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With glittering ocean vistas, beautiful heritage sites and a gorgeous capital city, Southern Vancouver Island is as easy to access as it is impressive to explore.
Established in 1843 by Sir James Douglas for the Hudson’s Bay Company, Victoria was an important trading post and later became the seat of Parliament and the capital of BC. With such a rich history and incredible cultural diversity, Victoria is a city unlike any others. Known colloquially as The Garden City, Victoria is best known for its stunning blooms, mild climate, remarkable views across the Strait of Juan de Fuca/Salish Sea, and an old-world, British charm. Here you can find breathtaking gardens, double decker buses, horse-drawn carriages, and some of the finest Victorian era architecture in all of Canada. In addition to the beauty, charm, history and amenities of central Victoria, greater Victoria which includes the Saanich Peninsula and the far-west community of Sooke, is an outdoor mecca offering guests everything from ocean adventures, extensive cycling paths, pristine beaches, and breathtaking hiking trails.
The rolling hills of the Saanich Peninsula is the agricultural centre of Southern Vancouver Island and the farms here supply many of the restaurants, cafes, and markets on the South Island. In the north, you’ll find Swartz Bay - the one of the two main BC ferries terminals on Vancouver Island as well as Victoria International Airport. On the shores of the Saanich Inlet that separates the Peninsula and the Cowichan Valley to the east, sits the little village of Brentwood Bay, the neighbourhood of Deep Cove and the beautiful Gowlland Tod Provincial Park. It’s also on the Saanich Peninsula that you’ll find the world-famous Butchart Gardens and family favourite, Butterfly Gardens. There are two main routes that run along the Peninsula between Sidney and Victoria: the Patricia Bay Highway (17), and West Saanich Road (17A). While the Patricia Bay Highway is the most popular, direct route to Victoria, West Saanich Road is a meandering country road that winds its way through idyllic countryside and farmland - the perfect way to explore the beauty of the Peninsula.
This beautiful little town, located on the Saanich Peninsula and formally known as Sidney-by-the-Sea, is a walkable seaside village that has incredible dining, shopping, outdoor activities, and breathtaking views. Just 5 kilometres off the coast of Sidney you can find the beautiful Sidney Spit Marine Park, a short ferry ride away. With friendly locals and so many things to do and see, Sidney is an ideal seaside holiday town!
Tucked away in the Cowichan Valley is the pretty little village of Cowichan Bay. Situated at the end of a natural deep-sea harbour, you’ll find a lively little houseboat community with some structures built on stilts right in the water! Find little shops, art galleries, hotels, and excellent restaurants renowned for superb local seafood perched over the water's edge.
Duncan is the home of the Cowichan Bands and is aptly nicknamed The City of Totems as it houses over 40 richly historied totem poles. While Duncan might be the smallest official city in Canada, this town serves as the economic hub of the Cowichan Region. The downtown area of Duncan features many vintage and heritage buildings as well as the beloved Totems Tour, a self-guided walking tour that leads you to all of the totem poles dotted around the town.
Cowichan Lake District
The pristine Cowichan Lake District includes the communities of Lake Cowichan, Honeymoon Bay, Youbou, Mesachie Lake, and Caycuse. This mountainous area, rich with wildlife, is an ideal place to find freshwater activities, hiking, cycling and so much more. A popular destination for families, the Cowichan Lake District offers visitors many parks, campsites, and lookouts to enjoy. If you’re looking for an adventure, you can take the logging roads from Cowichan Lake and head to the far west coast to access the communities of Port Renfrew and Bamfield, Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park and the trailhead for the West Coast Trail.
Chemainus is known as the City of Murals and has won international acclaim for its Festival of Murals, with the unveiling of five large murals, all professionally painted onto existing downtown buildings. Since then, Chemainus has added 28 more murals around the city for a total of 33, stunning, large-scale paintings to enjoy while you’re visiting. Chemainus is also home to the Chemainus Theatre, offering five shows every year and an accompanying gourmet, pre-show buffet. If you’re looking to visit a colourful, art-centric town, Chemainus is a must!
