Although only a short journey away from one of Canada's largest cities and home to the regional capital of British Columbia, Vancouver Island feels a world away from urban life. Deserted beaches, forested mountains and rare wildlife cover the sparsely populated island, beckoning Victoria's visitors with its dramatic wilderness. Succumb to its call and experience it on skis, on bike or on foot.
Visit Victoria, the lively capital of British Columbia in the south of the island. A modern city that prides itself on its great food, drink and culture sits alongside beautiful heritage landmarks. The Royal BC Museum gives a compelling overview of the region's history. Wander the halls of two castles with elegant gardens: the Victorian-era Craigdarroch and Hatley Park, completed in 1908.
You can also tour the other towns on the island. Parksville is a charming collection of sandy beaches, heritage attractions and stylish dining spots. Port Hardy is a pocket of civilization surrounded by rugged wilderness that offers museums and sites of cultural significance for the island's First Nations.
Tie up your walking boots for energetic treks through Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and Juan de Fuca Provincial Park. Waymarked trails run around the coastline, leading to spectacular views and quiet beaches. Experienced hikers can try the famous West Coast Trail, a 47-mile (75-kilometer) route along the southwest Pacific shores.
Scan the waters for a sighting of black dorsal fins. Families of orcas enjoy the waters around Johnstone Strait and the Broughton Archipelago between June and October. Inland, black bears can be seen around Clayoquot Sound on a bear-watching tour.
Hit the slopes in winter at the Mount Washington Alpine Resort. Boarding, skiing and tubing are all available for speedy ways to get down the mountain, on routes used by international athletes.
Victoria International Airport is reached by Air Canada, United and other airlines. Perhaps the best way to reach the island, however, is by ferry from Vancouver, which provides unbeatable views of the mountains, woods and lakes when arriving on the water.