indigenous plants. Experience the artists garden surrounding the historically signifigant Milner house situated a top an oceanside bluff.
The West Coast Road, which leads west from Victoria, ends at the village of Port Renfrew. Port Renfrew, with a population of approximately 400, is best known for fresh and salt-water fishing and paddling the San Juan River. It marks the southern terminus of the world-famous West Coast Trail and the northern trailhead for the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. Port Renfrew exposes visitors to the rugged beauty of the west coast and is surrounded by ocean, forests and beaches. The friendly local pubs and inns serve the needs of visitors and tired, hungry hikers from all over the world.
Ucluelet lies 30 kilometres (19 miles) west of Port Alberni and has a population of 1,886. The Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations people named Ucluelet (which means "people with a safe landing place") when they established a fishing village centuries earlier. Later, a trading post for fur sealers was established. The growing fishing industry of the 1880's was followed by the addition of a sawmill and logging operation in the 1920's. Fishing, whale watching, kayaking, nature cruises and scuba diving draw visitors from near and far year round. Divers can explore the depths around the Broken Group Islands and the Pacific Rim National Park and rave about the multitude of species found in the clear waters. The calm waters of the Broken Group Islands are also extremely popular with kayakers. Fishing Barkley Sound for salmon, cod and halibut is also possible, or take to the open ocean for deep-sea fishing. Shop in Ucluelet for supplies and local handicrafts. Discover scenic Amphitrite Point and lighthouse, and explore the first 2.5 kilometre (1.6 mile) section of Ucluelet's new hiking trail, the Wild Pacific Trail. A marine tracking station that watches shipping activity along the West Coast is also located in Amphitrite Point. While in Ucluelet, stay in cozy motels and resorts and dine on fresh seafood.
Bamfield is a picturesque community with a waterway as its main street. A water taxi provides transportation between the boardwalks that join houses, stores, resorts and marine suppliers in this village of approximately 700 people. Bamfield has two government wharfs that provide boaters with amenities and services. Bamfield offers excellent fishing, boating, kayaking and hiking opportunities, especially around Barkley Sound and among the Broken Group Islands. Bamfield is the northern terminus of the West Coast Trail and hikers can access the northern end of the trail at Pachena Bay, five kilometres (three miles) by road from Bamfield. The clear waters reward scuba divers with shipwrecks and abundant marine life, including the most species of starfish found anywhere. On weekends during the summer season, the Marine Biology Station is open for tours.
Tofino is located 42 kilometres (26 miles) north of Ucluelet on Highway #4 (Pacific Rim Highway) and 130 kilometres (81 miles) west of Port Alberni. With a population of approximately 1,900, Tofino is located in the centre of Clayoquot Sound and was recently designated BC's first United Nations Biosphere Reserve. Tofino is a relaxed, casual place, totally given to unwinding and getting back to nature. Walk for hours along the world-famous sands of Long Beach and the Pacific Rim National Park, past secret coves and through old-growth forests. Surfers delight in the challenging waters of the Pacific Ocean. Tofino has a rich First Nations heritage. People lived along the west coast of Vancouver Island for thousands of years before explorers came to trade with them. Visit the Eagle Aerie Gallery, which features works by Island native Roy Henry Vickers, or discover the many other galleries in the area filled with local artwork and handcrafts. Shop for provisions, visit the museum, watch the busy harbour traffic and buy fresh seafood from the fishermen. Take a boat trip or float plane to Hot Springs Cove and swim in the natural hot pools. In March, Tofino and Ucluelet host the Pacific Rim Whale Festival to celebrate the migrating gray whales passing through their waters. In the winter, witness nature at its wildest during storm-watching season. Watch from safe, designated outdoor viewpoints or from the comfort of an ocean-view inn.
Attractions in Tofino:
The Whale Centre Maritime Museum
411 Campbell Street
The Whale Centre Maritime Museum offers a display of artifacts collected and donated by Tofino locals over the past twenty five years. On exhibit is an assortment of traditional native jewelery, cedar baskets, paddles, sea life, local artifacts - from traditional whaling equipment to original navigation charts of the area, and a complete 40' gray whale skeleton. The Whale Centre Maritime Museum at 411 Campbell Street is free to the public.
