Vancouver Island attracts millions of visitors each year, with the biggest draw being our fantastic beaches*. While I can attest that our beaches are amazing, there is so much more our beautiful island offers. From being considered the best diving spot in BC, to having the tallest and oldest trees in the word, this article showcases the unique and fascinating finds on Vancouver Island. Some of which even locals may not know about!
20 Unique and Fascinating Finds on Vancouver Island
#1 – BC’s Oldest Working Farm
Salt Spring Island has the oldest working farm in BC.
When on Salt Spring Island, take the drive to Beaver Point Road. There you will find Ruckle Heritage farm, the oldest working farm in British Columbia, still owned by the original family. One of Salt Spring Island’s earliest settlers, Henry Ruckle went to the island in 1872 in hopes of acquiring farmland. By 1948 the family’s total holding was 1196 acres.
In 1974, the Province of British Columbia was deeded 1000 acres of the Ruckle Farm for public use as parkland, camping, and trail use. This area is now called Ruckle Provincial Park, and is “one of the most beautiful parks in the Southern Gulf Islands”.
#2 – We have Petroglyphs a Plenty
If you are looking for an archaeological adventure, Vancouver Island (and area) has many easily accessible viewing locations of Petroglyphs.
- Gabriola Island has them scattered all over, but one of the best viewing spots is the Weldwood site. Located behind the United Church, close to the government wharf in Degnen Bay, there is a path that leads to a clearing in the woods where you’ll find large etchings of fish, birds, sea serpents and stick-men.
- The Gabriola Island museum displays replicas from the more prominent stone carvings around the island. These concrete replicas allow you to touch and take rubbings without worrying about disturbing the delicate sandstone of the originals.
- Petroglyph Provincial Park in south Nanaimo has the most concentrated collection of these rock art creations of previous generations. A clearly marked trail will lead you through the park to view the petroglyphs. Visitors can also make their own petroglyph rubbings here as a souvenir.
- One of the finest carvings in BC is located on Sprout Lake in Port Alberni. Head to the east end of the Lake to Sprout Lake Provincial Park.
- Quadra Island has an aptly named road where you can view carvings near the end of Petroglyph Road. There are also a few on the beach in front of Tsa-kwa-luten Lodge and RV Park, as well as around Cape Mudge Lighthouse in Cape Mudge Village.
- There are also Petroglyphs located at Alldridge Point in East Sooke Regional Park. The trail to the petroglyphs starts at the parking lot of the Aylard Farm entrance. This approximately 1.5 hour (round trip) hike/walk can be reached by the way of two paths. One path takes you on a relatively easy trail through the forest, while the other follows the rugged, but scenic, shores of the Coast Trail.
#3 – Hot Springs
Tofino has untouched Geo-Thermal Hot Springs!
Approximately 27 nautical miles north-west of Tofino lies Maquinna Provincial Park where you will find Hot Springs Cove. The boiling spring water bubbles up from deep in the earth and cascades down a small cliff into a series of natural layered rock pools, cooled by the incoming Pacific Ocean surf. These naturally heated pools range from temperatures of at least 109ºC (228ºF) to approximately 50°C (122ºF). So yes, they are hot, darn hot!
There are several tour companies out of Tofino who will get you to and from Hot Springs Cove via boat (in a little over an hour) and/or float-plane (in approximately 20 minutes).
#4 – Caves
Vancouver Island has the largest concentration of caves in North America.
With over 1000 known cave entrances recorded, many of these labyrinths of passages are largely unexplored. The more popular caving areas are as follows:
- If you are looking for a guided tour, head to Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park (near Qualicum Beach). They offer plenty of options for the beginner, as well as those wishing for something a little more extreme.
- The Upana Caves are located 17km north-west of Gold River (near Campbell River) on Head Bay Forest Road. The Upana caves contain scenic, self-guided trails that lead to several entrances, and are comprised of several different caves within one group. The individual caves have a wide variety of size and lengths, and the interiors remain in a relatively wild, undeveloped state.
- Head towards the town of Zeballos to explore the caves in Huson Cave Regional Park. There are two caves that are exceptional in this park, The Vanishing River Cave and the Eternal Foundation Cave. It is a great spot for the inexperienced caver, but they are self-guided only.
