22 free or cheap things to do in Victoria BC

Exploring Vancouver Island on a Budget

22 Free or Inexpensive Things to do on Vancouver Island

On the West Coast of British Columbia, Canada, Vancouver Island is home to nearly 800,000 people and is the 11th largest island in Canada. It’s also home to many world-class tourist attractions, many of which are free or inexpensive to check out. Below is a list of Van Isle Marina staff’s top recommended things to do on Vancouver Island if you’re on a budget.

1. Milner Gardens

Vancouver Island is home to many beautiful public gardens, where our mild climate supports a wide variety of trees, shrubs, and flowers year-round. Milner Gardens in Qualicum is a lovely seaside garden definitely worth checking out. This ancient forest and garden oasis sits on top a bluff overlooking the Straight of Georgia.

Cost: $12/adult

2. Abkhazi Garden

Abkhazi Garden in Victoria is a beautiful heritage home and garden established by Prince and Princess Abkhazi in 1946. At this one-acre property you’ll find a stunning example of West Coast design where conifers, Japanese maples, rhododendrons, naturalized bulbs, and woodland companions leave a lasting impression.

Cost: By Donation

3. Butchart GardensButchart Gardens Sunken Garden

Also near Victoria in Brentwood Bay are Butchart Gardens, featuring 55 acres filled with at least 900 plant varieties. Butchart Gardens has a 100+ year history and a staff of 50 gardeners tending to the grounds.

Cost: $19.35/adult

4. BC Parliament Buildings

The BC parliament buildings in Victoria’s downtown inner harbour are home to the legislative assembly of British Columbia. Free tours are offered throughout the year, and there is plenty of park space out front for picnicking and people watching.

Cost: Free

5. Confederation FountainConfederation Fountain Victoria BC

For a unique photo op, check out the Confederation Fountain tucked just around the corner from the legislature building in Victoria. You’ll also find shields of the Provinces, centered by the national Coat of Arms at this small but relaxing area just off the main drag of the waterfront.

Cost: Free

6. Goats on the Roof

The Old Country Market in Coombs is home to the world-famous Goats on the Roof, where goats living up above oversee thousands of shoppers from March through to December. Coombs is a small town in Central Vancouver Island on the Alberni Highway, near Parksville and Qualicum Beach.

Cost: Free

7. Cathedral GroveCathedral Grove BC

On your way to explore Tofino (a seaside community that is an attraction all to itself) you’ll drive through the world-famous Cathedral Grove, an old growth forest known for its gigantic 800-year-old ancient Douglas firs and red cedars. Pull the car over and check it out! Cathedral Grove is just one of countless hikes the Island has to offer. Also explore these South Island Hikes and Central Island Hikes.

Cost: Free

8. Duncan Totem Poles

Duncan, known as The City of Totems, is home to more than 40 totem poles. Each beautifully carved totem pole contributes to the City’s First Nations culture and history. Follow the yellow footprints in the sidewalk for a self-guided walking tour or take the virtual tour to learn more about the totems before experiencing them in person.

Cost: Free

9. Chemainus MuralsChemainus Murals BC

The seaside community of Chemainus is known as The City of Murals. Check out 44 murals that serve as a tribute to the area’s mining, fishing, and forestry heritage. Grab an official Souvenir Mural Map from the Visitor Centre to take a self-guided tour of the massive murals, or simply follow the yellow footprints on the sidewalks.

Cost: Free

10. Elk Falls Suspension Bridge

In Campbell River, the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge is a must-see. Although the area features extensive forest trails, the bridge itself is a short walk to get to. There you’ll get an amazing view of the canyon and a thundering waterfall. The BC Hydro Interpretive Centre nearby is free and adds to the experience.

Cost: Free

11. Kinsol TrestleKinsol Trestle Cowichan Valley BC

Located in the Cowichan Valley Regional District, the historic Kinsol Trestle is 187 metres long and 44 metres above the Koksilah River, making it one of the tallest free-standing and most spectacular timber rail trestle structures in the world. Fully accessible with viewing platforms, we know you’ll love it.

Cost: Free

12. Beacon Hill Children’s Farm

The Beacon Hill Children’s Farm and petting zoo in Beacon Hill Park in Victoria is a favourite among locals, offering an educational, by-donation form of entertainment for the whole family. The petting zoo is best known for its goats.

Cost: By Donation

St Anns Academy Vancouver Island

13. St. Ann’s Academy

St. Ann’s Academy is a national historic site in Victoria that offers tours by donation. Built in 1858, St Ann’s Academy was Victoria’s first Roman Catholic Cathedral before it became a school in 1886.

