Exploring the Caves of Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island Caves

Exploring the Caves of Vancouver Island

You might be surprised to learn that caves are everywhere on Vancouver Island, ranging from barely accessible fractures leading to extensive underground networks, to the well-known caves in Horne Lake Provincial Park. Because Vancouver Island is partially formed out of karst limestone, a unique topography that results in caverns, springs, and disappearing streams, there are over 1600 known caves, with countless more sure to be discovered by enthusiastic spelunkers.


Artlish Caves on Vancouver Island

Artlish Caves Provincial Park

Getting to Artlish Caves is half the adventure. Located 80 km south of Port McNeill, and about the same distance northwest of Woss, there are no developed trails in this remote location. With two large entrances and an underground river that snakes through serene old-growth forest, these caves are a sensitive, protected area, and their unique karst features offer a true wilderness caving experience. These are challenging caves with hazards like sinkholes, so only well-experienced cavers should explore this system.  Visit BC Parks for more information and updates on accessibility.


Gordon River CavesGordon River Caves on Vancouver Island

Because the Cowichan region also features the Karst geology found all over the island, it’s home to a southern network of impressive caves that hide in plain sight. Near Gordon River, there are Mudslick, Stream, Hourglass, Easter, Big Bear, Banana Split, and Woodhole caves, each with varying degrees of difficulty and extra “features” like the need to use rope, rappelling skills, and bushwhacking. Not for beginners, this network of impressive and beautiful caves offers up endless exploration opportunities.


Horne Lake Caves Provincial ParkHorne Lake Caves on Vancouver Island

The most widely known and used caving system on Vancouver Island, Qualicum’s Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park provides the opportunity to explore the caves yourself, or experience a guided tour, and rappelling, year-round. The Riverbend cave provides a taste of caving without having to climb or crawl, and the Main cave is a tighter squeeze with ladders and climbs. Self-guided explorers can adventure through the lower cave, Andres Annex, or the first 20m of the main cave during park hours. While at the park, check out Phil Whitfield’s Fossil Geology trail, a moderately difficult 1.5 km loop named in honour of one of the park’s founders.


Little Huson Regional ParkVancouver Island - Huson Regional Park and Caves

Often described as magical with disappearing waterfalls and rivers, and an emerald green lake, the Quatsino system near Zeballos offers an incredible opportunity to explore the underground world nestled between the Nimpkish Valley and Strathcona Provincial Park. Little Huson is popular with beginning cavers with easy access and well-marked trails leading to several key areas to explore, including the Vanishing River, and the Reappearing River. Openings to the beautiful limestone caves are dotted along the banks of the Atluck Creek.


Vancouver Island's Nitnat cavesNitinat Caves

This series of caves in Cowichan’s Looper Creek Canyon lies just east of Nitinat Lake. It’s accessible by a short steep ravine, and a short walk upstream where a crack in the limestone leads in to a series of large caves. Some swimming is required, and the water is icy cold even on the hottest summer day, so plan accordingly with a wetsuit and shoes with good grip. Even if you don’t opt to go caving, the Looper Creek Canyon itself is an incredible sight made up of a 100-foot vertical limestone karst formation.


Sea Caves at Owen PointVan Isle's Owen Point Sea Caves

A different form of cave, the sandstone sea caves at Owen Point can be explored along the West Coast Trail when tides are below 1.8 m. These caves have been carved out by the repeated wave action of the Pacific Ocean, which has broken down the softer and weaker materials in the rock face, resulting in stunning caverns along the shore.


Upana CavesUpana Caves on Vancouver Island British Columbia

Upana Caves is a huge system of over 100 known caves in Nootka Sound, about 17 km west of Gold River. Upana is the most accessible of all the cave systems in the area, with fifteen known entrances. The caves can vary in size from a single cavern to a full network of darkened corridors. These caves are the deepest ones north of Mexico and can dip more than 610 metres underground so it does get quite cold. Guided tours of the “White Ridge” caverns and the underground river are available, or the cave system can be independently explored by even casual cavers.


Whether you’ve never set foot in a cave or have decades of experience in the subterranean world, Vancouver Island is an adventurer’s dream with caves galore to explore. To have the most fun, always bring the proper gear, and never go caving alone. We hope you get the opportunity to explore some of the most awe-inspiring terrain in the world, and when you’re ready to relax, we invite you to enjoy the views and ambiance here at Van Isle Marina in beautiful Sidney, BC.

Vancouver Island Flora

Flowers, Plants, and Trees on Vancouver Island

As you cruise around Vancouver Island and the neighbouring Gulf Islands of Canada’s west coast, you won’t be able to ignore the beautiful array of plant life surrounding you. Vancouver Island is a naturalist’s dream, with so many different types of flowers, plants, and trees growing from the rugged coastal shorelines to the deepest, lushest rainforests.

Here is a quick look at some of the flora you’re likely to spot while boating in the Pacific Northwest around Vancouver Island.

Trees on Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island is home to some of the largest trees and most impressive old-growth forests in the world—well worth a day trip inland. Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park features some of the world’s largest and oldest Spruce and Cedar trees. Easier to access, though much busier — is Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park with towering Douglas

flowers plants and trees of vancouver island -Sitka Spruce

Firs that reach up to 9 metres in circumference.