- For some of the longest and deepest caves in Canada, head to Weymer Creek Provincial Park, located just south-east of Tahsis. Cave exploration is ongoing here, and new discoveries are made every year. Guides are mandatory, and the cave systems found here are considered to be moderate to high risk for cavers.
#5 – Big Trees
Port Renfrew is known as the “Big Trees Capital” of Canada.
Port Renfrew is home to the two largest Douglas fir trees in Canada. It also holds Canada’s largest Sitka Spruce, and Canada’s “Gnarliest Tree”.
Red Creek Fir
The largest Douglas fir, known as the Red Creek Fir, is in the San Juan River Valley (30 minutes from Port Renfrew). It stands 73.8 metres tall (242 feet) with a circumference of 12.55 metres (approx. 41 feet). The Red Creek Fir is estimated at 750 to 1000 years old. It is accessible only by a hiking trail.
For detailed instructions on where to find the start of the trail, head to the website of Ancient Forest Alliance.
Big Lonely Doug
The second largest tree, known as Big Lonely Doug (because it stands alone in a clearcut), can be found a little closer to Port Renfrew. Lonely Doug stands 70.2 metres high (230 feet) and has a circumference of 11.91 metres (approx. 39 feet). Conservationists believe Doug could be as much as 1,000 years old.
San Juan Spruce
The San Juan Spruce is Canada’s largest Sitka spruce tree, and the second largest in the world! This mammoth-sized tree measures 11.67 metres (approx. 38 feet) in circumference, 62.5 metres (205 feet) tall, and has a crown spread of 75 feet. The tree grows within a Forest Recreation Site alongside the beautiful San Juan River.
Avatar Grove, known as the “Cathedral Grove of Port Renfrew” is home to Canada’s Gnarliest Tree.
For directions on how to find all of the above trees please visit Handsome Dan’s website.
#6 – Old Trees
Tofino has one of the oldest known Red Cedars.
One of the oldest known western red cedars, the Hanging Garden Tree, lives on Meares Island near Tofino. The tree is estimated to be between 1,500 and 2,000 years old. There is a boardwalk that takes you from the start of the trail to the Hanging Garden Tree. Once you are there you can decide to carry on and complete the Big Tree Trail. This trail is a 3.3k round-trip hike. If you are completing the entire trail leave yourself a good 2 – 3 hours to enjoy your surroundings.
Meares Island is easily accessible by boat. For a reasonable price, Tofino Water Taxi will take you on a return boat shuttle to and from Meares Island.
#7 – Tallest Waterfall
Strathcona Provincial Park has the highest waterfall in Canada.
Della Falls is claimed as being the highest waterfall in Canada, as well as one of the 10 highest in the world.
Unfortunately, Della Falls is not easy to get to.
The only way to reach Della Falls, other than by helicopter or floatplane, is by crossing the entire Great Central Lake by boat. After the lakes 35 km (21 mile) crossing, there is a dock that marks the beginning of the trail. This area can also be used as a base camp before attempting the next 15 km (9 miles) ascent to the base of Della Falls. More campsites are available along the trail and near the base of the falls. The hike, part of which follows an old logging railway, takes about seven hours one way and is suitable for intermediate level hikers.
Expect a duration of three days for this hike.
Della Falls Water Taxi provides a safe and enjoyable ride across Great Central Lake and is the only authorised carrier to the trail head.
#8 – Amazing Hiking Trails
According to besthike.com, the West Coast Trail is ranked the #1 hike in the world! The West Coast Trail is a 75 km (47 mile) backpacking trail, which typically takes five to seven days to complete. This challenging trail connects Port Renfrew with Bamfield and requires careful preparation and planning.
- The trail is open May 1 – September 30 (travel during the off-season is hazardous and not recommended).
- The terrain is uneven, and you must be prepared for slippery conditions, wooden surfaces, boulders and rocky shorelines.
- At various parts of the trail, you will be wading through rivers, negotiating steep slopes, climbing ladders and using cable cars.
- You should be prepared for unpredictable weather conditions, as well as unexpected changes on the trail (from storm damage, etc.)
