Many adventure travel destinations are famous for doing one thing really well. Portugal’s southern coast for surfing, for example, or Moab for mountain biking. Then there are the adventure travel destinations that offer a wide range of experiences, all at a high level. Vancouver Island, located just off the west coast of Canada in British Columbia, falls into the latter category.

Vancouver Island is an all-season destination for those who love to push their limits and stay active. Surfing, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, backcountry and alpine skiing, and many more are outdoor activities are all readily accessible. The island’s outfitters and guides can take you off the beaten path, or you can choose your own adventure. Regardless, you won’t be disappointed.

Surf and ski in the same day

Mount Washington Alpine Resort/Jenn Dykstra
Photo: Destination BC/Boomer Jerritt
Photo: Mount Washington Alpine Resort/Jenn Dykstra

Vancouver Island is also one of the few places in the world where you can surf and ski in one day. The west coast town of Tofino is Canada’s surfing capital with its high winter waves, while Chesterman Beach, Covey Bay Beach, and Long Beach offer calmer swells. For snow, Mount Washington Alpine Resort is located inland and accessible by car (30 minutes from Comox Valley, 1.5 hours from Nanaimo) and bus (leaving daily from Comox Valley daily during ski season). Its location and elevation nearly a mile above sea level means plenty of snow — 457 inches annually, which is one of the highest in North America. Once there, skiers and snowboarders have access to 1,700 acres and more than 1,600 feet of vertical alpine terrain on 81 runs, 34 miles of crosscountry skiing, and more than a mile of snowshoeing trails.

Embracing the warmer months

Photo: Tourism Vancouver Island/Lexa Bergen
Photo: Destination BC/Nathan Martin
Photo: Cowichan River Lodge
Photo: Eagle Wing Tours/Valerie Shore

In the warmer months, there’s hiking galore with trails through various terrain and paths that end in breathtaking waterfalls in the Alberni Valley. Cyclists will find plenty of opportunities whether they prefer mountain biking or following a coastal route with stops for beer and a meal in the small towns around the island.

There are also, of course, plenty of chances to get out on the water. Sailing and boating can be booked for private charters or cruises from Comox, Buckley Bay, and the Campbell River, where you can spot wildlife like grizzly bears, humpback whales, and orcas. Sport fishers will find plenty of opportunities to land a catch. For something more active, kayaking outfitters take guests around the Tofino Sea and Harbour Islands, as well as hidden spots around the coast that are accessible by paddle.

Proximity to the ocean is undeniably one of the island’s biggest draws, but freshwater experiences are not to be overlooked. Vancouver Island is home to some 9,000 lakes, and Sprout Lake and Lake Cowichan are especially known for recreation.

How we made our pick

Hiking around Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island

Photo: Destination BC/Sean Scott

Destinations were nominated by the well-traveled Matador Network team, from video producers and social media editors to writers and managers. Those nominations were then awarded points on a 10-point scale on 10 equally weighted categories:

  • Accessibility
  • Range of experiences
  • Visitor reviews
  • Sustainability efforts
  • Cost
  • Seasonality
  • Range of accommodations
  • Crowds and overtourism management
  • Access to guides of all levels
  • Accolades