Just a 40-minute drive west from Victoria is the stunning town of Sooke. Set right against the Pacific Ocean, Sooke is a great spot to enjoy an authentic West Coast lifestyle. With world-class fishing and kayaking right on your doorstep, great cafes and restaurants in the area and magnificent natural beauty, Sooke is the perfect, easy-going locale for a relaxing getaway near Victoria.
The wild West Coast Road (14) ends at the northern village of Port Renfrew, known for world-class outdoor adventures and jaw-dropping wild beauty. Here you can find fresh and saltwater fishing the Swiftsure Banks where, on a regular basis, fishermen willing to brave the waves, pull up enormous king salmon and halibut. When you’re not fishing, you can paddle down the San Juan River and along the desolate shores to explore hidden coves or hike through ancient forests in one of the top adventure destinations on Vancouver Island and one of the best-kept local secrets in the province.
Sandy beaches, tranquil lakes, epic wilderness, beautiful gardens, and exceptional golf courses make this region a wonderful year-round holiday destination.
Situated on the 49th parallel, Ladysmith has a rugged, industrial history. But since the 1980s, Ladysmith has grown into a beautiful little town and recently received Canada's Greatest Street 2017 award from the Canadian Institute of Planners. While Ladysmith might be small, this town has worked tirelessly to revitalize the downtown core and has succeeded in restoring it to its former glory while maintaining the charming, Edwardian heritage. If you’re on Vancouver Island, Ladysmith offers some great ways to unwind.
Nanaimo, British Columbia, known as The Harbour City is built on the edge of the Strait of Georgia, is the second largest city on Vancouver Island and has stunning natural beauty, a charming heritage town centre and gorgeous harbourfront walkway. Nanaimo Harbour has long been an important part of Vancouver Island’s economic health and in recent years, the harbourfront walkway has become one of the biggest draws for visitors and locals alike. Nanaimo and the surrounding area are where you can find numerous provincial parks with rushing rivers and waterfalls, forested hiking trails, stunning vistas from mountain tops, and peaceful lakes. Nanaimo is also a hub for incredible restaurants, breweries and distilleries and so many outdoor activities that you’re sure to leave this incredible city with many things left on your to-do list!
Oceanside begins just north of Nanaimo at Nanoose Bay and stretches north to Deep Bay, encompassing the towns of Parksville and Qualicum Beach and west along Highway 4 and 4A to include Coombs and the area around Mount Arrowsmith. With miles and miles of soft, sandy beaches, beautiful golf courses, forest trails and parks, family activities, and over 100 annual events and festivals, Oceanside is Vancouver Island's vacation paradise.
Just north of Nanaimo, is the protected harbour of Nanoose Bay - a popular destination for boats from all over the globe. The Nanoose Bay area is paradise for ocean adventures with activities from sailing and windsurfing to diving, paddling and more.
Parksville & Qualicum Beach
These sister towns on the edge of the water are Vancouver Island’s premier resort towns filled with fantastic activities and amenities and surrounded by the pristine natural beauty of Vancouver Island. Here, you can explore the tide pools at Rathtrevor Provincial Park Beach and swim in the water at Qualicum Beach, marvel at the 800-year-old Douglas Firs in Cathedral Grove at MacMillan Provincial Park or go spelunking at Horne Lake Provincial Park and discover the other-worldly caverns and deep caves hidden below the surface. Take the afternoon to explore the little village of Coombs and or hit the links and work on your short game - in Parksville and Qualicum you can find endless fun surrounded by natural beauty.
The Comox Valley encompasses the three towns of Courtenay, Comox, and Cumberland as well as two Gulf Islands: Denman and Hornby Island. This area is an incredible area for outdoor activities, dining, shopping, and breweries. Take the day and head up to Mount Washington and experience the thrill of high alpine skiing, hiking, ziplining or mountain biking, stay near the ocean and explore the shores of Courtenay and the Gulf Islands or make time to visit the laid-back local breweries and get a real taste of the area!
Nestled between Strathcona Provincial Park to the west and the Discovery Islands to the east, Campbell River is known the world over as the fishing capital of the world. Campbell River is the ideal spot for anglers to get on the water to catch impressive salmon, halibut, cod and more!