Sitka Spruce: An iconic image on the West Coast, the Sitka Spruce is an evergreen coniferous tree with thin, scaly bark. It can be identified by its flat, sharp needles and 5-9 cm long cones that range from yellowish brown to reddish brown.


flowers plants and trees of vancouver island -Western Red CedarWestern Red Cedar: The Provincial tree of BC, the Western Red Cedar is another evergreen coniferous tree. For many years, the Native groups of Vancouver Island have used the lumber and pliable bark for making everything from clothing to dugout canoes. This tree prefers a cool, coastal climate and can live up to 1,000 years.


flowers plants and trees of vancouver island - Douglas Fir

Douglas Fir: Actually a type of pine, the Douglas Fir has bright yellowish-green needles, and can be identified by the spiral pattern of needles on the twigs. The cones are typically a purplish-brown colour, with an interesting pattern of rounded scales and three-pronged “bracts” which look almost like the back legs and tails of little mice.


flowers plants and trees of vancouver island - ArbutusArbutus: The eye-catching Arbutus is a broadleaf evergreen which can be easily identified by its crooked stature, reddish, peeling bark and smooth leaves. Arbutus prefer sun and dry soil and grow along rocky bluffs and outcrops. White bell-shaped flowers bloom in late spring, and an orange, waxy fruit appears in the fall.


flowers plants and trees of vancouver island - Garry OakGarry Oak: The only native oak species in the province, it’s quite rare and found only along the Pacific Northwest and in California. Like the Arbutus, it prefers dry, rocky hillsides and plenty of sun. Also like the Arbutus, it has a twisted, dramatic looking trunk and branches. In the fall, the tree produces small acorns, and its shiny green leaves turn yellow.


Flowers on Vancouver Island

plants of vancouver island - Wild Ginger

Wild ginger: This groundcover has shiny green heart-shaped leaves. One flower, ranging in colour from deep red to light green, grows between two of these leaves. This plant is commonly found in forested areas and is named for the strong gingery taste of its roots.


flowers, plants and trees of vancouver island - Ocean SprayOceanspray: Typically about 3-10 feet high, Oceanspray is a dramatic shrub with cascades of white/cream coloured blossoms. It can grow just about anywhere—from dry rocky soil to the moist rainforest. Its wood is known as ironwood since it becomes stronger when heated in fire.


flowers plants and trees of vancouver island - Nootka Rose

Nootka Rose: A perennial beauty, this plant grows 2-10 feet high and can be very invasive. It produces plenty of pink flowers that fill the air with a delicate floral scent, as well as rosehips that can be used to make teas, jams, or jellies.


flowers plants and trees of vancouver island - Western Trillium
Western Trillium:
Trilliums on the West Coast take up to 10 years to bloom and flourish in the spring. The older the plant gets, the deeper the three-petaled blossom becomes, changing from white to pink to a deep burgundy.


flora on vancouver island - Pacific Bleeding HeartPacific Bleeding Heart: With fern-like leaves and heart-shaped flowers, this plant typically grows 10-20 inches tall and can be found blooming in late spring, surrounded by ferns. A great source of food for hummingbirds and butterflies, it grows at sea level and midway up mountains.


plants on vancouver island - Salal

Plants on Vancouver Island

Salal: An evergreen shrub and traditional food plant, salal is found near the coast all the way into the deepest rainforests. The edible dark berries can be eaten fresh or used to make jams and jellies. It’s also a top pick for florists, with a thick, waxy green leaf that retains its colour long after cutting.


flora of vancouver island - Sword Fern

Sword Fern: Invasive but beautiful, this evergreen grows up to 5 feet tall and each plant spreads to about 4 feet wide. Its textured green fronds grow in a triangular shape and cover the shaded forest floor.


flora of vancouver island - Sea Asparagus
Sea Asparagus:
Found on calm shorelines growing between rocks, this perennial has fleshy stems that reach up to 30 cm long. Like many plant species found in the Pacific Northwest, it can also be used in all kinds of recipes, and is typically pickled and paired with seafood.


plants of vancouver island -Bear BerryKinnikinnik (Bear Berry): A low evergreen shrub with rounded leaves, this plant is found in dryer areas and grows up to a maximum of 15 cm high. It produces white/pink flowers in the spring and red berries in the winter, but these dry, mealy berries are best left to the birds and bears.


plants on vancouver island - Coastal StrawberryCoastal Strawberry: Native to the Pacific Northwest, this plant looks like a typical garden strawberry plant, but the small, juicy berries are a lot sweeter, making them a great treat if you’re out for a hike in the woods. For a true Coastal Strawberry, look for white blossoms and red fruit with yellow seeds.


plants of vancouver island - Tall Oregon Grape

Tall Oregon Grape: Up to 8 feet tall, these plants resemble holly, with their shiny, spiked leaves, but the resemblance ends there. The leaves change to a bronze or purple colour in the winter, and it produces clusters of bright yellow flowers as well as sour dark blue berries in the spring and summer months.


These are just a few of the hundreds of species that can be spotted on the coast and surrounding woodlands. Though many are edible, please use caution and be sure you can identify the plant first. To learn more, there are plenty of great guides both in print and online that list the many native plants on the West Coast.

At Van Isle Marina, we have decades of experience out on the water and have spotted plenty of the plants listed above, both from shoreline excursions, and from the decks of our motor boats and yachts.

Come and see us – we are your Pacific Northwest boating experts and will be happy to show you around our docks!

Boat Only Destinations Around Vancouver Island Canada

Boat Access Only Tourist Spots

Best Boat Only Destinations Around Vancouver Island

Who doesn’t love the beauty and serenity that a secluded beach, only accessible by boat, provides? At Van Isle Marina, we love spending days or weeks at a time aboard our boats exploring the Pacific Northwest, particularly the many islands and coves around Vancouver Island.

Sometimes, the best places are stumbled upon by accident, when you weren’t even looking for them, but there are a few places that should definitely be on your boating bucket list. Here are our top places around Vancouver Island that you can only get to by boat:

Snake Islandsnake island - accessible by boat only

Snake Island, about 6 km from Nanaimo’s Departure Bay, is a small, uninhabited island that’s popular with kayakers and canoers. Directly in the path of BC Ferries, be on high alert when navigating this region. Snake Island offers amazing diving experiences, a little lighthouse, a large population of harbour seals, beautiful sandstone overhangs, and great birdwatching opportunities.