- To address the concern of the environmental impact on the trail, as well as maintain hiker safety and enjoyment, the Canadian Parks Service has instituted a reservation system. You must reserve ahead of time in order to hike the West Coast Trail.
- For those that only want to do part of the trail, there is a Comfort Camping option too.
#9 – Cold-Water Diving
We have one of the best cold-water diving destinations in the world.
National Geographic Magazine recognises Vancouver Island as one of the best cold-water diving destinations in the world. As well, the renowned Jacques Cousteau Society rates the area as one of the best for the diversity of marine life and water clarity.
The area they are referring to is called God’s Pocket Marine Provincial Park, which is located 10 km north-west of Port Hardy. The park can be accessed by boat or float plane from Port Hardy.
Hornby Island is also one of the few places in the world where scuba divers can view primitive six-gill sharks.
#10 – Unique Species
We have unique species only found on Vancouver Island.
The Vancouver Island marmot is a distinct species of marmot found in the mountains of Vancouver Island. And with only approximately 280-320 living in the wild today, the Vancouver Island marmot is one of the world’s rarest mammals.
Larger than other marmot species, and the largest member of the squirrel family, the Vancouver Island marmots were considered extinct in the 1990’s. They have recently come back due to breeding and conservation efforts.
#11 – Tallest Totem Pole
Alert Bay has the world’s tallest totem pole.
Alert Bay has many elaborate carvings, but the big draw is the 173 foot (52 metres) totem pole, making it the world’s tallest. This particular totem pole is located next to the ‘Namgis Traditional Big House.
Alert Bay can be accessed by a 35-minute ferry ride from Port McNeil.
Victoria’s Fascinating Facts
British Columbia’s capital has many fascinating finds and facts:
#12 – Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada
#13 – Victoria’s Fan Tan Alley (located in Chinatown) is the narrowest commercial street in Canada
- Fun fact: Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn were filmed on this street in the movie Bird on a Wire.
#14 – Victoria has an amazing selection of restaurant options
- Victoria has the second highest number of restaurants per capita in North America, second only to San Francisco.
#15 – Victoria has one of the top 10 most magnificent public gardens in the world.
- According to National Geographic, The Butchart Gardens was named one of the Top 10 most Magnificent Gardens.
#16 – Victoria has the warmest climate in Canada
- Victoria is the unchallenged leader among Canada’s large cities for winter heat. It ranks several degrees and days ahead of the others for warm weather. Victoria is the only large Canadian city to not normally drop down to -10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) during the winter.
#17 – Murals
The Chemainus mural project is the world’s leading community-driven art tourism experience.
The Chemainus mural project was brought on to save the community from economic collapse. Since then they have inspired communities throughout the world to beautify their towns. Using the Chemainus model, some communities have used the mural concept to develop their own revitalization for stronger economic development.
#18 – Floating Pub
Nanaimo has Canada’s only floating pub.
The Dinghy Dock Pub & Restaurant, located on Protection Island, is just a short 10-minute ferry ride from Nanaimo’s harbour front. It’s a unique experience not found anywhere else in Canada!
#19 – Nanaimo Bars
Nanaimo bars were created here!
Although there is a bit of controversy over who created this bar first, according to Wikipedia the earliest confirmed printed copy of the recipe using the name “Nanaimo Bars” appeared in the Edith Adams’ prize cookbook (14th edition) in 1953. A copy of the book is on view at the Nanaimo museum.
If you are a fan of this sweet indulgent, there is a Nanaimo Bar trail you might want to check out. From Lantzville to Yellow Point there are 34 stops that have created their own interpretations of the famous Nanaimo Bar.
# 20 – Unique Structures
The Cowichan Valley has the tallest free standing timber rail trestle structure in the world!
The Kinsol Trestle, located near Shawnigan Lake, is one of the tallest free-standing and most spectacular timber rail trestle structures in the world. It is 614 feet in length and stands 145 feet above the Koksilah River.
Do you know of any other fascinating finds on Vancouver Island? Please share in the comments below!
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*Information provided by the Regional Tourism Profile, which was conducted by Destination BC .