Vancouver Island is a large island off the coast of British Columbia. As a region, it 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 450 km long and up to about 90 km wide. It has a population of over 870,000 people (2019), with a little less than half of those living in the Greater Victoria area.
|North Vancouver Island |
The least populated area; this remote area offers many recreational opportunities.
|Discovery Islands |
A group of many islands between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia. There's kayaking, the off the beaten path charm of Quadra Island and wildlife ranging from orcas to grizzly bears.
|Central Vancouver Island |
On the east side of the island, it includes the city of Nanaimo, the beaches of Parksville-Qualicum Beach, the Comox Valley towns of Courtenay and Comox, and the salmon fishing town of Campbell River. Heading westwards is Tofino, with surfing, whale watching and storm watching.
|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. Salt Spring Island is the largest of the group.
- 1 Victoria – the capital city of British Columbia that markets itself as a piece of England.
- 2 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.
- 3 Port Renfrew – a 2-hour scenic drive from Victoria on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, Port Renfrew is a small west coast community that was built by logging and fishing. It is situated along 240 km (150 miles )of rugged uninhabited coastline.
- 4 Nanaimo – the second largest city, and largest port on Vancouver island.
- 5 Parksville/Qualicum Beach – popular summer vacation spot with its many sandy beaches and wide range of accommodation. Off the beach, there are fun parks for the kids and some pleasant walking trails. Nearby are a handful of provincial parks where you can see waterfalls, try to wrap your arms around an old growth tree or go caving.
- 6 Tofino – ecotourism centre on the beautiful (if wet) west coast of the island. The main attraction is Long Beach which is part of Pacific Rim National Park. There's also surfing, whale watching and storm watching (in winter).
- 7 Courtenay/Comox – the gateway to Mount Washington, Strathcona Provincial Park and some spectacular fishing. These two towns are a beautiful place to visit in summer and winter.
- 8 Port Hardy – small logging town on the north tip of the island, gateway to Cape Scott Provincial Park.
- 9 Telegraph Cove – voted one of the ten best "towns" in Canada to visit by travel writers (as published in Harrowsmith Magazine).
- 1 Cape Scott Provincial Park — Coastal hikes, amazing beaches and wildlife
- 2 Gulf Islands National Park Reserve — Established in 2003, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve safeguards a portion of the gorgeous Gulf Islands archipelago. Gulf Islands National Park Reserve offers visitors incredible opportunities for boating, kayaking, hiking, wildlife viewing and picnicking. The larger islands of Saturna, Mayne and Pender can be accessed via BC Ferries, with daily departures from Swartz Bay, Vancouver Island. Please visit the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve website for more information.
- 3 Juan de Fuca Provincial Park — park and hiking trail on the southwest coast
- 4 Mt. Washington Alpine Resort — alpine skiing, often with the most snow in Canada, and mountain biking
- 5 Pacific Rim National Park Reserve — scenic, multi-unit park on the west coast, includes
- 6 Strathcona Provincial Park
Vancouver Island lies in the temperate rainforest biome. On the southern and eastern portions of the island, this is characterized by Douglas fir, western red cedar, arbutus, Garry oak, salal, Oregon grape, and manzanita. This southeastern portion of the island is the most heavily populated region of Vancouver Island and a major area for recreation. The northern, western, and most of the central portions of the island are home to the coniferous "big trees" associated with British Columbia's coast – western hemlock, western red cedar, Pacific silver fir, yellow cedar, Douglas fir, grand fir, Sitka spruce, and western white pine.
The island's economy is based on technology industries, logging, fishing, and tourism, with some food production as well.
Vancouver Island has been the homeland to many Indigenous peoples for thousands of years. The groupings, by language, are the Kwakwaka'wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth, and various Coast Salish peoples. While there is some overlap, Kwakwaka'wakw territory includes northern and northwestern Vancouver Island and adjoining areas of the mainland, the Nuu-chah-nulth span most of the west coast, while the Coast Salish cover the southeastern Island and southernmost extremities along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The island was explored by British and Spanish expeditions in the late 18th century. It is one of several North American locations named after George Vancouver, who explored the Pacific Northwest coast between 1791 and 1794.
