It’s no surprise an island surrounded by the Pacific Ocean would boast some of Canada’s best beaches. Vancouver Island features swaths of ocean-edge sand like nowhere else, ranging from pristine wilderness beaches you can have all to yourself to sandy playgrounds within easy access from urban areas like Victoria and popular tourist destinations like Tofino.
[This article is part of our 7 Adventurous Things To Do On Vancouver Island Paddlers Will Love series. Read more about the varied attractions and stunning scenic beauty of Canada’s Pacific Coast.]
Best Beaches on Vancouver Island
Long Beach is located on Vancouver Island’s west coast, about a 20-km drive south of Tofino. This paradise lives up to its name, with the distinction of being the longest beach in Pacific Rim National Park, stretching for 16 glorious, surf-swept kilometres. This beach is best for walkers, sunbathers and—famously—surfers. Day use fees apply to beachgoers. Swimming here can be dangerous; you’ll find maps of hazards and the safest places to surf and swim on Parks Canada’s website. The Green Point campground on Highway 4, adjacent to Long Beach, features 94 drive-in and 20 walk-in campsites, as well as one oTENTik cabin. Reservations are recommended.
Other Tofino Beaches
Long Beach sits alongside several other beautiful beaches near Tofino. Chesterman Beach is the closest to town, with the Wickaninnish Inn located at the north end. Chesterman is popular for beachcombing (look for sea stars and anemones in tidal pools) and a great place to learn to surf. Cox Bay, accessed via Maltby Road, is a fun spot to watch expert surfers and look for sea stars in the sand. Mackenzie Beach (located off the Pacific Rim Highway on Hellesen Road) features sheltered water, making it best for kayakers and standup paddleboarders, as well as families looking for a quiet sandy beach on Vancouver Island.
This sandy Vancouver Island beach is located on the Juan de Fuca Channel, off of Highway 14, about a 90-minute drive west of Victoria. The trail to the beach from the parking area passes through a mature forest of Douglas fir, Sitka spruce and western red cedar. The beach itself will take your breath away, with fine white sand and incredible views—as well as a waterfall at the western end. Dogs are permitted and a Juan de Fuca Provincial Park campground features 78 drive-in sites. Book your campsite online.
Mystic Beach is adjacent to China Beach, along the 47-km Juan de Fuca backpacking trail. It’s a wild beach, replete with driftwood and surf. This is a great location to view marine mammals, including gray whales in the spring and harbor seals, California sea lions and Stellar’s sea lions. Backcountry camping is allowed on the beach, with permits available online from Juan de Fuca Provincial Park.
Located at the western end of the Juan de Fuca backpacking trail, Botanical Beach is noted for its rich array of colorful intertidal life (look for red, purple and orange starfish, as well as sea urchins, sea cucumbers and periwinkles). Explore the pools at low tide for best viewing and do not touch marine life. Camping is prohibited on this Vancouver Island beach.
Sombrio is a boulder beach with three designated wilderness campsites (book online) in Juan de Fuca Provincial Park. Day users will find a trail to Sombrio Beach from a parking area off of Highway 14. Come here to watch expert surfers riding some of Vancouver Island’s best waves; it’s also a great place to take a day hike on the Juan de Fuca backpacking trail.
This family-friendly Vancouver Island beach is located between Courtenay and Campbell River. The water here is safe for swimming and it’s a great place to launch a kayak or SUP, just be mindful of tidal currents when paddling. Miracle Beach Provincial Park provides drive-in camping and several walk- or cycle-in sites for greater privacy. Reservations can be made online.
Beaches Near Parksville and Nanaimo
Dolphin Beach, a rocky beach in Nanoose Bay near Parksville on Vancouver Island’s southeastern shore, is great for scuba divers and paddlers looking to share the water with an abundance of marine life that gathers at the sharp offshore drop-off. Access this great Vancouver Island beach via the Qualicum National Wildlife Area and Tyee Crescent. Parksville Beach, one of the best sandy beaches on Vancouver Island, is located about a half-hour drive from Nanaimo, is the site of an annual sandcastle building competition. Qualicum Beach is located 15 minutes north of Parksville on Highway 19, the oceanfront centerpiece of a popular tourist destination noted for its amazing views and mild climate. It’s a great spot to take a day paddle in a sea kayak or launch your paddleboard.
Vancouver Island Nude Beach
There are countless wilderness beaches, particularly on the west coast of Vancouver Island, where you may want to get naked. But if you’re looking for a formal nude beach on Vancouver Island you’ll have to ride a couple of ferries to mystical Hornby Island.
Little Tribune Bay
This secluded sand beach on Hornby Island, two ferry rides from the Vancouver Island community of Buckley Bay, has the nickname “Little Hawaii”. It’s worth making the trip—especially if you’re looking for a secret nude beach. Located in the sheltered waters of the Inside Passage, you can anticipate lots of sun and excellent swimming in some of the warmest saltwater in British Columbia. Tribune Bay Provincial Park boasts another great Hornby Island beach that’s better suited to families.
Beach Camping on Vancouver Island
With ample wilderness, there’s no shortage of public land and protected areas for wild beach camping on Vancouver Island. Here are three examples. Discover much more listed in Best Camping on Vancouver Island.
Visit this beach on Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail, famous for its stunning old-growth rainforest and spectacular waterfall, cascading right into the ocean. Best of all, you can spend the night at the Pachena Bay Campground, located five km from the town of Bamfield. The campground features full-service RV sites as well as tent camping sites, along with canvas tents suitable for glamping. Many campsites are located near the beach. You can also rent SUPs.
Located in secluded Nootka Sound well north of Tofino, remote Hesquiat Peninsula Provincial Park is a great destination for sea kayakers and hikers. Aside from a stunning seascape of sand and cobblestone beaches you’ll encounter old-growth Sitka spruce forest and remarkable terrestrial and marine biodiversity.
This beach campground is situated on Barkley Sound, about 45 minutes from Ucluelet, on Toquaht Bay Road (it’s also accessible from the east side of Vancouver Island via Port Alberni and Highway 4). Secret Beach Campground features 67 spacious drive-in campsites and a kayak launch for exploring the Broken Group islands of Pacific Rim National Park.
One of the endless surf beaches near Tofino, B.C. | Photo courtesy of: Destination BC // Ben Giesbrecht