Tons of people flock to Vancouver Island during the summer months, as the island is full of lush forests ready to hike, glistening lakes to cool off in, and roaring waterfalls to check out. In fact, I usually go to this area during this time of year since I know it’ll have great weather, but I recently decided to visit Vancouver Island in the winter to see what it was like.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure if there would be anything to do, but I ended up going twice in the winter because I loved it so much. The first time, I stayed with friends near Duncan, and they showed me plenty of fun restaurants, breweries, and places to visit despite the rain. The last time I went, I had my eyes set on snowboarding Mount Washington and loved that experience as well.
If you’re looking for winter activities on Vancouver Island, I’ve got you covered – I have not one but 25 things to do when you’re in the area. Make sure to write these down because you’ll love everything there is to do there.
25 Things To Do on Vancouver Island in Winter
Despite what you may think about this season, winter brings a cool, moderate climate to Vancouver Island that’s perfect for indoor and outdoor activities. So here’s a list of some of my favorite things to do on Vancouver Island in the winter that you might enjoy.
1. Have Fun in the Snow at Mount Washington Skiing Alpine Resort
Tucked at the foothills of Strathcona Provincial Park’s peaks and overlooking the Georgia Strait, Mount Washington is a year-round destination that will leave you stunned. As you venture down the snowy slopes, you’re rewarded with the marvelous ski-to-surf views that this winter wonderland provides. I mean, have you ever skied while looking at the ocean?
Mount Washington is in the Comox Valley, an outdoor haven for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts. This makes it a great spot to stop on a Vancouver Island road trip and one of the best things to do on Vancouver Island in winter. Spend your time here doing various winter activities like skiing, snowboarding, or tubing down the resort’s 1,700 acres of powdery-white snow.
I’m a beginner when it comes to snowboarding, so I joined group lessons, which I recommend if you want to feel more confident. I loved stopping here for a day, especially because I wasn’t even aware you could ski on Vancouver Island before this.
2. Go Whale Watching
I love whale-watching around Seattle, and it’s also one of the most memorable activities on Vancouver Island. Imagine massive cetaceans that easily weigh over a thousand pounds frolicking in their natural habitat. On a whale-watching adventure, you can look forward to seeing some of the most commonly spotted whales on Vancouver Island, like the orca (killer), humpback, and Pacific gray.
You’re spoiled for choice regarding whale-watching locations on Vancouver Island. On the east coast, Campbell River and Port Hardy offer you a chance to spot large groups of Pacific white-sided dolphins, porpoises, and possibly Steller sea lions.
Along the west coast, cities like Tofino and Ucluelet are where many humpback and gray whales perform their watery tricks and backward flips, making for one of the best Vancouver Island winter activities.
Tip: Wear layered clothing to keep warm, and bring your binoculars for a closer look at these magnificent marine creatures.
3. Soak in the Hot Springs Cove
Bubbling up from deep inside the earth and cascading down a small cliff into a series of natural rock pools, soaking in the Hot Springs Cove is one of the best ways to beat the winter chill. These hot springs offer you a chance to relax and rejuvenate, surrounded by winter frost and pristine natural beauty.
The Hot Springs Cove is quite remote, located in Maquinna Marine Provincial Park on the island’s western side. You can get here in one of two ways: by taking a one- to 1.5-hour water taxi ride or a 20-minute floatplane flight from Tofino. It’s one of the best things to do on Vancouver Island in winter, so you can warm up from the cold.
Top Tip: Soaking in the Hot Springs Cove is a popular winter activity, so I suggest you book your boat ride or flight in advance to avoid missing out on the soothing warmth of these springs.
Looking for a hot spring in the States? Check out Scenic Hot Springs near Stevens Pass.
4. Experience Winter Storm Watching
Winter brings powerful storms swiftly coming across the Pacific Ocean. This has made Vancouver Island’s west coast communities ideal for storm watching. What is storm watching, you may ask? It’s precisely that—watching 50-foot white-capped waves violently crash against the rocky shores.
You can enjoy this magnificent show of nature’s power from the comfort of your cozy seaside hotel room or grab a raincoat and see the magic up close. Winter in Tofino and Ucluelet brings dramatic skies, wild gale-force winds, and stormy seas, making these two of the best storm-watching spots on the island.
Top Tip: If you’d like to stay toasty by the fire while watching the raging waves, consider staying at the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino or the Black Rock Oceanfront Resort in Ucluelet for the ultimate storm-watching experience.
