Plan a Vancouver Island vacation with this informational overview of Vancouver Island, photos, maps, and various towns and visitor centers.
Perfectly situated within the rain-shadow of the Olympic Mountains, with a dose of rain forest thrown in for good measure, Vancouver Island, including the Gulf Islands between it and the Mainland, is a treasure trove of mountains, wild western sea, and the calm, warm eastern waters of the inland passage.
Alpine meadows descend from snow-capped peaks to forested slopes,
both of which rise above the Salish Sea, while valleys stretch out below,
holding the bountiful promise of local edibles from the land.
Freezing temperatures can bring up to 43 feet of snow in winter in the mountains at Mount Washington Alpine Resort. Spring and autumn bring temps in the 50's F, warming to the mid-70's F in summer.
Throughout the island little back roads exit main thoroughfares leading to more than one hundred provincial parks, reserves, conservancy parks and beaches making outdoor activities just steps away. Here's a link to the top ten where you can enjoy hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, camping, snow skiing, whale watching, golfing, kayaking, canoeing, boating, wilderness backpacking, and more.
Spend a day indoors shopping, enjoy a leisurely afternoon tea or peruse the many fascinating museums and art galleries in Victoria and in the many smaller towns and communities throughout the island. Many restaurants offer local produce, wine, brews and ciders.
This region rose from volcanic activity, pushing up snow capped peaks, supporting lush wilderness forests, and forming lakes and caverns to explore on foot or by kayak. This is the wildest part of the Island, a perfect place for the wild at heart. Small towns, like Port Hardy which is the northernmost town on the Island and the end of the road, dot the eastern side and are engaging stopping points for shopping and exploring.
Below: The Old Country Market in Coombs BC is an attraction in its own right, thanks both to the goats living and grazing on the earthen roof, and to the goods and food offered in the market.
Central Island, with its warmer year-round climate, is a beautiful destination for golfing, fishing or building sandcastles on expansive beaches. Lying along the Strait of Georgia on the eastern side of the Island, the vistas stretch to the Coast Mountains along the mainland and up and down the Strait of Georgia.
Many small rivers wend their way from the mountains to the Strait, just as the road meanders past small farms and through quaint towns. Local fishermen offer fresh caught fish from the docks and the work of local artists and crafty individuals can be found in shops and galleries along the way.
Situated along the wild-west coastal area, the region known as the Pacific Rim features more wild landscapes and some of the most expansive beaches on Vancouver Island. It is one of the best places for watching a fierce storm roll in or for enjoying the peace of a spectacular sunset.
Go "hot-springing" at Hot Springs Cove or Ahousat Hot Springs, both near Tofino. Whale watching, bear-watching, beach-combing and old growth forests combine with the wild little towns of Tofino and Ucluelet nestled amidst the moss-draped forest, to offer a relaxed and secluded experience.
Pictured below: The Alberni Inlet slices Vancouver Island nearly in two. Port Alberni, situated at the tip of the inlet and well inland, sits at the feet of these Pacific Ocean waters.
Tucked between the eastern coast of Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia, these remote islands enjoy the warmer climate of Central Island but have the rugged coastlines and expansive beaches of the Pacific Rim. Each island has its own personality, history and culture. All are worth exploring for their various outdoor activities, views, hospitality, boating, fishing, camping, galleries and marinas.
The Discovery Islands are situated due east of Victoria and Oak Bay and south of the Gulf Islands, are more difficult to get to, and are far less populated by fellow travelers, but the rewards of solitude are well worth the effort, if solitude is a goal of yours. These islands can be reached by BC Ferries, water taxis, private boats, kayaks, canoes and, in some cases, airplanes.
The most populated area of Vancouver Island is the southern tip. South Island contains spectacular rural beauty combined with the settled sophistication and charm of British Columbia's capital city, Victoria. With views that stretch south over the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Olympic Mountains in Washington State, and interests such as wineries, cider houses and amazing gardens, this area can't be beat for satisfying that need for a big city fix.
But don't forget, you can take your Vancouver Island vacation into the wilderness knocking just outside your door, calling you to explore the South's outer regions. Don't be fooled by the calm waters of the Strait, for it does and will dive head-long into the open and wild Pacific Ocean.
Goldstream Provincial Park is one of Vancouver Island's unforgettable wild spaces.
The city of Victoria Canada, the largest city on the Island and the capital of British Columbia, offers a taste of British hospitality and refinement. Accommodations range from hostels, B&Bs and inns, to boutique hotels, to well-branded hotels of various economic stature, to the iconic Empress Hotel.
Explore further out and discover Butchart Gardens on the Saanich Peninsula; Sooke to the west; Esquimalt, just across the Inner Harbor, home to the British Royal Navy; and many more charming areas within Victoria's larger rural area.
Pictured below: Victoria's Inner Harbor is incredibly busy during the summer. Besides glorious sunsets, you'll see water taxis, yachts, sea planes, ferries, sightseeing vessels, and plenty of private boats plying the waters in and around the waterways of southern Vancouver Island.
The easiest way to get around Vancouver Island is by car, either your own, or a car rental. Other options are bus lines, taxi service, limousines, vehicle/RV/boat/two-wheel rentals, in addition to air service with float planes, if you need to get there in a hurry or there are no roads to your destination.
Ferries arrive from Vancouver and Washington State:
In 1778, the British arrived to find the Nuu-chah-nulth and other local native peoples well established. Their rich heritage, whose history is said to date back some 8000 years, can be seen through local artifacts such as totems, carvings and other art work. Three locations where excellent examples can be found are:
In addition, the work of modern day artists is available through
many galleries and gift shops.