Vancouver Island

North America > Canada > British Columbia > Vancouver Island


Vancouver Island is part of British Columbia, Canada. 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.

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.

Regions[edit]

Vancouver Island travel regions — switch to interactive map
Vancouver Island travel regions
  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.

Cities[edit]

Victoria's Inner Harbour
  • 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.
MacKenzie Beach, Tofino
  • 6 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. There's also surfing, whale watching and storm watching (in winter).
  • 7 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.
Telegraph Cove
  • 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).

Other destinations[edit]

Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, Sidney Island

Understand[edit]

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.

History[edit]

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.

Climate[edit]

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.

Get in[edit]

By ferry[edit]

The most common way to get to Vancouver Island is by BC Ferries. There is regular car ferry service from:

  • Vancouver (Tsawwassen) ferry terminal in Delta to Victoria (Swartz Bay) ferry terminal (1 hour 35 minutes)
  • Vancouver (Tsawwassen) ferry terminal to Nanaimo (Duke Point) ferry terminal (2 hours)
  • West Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay) ferry terminal to Nanaimo (Departure Bay) ferry terminal (1 hour 40 minutes).

The above ferries generally run about every two hours with more frequent service on some of the routes in the summer.

There is also car ferry service that runs from:

The Blackball line runs the classic car ferry M.V. Coho, from Port Angeles, Washington to Sidney (1 hour 30 minutes).

By bus[edit]

  • BC Ferries Connector, toll-free: +1-888-788-8840. 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..

By plane[edit]

Victoria's International Airport airport has flights from various locations in Canada. There are also flights from Vancouver to many of the towns and cities on the island, including Nanaimo, Comox, Port Hardy, and Tofino. DThere are floatplane facilities serving the Victoria's harbour, Maple Bay (near Duncan), and Nanaimo harbour.

Floatplanes operated by Harbour Air, Salt Spring Air fly frequently from-to downtown Vancouver, YVR IATA 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.

Get around[edit]

By car[edit]

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 which is part of the Trans-Canada Highway system as far as Nanaimo. There, Highway 19 takes over and continues to Port Hardy.

By bus[edit]

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.

By public transit[edit]

BC Transit operates bus routes in cities around Vancouver Island. Intercity bus service is available on the following corridors:

  • 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 Nanaimo via Ladysmith. Operates Monday to Saturday. Offered by Cowichan Regional Valley Transit System and Nanaimo Regional District Transit System.
  • Route 91 between Nanaimo and Qualicum Beach via Parksville. Operates daily.
  • 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.

See[edit]

The Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park
Old boathouses line the shore of Rough Bat at Sointula on Malcolm Island, in the northern part of the island

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.

Do[edit]

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., P.O. Box 97, Stn. A Nanaimo, +1 250 754-6300. 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, toll-free: +1-800-896-9525. 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.

Go next[edit]

  • 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


This region travel guide to Vancouver Island is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.