5. Walk Among Giants at Cathedral Grove
Walking among the giant trees at Cathedral Grove is one of the locals’ favorite pastimes, but the forest is even more enchanting in the winter, with the towering old trees dusted in thick snow. Located within the MacMillan Provincial Park, Cathedral Grove offers an immersive experience of walking amongst some of Canada’s oldest and tallest trees. I did this hike years ago and loved how peaceful it was.
The old-growth Douglas fir trees are several hundreds of years old, some even clocking close to a century. Snow-drenched ferns, draping moss, and other trees like the Western Red Cedar and Grand Fir surround you as you stroll along Cathedral Grove’s dirt trails and wooden boardwalks. Similar to all the winter hikes around Vancouver, the ones here are ideal because they don’t often see snow.
6. Go Hiking
While it may not sound appealing to summer lovers, winter hiking on Vancouver Island offers a tranquil, less-crowded experience with stunning snowy vistas. If you’re a winter enthusiast, you can look forward to chilly sunrises and views of snow-covered hills. You may also encounter torrential downpours, so being prepared is extremely important.
You’ll find plenty of winter hiking facilities across the island, from north to south. The most popular hiking spots include the Paradise Meadows Loop in Strathcona Provincial Park and the Lighthouse Loop in Ucluelet.
Top Tip: Remember that both of these trails can be wet and slippery due to rain and snowfall, so wear sturdy shoes and winter hiking clothes to help you brave the elements.
7. Try Your Hand at Fishing
Vancouver Island is home to some of Canada’s best recreational fishing spots and is one of the best things to do on Vancouver Island in winter if you like being on the water. The island’s year-round fishing season for salmon and halibut draws thousands of eager anglers to coastal cities like Sooke, Ladysmith, and Port Renfrew.
Cast your line into the island’s rivers or lakes to catch freshwater species like steelhead trout, bass, and salmon, while other species, like albacore tuna, are found along the west coast.
Freshwater and saltwater fishing spots are abundant on Vancouver Island. In the north, you can head to Kyuquot or Port Hardy, while on the central-eastern shores, the Campbell River, loosely dubbed the “Salmon Capital of the World,” is your best bet.
Top Tip: Before packing your fishing gear, read through the local fishing regulations to avoid breaking any rules. Also, consider hiring a guide who knows the best spots and has insights on techniques for winter fishing.
I love using Roadtrippers for all my road trips because they show you all the fun stops to make along the way. You can get $5 off if you sign up with my code BTR5QTP.
8. Take a Historical Walking Tour in Victoria
Victoria offers you one of the best weekend getaways from Vancouver. The quintessential capital of British Columbia, tucked along the craggy shores of Vancouver Island, is blessed with outdoor adventures and historical nuggets you’ll love to uncover.
Delve into the city’s British colonial past and its infamous opium smuggling scandals by joining a historical walking tour led by a local historian sharing insights about the city. As you stroll through the city, take in the remarkable inner-harbor views, wander through the Old Town’s alleyways, and stop in Chinatown and the bustling Bastion Square.
Note: In winter, some of these guided tours may be limited to weekend walks only, so confirm with the tour providers before booking.
You’ll also love all the things to do in Vancouver during the winter.
9. Go Ice Skating
Skating enthusiasts typically frequent indoor ice rinks all year long, but I believe winter offers a more fascinating experience. During the festive winter, outdoor skating rinks start popping up across Vancouver Island cities like Victoria and Nanaimo.
You’ll love skating amidst holiday lights and festive decor at the Butchart Gardens, as the property transforms a section of the gardens into an outdoor skating rink. So lace up your skates and immerse yourself in the winter spirit, twirling away under the sparkling lights.
10. Admire Festive Light Displays
While Christmas in Vancouver is fun, nothing spells out winter in Vancouver Island like dazzling light displays. In Victoria, illuminated structures like the BC Parliament Buildings light up the city with colorful holiday displays that will captivate you.
Many of these festive light displays are across Vancouver Island, but the special program hosted at the BC Parliament Buildings offers you more seasonal treats. Christmas carols, music performances by local bands and choirs, and the lighting of the provincial Christmas tree are some of the highlights you can look forward to.
Note: The BC Parliament Buildings are set to host the lighting of the Christmas tree on December 7 at 6 p.m. Check the official website for more information on these festivities.
In Seattle for the holidays? Here are all the Seattle Christmas activities happening then.
11. Go Caving at Horne Lake Caves
Often referred to as the “Island of Caves,” Vancouver Island is home to an expansive network of underground caves, with over 1,000 recorded. The Horne Lake Caves offer an experience like no other, taking you through karst caverns and limestone passages created by the Ice Age.