Rugged Point Marine Park

If you’re looking for plenty of park amenities such as camping, canoeing, fishing, windsurfing, and hiking, check out Rugged Point. This provincial park is located on the west coast of northern Vancouver Island on the southwest end of Kyuquot Channel in the mouth of Kyuquot Sound. There are a variety of safe places to anchor at Rugged Point, or in nearby Dixie Cove, making this a popular destination for boaters.

Clayoquot Wilderness ResortClayoquot, Vancouver Island, Canada

For a night or two on land, consider a stay at the seasonally-operated Clayoquot Wilderness Resort – an “all-inclusive eco-safari resort” about 30 minutes by boat from Tofino. At this wilderness retreat you get the chance to stay in one of 25 great white canvas, fully-equipped prospector-style tents, and enjoy artfully prepared coastal gourmet cuisine, a spa and more.

Broken Island Group

The Broken Group of Islands in the middle of Barkley Sound is nestled in the Alberni Inlet and close to the Pacific Rim National Park – one of Canada’s most acclaimed parks. Allow several days of boating here, where you’ll enjoy 50 kilometers of fine sand beaches at the national park before or after exploring the Broken Group Islands. If you’re into fishing, check out Eagle Nook Resort for world-class, all-inclusive salmon and fishing charters. Located amongst the Broken Group of Islands and accessible only by boat or seaplane, this remote 5-star fishing vacation is certainly something you’ll want to add to your itinerary.

Grant Bay

Grant Bay, located on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island near Port Hardy, is a white sand secluded beach that technically can be accessed by a drive and a hike, but we believe it’s much more fun to bypass all that by using a boat.

To get there from Winter Harbour, where there is a boat launch if need be, bear right at Mathews Island, continue up the inlet, bear left, tie up safely on the beach and follow the trail through the forest about 30 minutes. You’re there when you see a wide expanse of West Coast sandy beach. You might also see whales and sea otters, both of which are common in the area.

Sandy Island

Sandy Island Marine Park, known locally as Tree Island, is located on the northern tip of Denman Island. Access is boat-only, or by foot from Denman Island at low tide. Sandy Island offers great birdwatching and sandy beaches suitable for sunbathing and swimming.

Ahousahtboat only access to Ahousaht Flores Island

Ahousaht, located in a small bay on the east side of Flores Island in Clayoquot Sound, is the largest of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations with more than 2,000 members. At Ahousaht you’ll also find the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve, home to a diverse ecosystem and a rare ancient temperate rain forest. Take a reprieve from life at sea. Moor the boat and take a stay at the Aauuknuk Lodge or the Lone Cone Hostel and Campground located on Meares Island.

Vargas Island Provincial Park

Vargas Island Provincial Park in Clayoquot Sound is located immediately northwest of Tofino and west of Meares Island on the west coast of Vancouver Island. This park offers great paddling, camping, and wildlife viewing. Also be on the lookout for Gray whales around Ahous Bay in the spring.

On the shorelines of Vargas Island, you’ll see an exposed rocky coast, sandy beaches, sheltered channels and bays, an intertidal lagoon, and ancient sand berms – rows of crescent-shaped sand mounds that indicate earlier sea levels.

Desolation Sound Marine Provincial ParkDesolation Sound - accessible by boat

Chances are you’ve already heard about or been to Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park – a boater’s paradise, with its calm waters, vistas, and more than 60 km of shoreline to discover. There are three major destination anchorages that make up Desolation Sound: Prideaux Haven, Tenedo’s Bay and Grace Harbour. This place is popular, but there is plenty of room for everyone.

Refuge Cove

Refuge Cove in the heart of Desolation Sound is a remote community of around 30 full-time residents with a great summertime burger joint, general store, and campsites. They also offer free four-hour moorage, or overnight stays for a small fee.

Roscoe Bay and Squirrel CoveSquirrel Cove - arrive by boat

While near Desolation Sound, we also recommend visiting nearby Roscoe Bay and Squirrel Cove, both northwest of Desolation. Note that swimming in Roscoe Bay isn’t recommended. Instead, take a 1-2 hour hike and enjoy a freshwater swim at nearby Black Lake.

Lasqueti Island

Lasqueti Island lies off the east coast of Vancouver Island in the Powell River Regional District. It has a population of around 500 people who all live off-grid. There are no public campgrounds on the island, but there are numerous provincial parks on the perimeters of the island, including Squitty Bay Provincial Park. The waters around this area are ideal for cold water scuba diving.

Protection Island

Protection Island, about a 15-minute ferry ride from the harbour city of Nanaimo, is home to around 350 full-time residents. The main mode of transportation on the island is golf carts. On Protection Island you’ll definitely have to check out the Dinghy Dock pub, which is Canada’s only floating pub. There are also tons of beaches and wildlife viewing opportunities on this small island.

New Castle and Gabriola Islands

Also in the Nanaimo area is New Castle Island, a popular place for kayakers who are launching from Nanaimo, and Gabriola Island, or Isle of the Arts, which is a small town of around 4,000 people, including many artists.

Mudge Island

Between Vancouver Island and Gabriola Island you’ll also find Mudge Island, a small island with 50-65 full-time residents and a public park (South Beach), but no ferry service or stores. Mudge is on the northern tip of Dodd Narrows, which means strong currents, whirlpools and back eddies, so proceed with caution! Also be mindful of the reef running through nearby False Narrows.

