Travelling and visiting new places can be costly, we all know that. Once you’ve sorted food, transport and accommodation there is still the issue of having extra money handy to actually do things. While there are plenty of paid activities to do on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island (most of which we have done!), there are lots of other options that won’t cost you cent. Here are just a few examples of the best free things to do on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
Discover ancient forests
Old, tall trees are the norm within Vancouver Island’s temperate rainforest. We’re talking 70 metres high, up to 9 metres in width and older than 800 years. The most accessible places to go and see them are at Goldstream Provincial Park just north of Victoria and MacMillan (Cathedral Grove) Provincial Park near Port Alberni. Away from the main tourist trail Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park provides a more private experience amongst some of the biggest trees anywhere in Canada.
Day hiking on Vancouver Island
Just a short walk can take you further into the rainforest, to a river full of jumping salmon, along the dramatic Pacific coastline or to a hidden lake. There are plenty of hikes around the Island to suit all abilities, ranging from half an hour to just less than a day in length. Not only are you almost guaranteed to see wonderful scenery, you may spot some of the local wildlife too. My favourites are the Wild Pacific Trail (8km, West coast), Paradise Meadows (4.2km, Strathcona Park) and the Pub to Pub coastal walk in Black Creek (4km, East coast).
Vancouver Island beaches
Rocky, sandy or covered in small stones, Vancouver Island has every type of beach you can imagine. Rockpool filled Botanical Beach (Juan de Fuca area) and sandy Qualicum Beach (East coast) provide fun for families, while Goose Spit (near the Comox Valley) and Miracle Beach (East coast) offer stunning ocean/mountain views. Join the surfers at one of the many windswept beaches on the Island’s West Coast, by Tofino. If you’re looking for quieter place to visit, head to the North-west; the deserted sandy beaches in Raft Cove and Cape Scott Provincial Parks fit the bill.
Go for a free walking tour of Victoria or Chemainus
While most settlements on Vancouver Island aren’t particulary old, it doesn’t mean that there is nothing to see. The harbour city of Victoria, British Columbia’s capital, is a great place to take a wander; alongside the Edwardian architecture of the famous Empress Hotel and beautiful nearby Pacific coastline, there is also the remains of Canada’s first Chinatown to explore. Chemainus, about an hour’s drive north from Victoria, is a lovely little town with 39 murals adorning the streets.
Visit Vancouver Island’s waterfalls
The Island is fairly mountainous, and mountains mean lots of waterfalls. My favourites include the 25m high thundering Elk Falls (above, near Campbell River), the smaller but impressive Little Qualicum Falls located in a gorge (near Port Alberni), and both Stotan and Nymph Falls on the Puntledge River near Courtenay. The latter produce pools that quickly heat up in the summer, perfect for swimming or bathing. In the autumn, it is possible to watch hundreds of salmon fight their way upstream; Stotan and Nymph Falls both have ‘steps’ blasted into the rock to make this easier for the fish.
Free things to do on Vancouver Island
Some say that the best things in life are free and this is absolutely true on Vancouver Island. When I think about the highlights of our two and a half years spent living on the island, very few of these experiences came with a price tag. Vancouver Island offers a wealth of outdoor adventures, most of which are completely free. In addition to the places mentioned above, there is a huge network of free camping sites. If you’re looking for a multi-day challenge, check out the Cape Scott Lighthouse hike, the Della Falls trail or the Sayward Canoe Route.