Go on a multi-cave experience tour led by a caving expert to uncover the underground wonderland of Vancouver Island, dotted with crystal formations, fossils, and waterfalls. This tour offers a variety of upward and downward scrambles, making it suitable for people of all ages.
Tip: The most important tip I can share is that you should always listen to your guide.
12. Stroll Through the Butchart Gardens
The vibrant Butchart Gardens are undeniably magical in the summer, but nothing beats the subtle beauty of snow-covered shrubs, trees, flowers, and the solitude that winter brings. While I enjoy visiting in the summer when everything is in bloom, the holidays have their own kind of magic.
From late November through January, the festive holiday displays transform the gardens into a kaleidoscopic wonderland. You can secure the “Magic of Christmas Ticket” from Butchart Gardens’ official website, and to get there, you can take the express shuttle from Victoria to Brentwood Bay if you don’t have your own car.
13. Escape the Cold With a Cozy Spa Retreat
Had enough of the frosty outdoors? Perhaps you’ll appreciate a cozy escape from the winter cold by indulging in a spa retreat to pamper yourself and rejuvenate your spirit. You’ll find several spa resorts scattered throughout Vancouver Island, but the Pacific Mist Spa at Kingfisher Oceanside Resort in Courtenay offers unforgettable hydrotherapy treatments.
Beyond the signature hydropath spa treatments in a forest-and-cave-like setting, the resort has an outdoor heated swimming pool, a sauna, and a steam cave to melt away your problems. The Kingfisher Resort Serenity Gardens is a terrific winter bonus that lights up in festive decor.
14. Stroll Through History at the Royal BC Museum
If you’re a history buff, you’ll love walking through the ages at the Royal BC Museum. Its highly realistic exhibits and interactive displays, like the Ice Age Woolly Mammoth and Coastal Forest dioramas, make for a great photo-op, so bring your camera. My family was here on a rainy day and ended up staying for several hours because we found it so interesting.
The museum also houses authentic artifact collections that tell the story of British Columbia. These exhibits include fascinating totem poles from the First Nations of Canada and replicas of Colonial-era settlements that transport you back in time.
15. Go Indoor Rock Climbing
Staying indoors doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t enjoy a thrilling physical activity. Rock climbing is a fun way to stay active in the winter without getting drenched in rain or snow, and you’ll always find me at the climbing gym during wintertime in Seattle.
The island has many indoor rock climbing facilities, but I suggest Victoria’s Crag X Climbing Centre. Here, you’ll get an indoor climbing experience suitable for your skill level; whether you’re a novice or a pro, Crag X Climbing is the right choice.
You can book a “Taste Test” if you’re unsure about the facilities and want to sample them first.
16. Try Your Luck at Catching a Dungeness Crab
Crabbing is one of the famous pastime activities on Vancouver Island, and it’s easy to see why, as there is a year-round harvesting season for various sea critters. The Dungeness is the most sought-after crab species on the island and, similar to Seattle food, is a popular feature on local menus thanks to its delicious taste and meatiness.
The prime harvesting season for Dungeness crabs runs from October to January, which means you have all winter to make a catch. You can use a metal cage crab trap or a folding net. For bait, use quality chicken pieces to avoid attracting seals or otters.
The best spots for crabbing on Vancouver Island include the Swy-A-Lana Lagoon Fishing Pier in Nanaimo, the Victoria Sidney Pier, and the Rotary Pier Walkway in Sooke. Before setting off for your crabbing adventure, ensure the area is open by checking in with the DFO.
17. Find Your Holiday Spirit at a Christmas Market
What’s a Northern Hemisphere winter without a dazzling Christmas market? Every year, without fail, numerous festive markets spring up throughout Vancouver Island, offering you local cuisine, artisanal goods, and handmade crafts that make excellent Christmas gifts.
You’ll find many markets across the island. Popular fairs include the Handmade Christmas Makers Market in Nanaimo, the Victorian Christmas Craft Fair, and the Indigenous Artists’ Winter Market in Victoria.
18. Visit the Craft Breweries or Distilleries
With over 40 craft breweries, Vancouver Island is a haven for beer lovers and enthusiasts. The island boasts a rich brewing culture that’s easily seen in the sheer number of craft beverages throughout its breweries, cider houses, distilleries, and even wineries.
If you’d like to immerse yourself in Vancouver Island’s thriving brewing scene, head to the Church St. Taphouse in Comox Valley and pair a cold pint with a delicious meal. Alternatively, you can book a brewery tour to learn more about the craft or attend a beer-focused event, like the North Island Craft Beer Festival in Campbell River.
