There are many exceptional beaches on Vancouver Island. Some of these beaches surpass the beauty and grandeur of the best in the world. Many of them are part of the rugged costal wilderness that makes Vancouver Island magnificent. Here are some of the top beaches on the Island, taking a drive north from Nanaimo, around the northern edge then across and up the Pacific Rim from Victoria to Tofino.
Dolphin Beach near Nanoose Bay, BC
For the avid scuba diver, Dolphin Beach near Nanoose Bay, BC is a real find. This one is not for the sunbather amongst us, the beach is very rocky but you can find paths through them to deeper areas where the bottom is sandy before it drops to 100 or more feet. You’ll find all kinds of fish like quillbacks, copper rockfish, and sponges, and not much current to worry about. Accommodations can be found in Parksville and Nanaimo. Bear right after Nanoose Bay, past Qualicum National Wildlife area, follow Powder Point Road to Schooner Road, then left on Blueback Drive which hugs the shoreline most of the way, Tyee Crescent takes over at the Southern end. This beach is where these two meet.
Parksville beach on the eastern edge of Vancouver Island, is a mere 25 minutes drive north of Dolphin Beach, (but only 35 from Nanaimo). Here you’ll find endless sand on a huge flat beach that hosts a yearly sandcastle competition. Parksville beach is like spilled flour that goes on for more than a kilometer at its widest point, packed by the tide, water puddles left behind where it couldn’t escape in time.
Another 15 minutes from Parksville along Highway 19 north takes you to what is widely known as Vancouver Island’s “Garden Village” Qualicum Beach is probably the oldest holiday destination on the BC coast. Early explorers spoke of its beauty, warm summers and amazing vistas as early as 1864. The town developed into a vacation retreat with the arrival of the railway a century ago. Thanks to visionary thinking by town planners and a set of strict building codes, Qualicum (a Salish Indian word for “where the dog salmon runs”) Beach remains a singularly unique and special destination for boaters and beach goers to this day.
Tribune Bay Provincial Park on Hornby Island, BC
From the ferry terminals in Nanaimo, the next beach is north and east including the two ferry rides: Tribune Bay Provincial Park on Hornby Island, BC. If you like warm, shallow waters where you can relax in the waves for hours, this is it. Hornby Island hugs Vancouver Island on the eastern side, sheltered from the pounding Pacific, the summer sun can make the beach waters feel like those on the Gulf side of Florida. Although there are no swaying palm trees to shade sunbathers, Tribune Bay is still close to paradise.
Nicknamed “Little Hawaii,” the white sandy beaches of Tribune Bay stretch endlessly out to meet an aquamarine sea, minus 20 ft high surfing waves. Boasting close to 1 km of fine white sandy beach, the south-facing Tribune Bay is easily one of the most spectacular on the east side of Vancouver Island. Here, shallow waters meet near tropical temperatures during the summer and the bay is considered to be one of the warmest salt water swimming areas in BC.
Springtime will dazzle you with a display of wildflowers cloaking the hillsides along the beach. In the summer, dark blue salal berries and edible red huckleberries provide colourful contrast to the white sand and unusual rock formations along the shoreline.
The trip from Buckley Bay, where you take the ferry from the mainland to get to Tribune on Hornby takes an hour and a half.
Courtenay, BC’s Bates Beach
Courtenay, BC’s most beautiful resort location, Bates Beach, located just north of the town of Courtenay on Georgia Strait, Bates Beach boasts beautiful rocky beaches with tidal pools and sand bars, great fishing, and a gorgeous natural atmosphere. This beach is sheltered from the Salish Sea currents, amenities abound, be it camping, boating, resort and spas. Less than 30 minutes north of Buckley Bay on Island Highway.
Sandy Island Marine Provincial Park
Sandy Island Marine Provincial Park includes Sandy Island – known locally as Tree Island – and the nearby Seal Islets. The park is located off the northern tip of Denman Island and is accessible by boat from Union Bay on Vancouver Island or by foot from Denman Island at low tide.