Hot Springs Coveboat or plane only access - Hot Springs Cove, Vancouver Island

Hot Springs Cove in Maquinna Provincial Park northwest of Tofino in Clayoquot Sound – a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve – are geothermal hot springs backed by amazing scenery. To access the hot springs, anchor the boat and then enjoy a 2km walk along well-maintained boardwalks and wooden stairs through lush rainforest to get to the natural hot springs. There, you can take a long soak.

Additional Destinations Recommended by Pacific Yachting

In addition to the items on our list, check out Pacific Yachting’s 7 Best Boat-Access-Only Beaches in the Gulf Islands, which features:

The boating experts here at Van Isle Marina are very familiar with these and many other great destinations for boating in the Pacific Northwest. We’d also love to hear about the places you love boating around Vancouver Island! We look forward to welcoming you to our docks and helping you find the best new or pre-owned boat or yacht to match your boating lifestyle.

Vancouver Island Summer Festivals

Vancouver Island Summer Festivals

17 Must See Summer Festivals on Vancouver Island

At Van Isle Marina, our staff always look forward to festival season – from all the music and marine festivals, to the food, beverage, and sporting festivals, there is always a lot happening on Vancouver Island from May to September. Check out 17 of our favourites, highlighted below.

1. Heritage Boat FestivalHeritage Boat Festival

May 25, 2019

Ladysmith Community Marina

Check out the annual Heritage Boat Festival to see several heritage vessels from all over the west coast on display. As the event’s tagline goes, these beautiful vessels are shining examples of our “ocean-going history on the west coast.”

Speak with captains of the 20 heritage vessels dockside to learn about these beautiful boats. Kids and adults alike will also enjoy meeting members of the local Coast Guard and taking a ride on one of their newest hovercrafts.

If it’s newer boats or yachts you’re looking for, make your way from Ladysmith to Sidney to stop by and see us at Van Isle Marina.

2. BC Seafood Festival

June 7-16, 2019

Comox Valley, Various Venues

The BC Seafood Festival is the largest seafood festival in western Canada and has been going strong since 2006. Enjoy more than a week’s worth of events designed especially for “sea-foodies” including tastings, pairings, cooking competitions, and celebrity chef cooking demos.

3. Tofino Food and Wine FestivalTofino Food and Wine Festival

June 7-9, 2019

Tofino, Various Venues

The Tofino Food and Wine Festival is entering its 17th year. Enjoy a laidback weekend of food and wine events on the west coast, including the festival’s signature event, Grazing in the Gardens, which features more than 75 BC wines and cider, beer, and tonics from 21 breweries and vineyards,  as well as bites from 20 chefs.

4. Tofino SUP Festival & Race

June 14-16, 2019

Tofino, Chestermans Beach & Mackenzie Beach

Following the Tofino Food and Wine Festival is the Tofino SUP Festival and Race. There will be short and long distance races, fun races and relays, demos, and a huge BBQ. All ages skill levels are welcome to participate.

5. Cowichan Valley Bluegrass FestivalCowichan Bluesgrass Festival

June 14-16, 2019

Cowichan Valley, Laketown Ranch

The inaugural all-ages Cowichan Valley Bluegrass Festival will feature Claire Lynch, The Slocan Ramblers, The Lonely Heartstring Band, The Sweet Lowdown, Clover Point Drifters, Country Squall, Nomad Jones and more. This new festival replaces the former Sooke River Bluegrass Festival, which, after 17 years, outgrew its location and rebranded this year. The new location of Laketown Ranch (same as SunFest) features unlimited camping and a “cozy western town” setting.

6. Victoria Ska Festival

June 19-23, 2019

Victoria, Various Venues

The Victoria Ska Festival, better known simply as SkaFest, is the longest-running ska festival in North America and takes place at various venues around downtown Victoria – from daytime shows on the waterfront to late night performances at pubs and clubs. Dock your boat and join the party with performances from Ky-Mani Marley, Less Than Jake, Macka B, Cherry Poppin Daddies, and dozens more.

7. TD Victoria International JazzFestVictoria Jazz Fest

June 21-30, 2019

Victoria, Various Venues

The TD Victoria International JazzFest, produced by the Victoria Jazz Society, is a huge music festival featuring jazz, blues, roots, world beat and more styles of music from local, Canadian, and internationally acclaimed musicians. Last year there were 85 concerts on 13 stages around town, and this year promises to be just as big, if not bigger.

8. Canada Day Celebrations on Vancouver Island

July 1, 2019

All Over the Island

Vancouver Islanders are known to go all out for Canada Day. If you’ll be visiting Vancouver Island on July 1st, you won’t be too far from a Canada Day Celebration. Free events and parties will be taking place in:

  • Victoria
  • Port Renfrew
  • Esquimalt
  • Colwood
  • Duncan
  • Chemainus
  • Ladysmith
  • Nanaimo
  • Parksville
  • Bowser
  • Comox Valley
  • Campbell River
  • & More!

9. Parksville Beach FestivalParksville Beach Festival - Quality Foods Sand Sculpting Competition

July 12 to August 18, 2019

Parksville Community Park

A highly anticipated event for many Vancouver Islanders is Parksville Beach Festival and the Quality Foods Sand Sculpting Competition and Exhibition. During the competition, international artists come from around the world to sculpt sand castles in a specific theme on Parksville’s public beach in the community park.

While the sand castles are kept on display, the festival hosts a series of live music events and more, allowing ample opportunity for more than 100,000 visitors each year to enjoy all the action on the Island’s east coast.

Hint: Don’t let pictures of the sand castles on social media ruin the experience for you – try and get there in person to see all the intricate detail that goes into the amazing artworks.

10. Vancouver Island Music Festival

July 12-14, 2019

Comox Valley Fairgrounds

The eco-minded, volunteer-led Vancouver Island Music Festival is one of the largest festivals held annually on Vancouver Island, drawing attendees from Victoria to Port Hardy and even the mainland! Tom Cochrane with Red Rider will be headlining this year, along with a wide variety of performers on many different stages.