Cost: By Donation

14. The Raptors

View several different types of birds of prey at The Raptors visitor centre in Duncan. Make sure to time your visit around a flying demonstration. You can also stay for additional meet and greets and hands-on experiences.

Cost: $18/adult

15. Vancouver Island WineriesVancouver Island Wineries

Vancouver Island is home to 32 wineries (and counting!), with the Cowichan Valley being particularly fruitful due to the area being shielded from Pacific Ocean storms. Plan to visit a winery or two while you’re visiting the Island, taste some great wines and meet the passionate people behind some of BC’s best wines.

Cost: Various

16. Whale Interpretive Centre

The Whale Interpretive Centre in Telegraph Cove on Northern Vancouver Island aims to help the public to identify different marine mammals and their role within the ecosystem. Here you’ll find many sea life artifacts, including blue whale jaw, whale lice, ear ossicles, whale teeth, and skeletons of a killer whale, sperm whale, river otter, sea otter, Pacific white-sided dolphin, and more.

Cost: By Donation

17. Biking

Bike riding is very popular on Vancouver Island, with countless bike-friendly trails and lanes seemingly everywhere. Might we suggest grabbing one of our courtesy bikes from the marina? Here are some nearby places you can bike to from Van Isle Marina.

Cost: Free

18. Craigdarroch Castle

Craigdarroch Castle, built in 1887, is a meticulously restored historic house museum and a beauty to behold in Victoria. Here you’ll find 39 rooms and four floors of exquisite stained glass windows, intricate woodwork and fabulous Victorian-era furnishings.

Cost: $14.85/adult

19. Hatley CastleHatley Castle Victoria BC

Hatley Castle, completed in 1908 and located in Hatley Park and Royal Roads University is known by many as X-men headquarters, due to it being a filming location for the Hollywood blockbusters. Pay an admission fee to take the guided walking tour, or check out the free museum in the basement. The castle is also surrounded by magnificent gardens.

Cost: $18.50

20. BC Aviation Museum

The British Columbia Aviation Museum in Sidney features plenty of aircraft and artifacts relating to the history of aviation in BC and the rest of Canada. They have something for everyone, including flight simulators, unique aircrafts, a kids area, and volunteer tour guides.

Cost: $10

For more things to do in Sidney – home of Van Isle Marina – check out our post on 15 Things to Do in Sidney, BC.

21. BC Forest Discovery CentreBC Forest Discovery Centre

The BC Forest Discovery Centre in Duncan is a huge open air museum with its own operational railway. Check out the exhibits, logging artifacts, and heritage buildings before exploring the forest and marsh trails. This family friendly Island destination hosts plenty of special events and workshops for all ages throughout the year.

Cost: $16

22. Military Museums

Vancouver Island is home to notable military museums:

  • The Vancouver Island Military Museum in Nanaimo houses 25 exhibits focusing on the War of 1812 right through to Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan.
  • The CFB Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum focuses on the Royal Canadian Navy and Merchant Navy’s role in winning the Battle of the Atlantic, and the 100+ year history of Canadian service in submarines.
  • The Comox Airforce Museum includes collections on Military Aviation in WWI and WWII, Korea, the Cold War, United Nations Peacekeeping, and the Squadron section.

Read more: Attractions on Vancouver Island

The suggestions listed above are just some of the exciting things to do on Vancouver Island. If you’ll be arriving by boat, be sure to check out some of the area’s best boat-only access beaches.

Van Isle Marina is one of the largest full-service marinas in British Columbia. Moor your boat at our marina before or after you set out to explore Vancouver Island. (See our yacht park rates to learn more.) We are located at 2320 Harbour Road in Sidney, BC, just a five minute drive from the Beacon Avenue exit of Hwy 17.

Whale Watching on Vancouver Island

An Introduction to One of Vancouver Island’s Most Popular Activities

Vancouver Island is home to spectacular whale watching opportunities, with numerous companies offering tours up and down the Island. But if you have your own boat, you can easily

types of whales around vancouver island

become your own personal whale watching tour guide. The best part is that whale watching can be done almost anywhere around the Island – and you might even spot some without even trying that hard.

Although it’s possible to see whales at any time of year around Vancouver Island, the best time for dedicated whale watching around Vancouver Island is May to October. This is also when you’ll come across countless whale watching operators while out on your boat. If you see a whale watching tour group all with their binoculars out, you’ll know you’re also about to approach some majestic creatures!