In 1843, the Hudson's Bay Company built a fort as the basis for settlement and a fur trading post named Fort Albert (later Fort Victoria), 200 metres northwest of the present-day Empress Hotel on Victoria's Inner Harbour.
In 1849, the Colony of Vancouver Island was established. The colony was leased to the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC); the Company's responsibility in return was to increase the population by promoting colonization. The island's first legislative assembly was formed in 1856.
Fort Victoria had become an important base when prospectors, miners and merchants began arriving for the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush in 1858. The Hudson's Bay lease expired in 1859 and the island reverted to Great Britain. The burgeoning town was incorporated as Victoria in 1862.
The economic situation of the colony declined following the Cariboo Gold Rush of 1861–1862, and pressure grew for amalgamation of the colony with the mainland colony of British Columbia. The two colonies were merged in 1866 by the Imperial Parliament. The City of Victoria became the capital. By 1867, Canada was established British Columbia joined Canada in 1871.
The climate is the mildest in Canada, with temperatures on the coast even in January being usually above 0 °C (32 °F).
In summer, the warmest days usually achieve a maximum of 28–33 °C (82–91 °F). However, the rain shadow effect of the island's mountains, as well as the mountains of Washington's Olympic Peninsula, creates wide variation in precipitation. The west coast is considerably wetter than the east coast. Precipitation is heaviest in the autumn and winter. Snow is rare at low altitudes but is common on the island's mountaintops in winter.
From within British Columbia
BC Ferries, toll-free: . Operates ferries connecting coastal communities. BC Ferries is the most common way to get to Vancouver Island.
- There is scheduled vehicle ferry service from:
- Vancouver (Tsawwassen) ferry terminal in Delta to Victoria (Swartz Bay) ferry terminal near Sidney (1 hour 35 minutes), operating every two hours normally and up to hourly in the summer. Public transit at both terminals.
- Vancouver (Tsawwassen) ferry terminal in Delta to Nanaimo (Duke Point) ferry terminal (2 hours), operating every 2.5 hours. Public transit at Vancouver (Tsawwassen) ferry terminal only.
- Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay) ferry terminal in West Vancouver to Nanaimo (Departure Bay) ferry terminal (1 hour 40 minutes), operating slightly less frequently than every 2 hours. Public transit at both terminals.
- Powell River (Westview) ferry terminal to Comox (Little River) ferry terminal (1 hour 25 minutes), operating around 3 trips per day. Public transit at both terminals.
- Prince Rupert ferry terminal to Port Hardy (Bear Cove) ferry terminal (16.25-22 hours) via Klemtu ferry terminal (7.75-10.75 hours to Port Hardy) and/or Bella Coola (McLoughlin Bay) ferry terminal (5.5 hours to Port Hardy), operating at most once per day during the summer and less often at other times. Public transit at Prince Rupert ferry terminal only.
- Bella Coola ferry terminal to Port Hardy (Bear Cove) ferry terminal (10 hours), operating once per day, several days per week during the summer. No public transit at either terminal.
- Scheduled vehicle ferry service also available on routes between Vancouver Island and most of the Southern Gulf Islands, some of the Discovery Islands, and some islands at the northern end of North Vancouver Island.
From Washington state in the United States of America
- 1 Black Ball Ferry Line (MV Coho), 430 Belleville St, Victoria, ☏ , toll-free: . Is a passenger and vehicle ferry running between Port Angeles, Washington and Victoria across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Crossing time is 90 minutes. Service runs all year except for an annual refit for one week in winter time. In the winter, this ferry runs 2 sailings a day and in the summer up to 4 sailings per day each way are scheduled. Fares are US$70.00 for car and driver and US$21.00 per passenger 12 years old and older, US$10.50 for children 5-11 years old, free for children 4 years old and younger.
