Vancouver Island is a mecca for outdoor adventure, and most local attractions have something to do with outdoor fun. Island scenery ranges from coastal headlands and amazing beaches to wild, snowcapped mountains and cascading rivers. Nature is always nearby and Vancouver Island is defined by world-class hiking, cycling, camping, surfing and—of course, since the island is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean—amazing sea kayaking.
To experience all the best Vancouver Island travel you first have to get here, which is easy—by way of regular flights to Victoria International Airport (YYJ) or taking one of the regular BC Ferries departures from Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay or Tsawassen. Here’s our ultimate guide to what to do on Vancouver Island once you arrive. Better book an extra week of vacation.
Things to Do on Vancouver Island
Beaches on Vancouver Island
If your vision of paradise looks like a wild, surf-swept beach and an open horizon, you’d better plan to visit Vancouver Island. For paddlers, so many great Vancouver Island beaches means amazing campsites and scenic shorelines, with the possibility of rough-water kayaking and standup paddleboarding in surf. Great beaches can be found on all corners of Vancouver Island, especially around the provincial capital of Victoria and the funky surf towns of Tofino and Ucluelet. Check out Vancouver Island’s 15 Best Beaches for a comprehensive rundown.
Kayak, Canoe and Paddleboard Vancouver Island
Paddling is one of your best bets when visiting Vancouver Island. You’ll find a wide range of Vancouver Island paddling routes for kayaks, canoes and paddleboards. Check out our full list of the best places to kayak on Vancouver Island, or the brief overview that follows.
Best Places to Paddle on Vancouver Island
Whale-watching kayak trips in Johnstone Strait
Known as the Johnstone Strait, the waters around the northern island town of Telegraph Cove are a world-renowned destination for kayak whale-watching. Paddling here in the summer months gives you the chance to see orca, humpback, gray and other types of whales. Our Ultimate Guide to the Best Kayaking on Vancouver Island provides several trip options for all levels of paddlers. Sign up for a guided trip to learn more about the coastal ecosystem—just be sure to book with a reputable outfitter, such as one accredited by the Sea Kayak Guides’ Alliance of BC, and make sure you follow all the rules of paddling in a sensitive environment.
Tofino is the starting point for some of the best kayaking on Vancouver Island. The town is situated on the west coast of the island, about a three-hour drive from Nanaimo. Beginners and families can launch from town and explore sheltered waters with professional naturalist guides, learning more about the unique marine and rainforest ecology. Multi-day trips explore the open waters of Clayoquot Sound—go self-guided or get the expertise and all-inclusive comfort of a guided tour. Tofino is also the starting point for more advanced kayak expeditions, as well as a great place to kayak surf some of B.C.’s best waves. Check out our guide to kayaking Tofino for expert advice on this great place to paddle.
Victoria Area Kayak and Paddleboard
The capital of British Columbia features outstanding options for kayaking and paddleboarding, offering both day trips and overnight tours. You’ll enjoy a blend of urban waterfront paddling and the accessible wilderness of the bucolic Gulf Islands. Kayaking around Victoria is also a great way to encounter marine mammals like orca whales and sea lions. Get more information in our ultimate guide to Victoria.
Kayaking Broken Group
The Broken Group Islands of Pacific Rim are located on Vancouver Island’s west coast, in Barkley Sound. Sea kayakers will find excellent open-coast paddling in an area with lots of sheltered landings and great campsites. Our ultimate guide to kayaking Vancouver Island provides several tour options for the Broken Group Islands.
Canoeing Campbell River
The Sayward Forest Canoe Route is located less than an hour from the city of Campbell River, a few hours north of Victoria on Vancouver Island’s east side. This is the best Vancouver Island canoe route—a 50-km, 3- to 4-day circuit that takes canoeists through spectacular mountain scenery with wilderness campsites along the way.
Indigenous people have long used large dugout canoes to navigate the waters of Vancouver Island. You can too—by signing up for a traditional big-canoe tour with Tashii Paddle School (250-725-2169), which offers Tofino canoe tours. Their beautiful, 22-foot cedar dugout canoe was crafted by a master carver, and the company is owned and operated by members of a local First Nation. Meanwhile, the Canuck Canoe Company (250-266-8727) provides guided coastal canoe tours of scenic Ucluelet Inlet.