11. Nanaimo Marine FestivalNanaimo Marine Festival - Bathtub Races

July 19-21, 2019

Nanaimo, Maffeo Sutton Park

You might know the Nanaimo Marine Festival better as Bathtub Weekend – the Harbour City’s most popular tradition that attracts spectators and competitors from all over the world. Race day is Sunday, with concerts in the park, beer gardens, food trucks, a street fair, kids’ zone, vendors, fireworks and much more happening throughout the weekend.

Bathtub Weekend is one of Nanaimo’s biggest and busiest annual events, and very easy to get to by boat, making it one of our favourite events to let our customers know about.

One week ahead of the Nanaimo Marine Festival is the Save on Foods Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival happening July 5-7, 2019, at the same location, and also a highly energetic and entertaining weekend.

12. SunFestVancouver Island's Sunfest Festival

August 1-4, 2019

Cowichan Lake, Laketown Ranch

SunFest is an annual country music festival that takes place in the Cowichan Valley over three days. During the festival, thousands of country music fans flock to Cowichan Lake to see their favourite A-List country music artists. Camping is encouraged and adds to the good times.  SunFest 2019 features headliners Terri Clark, Kip Moore, Michael Ray, Aaron Goodwin, Andrew Hyatt, Maren Morris and more.

13. Coombs Bluegrass Festival

August 2-4, 2019               

A Coombs Hilliers Recreation & Community Organization Production

For a lively weekend of bluegrass tunes, don’t miss the  41st Coombs Bluegrass Festival. There are several bands booked so far for this quaint but energetic showcase: Queens Bluegrass, Rough Cut, Backspin Band,  The Weavils, 5 On A String, Old Time Fiddlers, Scout Mountain, and the Sacred Harmony Gospel Band are all making appearances. Camping is available on-site, and during performances, there will be lots of covered seating in the bleachers, or you can bring your lawn chair and sit right up front.

14. Comox Nautical Days

August 3-5, 2019

Comox Marina Park

Comox Nautical Days includes the always anticipated fireworks show, as well as the Bullhead Derby, Build Bail and Sail, Vintage Car Show, and the HMCS Quadra Ceremony of the Flags. Also take some time to enjoy the rides, games and crafts for the kids and the Rotary Splash Park and Playground. Rounding out this popular festival will be more than 100 craft booths and a variety of food trucks.

15. Summer Firework SaturdaysButchart Gardens Saturday Night Fireworks Shows

June to August

Butchart Gardens in Brentwood Bay

If you’ll be on Vancouver Island looking for something spectacular to do on a Saturday night but don’t want to commit to a full festival, check the fireworks at the world-class Butchart Gardens. During Butchart Gardens’ Spectacular Summer Evenings, there will be Night Illumination displays and evening entertainment. Fireworks will happen on 10 select Saturdays beginning on June 29.

16. Salmon Festival & Derby

August 30-September 2, 2019

Port Alberni, Tyee Landing (next to Fisherman’s Wharf

A Labour Day tradition in Port Alberni, the Salmon Festival is heading into its 48th year. The biggest attractions of the Salmon Fest are the Salmon Derby and the fireworks. Live music and other events like a karaoke contest and kids’ activities round out this family-friendly festival in the Salmon Capital of the World. This is the third year in a row the Salmon Festival has taken place at Tyee Landing, so if you’ve been to the derby before but haven’t been in awhile – take note of its new location!

17. Rifflandia

September 12-15, 2019

Victoria, Various Venues

Finally, Rifflandia in Victoria typically marks the end of the Island’s festival season. Still a relatively new music festival, Rifflandia has grown to be one of Vancouver Island’s biggest festivals, drawing many modern acts, big names and Juno Award winners. Expect four days of parties at multiple venues across more than a dozen stages. An artisan market featuring vintage, upcycled, and handmade goods is also part of this festival.


On your next trip to Vancouver Island, we hope you get the chance to experience some of the Island’s world-class events. While you’re here, we also invite you to come and check us out at Van Isle Marina in Sidney BC for a relaxing time checking out our yachts and boats.

Sidney BC is a quaint seaside town with a wide variety of things to check out while you’re mooring with us.

The staff at Van Isle Marina are your Pacific Northwest boating experts and will be happy to show you around our docks!

15 things to do in Sidney BC

15 Things to Do in Sidney BC

Wondering What To Do While You’re Visiting Sidney?

Many boating enthusiasts who come to the Pacific Northwest from far and wide to take in the area’s stunning scenery make a point of stopping in Sidney by the Sea – a seaside community in British Columbia, Canada.sidney pier in Sidney, BC, Canada

Sidney is located at the northern end of the Saanich Peninsula on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. The small town is where we here at Van Isle Marina call home.

Sometimes referred to as the gateway to Vancouver Island, Sidney is home to around 11,500 residents and is a popular tourist destination, especially during the spring and summer months. It also happens to be the only Canadian port-of-call in the Washington State Ferries system, with ferries running from Sidney to the San Juan Islands and Anacortes. Sidney is also just minutes away from the Victoria International Airport and Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal.

If you are planning a trip to Vancouver Island, our friendly Van Isle Marina staff recommend checking out the following attractions in Sidney, BC.

Waterfront Walkway

After you’ve experienced Sidney’s waterfront from your yacht, Sidney’s waterfront walkway is the next best way to fully experience the town’s beautiful shoreline. Along the 3.6-km walkway, you’ll find Beacon Park and the start of the Sidney Seaside Sculpture Walk that ambles south towards the Sidney International Ferry Terminal. On this self-guided tour, stop to take pictures of the public art and sculptures, such as the Board Dog, Eye of the Ocean, and Double Spinner.