- 2 Victoria Clipper, Belleville St, Victoria (Belleville St just west of Oswego St), ☏ , toll-free: . Direct passenger only ferry between Victoria harbour and Pier 69 at the Seattle waterfront. Some of the sailings make an additional stop in Friday Harbor, going both directions. Crossing time is 2.75 hours.
- 3 Washington State Ferries, 2499 Ocean Ave, Sidney (About 1 km south of downtown Sidney). Operates seasonal service (late March to late December) to Sidney connecting with Anacortes via Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. The ferry makes one round trip per day in the Spring and Fall, and two round trips in the Summer. Reservations can be made online. For security and immigration processing when travelling between the two countries, a 60 minute advance arrival at the terminal is strongly suggested. Walk on passengers need to arrive 30 minutes in advance. Vehicle reservations are recommended. Passports are required to enter either country. Service to Sidney has been suspended since the Covid-19 pandemic and the operator has announced that service to Sidney is suspended until at least 2030 due to the lack of available ferries and crew.
- BC Ferries Connector, toll-free: . offers an express coach service between Vancouver and Victoria. This bus service runs on BC Ferries, and tickets can be purchased on board for the trip into town. Despite the "express" name, this bus takes the same or more time than the transit bus in Vancouver, although it is a much more comfortable ride. Travel time between Vancouver and Victoria is 4 hours. As of April 2022, cost from downtown Vancouver to downtown Victoria is approx $68 one way, or approximately $20 for the trip from the ferry terminal to downtown Victoria..
- Campbell River (YBL IATA) airport with flights from Vancouver
- Comox (YQQ IATA) - airport with flights from Calgary and Vancouver
- Nanaimo Airport (YCD IATA ) - the second largest airport on Vancouver Islands, flights from Calgary and Vancouver
- Port Hardy (YZT IATA) - small airport with flights from Vancouver
- Tofino (YAZ IATA) - small airport with flights from Vancouver
- Victoria International Airport (YYJ IATA) - the largest airport on Vancouver Island, located adjacent to Sidney. Has flights from various locations in Canada.
There are seaplane facilities with scheduled commercial flights on Vancouver Island at Victoria's harbour, at Maple Bay (near Duncan), and at Nanaimo harbour. Seaplane routes connect frequently from-to downtown Vancouver and Vancouver International Airport (YVR IATA), and Sechelt on the Sunshine Coast.
The easiest way to travel around Vancouver Island is to drive. There are car ferries to the island from Vancouver, Powell River and Port Angeles (Washington), and rental cars are available in the cities and larger towns.
There is one major north-south highway system on the island, which runs along the eastern side. It begins in Victoria as Highway 1 (Trans-Canada Highway) traveling north to Nanaimo. From Nanaimo and north up to Port Hardy, Highway 19 (Island Highway) takes over.
There is coach bus service to most of the major cities on the island, but it is generally a patchwork, and traveling around by bus often involves inconvenient waits to catch connecting buses.
- IslandLink Bus, firstname.lastname@example.org. Operates daily using a hub and spoke bus service with hubs in Nanaimo and Buckley Bay. Trips run non-stop from the hub to the destination area. This system works well if direct travel would run by a hub anyway, but can result in significant detours if direct travel would not pass by either hub. Using this service, the hubs connect to Campbell River, Oyster River, Comox, Courtenay, Cumberland, Bowser, Parksville, Nanaimo, Duncan, and Mill Bay, and Victoria. As of January 30, 2023, service is also available to Port Alberni, Tofino, and Ucluelet, though trip frequency ranges from 3 days per week in the winter to daily in the summer.
- Tofino Bus (Vancouver Island Connector). Seasonal service operating between May to October with routes daily between Victoria and Tofino, and between Victoria and Campbell River. Both routes travel between Victoria and Parksville with stops in Langford, Duncan, Ladysmith, and Nanaimo. The route to Tofino continues with stops in Coombs, Port Alberni and Ucluelet. The route to Campbell River continues with stops in Qualicum Beach, Bowser, Courtenay, and Oyster River.
