Ready for a fun family adventure to Vancouver Island? In this guide, we provide you with everything you need to plan your perfect Vancouver Island bucket list trip. Vancouver Island, the largest island on the west coast of Canada is rich in scenery, plants, and wildlife. From snow capped mountains, to lush rainforests and wild beaches, and ancient trees.
As someone who grew up on the Island, and spent years exploring it from coast to coast, I know how special it is.
I’ve put together our list of the top Vancouver Island things to do, the best places to visit, hike, and spend time by the ocean. All family friendly, but equally fun for those traveling without kids as well.
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WHERE SHOULD YOU GO ON VANCOUVER ISLAND?
This is our list of the top must-sees on Vancouver Island. You’ll find quaint towns with murals, kilometres of beaches to wander, tidepools to peer in, and attractions you won’t want to miss.
Southern Vancouver Island Bucket List
Southern Vancouver Island runs from Victoria on up to just before Nanaimo, and encompasses towns such as Duncan, Cowichan Bay, Ladysmith, Chemainus on the east / Strait of Georgia Side.
On the west / Juan de Fuca Strait side you’ll find smaller towns like Sooke, and Port Renfrew. We’ve included some of our favorite places to visit iand things to do on a Southern Vancouver Island Bucket List.
Greater Victoria, BC Area
The Greater Victora area has a rich history, and has been inhabited by Coast Salish peoples for thousands of years. Victoria is worth visiting for it’s colonial architecture, accessible beaches, temperate weather, and kid friendly parks & activities.
Growing up in Victoria, I was lucky enough to have visited many of these favorite places many times. These are still some of the places I visit every time I am back home.
1. Take a Victoria Whale Watching Tour
Whale watching tours are a popular not to miss Bucket List activity in Victoria. Which offers a chance to see killer whales, humpback whales and bald eagles while sailing the Pacific Ocean.
If you are looking to escape to the sea, take a wild zodiac whale watching tour out on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Or if you prefer, this larger covered boat whale watching adventure, great for all ages.
Or check out our picks for the top 10 best whale watching tours in Victoria, BC.
2. Watch the Fireworks at Butchart Gardens
Butchart Gardens is a world-renowned botanical garden located in the heart of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
⭐️ If you are short on time, this day tour from Vancouver will give you a fun ferry ride with scenic views, a tour of downtown Victoria, Butchart Gardens and a memorable experience.
The gardens are open year-round and contain more than 1000 plant species on 50 acres of land. There are many varieties of tropical plants as well as rare native flowers that make Butchart Gardens one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Canada.
One thing you won’t want to miss are their fireworks.
Luckily the fireworks happen every Saturday night in the summer. Make sure to arrive early to get your spot, and it is very popular in the summer months.
If you are bringing the kids here are some fun activities for them too:
- Bring some change to let the kids ride the Rose Carousel
- Ice skating in winter
- Concerts in the amphitheatre in July and August
- Gelato in the Italian Garden
Traveling from Vancouver? There are many ways to get to Butchart Gardens from Vancouver.
3. Enjoy High Tea at the Empress
Pinkies up! High tea at the Empress is a delightful experience for those who love a little British tradition. Fancy tea cups, flaky scones and other delicacies.
After filling your belly with goodies, head down to the harbour front walkway. In summer months the walkway is alive with street performers and tourists enjoying the views.
🚙 You may also like 20 Day Trips to Take from Victoria, BC
4. Visit the Oldest Chinatown in Canada
Historic buildings, the oldest Chinatown in Canada and winding waterfront streets, downtown Victoria is charming and beautiful.
Fan Tan Alley in Chinatown is the narrowest alley in Canada, and is filled with quaint shops; ice cream, metaphysical, home decor, ans spots to pick up unusual souvenirs.
Take a wander through Chinatown and visit the Gate of Harmonious Interest.
5. Learn BC’s History at the Royal BC Museum
To learn about the rich natural and First Nations history of BC, head down to the Royal BC Museum.
You’ll want to plan at least an afternoon here, as there is so much to see and do. It makes a great rainy day activity.
6. Explore Downtown Victoria Waterfront
Head down to Fisherman’s Wharf to check out the neighbourhood seals, and grab fish and chips at Barb’s, and sit on the oceanside picnic tables,
Then take a walk along the Dallas Road trail, and head out into the harbour on the Breakwater.
Check out our family friendly 3 Day Victoria Itinerary for more fun ideas.