The Pacific Rim
Renowned for pristine beaches, stunning fjords, whale watching adventures, ancient forests, incredible camping, hiking, and fishing, and awe-inspiring winter storms, the Pacific Rim draws travellers from around the world and is the perfect place to escape into the gorgeous BC wilderness.
A centre for inspiring heritage museums and a hub for hikers and mountain bikers, Port Alberni offers visitors incredible outdoor adventures and a charming town centre to explore!
Best known as the terminus of the West Coast Trail and the ancestral home of the Nuu-chah-nulth, Bamfield is home to many marine biologists, researchers, and teachers due to the incredible density and diversity of marine life in the area. A true seaside village, the stores, resorts, marine suppliers, and homes on Bamfield’s waterfront are all joined by boardwalks. This is the perfect town to find fishing charters and adventure packages year-round.
Ucluelet (Yew-kloo-let), means "safe harbour" and is known as the gateway to the Broken Group Islands. Ucluelet is one of Vancouver Island’s most popular destinations with such an incredible variety of experiences, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for! Whether you want to book a family friendly holiday filled with activities or you’re looking for a romantic getaway, Ucluelet has resorts, lodges, world-class dining, remarkable outdoor adventures and so much more!
With many epic beaches surrounded by craggy rocks and ancient forests, Tofino is a once-in-a-lifetime place to experience. Located in the centre of Clayoquot Sound, Tofino is designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and home to some of the best experiences you can have on Vancouver Island. With beachfront cabins and five-star resorts perfect for storm watching in style, incredible dining, shopping, and myriad art galleries to explore, Tofino is a must if you’re coming to Vancouver Island!
Tahsis & Gold River
These two little towns are the gateway to the Nootka Sound and can be accessed from the east side of the Island by the Gold River Highway (28) from Campbell River. These remote little villages are filled with friendly people and awesome wilderness adventure opportunities, making Tahsis and Gold River perfect for anyone who wants to really get away from it all.
Rich in First Nations tradition and culture, Northern Vancouver Island offers a wealth of recreation opportunities in spectacular settings. From the deep blue Pacific to Vancouver Island's highest peak, the Northern region of Vancouver Island is a year-round destination with a dazzling line-up of outdoor adventure and fishing experiences.
Woss & The
In the centre of the Nimpkish Valley sits the little village of Woss, right between Campbell River and Port McNeil. Historically an important fur trading post, today Woss and the Nimpkish Valley are home to remote ecotourism activities - most notably, the notoriously difficult slopes of Mount Cain that offer pristine powder conditions and world-class backcountry skiing.
The tiny community of Telegraph Cove is gaining world recognition as the busiest whale watching spot in British Columbia due to large pods of migrating orcas that can be seen right from the beach! Telegraph Cove also offers superb fishing, kayaking, diving, and wildlife watching.
The traditional home of the Kwakwaka'wakw, Alert Bay is an incredibly important place for the First Nations people of Vancouver Island. Located on Cormorant Island, a 45-minute ferry ride from the nearby town of Port McNeil, Alert Bay offers visitors a chance to explore priceless First Nations buildings, potlatch regalia and the tallest totem in the world. Here, you can also find beautiful bed and breakfasts, a little boardwalk, museums, galleries, and cafes serving quality comfort food.
At the unpretentious forestry centre of north Vancouver Island, you will find many people waiting to depart on an adventure. Kayakers, scuba divers and boaters destined for the Broughton Archipelago and BC Ferries passengers bound for historic Sointula and Alert Bay. If you’re staying on land, you can take a stroll along the seawall, enjoy the town’s busy harbour, explore the stunning Shepherd’s Garden, or check out Orca Fest in August!
As the largest community in Northern Vancouver Island, Port Hardy is a great home base to explore the north Island while still enjoying a lively town filled with great restaurants, hiking trails, shopping and more! Drive up to the remote Cape Scott Provincial Park, book a guided tour through the Queen Charlotte Strait to see the Great Bear Rainforest on the mainland, have a picnic and beach fire at Storey’s Beach or visit historic Fort Rupert and check out the internationally renowned First Nations’ artists who live and work there.