Sidney Pierromantic pier in Sidney BC

Along the waterfront walkway in Sidney, you’ll also happen upon the town’s iconic fisherman’s pier where you will be able to grab a bite to eat or visit the fish market. Why not stay a while, cast a line, and see if anything bites? The pier in Sidney is also a popular spot for crab fishing.


Sidney is an excellent place to stock up on books for your boat! With its five independent bookstores, Sidney is known as Canada’s only “Booktown”. Each of Sidney’s independently owned bookshops has a unique identity and focal point, with experts behind the counter who have put together special collections of thousands of titles to choose from.

Lochside Trail

Sidney is conveniently located on the Lochside Trail a 29-kilometre multi-use path that connects the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal to Victoria, where it connects with the Galloping Goose Trail. A great way to experience the Lochside Trail is to rent a bike in Sidney to head out on this trail that was formerly a railway line. You’ll zip past beaches and farmland, while exploring the suburban countryside.

BC Aviation Museum

For aviation enthusiasts, the British Columbia Aviation Museum is open seven days a week and features several aircraft and artifacts related to the history of aviation in Canada, with an emphasis on BC aviation history. The museum displays restored aircraft, engines, and pictures, photos and videos in addition to memorials of key figures of aviation history.Sidney Museum in Sidney, BC, Canada

Sidney Museum

The Sidney Museum features 8,000 artifacts and regularly updated permanent displays on local First Nations, industry, transportation, agriculture, and social history. Displays include a vintage kitchen, a vintage storefront, a rustic barn and a hands-on schoolhouse. In addition to its permanent exhibits, the Sidney Museum also features temporary exhibits. A schedule can be found on their website.

Wines, Beers & Ciders

Deep Cove Winery in Sidney BC

In and around Sidney, there are numerous vineyards and distillers around to help quench your thirst, including Victoria Distillers’ new waterfront distillery in Sidney, the Sea Cider Far & Cider House in Saanichton, the Roost Vineyard Bistro in North Saanichton, and Deep Cove Winery, also in North Saanichton.

Roberts Bay

Enjoy an afternoon of hiking and birdwatching at Robert’s Bay and the Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary. You can birdwatch from your boat, or moor with us at Van Isle Marina and walk over to explore the area on foot. Other nearby sites include Island View Beach and Horth Hill Regional Park.

Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea Aquarium

The Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea on Sidney’s waterfront is a world-class, hands-on aquarium featuring 160 species of marine life, a marine mammal artifact exhibit, and a Coast Salish art collection. It’s a great attraction for kids and adults alike with an events calendar that includes everything from children’s activities to informative lectures and workshops about the Salish Sea.

Downtown Shopping

Be sure to leave time to explore all of downtown Sidney, where there are plenty of boutique shops featuring the work of local artisans and crafters. Enjoy an afternoon of strolling through each shop for some truly unique finds. Sidney shops offer something for everyone, whether you’re looking for special artwork for your boat, gifts for your loved ones, or functional items for your home.

Sidney Street Market

The Sidney Street Market has been going strong since 1999! If you’re lucky enough to be in Sidney on a Thursday evening between June and August, be sure to make your way downtown and stock up on fresh ingredients and local crafts from Island vendors.

Sidney Spit

Sidney Spit, located on the north end of Sidney Island,  is part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. The area features stunning sandy beaches, wooded trails, and a host of birds and wildlife. There are campsites, dock spaces, and mooring buoys for overnight stays. Get there in your powerboat or kayak, or use the walk-on ferry service that provides access to the Island from May to September.

Sidney Whale Watching

The calm waters near Sidney make the region an excellent place for whale watching. Watch from the privacy of your own boat, or book through Sidney Whale Watching.

BC Boat Show & Other Annual Events

Sidney hosts a wide range of annual events throughout the year, including the 2019 BC Boat Show in May, where members of the Van Isle Marina team will be offering tours of our boats. Check Sidney’s featured events calendar to see what else will be happening in town during your trip.

Van Isle Marina & Sea Glass Waterfront Grill Sidney by the Sea, Sidney, British Columbia, Canada

As a bonus item on our list of Things to Do in Sidney, BC, we thought we might as well include ourselves! Take a walk on our docks and check out all the boats we have moored here. While you’re here, we hope you also check out the Sea Glass Waterfront Grill, which serves up contemporary west coast dining.

The boating experts here at Van Isle Marina are very familiar with Sidney, and we would love to answer any questions you might have about the town itself, and how to navigate to nearby communities and attractions, whether by car or boat. We look forward to welcoming you to our docks and the quaint seaside region we call home.


Birdwatching - common seabirds of Vancouver Island

Birdwatching from Your Boat

Common Seabirds of Vancouver Island

As you cruise around Vancouver Island and the neighbouring Gulf Islands of Canada’s west coast, you won’t be able to ignore the diverse population of birds soaring above you or swimming beside your vessel. Vancouver Island is a birdwatcher’s paradise, with so many different types flocking to and from the island throughout the year, both on land and in the sea.

Here is a quick look at some of the birds you’re likely to spot while boating in the Pacific Northwest around Vancouver Island. Have your binoculars and camera ready!

Common birds of vancouver island - sawbill duck

Sawbill Duck

Types of Birds Around Vancouver Island


There are many ducks to be found close to the shoreline surrounding Vancouver Island, including sawbill ducks known for their saw-toothed bills which are ideal for catching fish underwater. Mergansers, which are commonly found in winter, are the most common sawbill duck found around the island. There are also Harlequins (spring and summer breeders), Eiders, Scoters, and Goldeneyes, which migrate in late fall and early spring.


canadian loon - birds of vancouver island

Canadian Loon

There are four main types of loons living around Vancouver Island: the Common Loon (as found on Canada’s $1 coins called “Loonies”), Pacific Loon, Yellow-billed Loon, and Red-Throated Loon. Loons are aquatic birds that are larger than ducks but smaller than geese. They are hardy birds seen year-round in our waters, but especially in the winter.