Vancouver Island Kayak Rentals
You will find sea kayak and SUP rentals in all the popular paddling destinations on Vancouver Island, including Victoria and Tofino. Comox Valley Kayaks & Canoes provides kayak rentals on Vancouver Island’s east coast as well as canoes for paddlers setting out on the Sayward Forest Canoe Route. Check out our guide to Tofino adventures for local companies offering SUP rentals and tours.
Hiking trails on Vancouver Island
There are countless great hikes on Vancouver Island. Here are three waterfront trails that paddlers are sure to enjoy.
Meares Island Big Tree Trail
Located to the northeast of Tofino, hiking on Meares Island brings you up close and personal with veritable West Coast giants: the old-growth cedars that make Clayoquot Sound famous. The 3-km trail follows a rainforest boardwalk that winds its way through 1,500-year-old trees. Take a water taxi or sign up for a guided half-day kayak tour to access Meares Island.
Portland Island Perimeter Trail
Portland (Princess Margaret) Island is a great overnight stop for kayakers in Gulf Islands National Park. While you’re there, take the time to hike the 6.5-km trail around the island, taking in outstanding ocean views and traversing several beaches.
Hot Springs Cove Hike
Take a 20-minute seaplane flight or a 1.5-hour boat excursion (or paddle there by kayak—if you’re truly adventurous and skilled) to follow the enchanting, 1.5-km-long boardwalk trail to Tofino’s natural hot springs. Don’t forget your bathing suit!
Vancouver Island Bike Paths
Cycling is a popular activity on Vancouver Island, with some of the best bike routes in Canada located here. In fact, the city of Victoria is widely celebrated as Canada’s best biking city. If you want to take a break from the water there’s much more to explore on two wheels.
Galloping Goose Trail Victoria
This 60-km path for walking, hiking and cycling connects North Saanich and Swartz Bay to Victoria and Sooke, following parts of an old railway. Highlights from this scenic part of Canada’s Great Trail include the Selkirk Trestle, the Todd Trestle and Thetis Lake Regional Park.
Long Beach Cycling Tofino
Cycling in Tofino is a family-friendly activity, with scenic cycling opportunities in the Long Beach Unit of Pacific Rim National Park. The sweeping beaches, with dozens of kilometers of hard-packed sand, are perhaps the most unique cycling Vancouver Island has to offer.
Get a taste for the slower pace of life on B.C.’s Gulf Island by cycling Saturna Island, which is accessible via ferry from Swartz Bay (just north of Victoria). You’ll find quiet roads and a pleasant near-Mediterranean climate, as well as backcountry campsites at Narvaez Bay.
Surfing on Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island is the epicenter of Canada’s surf scene. Here are three great places to surf on Vancouver Island.
Tofino is Canada’s surf capital, and certainly offers the best Vancouver Island surfing. Here you’ll find great waves and surfing conditions from beginner to pro. You can surf in Tofino year round, with the winter best for big waves and the summer providing mellow breaks for beginners. Discover the best breaks, surf schools and Vancouver Island surfboard rentals in our ultimate guide to Tofino.
The Jordan River is a lesser-known surfing spot on Vancouver Island, located less than a two-hour drive from Victoria. The community features a great oceanfront campground and options for more advanced surfers.
Nestled at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, Cape Scott Provincial Park is a great destination for the most adventurous, self-supported surfers who are willing to make the long trek north of Campbell River and combine wilderness camping with chasing (and discovering) big waves.
Places to Stay on Vancouver Island
From camping to glamping and luxury resorts, you’ll find Vancouver Island accommodations to suit every desire.
Cabin rentals on Vancouver Island
Why not book a waterfront cabin for your Vancouver Island vacation? There are plenty of options to choose from, from oceanfront homes suitable for large families to romantic getaways for couples and more. We’ve narrowed the best waterfront options for paddlers in our 25 Most Stunning Cottage and Cabin Rentals on Vancouver Island.