7. Walk the Victoria Butterfly Gardens
Victoria Butterfly Gardens is an attraction for kids, adults and families alike. My daughter loved walking through the gardens with butterflies flying over head, and nooks and crannies to explore. It’s perfect for the younger crowd.
See if you can spot the iguanas, flamingos, red footed tortoise and parrots amongst the tropical jungle foliage. It’s a perfect place to stop if you are heading to or from the ferry, or out to Sidney.
The 2 acres of free-flying butterflies provide a chance for children to delight in the beauty of nature and learn about how these creatures live and interact with the environment.
LOCAL TIP: Stop for lunch at our family’s favourite, The Roost Farm Bakery or the Prairie Inn Neighbourhood Pub. Check out the seating in the “Chicken Bus” at the Roost.
8. Bike the Galloping Goose Trail
Bike part (or all) of the 55km Galloping Goose trail which runs from dowtown Victoria to Sooke, BC.
This old railway route is a multipurpose trail that will take you through urban, rural and wilderness scenery. It’s rated easy, and is paved in the majority of sections. A day trip could include:
- Victoria to Thetis Lake via the trail and Six Mile Road (11km)
- Park at the Rocky Point Road parking lot and follow the trail to Matheson Lake and Roche Cove Regional Parks – 10km return
- Park at Roche Cove Regional Park, and follow the Trail to Sooke Potholes Regional Park 26km return
🌷 Looking for more Victoria fun? Try these free and cheap things to do in Victoria, BC Canada.
9. Walk the Sandbar at Sidney Spit Marine Park
Sidney Spit Marine Park is an ecological reserve on the west coast of Sidney Island, British Columbia, Canada. To get there you must travel by boat. You can dock your boat at the Spit, or take the seasonal foot-passenger ferry.
- It’s famous for it’s long walkable sandbar at low tide, the Sidney Spit.
It’s an important nesting ground for seabirds and has a diverse ecosystem that includes kelp forests, rocky reefs, sandy beaches, and clubs of wrasses. A bird lovers delight.
There are also areas of land with a variety of plant life as well as the remains of shipwrecks on the rocks off the coast.
Bucket List Ideas for Southern Vancouver Island Area
These bucket list ideas for southern Vancouver Island are fun for when you want to get out of Victoria and explore a little nature.
10. Hike in East Sooke Park
East Sooke Park is the place to visit for unspoiled wilderness and hiking trails, and is the perfect place to escape and explore nature.
It has been a family favorite since I was a kid. You will find gorgeous coastline, sandy beaches and the Strait of Juan de Fuca off into the distance.
The ten-kilometre rugged Coast Trail takes hikers through lush rain forest, windswept bluffs and past snarled arbutus trees.
Aylard Farm is a favourite jumping off point for families. Easy to access to the sandy beach with summer swimming, park facilities, picnic sites, and large meadows to run around in.
11. Sooke Potholes Provincial Park
Swim, cliff jump, and sun bathe at the unique swimming holes at Sooke Potholes.
There’s a trail alongside a series of deep, naturally carved and polished rock pools.
12. Beach Comb at Botanical Beach
Botanical Beach is located on the southern portion of Vancouver Island’s west coast, and is well known for its beach and tide pools teeming with marine life. Visit at low tide to take advantage of all the amazing tide pools.
I helped build the trail, back when I was much much younger. You can hike the whole thing in 3-4 days, or you can enter it for a day hike at points a long the way.
Port Renfrew is nearby, located on the pretty little inlet of Port San Juan.
Visit Avatar Grove, a 50-hectare section of old-growth forests full of moss-covered trees, meandering creeks, and small waterfalls. It’s also the start of the West Coast Trail. My most memorable memory of Port Renfrew was when I was 9 years old and got on a small boat to be taken to the trailhead of the West Coast Trail.
13. Visit Mystic Beach
Mystic Beach is one of the most scenic beaches along the Juan de Fuca Trail. About an hour from Victoria, it’s a scenic hike down to a lovely beach, with a small waterfall cascading down the cliff’s edge.
Camping here is a bucket list activity itself.
14. Camp & Kayak from Gordan Bay Provincial Park, Cowichan
Gordan Bay Provincial Park, Cowichan is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
It’s a popular place to enjoy a kayaking trip, and explore the surrounding scenery. Visitors can choose from a variety of routes, all of which offer spectacular scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities.
