Vic Harbour
photo by Jay-P

Vancouver Island is part of British Columbia, Canada. As well as the island itself, it is also a region which includes the Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia. It is often referred to by the locals as simply 'The Island'. Vancouver Island is the largest island off the west coast of North America at about 450km long and up to about 90km wide. It has a population of over 700,000 people, with a little less than half of those living in the Greater Victoria area.

The development on the island primarily follows the north-south highway that goes along the east coast of the island from Victoria to Port Hardy.


  • North Vancouver Island is the least populated area: this remote area offers many recreational opportunities.

  • Central Vancouver Island: Centered near Nanaimo, this region also includes the wild Pacific Rim area and Tofino.

  • South Vancouver Island: The most densely populated region, this area includes Victoria, the stately capital of the province, the rural Saanich Peninsula, home to Buchart Gardens, and other nearby towns.

  • Southern Gulf Islands - Group of islands between Victoria and Nanaimo in the Strait of Georgia.

  • Northern Gulf Islands - Group of islands near Campbell River


  • Victoria - The capital city of British Columbia that markets itself as a piece of England.

  • Sidney - A relaxing city 20 minutes from downtown Victoria, 5 minutes from the Victoria International Airport, Quiet, on the Waterfront with quaint little shops. A tourist vacation and Retirement location with waterfront walkways and bicycle paths.

  • Port Renfrew - A 2 hour scenic drive from Victoria on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, Port Renfrew is a small west coast community originally built by logging and fishing. It is situated along 150 miles of rugged uninhabited coastline.

  • Nanaimo - The second largest city, and largest port on Vancouver island.

  • Tofino - Ecotourism center on the beautiful (if wet) west coast of the island. The main attraction is Long Beach which is part of Pacific Rim National Park.

  • Courtenay/Comox - The gateway to Mt Washington, Strathcona Provincial Park and some spectacular fishing. These two towns are a beautiful place to visit in summer and winter.

  • Galiano Island

  • Port Hardy - Small logging town on the North tip of the island, gateway to Cape Scott Provincial Park.

  • Telegraph Cove - Voted one of the ten best "towns" in Canada to visit by travel writers (as published in Harrowsmith Magazine.

Other destinations

  • Juan de Fuca Marine Trail - park and hiking trail on the southwest coast

  • Pacific Rim National Park Reserve - scenic, multi-unit park on the west coast, includes

    • West Coast Trail - a world-class coastal hike along scenic beaches

    • Broken Group Islands - over 100 small islands in Barkley Sound

    • Long Beach - a sequence of long, white sand beaches near Tofino

  • Gulf Islands National Park Reserve - quaint villages and island life in a park

  • North Coast Trail and Cape Scott Provincial Park - a new world-class coastal hike added to the beauty of Cape Scott's amazing beaches and wildlife

  • Strathcona Provincial Park

  • Zeballos - a small village (pop.~235) on the northwest coast, with excellent fishing and kayaking

  • Sooke - a harbourside town located a 45 minute drive west of Victoria

  • Port Renfrew - the connector town for both the West Coast Trail and the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail

  • Mt. Washington Alpine Resort - alpine skiing, often with the most snow in Canada, and mountain biking

Getting there

By ferry

The most common way to get to Vancouver Island is by BC Ferries . There is regular ferry service from Tsawwassen (near Vancouver) to Swartz Bay (Near Victoria), Tsawwassen to Duke Point (near Nanaimo) and Horseshoe Bay (Near Vancouver) to Departure Bay (in Nanaimo). These ferries generally run about every two hours with more frequent service on some of the routes in the summer.

There is a ferry service that runs from Powell River to Comox, and Port Hardy to Prince Rupert.

By plane

The Victoria airport has flights from various locations in Canada. There are also flights from Vancouver to many of the towns and cities on the island. Floatplane facilities located both in the Victoria and Maple Bay.

Floatplanes operated by Harbour Air,Salt Spring Air fly frequently from-to downtown Vancouver, YVR and other destinations including the scenic Gulf Islands. Some of these float plane operators will also do tours of the city and nearby attractions starting at about $80-100 per person... a great way to see the island.

