Nine stops for experiencing the whimsy of Vancouver Island.
Vancouver Island is on Fodor’s Go List for 2020 and the largest island on North America’s Pacific Coast doesn’t disappoint. Cleaved by mountains, dotted by ancient cedars, ringed by healthy oceans, and washed by rain (it’s a temperate rainforest, after all), it’s got Canada’s mildest climate and a number of places for outdoor adventure.
It’s a place where magical things happen: Unexplained creatures are seen in deep lakes, ancestors share wisdom from beyond the grave, and fostered honey bees take to the sky. There are enough quirky sights to have you looking at Canada in a new, whimsical light. Here are our picks for places that just might make you believe in magic.
Top Picks for You
Sea Monster Scanning
WHERE: Cameron Lake, Canada
Perhaps it’s all the time spent outdoors–or maybe it’s the strong Canadian beer–but British Columbia boasts more lake monsters than any other province—there are 41 lakes where strange water creatures have been seen. For example, she might not be as well-known as Nessie (of Loch Ness Monster fame), but Cammy, a similar-looking sea monster, has been spotted parting the waters of Cameron Lake, 100 miles north of Victoria, the provincial capital. Researchers think the sighting was likely a large sturgeon or a giant eel—but you can try spotting Vancouver Island’s most accessible cryptozoological wonder from the south side of the lake in Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park.
Big Tree Tourism
WHERE: Avatar Grove, Port Renfrew, Canada
Named after the special place in James Cameron’s movie of the same name, Avatar Grove boasts some of Vancouver Island’s tallest trees. When found by local big tree hunters TJ Watts and Ken Wu of Ancient Rainforest Alliance, logging tape dangled from several branches, meaning the trees would be sawdust in weeks. Watts and Wu convinced others the trees were worth more alive than dead and now curious tourists follow the winding road to Port Renfrew, rebranded the Tall Tree Capital of Canada. Start with a tour of Avatar Grove, then move onto Fairy Lake (famous not for fairies but for fishing), where there’s a small bonsai-shaped Douglas Fir growing in the middle of the lake from a submerged log.
INSIDER TIPExplore Botanical Beach’s colorful tide pools that look like Neptune’s jewel boxes with purple starfish, green sea anemones, and indigo-colored mussels.
Sleep in a Forest Bubble
WHERE: Qualicum Beach, Canada
Float in a sphere tethered among the highest tree branches at Free Spirit Spheres. Each sphere is a work of art and suspended between three trees. The adult treehouses offer glamping comfort, time to daydream about being a forest nymph, and a chance to experience biomimicry (emulating nature’s solutions on where to sleep safely in the woods).
WHERE: Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, Canada
Peek through the trees at Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park and discover peacocks on the run. While gulls and bald eagles are more often seen on Vancouver Island, emerald-green peafowl have roamed this park for more than a century. Peacocks were first introduced in 1891 when a small zoo was created. Now the zoo is gone, the peacocks have gone feral, and the birds are gracing many an Instagram feed.
INSIDER TIPMake time to visit The Royal BC Museum nearby. The “Our Living Languages” exhibition lets you wander through a “language forest” to hear First Nations’ languages spoken.
Enjoy Hospitality From Beyond the Grave
WHERE: Inn at Laurel Point, Victoria, Canada
Stay at a hotel overseen by dead people. Okay, not literally, but the Inn at Laurel Point is more than a Victoria harbor hotel with sea views—it’s a social enterprise. Founder Artie Arsens placed the hotel into a trust before she died, along with instructions on how she wanted it managed. Years after her death, the trust is run by a priest and her values live on. You won’t run into Arsens’ ghost wandering the halls but you’ll sleep well knowing that profits are reinvested into staff programs (a fairy-tale in British Columbia’s challenging hospitality industry), and employees enjoy work-life balance.
Paddle Through Bioluminescent Water
WHERE: Cowichan Bay, Canada
Dip your kayak paddle (or your whole body—your choice) into the bioluminescence of Cowichan Bay on a summer eve with Cowichan Bay Kayaking. Like fireflies in the forest, some ocean creatures emit light and the movement of a boat paddle can cause them to flash these lights. You’ll feel like you’re paddling through a watery milky way as tiny plankton create starlight bursts under your boat. Best experienced in the darkness of a new moon, the magic starts when you slip into calm waters for one of nature’s most spectacular light shows.
Sample the British in British Columbia
WHERE: Oak Bay, Canada
Slip behind the “tweed curtain” in Oak Bay–a ten-minute drive from Victoria’s town center—a British-infused community that has its own police force and sea monster (they work independently of each other). Streets are lined with Faux Tudor architecture, secret gardens invite walkers to rest awhile, and if you can’t spot the sea monster, harbor seals busk for treats at the marina. Some people have called Victoria “more English than England,” and you’ll quickly spot the influence of British immigrants on this part of the island as you wander past Oak Bay’s tea shops, art galleries, and boutiques, or grab a pint from Penny Farthing Olde English Pub.
Watch Goats Eat a Roof
WHERE: Coombs, Canada
One of the most popular stops on the island, The Old Country Market offers fresh produce, ice cream, and the chance to watch goats totter along the grassy roof. The idea to put goats above the business arose on a day when the grass was too long, the owners too tired, and the wine-fueled idea of putting goats to work was too crazy not to try. Three decades later, you can still see a trip of goats trimming the roof.
INSIDER TIPAllow time for a nine-mile detour to Qualicum Beach’s sandy shores along the Strait of Georgia and scan the waves for whales and seals.
Look for a Prince
WHERE: Horth Hill Regional Park, Canada
Keep your eyes peeled for a prince. Every fairy-tale has some romance (even if it’s not your own) and Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have been spotted on southern Vancouver Island since stepping back from royal duties. Follow the summit trail at Horth Hill Regional Park for panoramic views of the Gulf Islands, the Saanich Peninsula, and the American San Juan Islands. Your heart will be racing even if you don’t spot royalty.