Types of Whales Around Vancouver Island

The most common types of whales to watch out for around Vancouver Island include resident and transient Orcas, humpback whales, and Pacific gray whales.


Orcas, also known as “killer whales”, are black and white toothed mammals that are actually members of the dolphin family. They are the smallest “whales” on this list; a male orca is 5 to 7 metres long and weighs around 6 tonnes, while a female orca is 3 to 5 metres long and weighs about 3 to 4 tonnes. Their dorsal fins can get to be around 2 metres high, so they’ll be quite easy to spot. They also aren’t afraid of slow-moving, quiet boats and are actually known to swim right up to lucky boaters and kayakers. whales around vancouver island - orcas

There are two main categories of orcas living around the Island: resident orcas and transient orcas. Resident orcas (both northern residents and southern residents), tend to stay in one area, while transient orcas move around frequently.

Where to find them: Resident orcas are commonly found around the Gulf Islands, the Southern Coast near Victoria, the Strait of Georgia near Vancouver, and the Johnstone Strait (Campbell River, Telegraph Cove). There are approximately 80 “northern resident” orca whales who live and travel around Northern Vancouver Island, while there are approximately 220 “southern resident” orcas living around Southern Vancouver Island.

There are also around 260 transient orcas that are most common around the northern part of Vancouver Island, including near Campbell River, Telegraph Cove and Port Hardy. Some have also been known to be near southern Vancouver Island as well (Victoria, Oak Bay, Sidney, and Sooke).

You’re more likely to spot resident and transient orcas on the east coast of the island, as well as the southern and northern tips of the island, rather than the west coast.

The best time to view orcas in the Pacific Northwest is from May to October.


Humpback Whales

whales around vancouver island - humpback whaleHumpback whales are the largest whales living around Vancouver Island, with lengths varying from 12-16 metres and weighing nearly 80,000 pounds! In addition to their sheer size, which exceeds the length and weight of a fully loaded school bus, humpback whales are also known for their unique sounds and songs, and beautiful breaches.

A humpback whale’s long pectoral fins and knobbly head give it a distinctive body shape that’s greyish on top with a whiteish underbelly.

Where to find them: Humpback whales near Vancouver Island are most common about 30 miles off the shores of Ucluelet, Bamfield and Tofino (Barkley and Clayquot sound). They can also be spotted around Telegraph Cove and Port McNeil.

The best time to view humpback whales in the Pacific Northwest is from May to September.


Pacific Gray Whales

Pacific gray whales are medium to dark gray or black in colour and can grow to be up to 13-15 metres. The females are slightly larger than the males (the opposite is true for orcas). Adult gray whales have a mottled appearance caused by scratches, and barnacles and orange sea lice that make a home of their skin. Gray whales do not have dorsal fins, so instead be on the lookout for their vertebral bumps or “knuckles” along their lower backs.vancouver island whale watching - gray whales

Where to find them: Pacific gray whales are mainly found up and down the west coast of Vancouver Island, as this is their annual migratory zone. They can also be found around the southern tip of the Island (Victoria and Sidney). Pacific gray whales aren’t typically found on the east coast of Vancouver Island, as this is not their migratory path.

The ultimate time to spot a Pacific gray whale is between March and April. During this time, around 20,000 gray whales are migrating from Mexico (where they have babies) to Alaska (where they feed on cold-water crustaceans and more).

A Few Whale Watching Best Practices

As of 2019, along the south coast of BC, the DFO is asking boaters to stay at least 200 metres away from southern resident whale populations between November 1 and May 31, and at least 400 metres away from southern killer whales between June 1 and October 31 – about the length of 4 football fields.

You are also expected to reduce your speed to less than 7 knots and avoid fishing when you’re within 1,000 metres of a killer whale. Areas to be aware of include Gulf Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Mouth of the Fraser River.

In general, when you see whales and wish to get closer:

  • Approach them from the side, rather than the front or the rear.
  • Approach slowly, avoiding sudden changes in speed or direction.
  • Shift your motor into neutral or idle upon your approach.
  • Stay as quiet as you can. This means no echo sounders, horns, whistles, revving motors, shouting, or loud music.
  • Do not disturb resting pods.
  • Travel at low speeds and in the same direction when travelling parallel to whales.
  • Don’t trap whales too close to the shore.
  • Don’t come between whales and the shore.
  • Don’t feed or touch the whales.
  • Be mindful of other boats in the area. Keep your distance until the boat ahead of you has moved on.

See the DFO’s webpage on watching marine wildlife for more information and helpful infographics.

