Nestled along Canada’s west coast, Vancouver Island is a paradise of pristine coastlines, emerald forests and tranquil islands, where the ever-present Pacific Ocean shapes the scenery and softens the climate. Here, it’s simply one awe-inspiring view after another: lush old-growth rainforests, wave-swept beaches, mountains dusted with snow-capped peaks, rivers teeming with fish, lakes surrounded by parkland, wildflower-strewn alpine meadows, rolling farmland and lush vineyards weave the Island’s unique tapestry.
Vancouver Island is located in southwestern British Columbia, and is the largest island off the North American west coast. Tucked against the mainland edge of the province and the north shore of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, Vancouver Island stretches 451 kilometres (280 miles) southeast to northwest and has an average width of 100 kilometres (62 miles). At 32,260 square kilometres (12,455 square miles), it is comparable in size to the Netherlands or Taiwan, yet the population is under one million. In fact, the largest community has approximately 350,000 people (greater Victoria), with the second largest city being Nanaimo, with a population of approximately 80,000.
First Nations people have lived and thrived within the region for thousands of years — long before Captain Cook’s arrival on the shores of Nootka Sound in 1778. For more than 200 years, powerful art and enthralling legends of the Island’s ancient Aboriginal cultures have captivated visitors. Today, First Nations communities throughout the region welcome guests with cultural centres, historic sites, art galleries, special events and tours.
Thanks to the warming currents of the Pacific Ocean and the protection of the Coast Mountains, Vancouver Island has Canada’s mildest climate, supporting a variety of wineries and organic farms. Along the east coast of the Island, you’ll find long, sheltered sandy beaches — ideal for family holidays — situated alongside quaint historic communities. Here, outdoor pursuits run the gamut, from guided tours to adrenalin-pumping adventures.
The City of Victoria (BC’s capital) offers a spectacular Inner Harbour, exhilarating marine activities, cultural draws, gastronomic delights and beautifully manicured gardens. North of Victoria is the Cowichan Valley, where you’ll find a cornucopia of culinary and agricultural experiences. In 2009, Cowichan Bay, a tiny township nestled within the valley, was named the first Cittaslow Community in North America — a designation that recognizes the area’s commitment to supporting local growers and artisans, quality of life and environmental stewardship.
Continue along the Island’s east coast, and you’ll encounter quaint seaside towns; Nanaimo, Parksville and Qualicum Beach promise picturesque harbours, sandy beaches, family attractions, outdoor pursuits, arts and culture, and an endless supply of parks and events.
Further north in the Comox Valley and Campbell River, you’ll discover intriguing history, vibrant arts and culture, incredible saltwater fishing and year-round activities in the Great Outdoors.
The North Island, the region’s least populated area, is an ideal setting for all outdoor enthusiasts, with vast forests, rugged coastlines, abundant wildlife, ancient culture and plenty of space. Historic Telegraph Cove is named for a one-room telegraph station built in the early 1900s; many of the historic buildings were built above the water (on stilts), and are joined by a boardwalk. North Vancouver Island is also the starting point of BC Ferries sailings to the Inside Passage.
On the Island’s west coast, you’ll experience old-growth rainforest, miles of sandy beaches and the open Pacific Ocean – the perfect setting for adventure seekers and storm chasers. In spring, whales migrate by the thousands, and in fall/winter, surfers and storm watchers revel in the crashing surf. Tofino and nearby Ucluelet offer an intriguing contrast of pristine wilderness and world-class luxury.
The region also encompasses hundreds of islands sheltered in the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver Island and the mainland. Most are mere islets, but many are serviced by ferries and support thriving arts and agricultural communities. There are many unique eco-systems highly protected in a network of parks and ecological reserves, including the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, The Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve and the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Dozens of smaller parks, including Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, with its warm swimming beach, and MacMillan Provincial Park, home to the 800-year-old trees of Cathedral Grove, shelter unique eco-systems and offer hiking as well as other outdoor pursuits.
Also included is a roadless, fjord-cut section of the mainland between Bute Inlet and Rivers Inlet. Accessible only by charter plane or private boat, it's the refuge of floating fishing lodges (many quite luxurious), adventurous boaters, untouched temperate rainforest, bears, whales and more.