Gordan Bay is also a great family camping spot. In fact it was the first place we camped with our youngest when she was 18 months.
On Cowichan Lake activities include canoeing, fishing, hiking, swimming, windsurfing, and waterskiing.
LOCAL TIP: While in the Cowichan area are be sure to also check out:
- Cowichan Estuary Centre – A place kids can learn about the estuary with hands on fun activities
- Cowichan Bay Village itself is a sweet ocean town right in the Bay. Do a little shopping, visit the art gallery of prominent First Nations artist Arthur Vickers, and eat some halibut and chips at the Cowichan Bay Pub.
- Go tubing, and float down the Cowichan River in the summer months.
15. Take Cowichan Bay Whale & Wildlife Adventure
Cowichan Bay is another fabulous place to start your Vancouver Island Whale Watching Adventure.
Look for whales, bald eagles, and other wildlife along the dramatic west coast.
This whale & wildlife tour consistently gets rave reviews for knowledgeable & interesting guides, and orca & whale sightings.
16. Walk or Ride the Kinsol Trestle
Near Shawnigan Lake, the Kinsol Trestle is an old train trestle that has been converted into a gorgeous walkway. As part of the Cowichan Valley Trail, this pathway is open to hikers, horseback riders, and cyclists.
17. View the Famous Murals of Chemainus
Chemainus is well known for its 63 murals of the areas fishing, mining and forestry history. Wander the town to see if you can find them all.
Then take in the excellent local theatre shows at the Chemainus Theatre.
They offer year round professional productions of popular musicals, dramas, comedies and mysteries. We always enjoy their brunch and show option, every time we visited VIctoria, as a mini get away for ourselves.
LOCAL TIP: You must, must, must take the 15 minute drive to Ladysmith to buy a cinnamon bun at the Old Town Bakery. It’s Island famous! Expect to wait in line, but it’s worth it.
Where to stay: Last time we visited Chemainus we had a lovely stay at the Best Western Plus Chemainus Inn and a delicious meal at the Sawmill Taphouse and Grill.
Pacific Rim, Vancouver Island Bucket List Ideas
Pacific Rim of Vancouver Island runs the west central coast of the island including Port Alberni, Bamfield, Tofino and Ucluelet. It’s home to waterways, surfing, trails, lakes and salmon.
There are many amazing things to do on Vancouver Island.
18. Hike & Camp in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is an ecological wonderland. Spanning over 6,000 kilometers in length, the reserve is home to a diverse range of wildlife including the rare marbled murrelet.
The reserve protects a variety of ecosystems, including temperate rainforests, rocky beaches, and temperate coastal forests.
- It’s home to the infamous West Coast Trail and the Nuu-chah-nulth people, and sits on the edge of Long Beach between Tofino and Ucuelet.
- Close to Pacific Rim is another amazing place to hike and camp in the rugged and remote Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park.
Visit diverse forests, and some of the last remaining old growth Sitka spruce forests in BC. Access to the park is via private logging road, and is remote, so be prepared.
19. Visit the Beaches of Tofino & Ucluelet
The Tofino and Ucluelet area is a well-known surfers paradise and is popular for both tourists and locals.
In winter, surfers are given the opportunity to ride some of the biggest waves in North America as a result of storms coming in from Hawaii. Check out Long Beach, Chesterman Beach and Cox Bay.
If you are not into surfing there is plenty to do, from beach combing to hiking, kayaking, whale watching and more.
Be beach ready with your family beach vacation packing list essentials.
19. Explore Tofino’s Sites
Tofino sits in the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, and the area is surrounded by the gorgeous expanse of the UNESCO Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Region.
Enjoy rolling waves, old growth forests and hidden lakes.
Over 22,000 grey whales migrate through the waters between February and October. Take a whale-watching tour from Tofino to see whales, playful sea otters, huge sea lions and squawking sea birds.
Visit the Kwisitis Visitor Centre to learn all about local First Nations history, marine mammals and nature.
🌮 Don’t leave without tasting fish tacos – the towns “signature dish”
For a magical day trip take a 20-minute floatplane ride or 75-minute boat to Hot Springs Cove. Hike the easy and beautiful boardwalk hike through Maquinna Provincial Park to a series of geothermal pools and a waterfall.
20. See Ucluelet’s Sites
Affectionately known as “Ukee” it sits at the tip of Pacific Rim National Park.