Port Alberni, population approximately 18,800, is located in the Alberni Valley and is the gateway to Vancouver Island's Pacific Rim. Port Alberni has a reputation for great salt and freshwater fishing; fishing charters and boat rentals abound. Board the MV Lady Rose or the MV Frances Barkley and cruise through the Alberni Inlet to Bamfield or Ucluelet. Included in the cruise are stops to deliver mail and to pick-up or drop-off kaykers. Be sure to visit the Robertson Creek Hatchery where millions of juvenile coho, chinook and steelhead are raised and released annually. In the fall, the fascinating sight of returning salmon can be viewed. Every September, on the Labour Day weekend, Port Alberni hosts the Salmon Festival and fishing derby. Stroll through Alberni Harbour Quay Park and Market Place, and climb the clock tower for a view of the harbour. Stop by the Forestry Visitor Centre for a look into Port Alberni's economic mainstay and arrange for a mill tour or tour of an active logging area.
Located adjacent to Courtenay, Comox is a seaside town of approximately 13,000 inhabitants. Comox is home to the Filberg Lodge, a waterfront estate built in the 1930's, and the annual Filberg Festival. Tour the lodge or stroll through four hectares of beautifully landscaped grounds. The Filberg Festival is considered the best arts and crafts festival in the province and features up to 140 artisans from western Canada. Fish from the salt water walkway and pier built along the breakwater or relax on the sandy beach at Goose Spit, where the sun-warmed sand keeps the water temperatures warm in the summer. Explore the history of aviation on the west coast at the Comox Air Force Museum and learn about the community's nautical heritage during Comox Nautical Days.
Courtenay is the urban and cultural centre of the Comox Valley and has a population of approximately 22,000. It is located in the heart of some of the most beautiful farmland on Vancouver Island and is the first stop on the Great Canadian Fossil Trail. Visit the Courtenay Museum to see pre-historic marine reptiles and a life-sized replica of an 80-million year-old, 12 metre- (39 feet-) long Elasmosaur. Dig for fossils at the Puntledge River dig site. Courtenay is also known for its arts and cultural community and has a charming downtown full of art galleries, theatres, shops and artisan studios. Courtenay is a favourite base from which to access Mount Washington Ski Resort and Strathcona Provincial Park. Strathcona is the oldest and largest provincial park in BC and its outdoor adventure opportunities are superb and endless.
With a population of approximately 1,400, Gold River is an attractive village situated on the west coast of Vancouver Island, bordering Strathcona Provincial Park. A friendly town on the Muchalat Inlet, Gold River is an excellent destination for fishing, caving, scuba diving, hiking, kayaking and canoeing. Gold River is also the departure point for one of the Island's most scenic cruises: the MV Uchuck III. Year-round trips on this working coastal vessel take passengers out into historic Nootka Sound and to the village of Tahsis. The stunning scenery of Nootka Sound, known as the birthplace of British Columbia, has changed little since 1778 when Captain James Cook first set foot on Canada's west coast. During the summer, tour a forestry operations site, sawmill, salmon hatchery or a copper-zinc mine. Kings Peak, Elkhorn Mountain and Crest Creek Craggs draw mountain climbers from all over the world. Gold River is also host to The Great Walk, North America's toughest walkathon at 65 kilometres (40 miles) long, held each June to raise money for charity.
A world-famous fresh- and saltwater fishing destination, Campbell River is known as the salmon capital of the world. Boat and fishing charters abound. Join the exclusive Tyee Club if you are able to land a salmon by its strict standards and traditional means. Situated between Strathcona Provincial Park to the west and the Discovery Islands to the east, Campbell River has a population of approximately 31,000 and is also an excellent choice for golf and outdoor recreation such as diving, kayaking, wildlife watching, hiking and camping. Strathcona, Miracle Beach and Elk Falls Provincial Parks are favourite areas for outdoor adventure. See the spectacular 27 metre (89 foot) waterfall at Elk Falls Provincial Park, where the Campbell River tumbles in to a deep, rocky canyon. Take a dip in swimming holes while you are there. Divers can explore the sunken destroyer HMCS Cloumbia, Seymour Narrows or Steep Island. Stroll along the 4 kilometre (2.5 mile) Rotary Seawalk along the shores of Discovery Passage and see the sculptures from the Transformations on the Shore carving contest. Particpate in the Wonders of the Wild celebration, with monthly activities pertaining to the bear, eagle, whale and salmon and learn about local industries during visits to a pulp and paper mill, mine site or salmon hatchery.