Pacific Rim Whale Festival

If you’ll be in the area and wish to learn more about whales on Vancouver Island, check out the 33rd annual Pacific Rim Whale Festival happening March 20-28, 2020 at the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Ucluelet and Tofino on Vancouver Island’s west coast. The festival is an annual spring celebration that marks the typical return of the migratory gray whales as they make their way to the Artic Ocean.

Additional Wildlife Viewing Opportunities

While whale watching, you’re likely to spot plenty of additional wildlife in the area, including bald eagles, dolphins, porpoises, seals, otters, sealions, and countless seabirds. Read more about the other wildlife viewing and birdwatching opportunities on the Island.

Buying a Whale Watching Tour Instead

If you’d rather try whale watching with an experienced tour guide before going for it on your own, there are many whale watching companies to choose from. Typically, tours are 3 to 5 hours long, with many promising a 95% chance or more of spotting whales. Some companies offer different types and sizes of boats. Aim to arrive 30 minutes early so as not to miss your scheduled departure time, and dress in warm layers to beat the chill of the ocean air.

Many boats have washrooms on board and are wheelchair accessible. Don’t forget your binoculars and camera – preferably one with a great zoom!

At Van Isle Marina in Sidney, BC, we offer a wide variety of boats and motor yachts that would be perfect for your next whale watching adventure. Check out our selection of new and used yachts and boats for sale, or come see us in person and let us show you around.

10 Attractions on Vancouver Island

10 Attractions on Vancouver Island

Visiting Vancouver Island for a Few Days?
Here are Some of the Most Popular Attractions to Check Out

From North to South, Vancouver Island is home to many world-class tourist attractions. Below is a list of Van Isle Marina staff’s top recommendations. If you’ll be visiting the island by boat, you can moor your boat at our marina before or after you set out to see more of what our Island has to offer (see our yacht park rates to learn more).

1. Butchart GardensTourist Attractions on Vancouver Island - Butchart Gardens

Located a short distance from Victoria in Brentwood Bay, Butchart Gardens is a 55-acre garden that is tended to by a team of more than 50 gardeners. The garden oasis is home to at least 900 plant varieties and has a history going back 100+ years. Give yourself at least two hours to experience everything Butchart Gardens has to offer. It’s even more enchanting if you can make it during the holiday season.

Tourist Attractions on Vancouver Island - Royal BC museum2. Royal BC Museum

In downtown Victoria right by the city’s inner harbour, the Royal BC Museum showcases 550 million years of natural history and 9,000 years of human history in BC. Inside there are 7 million artifacts, specimens, and documents waiting for you, making this destination one of Canada’s leading museums and research centres. Be sure to take in an IMAX feature while you’re there.

3. BC Parliament BuildingsTourist Attractions on Vancouver Island - BC Parliament Buildings Legislature

The BC parliament buildings are also in Victoria and are home to the legislative assembly of British Columbia. The buildings date back to 1864, and free tours are offered throughout the year. Visitors can also enjoy an afternoon in the park in front of the grounds, taking pictures and picnicking. This impressive site is a top attraction in BC’s capital city. You’ll find the BC parliament buildings in Victoria’s downtown inner harbour, next to the museum.

It’s worth noting that Victoria’s inner harbour is a Vancouver Island attraction on its own, with the picturesque Fairmont Empress Hotel, horse-drawn carriage rides, stunning views, whale watching excursions, harbour ferries and much more on offer.

Tourist Attractions on Vancouver Island - Coombs Market Goats on the Roof4. Coombs Old Country Market

The Old Country Market in Coombs is home to the world-famous Goats on the Roof – which is exactly what it sounds like! Above the market are 2-3 goats living in peaceful harmony as thousands of shoppers browse the market below. The market is open daily from March to December, offering tourists and locals alike a huge selection of baked goods, deli delights, ethnic foods, children’s toys, local produce, and housewares.

Coombs is a small town in Central Vancouver Island on the Alberni Highway, near Parksville and Qualicum Beach. While the market is the focal point of the town, there are more shops and restaurants towards the back of the market, making a stop in Coombs more than just a quick pit stop.

5. TofinoTourist Attractions on Vancouver Island - Tofino Aerial Beach

Located on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, Tofino is a small coastal village that people come from around the world to experience. There is plenty to do in Tofino, including whale watching, kayaking, shopping, craft beer tasting, golfing, biking, hiking, fishing, and storm watching. There is beach on one side and plenty of forest nearby. Choose from a wide range of accommodations, or better yet, bring your boat!