This park has long been popular with Comox Valley residents, and is becoming a draw for visitors as well. Sandy Island offers good opportunities for bird watching and nature appreciation, as well as sandy beaches perfect for sunbathing and swimming.
Sandy Island is a sensitive ecosystem of rare and fragile plants and animals. Numerous species of birds make their home on the islands and observing these can provide endless hours of enjoyment for photographers and nature lovers.
Highway 19 up the eastern edge of Vancouver Island takes you to Campbell River. Campbell River is dubbed the “Salmon capital of the world”. There, Destiny River Adventures takes groups (family and adult-only) to the Nimpkish River for thrilling whitewater rafting trips. Swimmers can also splash about in town at the year-round Strathcona Recreation Complex (225 South Dogwood) or the outdoor Centennial Pool (4th and Alder).
Or dip into frisky cold waters at Buttle Lake in Strathcona Provincial Park or the Campbell River itself (where several local companies enable groups to swim with migrating salmon). Many other visitors get their thrills inland on hiking, biking, climbing and canoeing.
San Josef Bay
The next beach of mention is to the north of San Josef Bay at the very north western tip of the Island. Pointing south, this beach seems to have been gouged out of the land, at the mouth of the St Josef River. Tides deposited a soft white sandy bottom that goes on and on. The ocean is cradled by the bay, its arms buffering the Pacific waves to a slow roll.
San Josef Bay is at the southern end of the Cape Scott Provincial Park. Its beach is absolutely gorgeous. In order to get to Cape Scott Provincial Park, you have to drive towards Port Hardy on Hwy 19. The turnoff to Holberg is 1 km (.6 mile) south of Port Hardy. From here Holberg is 47 km (29 miles) west on public and privately owned gravel forestry roads. The Cape Scott Provincial Park parking lot is an additional 27 km (17 miles) from Holberg – a 5 hour drive northwest from Campbell River.
For the more adventurous there are a few sandy beaches rimming the northernmost coast line of Vancouver Island but this little haven straddles both sides of the peninsula, calm to the south, but surf sized waves a short walking distance across the panhandle of the peninsula to the north. Access? Hydroplane is my best guess, or a good 27 km hike from Holberg.
Hesquiat Peninsula Park, Nootka Sound
Situated on the west coast of the Island, Hesquiat Peninsula Provincial Park occupies most of the eastern shore of Nootka Sound
Numerous trails allow visitors to hike along wilderness tracks that lead to sandy beaches, sheltered bays and sea caves.
Tofino is home to many of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Chesterman Beach North and South. There are two sections but it is really one long beautiful beach. Both are sandy and are enjoyed by visitors and locals alike. The North end boasts a lighthouse with rocky islands and lots of sand to play in or walk on and hard pack sand to run on. The two sections connect by Frank Island. Surfing is popular on both North and South Chesterman Beach.
Florencia Bay Beach Trail is a short trail that first takes in the view over Florencia Bay then leads down a set of steps to a wonderful open beach. It is one of the trails close to the Wickaninnish Centre. Drive and start at the parking lot close by or include this trail as part of Willowbrae Trail. Florencia Bay is also known locally as Wreck Bay.
There is a great beach on the other side of town. Tonquin Park Beach looks out to a small island and is very sandy. Bike or drive through town and up to the end of Tonquin Park Road. Park there and walk down the steps (there are a few of them) to the beach.
Long Beach – Pacific Rim Park
The Pacific rim of Vancouver Island between Ucluelet and Tofino, is where Long Beach can be found. At the same longitude as Nanaimo, one third of the way up the west side of the island, Long Beach goes on for kilometers. You can spend days walking, discovering the life and beauty in the surf and tidal rhythms there.
Long Beach is the most accessible and most developed component of the Pacific Rim National Park. Its ocean waves are suitable for surfing, boogie boarding, sandcastle building and of course, sunbathing on warm summer days.
Long Beach has an international reputation – especially with surfers. Canadian Geographic magazine ranked it in the “Top 25 Beaches in Canada”
If you have a favorite beach that you would like to share, please let us know.
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