Vancouver Island, the largest isle along North America’s Pacific coast, stretches for more than 450 superb kilometers off the west coast of mainland British Columbia . A magnificent chain of rugged snowcapped mountains, sprinkled with lakes and rivers and pierced by deep inlets, effectively divides the island into two distinct sides: dense, rain-drenched forest and remote surf- and wind-battered shores on the west; and well-populated, sheltered, beach-fringed lowlands on the east.
Much of the lush, green island is covered with dense forests of Douglas fir, western red cedar, and hemlock. The climate, stabilized by the Pacific Ocean and warmed by the Japanese current, never really gets too hot or too cold, but be prepared for cloudbursts, especially in winter.
Victoria , the provincial capital, lies at the southern tip of the island and is connected to the much larger city of Vancouver  by regular ferry services. Its deeply entrenched British traditions make Victoria unique among North American cities. The rest of the island draws scenery buffs, outdoor adventurers, wildlife watchers, and students of northwest Native American art and culture.
Backpackers head west from Victoria to Port Renfrew, the starting point of the West Coast Trail . Island-hoppers take Highway 17 north up the Saanich Peninsula to Swartz Bay, jump on a ferry, and cruise the scenic Southern Gulf Islands . Other explorers head north up the Island Highway, Highway 1/19, which follows the Strait of Georgia all the way to the island’s northern tip . The old highway has mostly been replaced by the Inland Island Highway, but to take in the best the island has to offer, stick to the old route. Along the way you’ll pass sandy beaches, resorts, and old logging, mining, and fishing towns that now base their existence to a large degree on tourism.
At Parksville , Highway 4 turns off west and leads through “oooh” and “aaah” mountain scenery to the relatively untamed west coast. There you’ll find picture-perfect fishing villages, driftwood-littered sand for as far as you can see, and Pacific Rim National Park , the only national park on the island. Also on the west coast is Tofino , a base for sea kayaking and whale-watching on Clayoquot Sound. Farther north up Highway 19, at Campbell River , Highway 28 cuts west to Gold River, passing through enormous Strathcona Provincial Park .
North of Campbell River lies a surprisingly large area mostly untouched by civilization—in fact, today you can still find maps of the island that fizzle out above Campbell River. Unique Telegraph Cove , a boardwalk village known for its fishing and whale-watching activities, and intriguing Alert Bay  on Cormorant Island are highlights north of Campbell River. Finally, the road ends at Port Hardy , the largest community north of Campbell River and the terminus for ferries to Prince Rupert .