Tofino is also a foodie’s paradise, with many top chefs establishing restaurants in the resorts.

Near Tofino there is also the breathtaking shorelines of Long Beach, Chesterman Beach, Mackenzie Beach, and others – with Long Beach being the longest sandy beach on the West Coast. Not far from Tofino is another town called Ucluelet, with equally beautiful beaches.

Tourist Attractions on Vancouver Island - Cathedral Grove Douglas Firs

6. Cathedral Grove

On your way to Tofino, you’ll drive through Cathedral Grove, an old growth forest just outside of Port Alberni. Cathedral Grove is easy to miss if you’re driving too fast and not looking out for the huge, 800-year-old ancient Douglas firs and the red cedars. So, slow down and be on the lookout for parked cars and tall trees on the side of the highway.

Cathedral Grove is perfect for nature lovers and great for kids. It features well-maintained walkways, well-marked trails, free parking, and plenty of photo-worth backdrops. Challenge yourself and try to get an entire tree in one frame!

7. Horne Lake CavesTourist Attractions on Vancouver Island - Horne Lake Caves

Horne Lake Caves on Central Vancouver Island near Parksville / Qualicum give you a unique opportunity to really get inside the island. At this provincially managed park, deemed “Vancouver Island’s hidden jewel” there is a wide variety of tour options on offer, catering to all different skill levels.

See more caves to explore on Vancouver Island.

Tourist Attractions on Vancouver Island - Wildplay Victoria & Nanaimo8. Nanaimo & Victoria WildPlay

WildPlay in Nanaimo is an adventure park offering the Island’s only river canyon bungee jumping opportunity, along with an aerial obstacle course, ziplines, and a primal swing. It’s a not-to-miss attraction for the thrill seekers in your group, opened during the spring and summer. And if you’re in Victoria, there’s a WildPlay there as well!

9. Duncan Totem PolesTourist Attractions on Vancouver Island - Duncan Totem Poles

Duncan, known as The City of Totems, is home to more than 40 totem poles located throughout the town. Each beautifully carved totem pole contributes to the city’s First Nations culture and history. Follow the yellow footprints in the sidewalk for a self-guided walking tour or take the virtual tour to learn more about each totem before experiencing them in person.

Duncan is the economic hub for the Cowichan Region of Vancouver Island. Take in its heritage buildings and huge mix of restaurants and shops as you experience the totems.

Tourist Attractions on Vancouver Island - Chemainus Murals10. Chemainus Murals

Stick to the main highway on Vancouver Island and you might miss the seaside community of Chemainus – but it’s definitely worth a trip off the beaten path! Chemainus is known as The City of Murals. There are 44 murals in the small town, many of which are a tribute to the area’s mining, fishing, and forestry heritage. Grab an official Souvenir Mural Map from the Visitor Centre to take a self-guided tour of the massive murals, or simply follow the yellow footprints on the sidewalks.

Along with the murals, Chemainus offers the famous Chemainus Theatre, tons of shopping, family owned restaurants and cafes, antique shops, artisan shops and several small parks. It gets bustling in the summer months, leaving us to believe the secret’s out with this island attraction!

More to See & Do

We suggest combining any of the above attractions with one or two of our recommended South Island Hiking Trails before picking up your boat from our marina – to give your legs one last workout on land before setting sail again. Then, if you still have time, be sure to check out the area’s boat-only access beaches for further Vancouver Island exploration.

And finally, if you’re coming to visit us here at Van Isle Marina in Sidney, BC, but don’t have time to explore more of Vancouver Island, there is plenty to see and do right here!

Read more: 15 Things to Do in Sidney, BC

The above attractions are just some of the exciting things Vancouver Island has to offer. Ask our staff for more ideas, including all the best places to experience by boat. Van Isle Marina is one of the largest full-service marinas in British Columbia – we know our boats and the island very well. Check out our new and used yachts and boats for sale.

Best Diving Locations Near Vancouver Island

Best Diving Locations Near Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island – One of the Best Cold Water Diving Destinations in the World

Spend enough time above the waters around Vancouver Island and it will only be a matter of time until you get curious and want to get a closer look and what’s below the surface. When this happens, and you go for your first scuba diving experience in the Pacific Northwest, you’ll quickly come to realize the region is filled with all sorts of underwater scenery – from reefs, walls, shipwrecks, and plenty of marine life.

Here is our list of some of the best diving locations off the coast of Vancouver Island. Don’t forget your dry suits and headlamps – waters around here are cold and dark, but worth it!