Direct flights to Comox on the east central coast of Vancouver Island are available from Calgary or Edmonton on Westjet. . There is also a connection to Comox from Vancouver on Pacific Coastal airline.

Traveling around

The easiest way to travel around Vancouver Island is to drive.

There is coach bus service to most of the major cities on the island, but it is generally a patchwork, and travelling around by bus often involves inconvenient waits to catch connecting buses.

VIA also operates daily train service from Victoria to Courtenay on the Southern Railway of Vancouver Island, with stops at most of the towns in between. The service provides an alternative to the coach bus service. Unlike the coach buses, once you are on the train, there is no long layover or transfer required at Nanaimo. Monday-Saturday; the train leaves Victoria at 8:00 in the morning and gets to Courtenay 4 and a half hours later. It leaves Courtenay at 1:00 in the afternoon getting back to Victoria in the early evening. On Sunday the train leaves Victoria at noon and runs 4 hours later than the weekday schedule.

For high end traveling on Vancouver Island, Exposure merges adventure and luxury to serve a niche group of travel connoisseurs who demand exquisite, authentic and meaningful experiences. Travelers can be wild in style choosing from gourmet kayaking leaving from Tofino, culinary cruising in the Southern Gulf Islands aboard an expedition yacht, or scuba diving with six gill sharks off Hornby Island, to name a few. All trips can be customized, are all-inclusive and fully escorted.


In the Parksville / Qualicum Beach region , see the giant old growth forest at Cathedral Grove, funky "goats on the roof" market at Coombs, and watch the tide go out for more than a kilometer at Parksville and Rathtrevor Beaches.

Things to do

Go on a hiking or walking nature tour of ancient rainforests with their giant trees, visit alpine meadows and lakes or stroll along colourful sea side tide pools. Try bird watching or wildlife viewing in the area's diverse ecosystems. A mild climate means year round tour opportunities including winter surfing, storm watching, mountain skiing and fall salmon viewing into December. Journey on a whale watching or grizzly bear tour.

Out of Telegraph Cove on the North End of the island, kayak with the Orca. Half day to 7 day expeditions in Johnstone Strait & vicinity.

  • Golf at over 11 world-class courses

  • Pacific Northwest Expeditions Ltd. , (250) 754-6300, P.O. Box 97, Stn. A Nanaimo, BC, Sea kayaking tours and vacations. Kayaking the Inside Passage with killer whales, whale watching, grizzly bear viewing, and lodge based kayak adventures.

  • Coastal Bliss Adventures Ltd. , (800) 896-9525, 6-5803 Banks Rd, Hiking, kayaking, and canoeing tours from coastline to the Coast Mountains. Wildlife viewing at the boundaries of land, sea, and sky. Tours on the new North Coast Trail and kayaking in both Pacific Rim and Gulf Islands National Parks.

Get out

  • Take BC ferries from Swartz Bay (near Victoria), Nanaimo or Comox to the Lower Mainland, with urban Vancouver and its environs offering a sophisticated experience and other areas such as the Sunshine Coast being more rural and natural.

  • BC Ferries from Port Hardy head through the Inside Passage to Prince Rupert, accessing the North and Central Coast of British Columbia.

  • Black Ball Transport offers ferries from Victoria to Port Angeles, Washington, the gateway to the Olympic National Park

  • Washington State Ferries offer ferries from Sidney to the San Juan Islands and Anacortes.

Contact & location

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The photos displayed on this page are the property of one of the following authors:

Jay-P, jim crossley, Sam Wilson, Su-Laine, Darren Kirby, Schaer Chris

Some photos courtesy of: . The photos provided by Flickr are under the copyright of their owners.

This travel guide also includes text from Wikitravel articles, all available at WikitravelView full credits

Gary Ward, Claus Hansen, Jim DeLaHunt, D. Guillaime, Nick, Kara, Nick Roux, Eric The Red, Stacy Hall, Eco84, Dan Abbott, JP Caputa, Darren Kirby, keithonearth, Evan Prodromou, Ben Hodgson and James Blake, Burmesedays, Shaund, Inas, Tatatabot, Bunny, Huttite, Copesisl, YubYub41, Nzpcmad and Chris j wood

This travel guide also includes text from Wikipedia articles, all available at WikipediaView full credits

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