- Waivin Flags Taxi, ☏ . During parts of the year, operates a bus service between Campbell River and Port Hardy with stops in Woss and Port McNeill.
- West Coast Trail Express, ☏ , toll-free: . Seasonal service allowing hikers of the West Coast Trail to reach the northern (Bamfield) and southern (Port Renfrew) ends of the trail. Operates route that connects Victoria with Port Renfrew, Gordon River, and Bamfield. The route operates from May 1 to September 30.
By public transit
BC Transit operates bus routes in cities around Vancouver Island. Intercity bus service is available on the following corridors:
- Between Victoria and Qualicum Beach (same day travel between these cities is possible when the routes operate):
- Routes 66 and 44 between Victoria and Duncan. Route 66 is available on weekdays, but only in the early morning to Victoria and in the afternoon to Duncan. Route 44 is available for several daytime Saturday trips. Offered by Cowichan Regional Valley Transit System
- Route 70 between Duncan and downtown Nanaimo via Ladysmith. Operates Monday to Saturday. Offered by Cowichan Regional Valley Transit System and Nanaimo Regional District Transit System.
- Route 50 between downtown Nanaimo and Nanaimo (Woodgrove Centre). Operates daily. Offered by Nanaimo Regional District Transit System.
- Route 91 between Nanaimo (Woodgrove Centre) and Qualicum Beach via Parksville. Offered by Nanaimo Regional District Transit System.
- Between Campbell River and Courtenay with a transfer at Oyster River. Campbell River Transit System bus route 6 between Campbell River and Oyster River. Comox Valley Regional Transit System bus route 12 between Courtenay and Oyster River. Connections between the two routes are available Monday to Saturday.
In Arrowsmith Coombs Country, see the giant old growth forest at Cathedral Grove, funky "goats on the roof" market at Coombs.
Watch the tide go out for more than a kilometre at Parksville and Rathtrevor Beaches.
A mild climate means year round tour opportunities including winter surfing, storm watching, mountain skiing and fall salmon viewing into December.
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. Journey on a whale watching or grizzly bear tour. Some operators of tours operating in multiple areas of Vancouver Island:
- Pacific Northwest Expeditions Ltd., P.O. Box 97, Stn. A Nanaimo, ☏ . 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., 6-5803 Banks Rd, Cowichan Bay, toll-free: . Hiking, kayaking, and canoeing tours from coastline to the Coast Mountains. Wildlife viewing at the boundaries of land, sea, and sky. Tours on the North Coast Trail and kayaking in both Pacific Rim and Gulf Islands National Parks.
Out of Telegraph Cove on the north end of the island, kayak with the orca, and go on expeditions in Johnstone Strait & vicinity.
Golf at over 11 world-class courses on Vancouver Island.
The Sunshine Coast-Vancouver Island Circle Tour, a road trip involving ferries. The trip involves travel between Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast, and eastern Vancouver Island between Comox and Victoria in circuit that does not involve backtracking.
- 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 Coast of British Columbia.
- BC Ferries from Swartz Bay (near Victoria) to the Southern Gulf Island communities of Saturna, Mayne, Pender, Galiano and Saltspring. The Southern Gulf Islands have something to offer any kind of traveller. Visitors who love the outdoors can boat, hike or view wildlife in one of the Southern Gulf Islands' beautiful regional, provincial and national parks. For the culinary traveller, local wineries, fromageries, bakeries, and farms all offer tantalizing treats. For those interested in immersing themselves in the Gulf Islands lifestyle, check out the many local galleries, theatres and community events. Travellers who just want to be pampered can relax at any number of high-end resorts, retreats and spas, while the low-key traveller can experience a quaint bed and breakfast, or a rustic campsite in Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.
- 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.
- Desolation Sound: is between Lund and Campbell River up to Dent Island filled with beautiful islands and few towns