Trip Ideas

Outdoor Adventures on Vancouver Island

Big trees. Big mountains. Big waves. Vancouver Island has it all—just two hours by ferry from the mainland of British Columbia. Vancouver lsland boasts some of the most stunning natural environments on Earth. From the towering forests of the West Coast Trail to the summer swells of Long Beach, it offers a range of super-sized outdoor adventures that you can’t find anywhere else.

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  1. Horne Lake Caves
  2. Galloping Goose Trail
  3. Sooke
  4. West Coast Trail
  5. Pacific Rim
  6. Broken Group Islands
  7. Johnstone Straight
  8. Strathcona Provincial Park

Cycling in Victoria

Galloping Goose Trail in Victoria. Photo Credit: Tom Ryan

In Victoria, join locals for a pedal along the car-free Galloping Goose and Lochside regional trails or the Seaside Touring Route. BC’s island capital is, after all the cycling capital of Canada with more riders per capita than any other city in Canada. And no wonder: the trails are flat and easy and the landscape is delightful (think rustic trestles, farmland, lakes, forests and seashore). Need some wheels? Cycle BC, Sports Rent, and Cycle Treks in downtown Victoria, can set you up.

Whale Watching in Victoria

Starting at Victoria's historic Inner Harbour, board an open Zodiac boat or a covered vessel for a whale watching tour led by knowledgeable local guides. Track down the area’s resident Orcas, and drift at a distance as you watch tall dorsal fins slice through the water. Depending on the daily routes, keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, grey whales, sea lions and more of British Columbia’s marine wildlife. Back at the harbour, try the spicy salmon tacones (taco-cones) at Red Fish Blue Fish.

Ziplining in Sooke

An hour west of Victoria, harness up for an adventure in the forest canopy at Adrena Line Zipline Adventure Tours. Travel along eight ziplines and two suspension bridges, reaching speeds of up to 60 km/40 mi per hour as you whizz almost 45 metres/150 feet above the forest floor. It’s as close as you can get to flight—and, with tours available for all ages from five and up, it’s a fabulous way to spend a day in the outdoors with the family.

Hiking the West Coast Trail

Test your mettle on the West Coast Trail. This iconic wilderness hike is a rugged, week-long, 75-km/47-mi hike on the island’s wild western shore. Scramble up steep headlands, walk surf-swept beaches and sleep under the stars. Reservations are required well in advance during peak season (June 15 – September 15), and proper gear and preparation are essential.
If hiking the trail from north to south, stop at the Sooke Harbour House on the trip back for a fresh organic meal; many ingredients are grown on-site in their famous kitchen garden.

Surfing on the Pacific Rim

Tofino. Photo Credit: Jeremy Koreski/All Canada Photos

Catch the perfect wave in a perfect setting. The tiny west coast village of Tofino was named “Best Surf Town in North America” in Outside Magazine's 2010 Editors' Choice Awards. Step into a wetsuit and paddle out at Long Beach, where locals have been riding the swells since the 1960s. Pacific Surf School or Surf Sister Surf School can have you geared up and catching waves in no time. Post-surf, cruise over to SoBo Restaurant for fish tacos and other globally-inspired local cuisine. Be sure to check out the Eagle Aerie Gallery and Storm Surf Shop for funky local art and clothing. Overnight? Listen to the waves roll in from your room at Long Beach Lodge Resort, one of Tofino’s top beachside resorts.

Kayaking the Broken Group

For a gentler trip on the water, climb into a sea kayak for a tour of the Broken Group Islands, a chain of idyllic islands in Barkley Sound and part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Paddle the clear waters where forests of kelp wave in the current, and feel the spirit of a place where Nuu-chah-nulth canoes cut the water centuries ago. Majestic Ocean Kayaking in nearby Ucluelet offers day trips to multi-day excursions. Post-paddle, relive the adventure over West Coast cuisine at Fetch Restaurant at the spectacular Black Rock Oceanfront Resort.

Whale Watching in Johnstone Strait

Telegraph Cove. Photo Credit: Chris Cheadle/All Canada Photos

See the ocean’s biggest attraction at Telegraph Cove. Orca, minke and humpback whales frequent the waters of the Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve in Johnstone Strait, making nearby Telegraph Cove, a historic fishing village built on stilts, one of the world's premier Orca-viewing destinations. Porpoises, harbour seals and sea lions also populate the waters here.

Guides with Stubbs Island Whale Watching understand these magnificent mammals — they’ve been running boats from Telegraph Cove since 1980.

If you’d rather meet an Orca at eye level, go for a paddle with North Island Kayak. Another local company, Tide Rip Grizzly Tours, can take you out grizzly watching in Knight Inlet on the mainland.

And don’t miss Telegraph Cove's Whale Interpretive Centre. It’s home to, among other things, a massive fin whale skeleton.

Spelunking at Horne Lake Caves

Fancy an underground adventure? Go below in Horne Lake Caves. This cave network, about an hour north of Nanaimo, is a fascinating place for all ages to explore the underworld. With just a headlamp lighting the way, see dramatic rocks and crystals, or rappel down a subterranean waterfall on a guided spelunking tour. Tours are run year-round; reservations are recommended between September and June, and can be made by phone or on the website. Once back into the sunshine, relax on the wide sands of Rathtrevor Beach before heading to Sushi Ichi in Parksville, a local favourite with great Japanese food. A few minutes further south is Tigh-Na-Mara Spa Resort, with lovely log cottages and wide open views of the placid ocean.

Hiking in Strathcona Provincial Park

To see the sub-alpine forests, mountain lakes and snow peaks of Vancouver Island’s interior, head for Strathcona Provincial Park, just west of Courtenay. BC’s oldest park, this landscape is as little visited as it is stunning. Your base camp can be Strathcona Park Lodge, a comfortably rustic lakeside complex just outside the park. One of Canada’s leading outdoor centres, it’s just the place to get in touch with your inner adventurer. Try kayaking, ziplining, rock climbing, canoeing, orienteering and more at the lodge, or join a multi-day wilderness expedition with the lodge’s experienced guides. Tip: the lakeside cabins are great for a family or group getaway. Back in Courtenay, stop in for fresh local salmon and shellfish at the Atlas Café.

Kayaking in the Gulf Islands

Watch for otters, seals and birdlife as you glide through the waters of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, a protected marine environment off Vancouver Island’s eastern shore. Dotted with remote coves, white shell beaches and intricate rock formations, this maze of isles makes for an idyllic paddling environment. Several island outfitters offer day trips, lessons and multi-day expeditions. Try Poets Cove Resort & Spa on Pender Island or Island Escapades on Salt Spring Island.

Vancouver Island Transportation

BC Ferries offers scheduled ferry service from Vancouver to the Island via two terminals: Tsawwassen or Horseshoe Bay. Take a scenic voyage to one of the three Vancouver Island terminals: Swartz Bay near Victoria, or Duke Point and Departure Bay in Nanaimo. BC Ferries also sail directly to several of the Gulf Islands. You can also fly from Vancouver to Victoria, Nanaimo, Comox, Tofino or the Gulf Islands. Some routes are by floatplane – something every visitor should try at least once. The flight time is about 25 minutes.