While Victoria offers plenty to keep you entertained this summer, extending your visit to explore some of the treasures awaiting up Island is a highly recommended way to while away the summer. Here are a few of our favourite Island destinations…
Salt Spring Island
35-minute ferry trip from Sidney/Swartz Bay
Salt Spring Island is a tranquil, island paradise renowned for its relaxed lifestyle, natural beauty, art galleries, studios, wineries and gift shops. Visit on Saturdays and take in the huge outdoor market where Salt Spring’s accomplished artisans and farmers display their fine products. Hiking trails at Ruckle Provincial Park, country roads ideal for cycling and wonderful kayaking are among the many possibilities here.
The Cowichan Valley
About 60km from Victoria to Duncan
First Nations heritage, wineries and numerous family attractions and activities make the Cowichan Valley the ideal destination for a day trip from Victoria. Known as the City of Totems, Duncan is one of Vancouver Island’s most significant centres of First Nations culture and features totem tours, a museum located in a 1912 train station and the Quw’utsun’ Cultural and Conference Centre, showcasing First Nations heritage. On the north side of town, the BC Forest Discovery Centre is an excellent draw for all ages.
Set on 100 acres, find exhibits on the past, present and future of forestry, hiking trails, picnic areas and steam train rides.
Winery and cidery touring is another highly recommended Cowichan Valley activity. Guided tours leave from Victoria, or for an easy self-guided tour, pick up a winery map from area Visitor Centres.
Enjoy a drive through the picturesque inland communities of Shawnigan Lake and Cobble Hill, then head to the coast to visit Mill Bay and Cowichan Bay, a scenic seaside village east of Duncan known for its fresh seafood, galleries, shops and waterfront museum. Allow time for a stroll along the waterfront, including a stop at Arthur Vickers’ gallery and at the “Udder Guys” for a yummy ice cream. West of Duncan, Cowichan Lake is a hub for fishing, swimming, canoeing and camping.
About 70km from Victoria to Chemainus
One of the most popular attractions on Vancouver Island is the town of Chemainus, famous for its statues and larger-than-life murals that have transformed the town into one large, outdoor art gallery. Golf, shops, antique malls, tea houses and a great dinner theatre round out the possibilities.
Ladysmith & Nanaimo
Victoria to Ladysmith: 95km; to Nanaimo: 111km.
Enjoy a leisurely stroll along Ladysmith’s historic main street or visit some of the many artists and artisans making their home here, about 90 minutes from Victoria. Transfer Beach Park is fabulous for all ages – take in the harbour views, go for a dip, savour a summer picnic or let the kids roam about
the unique playground.
A little farther north, Nanaimo is a popular stop for its eclectic shopping, entertainment and beautiful waterfront. BC Ferries links the town to both Horseshoe Bay and Tsawwassen on the Mainland and as the Island Highway continues north, Nanaimo is a great jumping-off point to other adventures. Highlights here include the Port Theatre, the historic downtown, Newcastle Island, the Harbourside Walkway, the Nanaimo District Museum and, for thrilling outdoor experiences high above the ground, WildPlay Element Park.
Oceanside & Port Alberni
Victoria to Parksville: 147km.
About 20 minutes beyond Nanaimo, discover the picturesque communities of Parksville, Qualicum, Nanoose, Coombs, French Creek and Arrowsmith, collectively known as Oceanside. Relax with sandy beaches, challenging golf and family-friendly attractions, including the vast beach and playground in downtown Parksville, the Coombs Country Market – watch for the goats on the roof – the Parrot Refuge & Recovery Centre, Little Qualicum Falls and Englishman River provincial parks and Milner Gardens.
From Parksville, travellers can choose to continue north or head to the West Coast and historic Port Alberni, the gateway to the Pacific Rim, about 45 minutes from Parksville. In addition to fishing and camping, attractions include the McLean Mill National Historic Site, Port Alberni Museum and a terrific steam train. From here venture on to the beach-front fishing and resort communities of Ucluelet, Tofino and beautiful Long Beach.
The Comox Valley
About 220km from Victoria
Continuing north, travel either the newer and more direct Inland Island Highway to the Comox Valley, or opt for a more leisurely, picturesque route along the older Island Highway. About a three-hour drive from Victoria, the Comox Valley includes Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland along with several smaller communities, including Hornby and Denman Islands.
Mt. Washington Alpine Resort is a favourite in the winter for its wonderful skiing but summer visitors also flock here for hiking, mountain biking and other activities. The ocean, lakes and rivers are never far away and are popular for kayaking, windsurfing, swimming and exploring. Other highlights include historic Cumberland, a former mining and logging community, and the Courtenay and District Museum, the first stop on the Great Canadian Fossil Trail, thanks to the discovery of fossilized remains of such creatures as an elasmosaur and a mosasaur.
In the waterfront town of Comox, visit Filberg Lodge and Park, home to the annual Filberg Festival of arts and entertainment (July 29 to August 1 this year). Aso a diverse farming community, the Farmers’ Markets are wonderful to explore for their fine local foods – stop here before a picnic at the beach!
– Jennifer Blyth