Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands on the Pacific Ocean are wonderful places to get away from it all. Tucked against the mainland edge of British Columbia and the north shore of Washington's Olympic Peninsula, Vancouver Island stretches approximately 500 km (300 miles) southeast to northwest. British Columbia's Gulf Islands lie in the protected waters of Georgia Strait, between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia.
Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands offer you experiences in golfing, salt and freshwater fishing, boating, sailing, kayaking, whale and wildlife watching, caving, hiking, scuba diving, and skiing. Whether you're yearning for the solitude of a surf-swept beach or the charm of a rural village, the silence of the forest or the hustle and bustle of the provincial capital, you'll find it all and much more on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
Travel to Vancouver Island is most frequently by Ferries or personal pleasure boat, although flights can be taken into several land and sea airports. Taking the BC Ferry ride from Tswaassen, on the British Columbia Mainland, to Swartz Bay (Sidney) on Vancouver Island showcases the Gulf Islands and creates the feeling of a mini cruise. The trip takes about 90 minutes and you will want to stand out on the deck as the ferry tackles the narrows of active pass.
The Southern Gulf Islands sit in the Georgia Strait, between the mainland and the eastern side of Vancouver Island. Each of these islands creates the feeling of a world unto itself; as each has its own history, its own culture and list of colourful characters past and present. There are seven major islands in the southern half of the Strait of Georgia. Each island deserves at least a day or two for exploring and a great way to do so is by bicycle, stopping at campgrounds or accommodations along the way More »
Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, anchors South Vancouver Island. Named in honour of Queen Victoria, the city still pays tribute with its vibrant English theme. Outside the Provincial Legislative buildings stands a statue commemorating Queen Victoria's reign and several Victorian themed teahouses are found around the city. Flowers bloom year-round in Victoria, which makes exploring the outdoors here enjoyable in any season. The communities of Sooke and Port Renfrew, west of Victoria, display the natural splendour of the rugged West Coast Island wilderness. Port Renfrew is famous as the trailhead for the West Coast Trail More »
Cowichan is located north of Victoria, over the Malahat via Highway 1 (the Island Highway). Here the terrain opens up to rolling hills scattered with wineries and dairy farms. Along the coast are secluded coves and marinas where you can charter a boat, or enjoy a fresh seafood dinner at a friendly marine pub. There are many scenic communities to visit including Duncan, the "City of Totems", Chemainus, where more than 30 painted murals decorate the walls around the town, and the heritage buildings lining the downtown of Ladysmith. More »
Central Vancouver Island features the harbour city of Nanaimo, Vancouver Island's second-largest city. This is a sea-oriented community on the east coast. Incorporated in 1874, this third-oldest city in British Columbia has many well-preserved historic buildings and sites. Year-round harbour cruises will take you to see the area's incredible sea life. Northwest of Nanaimo, Parksville marks the beginning of the Oceanside Tourism route. At low tide, the water recedes hundreds of metres, leaving the sand exposed for beachcombing. Nearby Qualicum Beach is a marvellous place for sun tanning, swimming and exploring. More
North Central Vancouver Island stretches from Nootka Island on the west coast to the Comox Valley in the east. Traveling from coast to coast the scenery changes from lofty mountains covered in dense forests to the coastal plain seascape. Courtenay is a busy city that supports a large farming community as well as logging and fishing industries. Enjoy the many delightful boutiques in town and visit the Courtenay Museum in the world's largest vertical log cabin. Comox, just east of Courtenay, is another thriving community. Visit the dazzling air show held biannually at the Canadian Air Force base, then travel on through lush farmlands to Campbell River - a fishing enthusiast's dream. The central part of the North Central Island is heavily treed, mountainous and dotted with large lakes. People enjoy hiking, canoeing, swimming and fishing in Strathcona Provincial Park. Travel west to the village of Gold River, the spelunking capital of Canada. More »
North Island showcases how most of Vancouver Island once looked. Much of the remaining wilderness, such as Brooks Peninsula, a stubby 14-km long projection on the northwest coast of the island, has now been preserved. Unusual land formations dot the region and Little Huson Cave Regional Park is the location of a number of these including sink holes, canyons, and a swift flowing river that disappears into rock. Take a trip on the M.V. Uchuck III, a converted mine sweeper that sails regularly through the scenic waterways of Kyuquot and Nootka Sound. In the summer months visit Friendly Cove, the site of an ancient Indian Village where Captain Cook first made contact with the West Coast Indians in 1778. Further up the coast are Sayward, Port McNeill and Port Hardy, where fishing is a favourite sport. Northeast is Cape Scott Provincial Park, located on the island's northernmost tip. Telegraph Cove is the place to watch whales and kayak along the coastline. More »
Pacific Rim on the west coast, includes Ucluelet and Tofino and is assessable via Highway 4 through Port Alberni. Pacific Rim National Park, perched on the western edge of the continent, has become a place to watch for both whales and the approach of Pacific storms. There are many walks and hikes through the park, the most popular being the West Coast Trail. This six to eight day hike is one of Canada's toughest hiking routes and climbs through rough terrain, rock face ladders and at one point uses a hand-powered cable car to cross a steep ravine. There are several shorter hikes through the park and coastal communities for more moderate and less adventurous hikers. Bamfield is a small community located in the heart of the Pacific Rim National Park 85 kms from the City of Port Alberni. This quaint little community offers many outdoor activities and a variety of accommodations for travellers. The famous "Boardwalk" extends along the West side of the harbour. Fishing, hiking, kayaking, boat tours and beaches are among the choices of things to do. Travel to Bamfield via road, water or air to visit the "best kept secret" on the West Coast. On the way to the Pacific Rim stop in Port Alberni, then rise early, and sail on the M.V. Lady Rose down the fjord-like Alberni Inlet. Watch eagles soar and marvel at the scenery. If hiking is your pastime, you will enjoy the many mountain trails around. Just before Port Alberni, heading West to the coast, visitors stop to take the path through the old growth forest at Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Park. People marvel at the size and majesty of 800-year-old Douglas firs. More »
A number of route-marked self-guided circle tours have been developed to aid the traveler explore the wonders of British Columbia and three include excursions through the Islands.
The Coastal Circle Tour explores three of British Columbia's majestic coastlines and takes three to five days. This tour will take you to quaint and cozy seaside communities, sandy beaches and the misty, wave-battered shoreline of Vancouver Island's rugged west coast. Drive up the Sunshine Coast via BC Ferries, over to Vancouver Island and down to the provincial capital of Victoria. Visit seaside villages, beaches and marinas where seafood is at its best. More »
The Totem Circle Tour covers over 2,500 km and can take anywhere from one to two weeks and is suited for those interested in exploring the culture of British Columbia's First Nations people. Passing through historic sites and villages that will bring you face to face with the people, their art, stories and history. Witness the province's most beautiful and awe-inspiring scenery as you travel overland through the heart of the province and sail the Inside Passage down through the coast's magnificent fjords and rainforests. More »
The Sunshine Circle Tour is a shortened version of the Coastal Circle Tour taking two to three days. Instead of traveling out to Vancouver Island's rugged west coast, this tour explores more of the island's sandy east coast. Visit seaside villages, beaches and marinas where seafood is at its best. Drive up the Sunshine Coast via BC Ferries, over to Vancouver Island and down to the provincial capital of Victoria. More »
Need a place to stay or camp while exploring Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands?
Discover Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands Sub Regions
Explore the Communities of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands
Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia