Only about 60 miles west of the mainland city that bears its name, Vancouver Island feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of big city life. Home to a dizzying array of cultural offerings, not to mention sweeping coastlines and quaint fishing villages, the island is a serene and welcoming destination with endless opportunities for wildlife viewing and picturesque outdoors experiences. Add the British Columbia capital city of Victoria on its southern shores and you’ve got a mecca for those looking to combine natural wonders with modern amenities. Start your trip in Burnaby near Vancouver, and take the ferry to Victoria for island adventures.
However, you prefer to do it, Victoria is a city that makes it easy to explore at your own pace. Boasting more cycling routes than any other Canadian town, it’s easy to rent a bike or hop on your own and easily navigate the wide streets and narrow alleys of historic Chinatown, Old Town and the Inner Harbour. For an off-the-beaten-path tour of the city, try an afternoon stroll across the iconic “Blue Bridge” (otherwise known as the Johnson Street Bridge) on your way to the Westsong Walkway on the city’s less touristy side. From there, you can wind along the southern coast before arriving at Esquimalt, a neighborhood brimming with beaches, parks and fantastic views of the downtown skyline.
Drive 69 miles • 1 hour, 38 minutes
About an hour and 40 minutes north, the port city of Nanaimo is nestled between 3,300-foot Mount Benson and the expansive Strait of Georgia, giving visitors near unlimited access to outdoors recreation. Hikers looking for wide-open vistas should head to the inland hills, but for an equally unique experience take the 10-minute boat ride to Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park just offshore. With over a dozen miles of interpretive trails and plenty of opportunities for an impromptu swim, the island’s relaxing vibe and historic sites rarely disappoint. History buffs should a visit to the historic Bastion.
3) Campbell River
Drive 96 miles • 1 hour, 35 minutes
Because of its location where river and ocean collide, Campbell River is known for its incredible salmon and steelhead fishing and there are few places better than Elk Falls Provincial Park located just west of downtown. Both the Campbell and Quinsam Rivers that cut through the park are spawning grounds, so you won’t have to go far to find fish, and the many picturesque lakes are also stocked with rainbow, cutthroat and Dolly Varden trout. The park is also home to a 82-foot waterfall and a 4-mile trail system that winds through old-growth Douglas fir forest. The wildlife offshore is equally spectacular, and no trip to Campbell River would be complete without an excursion to open water.