Attractions in Campbell River:
Discovery Marine Safaris
Coast Marina 1003 Island highway
Campbell River, BC
Five and six hour boat tours; Whale and Grizzly Bear watching and Marine Wildlife Tours. Picnic lunch included!
You will travel along stunning shorelines and inlets in search of pods of killer whales and other wildlife such as black bears, pacific white-sided dolphins, Dall's porpoises, seals and bald eagles. Our brand new, comfortable Transport Canada approved 12 passenger tour boat features an enclosed and heated cabin, two outdoor viewing decks and an onboard washroom.
Has a Grizzly crossed your path? We will take you to the mainland where you can observe these incredible creatures in their natural habitat far away from human civilization.
With a population of approximately 3,000, Port McNeill is the gateway to the Broughton Archipelago and the heart of tree country. Trees are planted, thinned, fertilized, protected from disease and harvested in a cycle that provides the economic base for the entire region. Visit the forestry centre or museum to learn about the forest industry and history of Port McNeill. Dense forest, tranquil lakes, spectacular views of Broughton Strait and plenty of wildlife make Port McNeill a great base for outdoor recreation. Fishing, hiking, scuba diving, kayaking, windsurfing and whale and wildlife watching are all available.
On Cormorant Island, Alert Bay with its approximate population of 600 people, is accessible by ferry from Port McNeill. First impressions of Alert Bay are powerful; the village is graced with an abundance of captivating First Nations paintings and totem poles. Be sure to see the totems at Namgis Burial Grounds. An old native cemetery, the grounds are closed to the public, but can easily be seen from the road. Alert Bay is also home to the world's tallest totem pole at 53 metres (173 feet) high. A visit to the U'Mista Cultural Centre is a must for a look at one of the finest mask and potlatch collections in the world. The busy harbour offers complete marina facilities as well as other activities and attractions. Walk through the historic town, the oldest on the North Island, for excellent photography subjects such as the Anglican Church, St. George's Chapel and the Old Cannery Building. Stroll along the boardwalk pathways and past giant cedars in the Alert Bay Ecological Park. A paradise for bird watchers and botanists, this park has a series of trails that skirt the water along the tree line and across a swamp. Situated close to Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, home to the largest Orca population in the world, Alert Bay is an ideal location for whale-watching adventures.
With a population of approximately 4,600, Port Hardy is the largest city at the northern end of Vancouver Island. Port Hardy is a major BC Ferries terminal and the gateway to northern Vancouver Island recreation. Accommodation reservations should be made well in advance as hotels fill up quickly when the Inside Passage trip is running. Port Hardy is a fishing paradise and charters are available year-round. It is also rated as one of the best diving locations in the world for water clarity and tidal action. Head west to Cape Scott Provincial Park, which offers 15,070 hectares of rugged coastal wilderness and a challenge for any hiker. Visit the Quatse River Hatchery operated by the Vancouver Island Salmon Enhancement Project or the bird sanctuary. Stroll along the sea wall or oceanside nature path and watch for marine life, or stroll around town taking in the beauty of totem poles and Native carvings. In mid-July, the Filomi Days celebrate the area's three biggest industries: fishing, logging and mining.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada
It is considered Canada's first national park reserve on Vancouver Island, consists of three different units: Long Beach, the West Coast Trail and the Broken Group Islands. Backed by the narrow Mountains Range of Vancouver Island and facing the open Pacific Ocean, Pacific Rim protects fertile coastal calm rainforest and diverse intertidal and subtidal areas steeped in history.
The Long Beach unit of the park offers its visitors 20 kilometres of sandy beach and nine hiking trails. This is the only area of the park fits cycling. The West Coast Trail, built to save the lives of shipwrecked mariners, follows 75 kilometres of rugged shoreline, sandy beaches, wide sandstone ledges, caves, tidal pools and waterfalls. The Broken Group Islands, consisting of over 100 islands and islets, is a favourite with kayakers and canoeists. A rich underwater environment and many shipwrecks make this an admired scuba diving location. Other famous activities include fishing, whale watching and surfing. Pacific Rim is open year-round, although some activities are only available seasonally.
Arbutus Ridge Golf Club
3515 Telegraph Road
Cobble Hill, BC
Arbutus Ridge Golf Club has a Four Star Golf Digest Rating and was voted the Best Destination Golf Course in British Columbia by readers of Golf Nerve Magazine in 2006. Arbutus Ridge is owned and operated by the Golf BC Group and your first choice for a golf course in the Victoria and Cowichan area, on Vancouver Island.