West of West
How to navigate Vancouver Island's wild, wild edge.
Vancouver Island and its environs boast perhaps the mildest climate in Canada. That said, there’s one big caveat if you’re planning a trip: Cool-air masses over the Pacific regularly collide with warmer fronts developing over land. Which means—thud—rain. To prevent your plans from being scrubbed by a deluge, schedule a summertime visit; during July and August two out of three days are sunny.
Getting There: Any number of U.S. carriers can whisk you to Sea-Tac airport. From there, Horizon Air (800-547-9308) and $107 get you to Victoria, British Columbia’s capital and second-largest city. There’s also one Washington State Ferry (206-464-6400) each day that runs from Anacortes, 70 miles north of Seattle, to Sidney, which lies about 17 miles north of Victoria on Vancouver Island’s eastern shore. The trip costs $24 and takes about three hours. You can shave more than an hour off your travel time—and save $5—by driving across the border to Tsawwassen and then crossing to Sidney on BC Ferries (250-386-3431), which also handles all interisland hops.
Lodging: In Clayoquot Sound, avail yourself of the hospitality provided by the Buckles, Neil and Marilyn. Accommodations at their Vargas Island Inn and Hostel (250-725-3309) are just $16 per person for a double or a bunk room. Also in Clayoquot, just south of Tofino, there’s the Middle Beach Lodge (doubles, $67–$134; 250-725-2900), a rustic oceanfront inn that lies on a wilderness headland. In Victoria, overnight digs range from French chateau elegance at the Empress Hotel downtown (suites, $74–$419; 800-441-1414) to scenic campgrounds, the best of which is in Goldstream Provincial Park (250-391-2300), ten miles northwest of town. Tent sites cost $12, and there’s easy access to swimming, fishing, and hiking.
Outfitters: Vancouver Island’s coast is perhaps best explored by kayak. In Clayoquot, Tofino Sea Kayaking (800-863-4664) runs everything from short day trips ($27, including rentals) to six-day excursions with a stop at Hot Springs Cove ($564). Rentals for experienced paddlers who want to go the self-guided route are $24 per day. If you’re setting off from Victoria, two top options are Ocean River Sports (800-909-4233) and Pacific Rim Paddling (250-384-6103). Ocean River’s offerings include two-hour harbor tours ($37) and a three-day camping trip ($220) that begins at the company’s Canoe Cove location in the Gulf Islands. Pacific Rim offers numerous west coast trips, including a six-day outing to Barkley Sound for $591. If you’ve seen enough at water level, check out Vancouver Island from a bird’s-eye viewpoint. Air Dreams Hang Gliding School (250-385-2970) has introductory tandem flights from several locations north of Victoria for about $100.
Readings: A good source of kayaking information is www.WavelengthMagazine.com, a font of paddling know-how with a focus on British Columbia. The site covers topics such as kayaking cuisine, trip itineraries, and gear recommendations. You’ll even find a bit of ocean poetry. Another way to bone up before visiting is to read Sea Kayaking Canada’s West Coast, by John Ince and Hedi Köttner (Mountaineers Books, $14.95), among the most definitive books on the topic. For more on the West Coast Trail, check out Hiking on the Edge: The West Coast Trail and the Juan De Fuca Trail, by Ian Gill and David Nunuk (Raincoast Books, $18.50).