Known for soaring great distances despite their incredible size, the albatross is hard to miss. Albatrosses are large seabirds that originated in the Atlantic but are now common around the Pacific Ocean. Albatrosses found in our region are the Black-footed (most common), Laysan, and Short-tailed Albatrosses. Back in the day, sailors regarded the Albatross as a symbol of good luck.


If you’re out far enough from the shore in your boat, you might spot a shearwater or two, which are known to follow whales and fishermen around in search of an easy catch. The Pacific Ocean is home to several species of shearwaters, including the Short-Tailed, Sooty, Flesh-Footed, Pink-Footed and Buller’s shearwaters.

Storm Petrels

Storm Petrels are known for their tube-shaped beaks. They are similar to shearwaters, but don’t fly so close to the waves. There are two main types of Storm Petrels in our region: the Fork-tailed Storm Petrel and the Leach’s Storm Petrel.


Cormorants are large birds with distinctive hooked bills used to catch fish as they dive beneath the sea’s surface. Cormorants found around Vancouver Island include the Double-Crested, Pelagic, and Brandt’s Cormorant.


You’ll find plovers wading along the shoreline feeding on insects, crustaceans, and worms. The main plover species living around Vancouver Island include the Pacific Golden, American Golden, Black-Bellied, and Killdeer plovers.


Sandpipers also wade along the shorelines hunting for food. They have long bills, which set them apart from plovers. Vancouver Island is home to sandpipers like Godwits, Turnstones, Shanks, Tattlers, Dowitchers, and Calidrids.

Skuas & Jaegers

Skuas and jaegers are strong, “scrappy” birds that like to take their food from gulls and other seabirds. Species in the region include the Pomarine Jaeger, Long-Tailed Jaeger, Parasitic Jaeger, and South Polar Skua.

Murres, Auks & Puffins

These closely related seabirds are all known to be clumsy on land, but fast underwater. With their black and white feathers and upright posture, these birds may remind you of penguins, but there is no relation. Notable species to look out for while boating are the Tufted Puffin, Cassin’s Auklet Common Murre, Ancient Murrelet, and endangered Marbled Murrelet.


Considered very much to be coastal birds, gulls are practically synonymous with the sea, and there is certainly no shortage of gulls living around Vancouver Island. The Western Gull is the most common gull in the region, but there are many others, like the Ring-Billed Gull, Herring Gull, Heermann’s Gull, Glaucous-Winged Gull, Slaty-Backed Gull, and Common (Mew) Gull.


Skimmers are black and white long-winged birds with bright reddish bills. They closely resemble terns, who forage for food from dusk until dawn. Skimmers are easily recognizable and have several other names, including scissor-bill, shearwater, seadog, cutwater, razorbill, flood gull, and stormgull.


Terns are long-distance migrants closely related to gulls and skimmers – the biggest difference being they are slimmer birds and have longer tails and shorter legs. Around Vancouver Island there are three main species of terns to spot: the Arctic Tern, Common Tern, and Caspian Tern.


bald eagle - common birds of vancouver island

Bald Eagle

There are several raptors (birds of prey) circling Vancouver Island at any given time, including the mighty Bald Eagle – builders of the largest tree nests in the world. The bald eagle hunts near large bodies of water and nests in old-growth forests. They especially enjoy flying near rivers during the fall salmon spawning season. No matter how many times you see an eagle, it’s hard not to stop what you’re doing and stare.

Other raptors to admire around the Island include the Peregrine Falcon, the Osprey (found near any body of water), the Turkey Vulture (found inland around garbage heaps), and the Red-Tailed Hawk – a bird that prefers open fields to the open sea.


Belted Kingfishers are commonly found year-round along the streams and shorelines around the island. Known as much for their loud, rattling calls as they are for their large heads, shaggy crests, and big bills, the American Belted Kingfisher was prominently featured on the Canadian $5 bill in 1986, which is why he might look a little familiar.

Black Oystercatchers

The black oystercatcher is a distinctive bird with its bright red beak, pink legs, and pure black feathers. Find oystercatchers hanging out in pairs during low tide or near protected shorelines and jetties. Contrary to their name, oystercatchers don’t eat Vancouver Island oysters – they prefer other shellfish like clams and mussels.

Grey Heron - common birds of vancouver island

Grey Heron


There is a unique subspecies of the Great Blue Heron living year-round on Vancouver Island. Unlike other herons, the ones here do not migrate; instead they breed in colonies in marshes and wetlands. From Quadra Island all the way down to Victoria, you can find Herons patiently waiting on floating beds of kelp, waiting in anticipation for their next meal.

This list is just a partial list of the bird species you’re likely to spot on Canada’s west coast. You can find a few of them, such as Harlequin Ducks and Great Blue Herons at Robert’s Bay Bird Sanctuary, which is just steps away from us here at Van Isle Marina. Or, if you’re heading in-land, try any of these South Vancouver Island hikes to catch a glimpse of even more bird species.

At Van Isle Marina, we have decades of experience out on the water and have spotted plenty of the birds listed above, particularly from the decks of our motor boats and yachts.

Come and see us – we are your Pacific Northwest boating experts and will be happy to show you around our docks!