There’s something special about the Gulf Islands - whether you’re looking to get out in nature, get pampered, or get some incredible artisanal goods, the Gulf Islands is where you can get lost in breathtaking natural beauty.
Salt Spring Island
Salt Spring Island is the largest Gulf Island and is famous for its epic scenery, vibrant music and art scene and lively harbour village. Many of Canada's most renowned artists and musicians, inspired by the beauty and the tranquillity of the Salt Spring lifestyle, have made their homes here and it’s where many Vancouver Islanders come for holidays, day trips and art tours. Here you can find art in every medium: paintings, sculptures, weaving, pottery, stained glass, jewellery, and more! Plus, you can find incredible, unique, and romantic accommodations, excellent dining and of course, awe-inspiring natural beauty.
While today, Mayne Island is a peaceful Island with friendly locals and delightful accommodations, restaurants, and sightseeing opportunities, it was once known as “Little Hell” by the miners who were forced to stop here on their way to the Fraser River during the gold rush. With a unique history, many places to dock for boaters, incredible camping, resorts, and recreation, today, Mayne Island is a pretty, relaxing Gulf Island to visit and enjoy!
Named after a Spanish explorer who sailed these waters 200 years ago, Galiano Island welcomes visitors with its relaxed atmosphere and natural beauty. A haven for naturalists and bird watchers, Galiano is home to more than 130 species of birds. The quiet, winding roads through the forests lead to galleries, cafes and restaurants, cottages, and bed and breakfasts. You can find incredible outdoor recreation from kayaking along the shoreline to relaxing on the beaches at Montague Harbour or Coon Bay and more!
Saturna Island's moderate climate, idyllic accommodations, and quality services make it an ideal year-round destination for a special retreat or quiet getaway. Saturna has a lot of geographic and biodiversity that includes forests, wetlands, mud flats, rock bluffs, reefs, and beaches. There are over one hundred and eighty bird species, plenty of deer, and an abundance of marine life including orcas, sea lions, otters, anemones, starfish, and so much more! Visit the Sage Hayward Vineyards, explore Thomson Park and take a dip at Veruna Bay or East Point Regional Park.
Known as the "friendly islands", the north and south Pender are actually two islands joined together by a small bridge. The Islands are the perfect place for family vacations, romantic escapes, seminars, and retreats and offer an intimate and pastoral setting popular with nature lovers. Boaters can find marinas at Port Browning, Otter Bay, and Bedwell Harbour.
Beautiful Gabriola Island, known as the Queen of the Gulf Islands, is located just offshore from Nanaimo and offers a wonderful variety of activities in a lovely setting of forested parks and serene beaches. The Malaspina Galleries are one of the island's biggest natural attractions and are an amazing series of sandstone formations carved by the surf into unusual caves and caverns.
& Lasqueti Island
Famous among anglers, French Creek is a short distance north of Parksville on the Island Highway (19A) and has a government dock and a resort. From French Creek, you can take the passenger ferry to pretty Lasqueti Island and hike across to Squitty Bay, where you can explore hidden caves and spot eagles’ nests perched in treetops.
Denman & Hornby
Denman and Hornby Islands boast some of the loveliest hikes, beaches, and quiet retreats. From Buckley Bay, just south of Courtenay you can board a ferry for the 15-minute ride that takes you to Denman Island. If you’re heading on to Hornby Island, you’ll have to drive across Denman and catch another ferry to Hornby. With a vibrant arts scene, lively events, a beautiful, natural environment, and lots of opportunities for active recreation and restful restoration, Denman and Hornby Islands are spectacular.
This laid-back Island is the perfect place to visit for a relaxing day trip or longer stay off the coast of Campbell River. Book a charming bed and breakfast or a unique lodge experience and explore the pristine, windswept beaches, beautiful forest paths or book a day on the water!
While Cortes is known as the gateway to the Desolation Sound, Cortes Island, and the surrounding inlets, offers guests incredible crystal waters to paddle through, forested hiking trails, secret coves, and incredible biodiversity. Access to Cortes Island is from a ferry off the east side of Quadra Island and you can find incredible, unique accommodations and plenty of outdoor adventures!
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