Camping on Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island boasts a remarkable array of camping options, from oceanfront sites on some of Canada’s best beaches to secluded spots in the mountains. Vancouver Island also has great wilderness camping and fantastic campsites for paddlers. Get the complete low-down from our Ultimate Guide To The Best Camping On Vancouver Island.
RVing on Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island is a classic vanlife or RV road trip destination, with great itineraries to match any objective. From backroads tours to wilderness campsites and even more urban adventures, get behind the wheel to explore British Columbia’s rich culture.
Justgo Campervan Rentals
Based in Nanaimo, Justgo rents classic VW camper vans and four-wheel-drive Jeeps with rooftop tents. What’s more, the company’s experts will share their insider knowledge of Vancouver Island’s best campsites and travel itineraries. Book your van online.
Cool Camper (250-216-9523) rents camper vans and small RVs with unlimited mileage packages from its base in Sidney, perfect for Vancouver Island road trips. Each rental comes complete with kitchen supplies, a propane stove, bedsheets and more, with packages available for couples and families.
Vancouver Island RV Rentals
Looking for a bigger camping rig? Vancouver Island RV Rentals (Saanichton, 250-857-6153) offers family-sized Coleman Dutchman trailers for your Vancouver Island camping adventure.
Vancouver Island Hotels
We’ve pared down a few paddler-friendly options from the many hotels located around Vancouver Island. Take a look to find the right fit for you.
Tofino’s original hotel, the Paddlers Inn is a quaint place that’s dedicated to paddlers. You’ll find B&B-style accommodations adjacent to the town’s only paddling shop and a unique bookstore and cafe. Inquire online.
Spinnakers offers eat, drink and stay packages in Victoria with accommodations available in several guesthouses. As Canada’s oldest brewpub, Spinnakers makes fantastic beers to accompany your stay in Victoria garden suites or a heritage house.
Looking for upscale? The Wickaninnish Inn is one of the best hotels in Tofino, with waterfront property that’s perfect for launching your sea kayak or standup paddleboard. You’ll find great meals and some of the most spectacular scenery in all of Canada outside your door, as well as fine dining and luxury suites. Make your reservation online.
Vancouver Island Map
Vancouver Island is a diverse landscape, ranging from beaches and rocky shores to alpine areas. This landscape diversity is what makes the island such a great destination for adventurers. For biking, check out the Capital Regional District map for Victoria and the Gulf Islands, detailing the many Vancouver Island cycling routes. Parks Canada offers several maps featuring the spectacular beaches, kayak destinations and the famous West Coast backpacking trail in Pacific Rim National Park. BC Parks offers a planning map for Strathcona Provincial Park, a great destination for canoeing and backpacking and accessible via Campbell River. The Great Trail also provides a virtual map of Vancouver Island trails. Finally, Drive BC maintains a real time digital map of Vancouver Island, including road conditions and closures.
Vancouver Island Weather
Vancouver Island weather varies depending on the influence of mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Victoria, B.C., located on the southeastern tip of Vancouver Island, has one of the most pleasant climates in Canada, with mild year-round temperatures and minimal humidity. Many communities on the east coast of Vancouver Island share this moderate climate, including Nanaimo and Campbell River. Meanwhile, towns on the island’s west coast like Tofino and Ucluelet experience wonderful dry summer weather and wet, windy winters. The mountainous interior of the island, particularly around Strathcona Provincial Park, experiences “real” winters with a lot of snowfall. Check out Environment Canada, Windy or The Weather Network for up-to-date Vancouver Island weather forecasts.
Vancouver Island Wildlife
Vancouver Island wildlife includes amazing marine mammals like orca, humpback and grey whales, seals and sea lions. On land you may see cougars and black bears, wolves and eagles. These animals are generally harmless as long as you do not disturb them—or lure them with food and other strong odors. Fisheries and Oceans Canada offers a helpful infographic to illustrate how to avoid disturbing whales. Meanwhile, Parks Canada provides guidelines for avoiding adverse encounters with wolves, bears and cougars on Vancouver Island. Ultimately, outdoor adventurers must recognize that in hiking, paddling and camping they are visiting the home of these wild animals. It’s your responsibility to tread softly.
Come to Vancouver Island for the paddling and so much more. | Photo courtesy of: Tourism Vancouver Island // Ben Giesbrecht