19. Go Grizzly Bear Spotting
Grizzly bear viewing is one of the most exhilarating winter activities that Vancouver Island has to offer. With about 12,000 black bears living in the region, a guided grizzly spotting tour is a smart way to see the majestic wildlife in their natural habitat.
You can access world-famous grizzly bear locations such as the Knight Inlet and Bute Inlet via a boat safari or float plane from nearby cities like Campbell River and Telegraph Cove. Here, you’ll be inundated with captivating sights of these brown bears eating berries, munching on grass, or snacking on fresh salmon, which makes for one of the most unique things to do on Vancouver Island in the winter.
20. Take a Walking Food Tour
Another fantastic way to uncover the rich history and culture of Vancouver Island is through a guided gastronomical adventure. Taking a food walking tour is considered one of the best ways to spend parts of the day in Victoria, and I agree.
Take a street food walking tour of downtown and indulge in culinary delights from the city’s top eateries and restaurants. An expert will guide you through Victoria’s food scene, and you’ll also get beverage samples to wash it all down and clear your palate for the next tasting.
21. See Vancouver Island From a Bird’s Eye View
Vancouver Island is truly a magical place to visit. The island’s lush green forests, rugged shorelines, and snow-capped mountains are a wonder, but do you know what’s better? Seeing these landscapes from the sky!
Take a panoramic seaplane tour to get a bird’s-eye view of the island. The tour takes off right from the water and sees you soaring over Victoria, getting aerial views of the harbor, rocky coastlines, and the snowy Olympic Mountains on the horizon.
22. Go Snow Tubing
I’ve mentioned a few snow-centered activities you can do on Vancouver Island, but I haven’t shared one that is kid-friendly and ideal for a Pacific Northwest family vacation. That’s where snow tubing or tobogganing comes in.
What I love the most about this winter sport is that you need little to no experience to have an awesome time. Mount Washington offers a snow tubing park where you can slide down the cliffs without any skiers or snowboarders coming your way.
23. Spend Time at Fisherman’s Wharf Park
One of the most laid-back activities (and one that I strongly recommend) is wandering around Victoria’s colorful Fisherman’s Wharf Park. The unique floating pier allows you to spot marine life like seals while casually dining, drinking, or enjoying an eco-tour around the dock.
You’ll be spoiled for choice regarding things to do, from wandering down the docks to buying seafood fresh off the boat and watching fishing vessels unload the daily catch. Fisherman’s Wharf Park also has several ice cream kiosks and quaint shops.
24. Go Cross-Country Skiing
Cross-country skiing is just the solitary activity you need if you’re a snow lover looking to escape the crowded ski slopes on Vancouver Island during the winter season. While the island is famed for its steep hills, the snow-carpeted meadows are ideal terrain for cross-country skiing.
Within Strathcona Provincial Park, you’ll find about 34 miles of track-set trails to enjoy a tranquil cross-country skiing adventure without any interruptions. The Nordic ski slopes in Mount Washington offer a series of diverse and scenic trails that you should also take on.
25. Savor Tasty Blends With a Wine-Tasting Tour
Last but certainly not least, one of the best winter activities you can do on Vancouver Island is go wine tasting. The history of winemaking on the island dates back as far as the 1920s. Today, the island boasts one of the best wine-making regions in British Columbia.
You’ll find about 30 wineries dotted along the island’s northeast coast, from the Comox Valley to Sooke. To indulge in the island’s fruity wines, take a half-day wine-tasting tour from Victoria to Comox Valley for a fully immersive experience.
You’ll go on tours of various vineyards and partake in tastings with a local expert here. You’ll also get to indulge in a tasty lunch while overlooking the scenic winelands.
Tips for Visiting Vancouver Island in the Winter
Here are some of my top tips for visiting Vancouver Island in winter to ensure a fun, interactive, and memorable experience:
- Vancouver Island primarily has a mild climate in winter, but the region experiences a significant amount of rain and snowfall, so pay attention to weather reports if driving. Check the Drive BC website for updates on road conditions.
- If you’re coming in from the mainland, checking for terminal conditions or cancellations on the BC Ferries website is necessary. Otherwise, you may be left stuck at the port.
Keep your gas tank full, as road closures may cause indefinite delays. Also, pack lots of snacks and water, and bring adequate winter clothes and gear.
I bet you didn’t think there were that many things to do on Vancouver Island in the winter!