Let’s dive in!

Artificial Reefs around Vancouver Island

Xihuw Boeing 737

Not actually a shipwreck, but a “plane wreck”, the intentionally stripped and sunken Xihuw Boeing 737 can be found in Stuart Channel near Chemainus on Vancouver Island’s central east coast. It’s been down there since 2006 and still very much recognizable.

G.B Church Freighter

artificial reefs around vancouver island

The G.B. Church is a 175-foot freighter that was sunk in August 1991. She can be found near Princess Margaret Marine Park/Portland Island north of Sidney on Vancouver Island. She’s actually not too far from us here at Van Isle Marina.

HMCS Saskatchewan

The HMCS Saskatchewan is a 366-foot World War ll naval vessel turned artificial reef and sunk near Nanaimo in 1997. The top of the mast is about 45 feet below the surface and the bulk of the vessel is between 80 and 100 feet.

HMCS Cape Breton

The HMCS Cape Breton is another World War II naval vessel sunk purposefully near Nanaimo. This 401-foot vessel was sunk in 2001, settling almost perfectly upright at about the same depth as the Saskatchewan. Find both of these HMCS vessels off the coast of Snake Island.

RivTow Lion

Before it was turned into an artificial reef, the Rivtow Lion was a 147-foot rescue tug built in 1940. She became an artificial reef off the coast of New Castle Island near Nanaimo in 2005. Because of the RivTow Lion’s location in sheltered calm waters and her modest size, she is considered a suitable dive site for beginners.

HMCS Chaudière

Journey out a bit farther away from Vancouver Island to the Sunshine Coast and you’ll find the HMCS Chaudière. Another artificial reef that was purposely sunk in 1992, the 366-foot Destroyer Escort lies on its side starting at about 50 feet below the surface in Kunechin Sound in the Sechelt Inlet. You’ll know you’re at the right artificial reef when you see the mounted guns with long barrels protruding from the vessel!

HMCS Annapolis

Still a bit further off Vancouver Island, located 25 minutes from Horseshoe Bay in Hacklett Bay in Howe Sound, the HMCS Annapolis was sunk in 2015. At 371 feet, this artificial reef is massive with plenty of unique explorable features, like a helicopter hanger. It’s only 25 minutes from Horseshoe Bay and worthy of the trip from Vancouver Island.

Shipwrecks around Vancouver Island

SS Capilano

Recognized as a provincial heritage site, the SS Capilano sank 100 feet deep by the Grant Reefs, between Savary and Harwood Islands in the Strait of Georgia. Built in 1891, the SS Capilano was an early coastal passenger and freight steamer before sinking in 1915. The wreck was discovered in 1973 relatively intact and remains one of the best wreck dives on the BC coast, appreciated for its historical value.

Robert Kerr

The Robert Kerr wreck is another heritage site worthy of exploration just north of Thetis Island. This converted Barque sank in 1911 after hitting a reef. It’s impressively still more or less intact and still identifiable despite being underwater for more than 105 years. This is considered a shallow dive at 60 feet.

SS Themis

If you make it up to Port Hardy on north Vancouver Island, you’ll be near the SS Themis, a 270-foot Norwegian cargo ship that sank in 1906 near Crocker Rock in Queen Charlotte Strait. There is not much left of this wreck, but a few identifiable pieces still remain, plus you’ll see some of the largest lingcod you’ve ever seen lingering about!

Shore Dives around Vancouver Island

If exploring deep depths to explore sunken ships and airplanes – intentionally or otherwise – is a little daunting for you, consider starting off with a simple shore dive. Shore dives are suitable for all levels of divers, including those just gaining an interest in the sport. Simply gear up on shore and walk right into your next scuba diving experience!

Diving at Clark Rock in Nanaimo BC

Or, for even more fun and convenience, save yourself the walk with your bulky equipment and access any of the shore dive sites by boat and drop anchor as close or far to shore as you like!

Recommended shore dives around Vancouver Island include:

  • Odgen Point Breakwater, near Victoria
  • Elliot Beach, near Chemainus
  • China Creek, near Port Alberni
  • Keel Cove, near Nanaimo

In the Nanoose Area, just north of Nanaimo, also check out any of these beautiful shore dive locations: Cottam Point, Dolphin Beach, Madrona Point, Oak Leaf Tyee Cove, The Jib, and Wall Beach.

