West of West
How to navigate Vancouver Island's wild, wild edge.
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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).