For more pics and information about all the seabirds of Vancouver Island, visit Discover Vancouver Island.


top 10 hiking destinations on south vancouver island

South Island Hiking Trails

Top 10 Hiking Destinations on Southern Vancouver Island

From North to South, Vancouver Island is covered in beautiful, well-maintained hiking trails for all skill levels. Below is a list of Van Isle Marina staff’s favourite hiking destinations on the Southern part of Vancouver Island – because sometimes you just need to get off the boat, go for a drive, and stretch your sea legs.

  1. Galloping Goose Trail

The Galloping Goose is a multi-use, 55-km trail connecting Victoria and Sooke. A former railroad line, this trail is popular with dog-walking locals, commuting cyclists, and outdoor enthusiasts from all around. Depending on your access point, you’ll pass tons of wilderness, waterways, rural farmland, and urban pathways.

See how to get to the Galloping Goose Trail 

  1. Thetis Lake Regional ParkThetis Lake Regional Park sign

Accessible via the Galloping Goose Trail, Thetis Lake Regional Park offers panoramic views of the lakes and surrounding hills, beaches, picnic spots, old growth trees, wild flowers, and hiking trails ranging from easy to expert. While there are plenty of trails allowing you to create your own route, you can also do the simple hike around the lake in 5 km. Expect tons of locals out for exercise on this trail.

See how to get to Thetis Lake Regional Park

  1. Mount Work Regional Park

At Mount Work Regional Park near Langford, enjoy three lakes, Dorrence, Fork, and Pease, and then consider hiking the Summit. The Mount Work summit trail is a steep 4.5 km hike more suitable for experienced hikers. Trail markers will help show you the way up what is at first a mossy, lush forest then a rockier viewpoint. An accessible loop trail is available at the Munn Road entrance.

See how to get to Mount Work Regional Park 

  1. Goldstream Provincial Park

Goldstream Provincial Park Falls on Malahat north of LangfordGoldstream Park is a must-see if you’re visiting south Vancouver Island and are looking for a massive park with plenty of amenities. Although it’s inland quite far, Goldstream has easy, wheelchair accessible trails, or more strenuous hikes. Some to check out are Arbutus Ridge, Arbutus Loop, Gold Mine, Prospector’s, and Lower or Upper Goldstream. At Goldstream Provincial Park, you’ll be surrounded by tall trees and close to waterfalls, a meandering river, a trestle bridge, a salmon run, an eagle centre, campsites, and much more. There’s even a gift shop and Visitor’s Center.

See how to get to Goldstream National Park 

  1. Mount Finlayson Hiking Trail

The Mount Finlayson Hiking Trail is a steep 4 km hike located in Goldstream Provincial Park offering scenic Olympic Mountain and Saanich Inlet views towards the Langford area. Many locals flock to this trail, especially on the weekends, so plan accordingly.

See how to get to Mount Finlayson Hiking Trail 

  1. Gowlland Tod Provincial Park

At Gowlland Tod Provincial Park you’ll find more than 25 km of hiking trails, including the Tod Inlet Trail, the Cascade Trail, the hike to Jocelyn Hill, and the McKenzie Bight Trail all among protected areas rich in biodiversity. This park covers almost the entire east side of Saanich Inlet, from Goldstream to Brentwood Bay and Butchart Gardens. The Cascade Trail is steep but includes the Cascade Falls, while the McKenzie Bight Trail includes a scenic beach area, and Tod Inlet will take you to see evidence of early-day pioneer settlements.

See how to get to Gowlland Tod Provincial Park

  1. Coast Trail

The Coast Trail near Sooke that runs alongside the rocky shoreline of the Juan de Fuca Strait offers impressive ocean and mountain views mixed with forested trails. You’ll also pass the Coast Salish First Nations petroglyphs at Alldridge Point. Head out to complete the entire Coast Trail in about eight hours one-way or choose the smaller portion of the trail at the south end of the park.

See how to get to the Coast Trail 

  1. John Dean Provincial Park

John Dean Provincial Park is on top of Mount Newton near the town of Sidney on the east coast of Vancouver Island overlooking the Saanich Peninsula, the Gulf Islands and the Cascade Mountains. Expect to find hiking trails for all skill levels here. You’ll also be among wildflowers, old-growth Douglas firs and Garry oaks, amazing sunset views, and flocks of wildlife at this day-use park.

See how to get to John Dean Provincial Park 

  1. Juan de Fuca Provincial Park

No round-up of hiking trails on south Vancouver Island would be complete without a mention of Juan de Fuca Provincial Park on the Island’s west c

juan de fuca provincial park

oast. Easily accessible by boat, this massive park features four main areas: the 47-km Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, the China Beach day-use area, the China Beach Campground, and Botanical Beach. Along with natural wildlife and stunning views, this park features old growth forests, waterfalls, grottos,

tide pools, estuaries, and stunning rock formations. Multiple trailheads provide something for all skill levels. We recommend checking the provincial government’s website for service notices before heading out:

See how to get to Juan de Fuca Provincial Park

  1. Avatar Grove

The route to reach this hiking trail just north of Port Renfrew on Gordon River Main logging road has some twists and turns but it is worth it if you’re looking for something a little less populated than the hikes mentioned above. Home to massive old growth Douglas Firs and Canada’s “gnarliest” tree, Avatar Grove is a lesser-known destination hike on the Island.

See how to get to Avatar Grove  


No matter what type of hike you choose on Vancouver Island, make sure you pack the essentials (water, snacks and safety provisions!) and wear layered clothing and shoes suitable for the Island’s often wet, unpredictable weather.

Looking for hikes on other Gulf Islands? We’ve got you covered! Check out our post on our Top 5 Recommended Hikes on the Gulf Islands 

The above trails are just some of the fantastic hiking trails South Vancouver Island has to offer. We also have plenty of hiking recommendations for places only accessible by boat. Stay tuned to our blog or follow Van Isle Marina on Facebook or Twitter.