Boat Dives around Vancouver Island

Of course, when you have a boat, nothing beats the thrill and ease of going for a cold-water dive right off the swimming platform of your boat or yacht. If you’re looking for the best boat dives around the Island – that don’t involve the narrow passages and deep, dark pockets of a sunken ship or airplane –  consider the following boat dive locations, recommended for all levels of divers.

Boat Diving around Vancouver Island

Beginner Dives

For beginner boat dives, start with:

  • Clark Rock, near Nanaimo
  • Neck Point Park, near Nanaimo
  • Yeo Islands, near Nanoose
  • Norris Rocks, near Hornby Island
  • Broughton Archipelago, in the Queen Charlotte Strait
  • Blackfish Sound, near Hansen Island and Swanson Island
  • Zeballos Inlet and Kyuquot Sound, near Nootka Island
  • Tahsis Narrows and the Gardens, near Nootka

Advanced DivesGabriola Passage Diving Around Vancouver Island

For more advanced boat dives, check out:

  • Quatsino Narrows, near Port Alice
  • Browning Pass, near Port Hardy and the SS Themis
  • Breakwater Island, near Nanaimo
  • Dodd Narrow, near Nanaimo
  • Gabriola Passage, near Nanaimo
  • Snake Wall Island, near Nanaimo and the HMCS Saskatchewan and Cape Breton
  • Alcala Point, near Ladysmith
  • Sansum Point, near Duncan
  • Octopus Point, near Duncan
  • Race Rocks, near Victoria

Always research your intended dive site before heading out, and make sure all beginners are comfortable with the depth and currents!

If you’re looking for a new boat or yacht to take your diving experiences to the next level, the team here at Van Isle Marina is happy to help. We have a wide range of pre-owned yachts and boats for sale, in addition to suitable sports models from Riviera and Pursuit that would provide plenty of space for all your diving equipment. Take a look at our current selection online, or visit us in person at 2320 Harbour Road near the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal.

Wildlife of Vancouver Island

Wildlife of Vancouver Island

Types of Wild Animals on Vancouver Island

Between the months of May and October, Vancouver Island comes alive with wildlife sightings. From land animals such as bears, cougars, and deer, to marine animals like whales, otters, and salmon, Vancouver Island is bursting with wildlife. Here are some of the different types of wildlife living on and around Vancouver Island on Canada’s West Coast – look out for them from the deck of your boat or yacht, or while on land for a hike.

In the Water


Fish found around Vancouver Island

From the five types of pacific salmon, to the various types of trout, dozens of rockfish species, and several varieties of shellfish, Vancouver Island is teeming with fish for locals and visitors to catch, eat, or watch. Popular target species that are commercially important to the region include salmon, trout, and halibut, as well as shellfish such as crabs, prawns, mussels, and Olympia Oysters. Pacific herring are also an important fish in the area, sought after for their roe and to use as live bait for the larger, more lucrative fish species.

Sea OttersVancouver Island Wildlife - Sea Otter

Members of the weasel family, there are two distinct species of otters that can be seen around Vancouver Island: river otters and sea otters. Around the Island, river otters are more commonly spotted than sea otters. River otters inhabit coastal shorelines, rivers, streams, wetlands, ponds, and lakes – they are seemingly everywhere!

Sea LionsVancouver Island Wildlife - Sea Lion

Sea lions, which resemble seals but are not the same animal, are hungry for the region’s pacific salmon, making them unpopular with fishermen in the area. There are two common types of sea lion around the Island: California sea lions and Steller sea lions. You can tell them apart by their colouring. California sea lions are dark brown, while Steller sea lions are a lighter tan colour, or sometimes reddish brown. The two types tend to co-mingle in the same areas.

Harbour Seals

Wildlife around Vancouver Island - Harbour Seal

Harbour seals are mammals in the Pinniped (“feather foot”) family and can be found around the world. You’ll likely see them from your boat or from the shore napping on rocky reefs, sand bars or boulders up and down Vancouver Island. Unlike sea lions, seals do not have external ear flaps, and they are greyish in colour rather than brown. They have short, furry front flippers and cannot raise their head and shoulders well while on land, so they constantly appear to be sleeping.

Whales & Dolphins

Pacific gray whales and orcas are the two most common types of whales you’ll find around Vancouver Island, but there are also humpbacks too! While whales can be seen at any time of year, May to October is the optimal time for whale watching in the region.

