Adrenalin Adventures on Vancouver Island
Walk on the edge, zip through the trees, dive deep, climb to the top, paddle river rapids and surf ocean waves, hang ten. On Vancouver Island, every day is an adventure waiting to happen. On the land and in the water, there are just so many invigorating ways to get your blood pumping. Pick your challenge and go!
Considered by many to be the toughest trek on the continent, the West Coast Trail winds 75 kilometres (47 miles) along the coast through the wild and remote Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. It’s British Columbia’s most renowned wilderness hike, taking intrepid backpackers on a journey through old growth rainforests, and across pebble beaches to sandstone cliffs, over suspension bridges and up some three dozen ladders. The rugged trail runs from Port Renfrew, west of Victoria, to Bamfield, near Barkley Sound.
Vancouver Island has thousands of caves, and they’re ranked among the most significant and spectacular in the world. Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park has guided and self-guided family tours, while Upana Caves, near Gold River, are also popular with casual spelunkers. Upana Caves are the most easily accessible of the 50 caves in the Nootka Sound area, with 15 known entrances to 450 metres of passageways. A self-guided tour through the main caves takes about an hour, and guides are available to offer an added measure of safety and expertise.
With more than 60 waterways, and navigable ocean never far, Vancouver Island is a paddler’s paradise. Rent a kayak, bring your own, or go along on a rafting excursion. On the Lower Nimpkish, rafters of every skill level find challenge in more than 40 sets of rapids in just 20 kilometres (12 miles). The Upper Nimpkish is the place to go for a more intense whitewater paddle. For those with advanced kayak surfing skills, Okisollo Tidal Rapids is a challenging and rewarding place to play. It’s in the Okisollo Channel off North Quadra Island. For something completely different, try snorkeling with salmon as they head upriver to spawn.
Brisk breezes are often to be found offshore, making for terrific windsurfing on the Salish Sea. Popular spots include Goose Spit Regional Park in Comox, where a strong wind rises most afternoons, Pipers Lagoon Regional Park in Nanaimo, and China Creek Park, perfectly positioned to catch the winds funneling up Alberni Inlet. Freshwater choices include Nitinat Lake, which draws windsurfers from around the world to tackle its near-constant thermals that sweep across the lake, and Nimpkish Lake, a long narrow body of water south of Port McNeill.
As one of the most scenic, diverse and invigorating wave zones on earth, the west coast of the Island is Canada’s top surfing destination. The 20-plus kilometres of surfable beaches south of Tofino attract board and kayak surfers year round, and an array of surf shops and surf schools feed the need.
Colourful, diverse and spectacular are only a few of the adjectives you’ll hear when people describe scuba diving and snorkeling adventures in British Columbia. Besides a plethora of large marine animals like the Giant Pacific Octopus, fierce looking Wolf Eels, prehistoric Sixgill Sharks, mischievous sea lions and seals, local waters are also famous for ghostly shipwrecks and massive artificial reefs. In the past 20 years BC operators have become experts in creating artificial reef habitat having sunk eight ships, including the 366-foot long Destroyer Escort HMCS Columbia in Campbell River and the most unique, a Boeing 737 aircraft near Chemainus. Top this off with schools of rockfish, fields of colourful corals and sponges, as well as a plethora of smaller critters and you’ve got something to satisfy every explorers interest.
Mount Washington Bike Park has 37 kilometres (23 miles) of trails ranging from beginner cruisers to black diamonds. Back in Black is a steep trail for expert riders that requires maximum speed to clear the jumps. Cumberland has a superb network of mountain bike trails right beside the village. Beginners can start by riding the Comox Lake-Puntledge River Trails, while all-mountain riders can choose 42nd Street, 15 minutes of flow through berms, switchbacks and bridges. Nanaimo mountain bikers often head to the Dumont Trails, with more than 40 cross-country and downhill trails.
Vancouver Island boasts the deepest all-natural snowfall of any resort area in the country, with an average of 10.5 metres (35 feet) at Mount Washington each winter. This is a powderhound’s paradise for skiing and snowboarding. At Strathcona Provincial Park, 55 kilometres (34 miles) of trails tempt cross-country skiers. These trails were used by several international teams when they trained for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.