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Vancouver Island is a great destination for wildlife enthusiasts because of its black bear population and whale-watching opportunities. It is one of the best places in the world to see orcas.

Here you can walk along wild beaches and through dense forests where black bears are common. Boat trips provide excellent opportunities to see impressive numbers of grey whales that spend the summer in the plankton-rich channels offshore.

Named after the Royal Navy officer who explored the Pacific Northwest between 1791 and 1794, British Columbia’s largest island is home to the historic city of Victoria, the provincial capital, which warrants a couple of nights stay. At 460kms long and up to 80kms wide, it is the largest Pacific island east of New Zealand, and the largest on the west coast of North America. Separated from the mainland by a long strait, the island’s west coast looks directly onto the Pacific Ocean, while mountains that reach a maximum height of 2,195ms run most of its length, dividing the drier, more rolling east coast from the wet and rugged western shore, much of which is mountainous with fjords, bays and inlets.

With many lakes and rivers, the interior is heavily forested – particularly the northern, western and central regions – with the big conifers associated with the BC coast: western hemlock, red cedar, Pacific silver fir, Douglas fir, and Sitka spruce. Near the centre, Strathcona Provincial Park has a group of peaks with the island’s only glaciers. The fauna is similar to the mainland, with notable exceptions: grizzly bears, mountain goats, porcupines, moose, skunks, coyotes and numerous small mammals are all absent. However the island is home to most of Canada’s Roosevelt elk population, and has two endemic species — the Vancouver Island marmot and the Vancouver Island wolf – along with North America’s most concentrated cougar population. Sea otters, which were hunted almost to extinction by fur traders in the 1800s and finally died out in the early twentieth century, were successfully reintroduced to the west coast from Alaska.

Tofino and Pacific Rim National Park are the main places to visit on the island.

View suggested itineraries

Key info

  • Ideal for viewing: American black bear, puma, grey whale, orca, sea otter
  • Where: British Columbia, Canada

Wildlife trips

This wildlife location is featured in the following itineraries:

The Bear Essentials

Focus on seeing British Columbia’s largest carnivore - the brown or grizzly bear. Fly by floatplane to your wilderness lodge of choice, and enjoy daily bear watching trips, either by boat, kayak or from hides, affording some remarkably close up encounters and an unforgettable experience.

  • When to go: May-Oct
  • Duration inc. flights: 8 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £4,595 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea

Vancouver Island Self-drive

This two week self-drive itinerary takes in the mountains, dense forests and coastlines of Vancouver Island. Travel at your own pace to ensure that you get the most of the wilderness interior, with hikes, sea kayaking and boat excursions to watch grey whales, orcas and black bears.

  • When to go: May-Oct
  • Duration inc. flights: 15 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £3,695 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea

Bears & Orcas Up Close

See pods of orcas and other whales as they glide through the Salish Sea off Vancouver Island, before you fly north to the Yukon. A helicopter trip to a bear camp deep in the forest on the Taku River gives close sightings of grizzly bears going about their business in the wild, and bald eagles on the wing.

  • When to go: Jul-Aug
  • Duration inc. flights: 14 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £8,195 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea

Kayaking with Whales & Grizzlies

Seeing a humpback whale lunging through a school of bait fish, or a pod of killer whales surfacing in unison, are often considered to be once in a lifetime experiences, yet they are both possible on this water-based tour, along with the other star of British Columbia’s extraordinary wildlife – the grizzly bear.

  • When to go: Jul-Sep
  • Duration inc. flights: 10 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £3,345 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea

Orcas, Bears & Totems

This trip visits a stunning archipelago in British Columbia, one of the best places in the world to watch orca as they gather to forage for salmon. Sailing on board a specially designed yacht, the adventure continues to Knight Inlet, where brown bears come to feed in the summer.

  • When to go: Jul-Aug
  • Duration inc. flights: 10 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £4,745 pp
  • Trip type: Group tour

Walking with Bears & Whale Watching

This trip offers a remarkable opportunity to spend time with the ‘the bear whisperer™’ to experience seeing grizzly bears at close quarters in one of the planet’s last pristine wildernesses. You can also see bald eagles in the skies, and watch grey and humpback whales slipping through the offshore waters.

  • When to go: Sep-Oct
  • Duration inc. flights: 10 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £5,195 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea

Whales & Mountains

This superb route winds it way through the celebrated Rocky Mountains and into the Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island. This area of ancient coastal rainforest abounds with plant life and is famed for its whale watching, as well as being home to brown bears, wolves and bald eagles.

  • When to go: May-Sep
  • Duration inc. flights: 14 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £2,845 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea
Suggested accommodation is shown below. Please contact us for further recommendations.

Wickaninnish Inn

Beautifully located on Chesterman Beach in Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Wickannish Inn is a relaxing rural retreat surrounded by forest and sea. The inn has direct access to the beach, and panoramic ocean or beach views from its 75 deluxe rooms and suites. An extremely relaxing place to stay.