Families seeking the great outdoors often flock to well-trodden locales like Alaska or Jackson Hole, but Vancouver Island is a top-tier alternative that deserves consideration. This large Canadian island off the southwest coast of British Columbia boasts an astonishing breadth of ecological wonder, up-close wildlife encounters, adventure and more than 2,000 miles of scenic coastline. Add to that the rich cultural heritage of the indigenous First Nations peoples (including the Coast Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth and Kwakwakaw’akw) who have long navigated the surrounding waters, and you have the makings of family holiday gold.
For those unfamiliar, Vancouver Island may conjure an image of a small footprint and sparse population. In fact, the island is quite large; it takes about six hours to drive north to south and three hours across at its widest point. It draws visitors year-round for everything from skiing to hiking, diving, fishing and beach exploration. The most notable city on Vancouver Island is British Columbia’s charming capital and most populous city, Victoria, and the mountainous Vancouver Island Ranges run the length of the isle, providing the ideal backdrop for active pursuits.
You could easily spend a week or more exploring, but you can also get a good feel for the area in four to five days with a more compact itinerary.
Mid-island enticements on the east coast include sport fishing, salmon fishing, skiing, paddling, whale watching, farmers’ markets and wineries, with Parksville and Qualicum Beach as hubs. Here are some of the highlights:
Moving south, you’ll come to Nanaimo, which may be familiar for its eponymous (and delicious) no-bake layered dessert bars. Don’t miss this confection, featuring a coconut crumb base, custard and a top layer of chocolate.
Our Family Travel Advisors work with you one on one to design a custom itinerary, book vetted accommodations, arrange private tours and guides, and more. Click to send us a request!
Another hour’s drive south will land visitors in the Cowichan region. Cowichan has plenty to keep families busy, whether enjoying the local scenery and learning about its animal inhabitants to hiking, mountain biking and visits to farmers’ markets or local wineries.
Forty-five minutes farther south brings you to Victoria at Vancouver Island’s southern tip. This beautiful capital has a distinctly European feel and is known for its art, theater and music scene as well as being Canada’s most ethnically diverse city. Active pursuits include kayaking and whale watching, and activity options abound.
Families can also visit the Butterfly Gardens and the Bug Zoo to learn about and see the smallest inhabitants of British Columbia, or get the blood pumping at AdrenaLINE with a thrilling zipline adventure.
On the west coast, often referred to as the Pacific Rim, families will be captivated by Tofino and Ucluelet. Located on a peninsula about forty minutes apart, these spots and the area in between are brimming with breathtaking natural scenery that is part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The area features wide, sandy beaches (Long Beach is a favorite) and is a popular spot for surfing.
Choose a central home base for your adventures such as Nanaimo, Parksville or Qualicum Beach. Any of these provides easy access to local highlights like Cowichan, Victoria, Tofino and Ucluelet, which are all within a two- to three-hour drive.
For the ultimate luxurious escape, stay at Tofino’s Wickaninnish Inn, one of the most special properties in North America. This Relais & Chateaux hotel is perched over Chesterman Beach and was thoughtfully designed to amplify the beauty of the surrounding wilderness. Families will be delighted with the chance to explore tidal pool ecosystems, build sandcastles and enjoy beachside picnics. The inn can also arrange fishing charters and wildlife excursions. Want help booking a stay? Reach out to our Family Vacation Advisor team and we’ll take it from there!
The most popular ways to access Vancouver Island are by ferry to Victoria or by float plane into Victoria, Tofino or Nanaimo. Renting a car is helpful to explore the island with ease.
Browse all family-friendly accommodations and vacation ideas in Canada on Ciao Bambino
5 epic places to visit in Canada with kids
Our favorite summer escapes in Canada with kids
Family-friendly luxury in the heart of Vancouver Island’s pristine wilderness: The Wickaninnish Inn
Family ski trips: Why we can’t get enough of Whistler
Family adventure awaits! Must-do Whistler activities in winter
10 places in North America that feel Like exotic escapes
Want to save all the great intel and tips you are finding on Ciao Bambino? My Trip Planner allows you to bookmark articles, family-friendly hotel reviews, and family vacation packages. Simply click the heart icon on anything you want to save. Site registration is required to get started. Happy planning!
Please fillout the form below to create your free My Trip Planner account.