Awarded Top 10 region to travel to in 2022About Best In Travel 2022
Vancouver Island is studded with colorful, quirky communities, many founded on logging or fishing and featuring the word 'Port' in their names.
Locals are a friendly bunch, proud of their region and its distinct differences. The island is the largest populated landmass between western North America and New Zealand – around 500km long and 100km wide – and hosts a broad range of attractions, experiences and activities that feel many miles from the bustle of mainland Vancouver.
While the history-wrapped BC capital Victoria is the arrival point for many, it shouldn't be the only place you visit here. (And, to make a good impression, don't mistakenly refer to the place as 'Victoria Island.') Food and wine fans will love the Cowichan Valley farm region; outdoor-activity enthusiasts shouldn't miss the surf-loving, wild West Coast radiating from Tofino; and visitors venturing north will find an uncrowded region of independent communities fringed by rugged wilderness.
Vancouver Island: Voted Top 10 Region as Best in Travel 2022
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Vancouver Island.
Far more than just another pretty flower arrangement, Butchart is a national historic site and a triumph of early-20th-century gardening aesthetics. With its well-tended blooms, ornate fountains and diverse international flavor (from Japanese to Italian), it’s hard to imagine that this land was once an abandoned limestone quarry. Tour buses roll in relentlessly throughout the summer, but the gardens with their undulating topography are big enough to absorb the melee.
One in a magnificent seven of BC national parks, Pacific Rim is replete with wave-whipped beaches and brooding forests, most of them far from civilization. The park is split into three units, often visited separately. The northern Long Beach Unit, between Tofino and Ucluelet, is famous for its surf beaches. The Broken Group Islands Unit in Barkley Sound is a kayaking nirvana. The West Coast Trail Unit to the south contains one of the most famous multiday hikes in Canada.
Arguably the finest museum in British Columbia and carrier of a ‘royal’ prefix since 1987, Victoria’s flagship sight mixes the cream of BC’s provincial exhibits with a revolving lineup of world-class temporary exhibitions. Adding value is an IMAX Theatre and a small park replete with indigenous and early pioneer history. Permanent fixtures inside the museum are split into natural history (2nd floor) and human history (3rd floor). Both focus almost exclusively on BC.
More ostentatious country mansion than fortified castle, Craigdarroch, with its turrets, stained-glass windows and palatial interior, looks like it might have been teleported over from the Scottish Highlands. Beautifully preserved by a local historical society, the interior is filled with rich period detail and notable for its spectacular wood-paneled staircase that ascends from the entry vestibule. You’ll need at least an hour to admire the four floors of rooms, including a dining room, smoking room, billiard room and dance hall.
Fringed by crashing ocean, this waterfront park is ideal for feeling the breeze in your hair – check out the windswept trees along the cliff top. You'll also find a gigantic totem pole, Victorian cricket pitch and a marker for Mile 0 of Hwy 1, alongside a statue of the Canadian legend Terry Fox, who ran across the country in 1980 for cancer research. If you're here with kids, consider the popular children's farm (www.beaconhillchildrensfarm.ca) as well.
Visible across Clayoquot Sound and accessible via kayak or water taxi from the Tofino waterfront, Meares Island was the site of the key 1984 Clayoquot Sound anti-logging protest that kicked off the region's latter-day environmental movement. As a result, it preserves some geriatric trees including a 1500-year-old red cedar, called the 'Hanging Garden,' that would have been a sapling not long after the Roman Empire fell. There are two hiking trails on Meares.
Don't be put off by the unassuming concrete exterior: this is one of Vancouver Island's best community museums. Studded with fascinating First Nations displays – plus an eclectic array of vintage exhibits ranging from bottle caps to dresses and old-school toys – it's worth an hour of anyone's time. History buffs should also hop aboard the summertime Alberni Pacific Railway steam train (www.alberniheritage.com/alberni-pacific-railway), likewise operated by the Alberni Valley Heritage Network, for a trundle to McLean Mill; it's a National Historic Site.
This must-see longhouse-like facility proudly displays dozens of culturally priceless Kwakwaka'wakw artifacts confiscated when potlatch ceremonies were outlawed in Canada, and distributed to museums and collections around the world. The cultural center has been slowly negotiating their return and the main gallery here is a wonderful manifestation of their efforts (and ongoing work). The mask collection is especially haunting. Summer programs include book readings and cedar-bark-weaving demonstrations, while the on-site gift shop brims with ethically sourced First Nations art.
This excellent catch-and-release facility on the waterfront focuses on illuminating the marine critters found in the region's local waters, which can mean anything from alien-looking sea cucumbers to a squirming, and frankly mesmerizing, Pacific octopus or two. But it's the enthusiasm of the young staff that sets this place apart, along with the ability to educate on issues of conservation without browbeating. A great kid-friendly facility – expect to walk away with renewed excitement about the wonders of ocean wildlife.