Take the kids to the interactive and fun Ucluelet Aquarium, a large catch-and-release aquarium. Then hike part of the Wild Pacific Trail for fantastic views of Barkley Sound.
Try a little SUP (Stand-Up Paddle) boarding at Wickaninnish Beach and Long Beach, perfect for all levels.
Or of course there’s surfing. Rent your board from the Relic Surf Shop for great quality and price-point. They also rent skim boards and boogie boards if surfing is not your thing.
LOCAL TIP: Some trips deserve more than selfies! Capture family memories as your souvenir with a Flytographer photo shoot on the gorgeous beaches or ancient rainforest.
Central Vancouver Island Things to Do
Central Vancouver Island is haven of sandy beaches with warm ocean water, mountain-ringed valleys, agricultural and enticing coastal communities like Parksville and Courtenay/Comox.
21. Play 36 Holes of Mini Golf in Parksville
Two mini golf courses and 36 holes in the same park…..you can’t go wrong. Parksville is a quaint sea side village, popular with locals and tourists alike.
23. Build Sand Castles & Beaches In Parksville
Parksville was always our summer vacation destination growing up.
There are many family friendly things to do in Parksville; sand castle competitions, Parksville Community Park, and Rathtrevor Beach.
Plus so much more close by. Even goats on the roof at Coombs.
Parksville is known for it’s long, kid friendly beaches, which were always our favourite growing up.
Be sure to stock up on beach vacation supplies before you go.
24. Visit Goats on the Roof at Coombs, BC
Coombs is known for its goats on the roof. Once only a short photo op, it’s now turned into a tourist destination with eclectic stores, lunch spots, ice cream and donuts. Add Coombs to your Vancouver Island bucket list.
25. Hug Ancient Trees in Cathedral Grove
Cathedral Grove is one of the most magical and favorite spots on Vancouver Island. It’s a forest of giant Douglas Firs and Royal Cypresses, the tallest trees in Canada. There’s a two-mile trail that winds below and through the trees, providing visitors with an opportunity to catch a glimpse of this majestic cathedral.
Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park is really something you do not want to miss on your Vancouver Island bucketlist.
26. Travel the Oceanside Route
Take a road trip along the scenic Oceanside Route (Old Island Highway) from Parksville to Campbell River. This winding seaside route also passes through Qualicum, Courtney, and Comox. Some highlights:
- Horne Lake Caves are perfect for the adventurous who want to do a little guided spelunking.
- Stretch your legs, and let the kids run around Milner Gardens in Qualicum Beach, 70 acres of winding forest paths. Save time for tea at historic Milner House.
- Visit Qualicum Falls
- Hike along the Rosewall Creek Falls and the Lighthouse Trail.
- Take a guided tour at Deep Bay Marine Field Centre, a research facility
- Dinosaur lovers will enjoy the fossil tours at Courtney and District Museum and Palaeontology Centre.
26. Markets on Vancouver Island
Did you know that there are a number of farmers markets on Vancouver Island that you cannot miss?
If you are looking for a market with an abundance of local vendors, then head to Duncan Farmers Market, every Saturday year round. It’s one of our favorites.
Expect to find abundant produce, in-season fruit, honey, eggs, cheese, meat, seafood, wines and spirits, baked goods, plants and flowers, amazing local artisan creations and more. Or try:
- Moss Street Market (Victoria, BC) – Saturdays 10am-2pm in summer, 10-1pm in winter
- James Bay Community Market (downtown Victoria, BC) – Saturdays 9am-3pm seasonal
- Peninsula Country Market (at the Saanich Fairgrounds) – Saturdays 9am-1pm seasonal
How Long is Enough for a Visit to Vancouver Island?
You will need at least a week to 10 days for a visit to Vancouver Island, if you are planning on visiting Victoria, and then heading up island to visit some of the other seaside towns. That will give you enough time to get a taste of the island and what it has to offer. It really depends on what bucket list activities you want to check off your list.
Best Time to Visit Vancouver Island
The best time to visit Vancouver Island is late spring to early Fall (May to September), due to its lovely weather, and less frequent rainfall. The busiest months tend to be summer, so if you want to avoid the crowds during peak travel season, visit during the shoulder seasons April / early May and September.
Final Thoughts: Vancouver Island Bucket List
Now you have a good many excellent family friendly things to do to add to your Vancouver Island Bucket List. This is just a starting point of the highlights, as there is so much more to explore and places to visit Vancouver Island.
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