  • More than 20,000 pacific gray whales make their migration north up the west coast during March and April, making boating in this region at this time of year extra exciting.Orcas - found around Vancouver Island
  • Orcas are the black and white whales of the region. They are always making headlines in the local news as they are favoured by locals. Resident orcas are either Northern residents or Southern residents. Both types are comfortable around boats and have been known to get close to boaters, so keep your camera handy!
  • Humpback whales are more common around Telegraph Cove, Port McNeil, and the Pacific Rim. They are the largest whales in the area, known as much for their song as they are for their sheer size and beautiful breaches.

Sometimes while whale watching, you might come across a school of 50-100 Pacific White-Sided dolphins – another wildlife popular amongst locals and visitors alike. These mammals are playful and often seen jumping along or behind the boats they encounter. You’ll find plenty of dolphins in the Johnstone Strait heading north to the Queen Charlotte Islands.

On Land

Whitetail deer found on Vancouver Island


Deer are plentiful on Vancouver Island. You won’t be able to get far into the wilderness on the island without spotting one! BC is home to mule deer, black-tailed deer, and white-tailed deer. They can be found everywhere from the valleys, to the mountains, coastal rainforests, and dry interior grasslands. Deer are also prevalent in residential neighbourhoods, which create conflict for homeowners as they graze in gardens and create traffic hazards.

Black Bears

Black bear sightings are common on Vancouver Island during spring and summer, as the region is home to around 7,000 black bears (but zero grizzly bears). Although black bears prefer wooded areas near rivers, they sometimes make their way into residential neighbourhoods and busy campsites in search of food.

Black Bears of Vancouver Island

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on the west coast of Vancouver Island is a great spot for viewing black bears, although there are dozens of other areas up and down the Island where you might come across one. If your boat can get close enough to the shore, be on the lookout for bears as they have been known to hang out on the shoreline hunting for food.


Cougars are home on Vancouver Island

Cougar sightings on Vancouver Island are less common than black bear sightings, but they do happen – often by unsuspecting locals on the trails or even in their backyards. Cougars are exceptionally dangerous creatures, considered to be the most feared cat in North America, so if you see one it’s best if it’s from an enclosed area. Like bears, hungry cougars make their way to urban areas when they are searching for food in the warmer months.

In BC, dangerous wildlife are handled by the BC Conservation Officer Service (COS) – a public safety provider focused on natural resource law enforcement and human wildlife conflicts prevention and response.


Racoons are medium-sized mammals, and while they are intelligent creatures, they aren’t necessarily a type of wildlife you’ll be seeking out. They do, however, exist in droves on Vancouver Island. InWild animals on Van Isle - Racoon residential areas especially, racoons are more of a nuisance than anything, as they lurk in the darkness and topple over garbage cans to “dumpster dive” in search of sustenance.

Grey Wolves

Grey Wolves of Vancouver IslandIt’s unlikely you’ve come across a Vancouver Island wolf, but they are here on the Island in limited numbers in forested and semi-forested parts of the northern region, as well as areas around Port Renfrew and Clayoquat Sound. The Grey wolves on Vancouver Island are lighter in colour than their mainland relatives and are considered shy and elusive, making them even harder to spot. If you see a grey wolf and wonder, could that be a coyote? The answer is no – there are no coyotes on Vancouver Island (but there are many living on the Lower Mainland).

In the Air

BirdsBirds of Prey Vancouver Island - Bald Eagle

There are hundreds of different birds circling above Vancouver Island at any given time, making the area a birder’s paradise. The mightiest one to watch soaring through the sky is the Bald Eagle, which captivates locals as much as visitors. The island also has plenty of sparrows, blue jays, swallows, woodpeckers, owls, hummingbirds, and hawks.

There is also a wide range of seabirds living on Vancouver Island, including several species of gulls, skimmers, shearwaters, terns, puffins, plovers, kingfishers, herons, ducks, loons, and albatrosses. With so many seabirds in the area, there are plenty of opportunities for birdwatching from your boat.


brown bats apenty on Vancouver Island

Less of a type of wildlife to admire out in the wild, and more of a pest to protect your house from, are bats. Vancouver Island is home to 16 species of bats, with the Little Brown Bat being the most common. Bats are a special type of mammal and are an integral part of our ecosystem, as they are great insect eaters and their guano is used as plant fertilizer.


Spend any amount of time on and around Vancouver Island and you’ll quickly come to realize the region is filled with all sorts of wildlife. In and amongst all the flora and fauna of the region, Vancouver Island offers many amazing opportunities for wildlife viewing, whether by boat or by foot. It’s one of the things this region is known for, and one of the many things that draws thousands of visitors to the waters surrounding Van Isle Marina each year. Come for our large marina, stay for our wildlife sightings.

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!