It feels like every year I spend the winter months counting down until summer approaches. I have all these activities and things to do on Vancouver Island – ambitions to hike, camp and explore – and then before I know it, summer is over and the cooler months are already rolling in. In an attempt to make the most of each summer I often write a list of things I hope to see and do around Vancouver Island. With more activities than I have free time, I don’t even come close to ticking everything off the bucket list, but it’s a good start to ensure I make the most of the fleeting summer months.
As I called Vancouver Island‘s largest city, Victoria, home last year, many of these are centered around Victoria, but that being said, I have also spent the first 20 years of my life growing up in central Vancouver Island. As a result, this list incorporates the best things to do on Vancouver Island, including amazing things to do, free activities, unique destinations and more.
1. Campfire at Sombrio Beach
Pack a picnic, supplies and a couple of friends and head over to the rugged West Coast for the night. When I picture the perfect Vancouver Island summer night, this is it.
2. Brunch at the infamous Jam Café
As outdoorsy and active as Victoria is, the locals also love to eat. Check out their favourite brunch spot but be prepared to wait in line.
Read our full blog on brunch in Victoria:
Best Brunch restaurants in Victoria
3. Play in Beacon Hill Park
Toss a Frisbee, play spikeball or just kick a ball around. This ginormous park just outside Victoria’s downtown core has some incredible green space and open fields.
4. Victoria Brewery Tour
With a handful of craft breweries based in and around Victoria’s downtown core, its easy to develop your own self-guided brewery tour. Be sure to include local favourites, Phillips, Canoe, and Hoyne.
Not just for tourists – this incredible garden, located in Brentwood Bay, is worth visiting in the summer, especially for their Saturday firework shows.
6. Bike along the Galloping Goose Trail
This 55km incredible pathway winds from downtown Victoria to Sooke and is a great way to get active and explore.
7. Float down Cowichan River
The perfect summer activity. Grab a tube and lazily float down the river with a few good friends!
8. Walk along Kinsol Trestle
Just outside Shawnigan Lake, this old train trestle has been converted into a beautiful walkway.
9. Sidney Spit
You can either kayak over from Sidney or hop on the walk-on ferry to access this beautiful sandy stretch of coastline.
10. Day trip to Mystic Beach
One of the most scenic beaches along the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, located just over an hour outside Victoria. The rugged trail to the beach is through beautiful old growth forest with a mini waterfall and a cool rope swing at the end.
11. Cliff jump at Sooke Potholes
The perfect, refreshing spot to cliff jump, sun bathe and and enjoy these unique swimming holes that are naturally forming throughout the river rock.
12. Hike Old Mount Baldy
One of my favourite hikes, with a rewarding view of Shawnigan Lake below you and an epic swing to take in the sights from.
13. Weekend away to Salt Spring Island
With its own quirky personality, the Gulf Island of Salt Spring is worth a weekend trip to explore the market, wineries, breweries and hikes.
14. Walk East Sooke Regional Park
East Sooke Regional Park has sparkling blue water uncharacteristic for Canadian coastlines and offers scenic coastal trails worth hiking.
15. Hike Mount Douglas
A sweet little hike in Saanich to get some exercise and experience some impressive 360-degree views of Victoria and the surrounding area.
16. Victoria’s Pride Parade
Celebrate love and support inclusiveness during Pride Week which runs from June 30th – July 7th, 2019 and culminates with the ever-popular parade on the Sunday.
17. Hike Goldstream Trestle
This rewarding and short hike offers incredible views of an old abandoned trestle tucked into the mountainside in Goldstream Provincial Park.
18. Watch HarbourCats baseball
Get out and support Victoria’s HarbourCats. Baseball games run throughout the summer months and can make for some awesome lively atmosphere to cheer for the home team and smash a hotdog (or two).
19. Victoria’s Inner Harbour and Fisherman’s Wharf
No matter how many times you see them, the Inner Harbour and Fisherman’s Wharf are still incredible sights worth exploring. Take the 20-minute stroll along the coast to appreciate the floating homes, busy waterways and impressive boats in the harbour.
20. Patio drinks
Summer isn’t complete without enjoying some sunshine on one of the the many incredible patios throughout the island. For Victoria, it is a tie between Canoe Brewpub and The Local for the best patio.
21. Wine tasting in Cowichan Valley
There are a handful of beautiful vineyards and wineries to explore in the fertile Cowichan Valley area including Unsworth and Blue Grouse. While you’re at it, make sure you stop at some of the other local food producers in the the region.
22. Visit Chemanius’ murals
The tiny town of Chemanius has showcased their history and beautified their town through the creation of their murals scattered around town. Check them out!
23. Explore Newcastle Island
Just off the coast of Nanaimo sits the little island of Newcastle. Grab the ferry over or rent a kayak and make an afternoon of exploring the island’s coastline and pathways.
24. Picnic at Rathtrevor Beach
Just on the outskirts of Parksville, this incredible spot offers plenty of park space to kick a ball around, have a picnic and appreciate the awesome sandy stretch of coast.
25. Visit Coombs Country
Once famous for just its eccentric attraction of goats living on the roof, Coombs has become increasingly popular for its delicious ice cream shop, variety of boutique stores, restaurants and of course its unique market with goods from all over the world.
