An island with waves, miles of singletrack trails for hiking, mountain biking and running, caves and great craft beer? Sound too good to be true? It’s not. Just book a spot on the ferry to Vancouver Island and embark on what just might become an annual pilgrimage for you to one of the coolest playgrounds in North America.
Things to Do
Vancouver Island is surrounded by water, so naturally, some of the best (though not all) adventures are going to involve getting wet. We recommend the following:
Go on an Expedition With North Island Kayak
North Island Kayak operates out of the small town of Telegraph Cove. They have several different trip options – everything from two-hour tours to eight-day adventures – and are located in an area that is known for some of the best whale watching on the entire British Columbia coast.
Go Surfing in Tofino
You could probably spend your entire trip in Tofino but if you only have a few days on Vancouver Island, save at least one or two for this town and its waves. Located on the western side of Vancouver Island, Tofino is part beach town, part mountain town. The downtown is relatively small but it’s got a damn good brewery (looking at you Tofino Brewing Co.) and its own coffee roaster (hey, hey Tofino Coffee Roasting Company) that’ll keep you primed for exploring new surf spots in Pacific Rim National Park. Tourists with soft-top surfboards are everywhere but the locals are quick to smile and are still getting the best waves in town.
Need to rent a board? Head to Long Beach Surf Shop. They’ve got locations in both Tofino and Ucluelet (40 kilometers southeast of Tofino).
Visit Port Hardy
If you have your own kayaking gear and don’t need a guide, grab a quick picnic lunch and then set off on adventure from the public kayak launch. The boat launch is free and so is the parking. It’s also an awesome spot for wildlife watching.
Hike the Tex Lyon Trail
This roughly 7-kilometer trail snakes along the coast and offers up some of the most incredible scenery for those willing to endure the trek. Be sure to time your hike with an outgoing tide and be prepared to get wet and traverse downed logs.
Check Out Little Huson Cave Regional Park
If you have a reliable vehicle with some clearance, head down Zeballos Forest Service Road (if you’re traveling north it’s a left-hand turn off of Route 19) and in about 20 minutes you’ll find yourself at the trailhead of a short hike that will take you to see a geologic wonder.
Take a Stroll Along the Ellis River and the Giant Cedar Trail
On your way back from Tofino, pull over at the Giant Cedar Trail and the Ellis River. They’re both free and are great pit stops for shaking out your legs and breaking up the drive. (Use caution if you decide to go in the water as water levels will impact safety.)
Visit East Sooke Regional Park
There are 50 kilometers of trails in East Sooke Regional Park, some of which are flat and wide (e.g. the Pike Road Trail to Iron Mine Bay) and others that are technical and and a bit more difficult (e.g. the Coast Trail). If you want a park with awesome views, tide pools and thick, mossy forest, this is the place for you. It’s also under an hour’s drive from Victoria.
The Galloping Goose Trail in Victoria begins at the south end of the Selkirk Trestle (the bridge pictured above) and is 55 kilometers long. It’s used by local commuters, runners, people on Rollerblades and is even open to horses. It’s also part of the larger Trans-Canada Trail. This trail is also a great excuse for coming into town for a good meal and a beer.
Where to Stay
Alder Bay Resort
This campground is located right on the water in northern Vancouver Island near Port McNeill. It’s an excellent base camp for northern adventures. They’ve got a marina and a boat ramp, decent WiFi and hot, clean showers.
The campgrounds at Quinsam campground in Elk Falls Provincial Park and Protected Area have been carved out of a forest of tall, tall trees that give you a good bit of privacy even though the campsites are relatively close to one another. There are also a few trails that make for a nice morning run right from camp. We recommend the Beaver Pond trail which runs along the river.
Long Beach Golf Course and Campground
This campground is a short drive from downtown Tofino and is a great spot for exploring Pacific Rim National Park. There is also a trailer on property full of wetsuits and rental boards for guests that want to paddle out. Not into surfing? No worries, there’s a nine-hole golf course and a mini-golf course, too.
Living Forest Campground
Many of the sites at this campground have views of the water but the best part is the network of trails that surrounds the area. (Oh, and the cafe with ice cream.) They also get bonus points for composting.
McDonald Campground at Gulf Island National Park Reserve
This is a great place to stay for those who want to catch the ferry back to the U.S. or those who want to continue their adventure by exploring some of the islands in Gulf Island National Park Reserve.
Where to Eat and Drink
There are numerous places to grab a bite to eat and quench your thirst on Vancouver Island but we picked these three spots out of the lineup because they’re a little off-the-beaten-path and have a cool local vibe.
If you’re looking for a hearty, warm meal to fuel your next adventure, head on over to Nikkei Ramen-Ya in Courtenay. It’s located, roughly, midway between Victoria and the northernmost point of the island. They’ve got several different ramen recipes on the menu and each of them, if you’re dining in, comes with a complimentary kaedama (noodle refill) that can be redeemed by turning in the poker chip you’re given at payment.
“Dimension Ascension” and the “Spruce Tree Ale” and are the perfect endings to a perfect day. The first is a dry hopped pale ale and the second is an easy drinking beer made from local spruce that’ll make you wish you were a local. Grab a seat at the bar and try to figure out how you’re going to relocate to Tofino.
Order the burger and fries. You’ll be treated to a soft bun with a crisp and buttery underside and a juicy, cheesy patty that’s so good you might order a second. Seriously. If you leave Tofino without one of these … then you’ll never know. Just trust us on this one. They’ve also got Tofino Brewing Company beers on tap in case you missed that stop.
Know Before You Go
• The northern end of the island is rugged and remote whereas the southern end of the island is home to Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, and is home to just under 100,000 people.
• Book a ferry online at Metro Vancouver if you’re traveling to and from mainland Canada. If you’re traveling to Vancouver Island via the United States, book your trip online at WSDOT. Arrive between 60 and 90 minutes before departure to make sure you have enough time to clear customs and immigration.
• Don’t want to take the ferry? Floatplanes are also an option.
• Bring your passport but leave the cannabis at home. Though marijuana is legal in both Canada and Washington state, you can’t cross the border with it in your possession.
• Consider a Discovery Pass if you plan on visiting any of the national parks on the island as the fees will add up quickly. The pass will allow you to visit over 80 parks with unlimited admission and can be mailed to your home address before you depart.
• Reserve your campsites ahead of time as they tend to fill up quickly in the summer months. Not into camping? There is both a hostel and a glamping site in Tofino and a ton of hotels in the southern part of the island.
• Bring or rent a wetsuit. The water is cold year-round. Even in the summer, most people are surfing in full-suits with booties.
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