26. Explore Cathedral Grove
As a kid, I didn’t truly appreciate the impressive nature of this park until I grew up, traveled and realized that most of the world doesn’t have giant old growth trees in their backyard.
Walk amongst these huge Douglas-fir trees and you will be in awe of their size!
27. Boating on Sproat Lake
Just outside Port Alberni, is (in my opinion) the nicest lake on the island! However, to be truly appreciated you need to explore it by boat. Grab a crew of friends and rent a houseboat for a long weekend!
28. Visit Hornby Island
Recently dubbed the Hawaii of the North, Hornby Island is truly spectacular. The main beach, Tribune Bay, offers clear blue water and sandy shores that make the two ferries to get here worth the effort.
29. Horne Lake Caves
Different than many of the other activities on the island, the caves provide a unique adventure to see some awesome crystal formations and crawl around within the caves.
30. Cliff jumping at Top Bridge
Definitely a favourite swimming spot for Parksville locals. When the water is high enough, you can jump off the rocks into the Englishman River.
31. Play golf
As a retirement destination, Vancouver Island is full of well-kept golf courses. Even if you don’t play a round, grab some friends and hit up a driving range.
32. Check out Little Mountain
This spot just outside Parksville is popular mostly with locals and has a striking cliff edge which overlooks the forest below.
33. Wild Play Nanaimo
If you are looking for a rush of adrenaline or wanting to do something out of your comfort zone, Wild Play has loads of adventure activities including a bungee jump dunking you into Naniamo River.
34. Elk Falls Suspension Bridge
Think of it as the little brother to Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver, except without the crowds. This suspension bridge offers stunning views of the waterfall and gorge below.
35. Visit Telegraph Cove
The quaint town of Telegraph Cove offers postcard worthy views that are quintessentially Canadian. Perfect spot for fishing, whale watching and camping.
36. Go camping
Nothing says Canadian summer quite like camping out in the bush. With so much incredible outdoor terrain throughout the island, there are plenty of beautiful spots to set up camp and get off grid for a few days.
37. Hike around Strathcona Park
This vast provincial park in central Vancouver Island has everything from steep mountain peaks, waterfalls, beautiful boardwalks, alpine lakes and meadows.
38. Explore Little Qualicum Falls
A gorgeous little walk around the falls located just outside of Qualicum Beach offers some chilly swimming holes and impressive waterfalls.
39. Hike Mt Arrowsmith
As the highest mountain on the south half of Vancouver Island, Mount Arrowsmith makes for a tougher 5-6 hour hike with some scrambles and amazing views of Vancouver Island.
40. Bear Watching
Even as a Canadian, I still get excited and child-like when I see a bear in the wild. One of the best ways to guarantee a sighting is to hop on a tour out of Tofino where you watch bears scour the rocks at low tide from the safety of your boat.
41. Surf in Tofino
Don’t let the cold water put you off. Grab a board and a wetsuit and enjoy Tofino’s most popular activity.
Read our full blog on Tofino:
6 Hidden Gems of Tofino
42. Hike the Wild Pacific Trail
Tofino’s very underrated neighbor, Ucluelet, is home to some incredible stretches of coastline. The trail features amazing views of the Broken Group Islands, a stunning rainforest, rugged coastline and more.
43. Enjoy Tacofino’s fish tacos
Tacofino’s orange food truck has become so popular that it is almost synonymous with Tofino. While their fish tacos have generated loyal followers, their real winner is their watermelon freshie.
44. Kayak around the coastline
There is so much incredible coastline to explore around Vancouver Island. One of the most intriguing in terms of marine life and beautiful areas would be the Broken Group Islands just off Ucluelet.
45. Walk Tofino’s Long Beach
As a kid this would be a must anytime we visited Tofino. The beach appeared to stretch on for ages. You will be sure to find a stretch of beach to yourself.
46. Hike Cox Bay Lookout in Tofino
This definitely makes for an epic little hike and unreal views but don’t expect to keep your shoes clean. This is one muddy hike regardless of the season.
47. Hike Meares Island’s Lonecone Trail
If you’re looking for a more strenuous activity for your Tofino adventures, this one is for you. Be prepared for an intense, steep climb and well-earned views!
48. Hot Springs Cove
These rugged, natural geothermal pools are accessible only by boat or plane, making them all the more remote and spectacular. Tours leave from Tofino, and once you reach the dock, an incredible 2km of boardwalk winds through the forest before arriving at the hot springs.
49. Whale watching
Whether you do this from Victoria, Tofino, Campbell River or elsewhere, the result will hopefully be the same – experiencing these incredible whales up close and personal.
50. Pacific Rim Highway Pull-off
En route to Tofino, where the Clayquot Plateau Provincial Park meets the highway, there is a gorgeous roadside pull-off recently referred to as Wally Creek. Here you’ll find cascading water running through large boulders and impressive mountain views.
I may be a little biased, but Vancouver Island has everything that makes Canada so incredible. From amazing wildlife, adventure activities and natural beauty such as mountains, lakes, forests and coastlines, the Island is packed with incredible destinations and awesome things to do.