The Ultimate Island Road Trip

Four action-packed outdoor adventures, from Sooke to Parksville

Vancouver Island’s southern coast boasts a bounty of action-packed adventure spots to explore

My eyes are wide open, yet I can’t see a thing. I push through the panic as I hurriedly rotate the knob that’s affixed to the side of my helmet. A glow beams from my forehead, casting light just above my sight line.

Below my feet, a gentle trickle of water flows along a stream that has found its way through a carved rock formation on which I stand, tiptoed.

“Are you coming mom?” a voice echoes in the distance. I tilt my head down to shine light on my path, take a deep inhale, and scurry along the rigid surface of the unfamiliar underworld, remembering to keep three points of contact firm on the rocks as I go, to keep myself from slipping on the slick surface.

I’m only 20 steps into the first of a multi-cave, self-guided spelunking tour in Horne Lake on Vancouver Island, and I’m already afraid I may never see the light of day again. My kids—on the other hand—have already decided that they want to try the more extreme rappelling cave tour on their next visit.

Here are some must-try outdoor adventures to add to your next Vancouver Island visit…

1. Splash around at Sooke Potholes Provincial Park

Best known for its unique series of naturally-formed, deep polished rock pools and potholes that have formed along the bedrock of the Sooke River, Sooke Potholes Provincial Park is a favourite forested find for hikers, river dwellers and swimmers, especially during the summer months. Hike along the river, wonder at the winding waterfall, or trek through the trails of this 7.28 hectare park. Be sure to check out the remaining ruins of an abandoned resort that sits on the cliffs above the potholes viewing point. (In the late 1980s, this site was set to become the Deertrail Destination Resort, but a lack of funds put an end to the project and it was never fully completed.)

2. Pedal kayak along the coast of Sooke Harbour

Head to Sooke Marina and embark on an adventurous guided kayak tour with West Coast Outdoor Adventure, one of the only places in British Columbia where you can try—and buy!—a pedal-powered Hobie kayak. Glide through the crystal clear water of the Sooke Basin, weave through the wooden beams of the Sooke Marine Boardwalk, and watch for passing wildlife such as seals, otters and jellyfish. Some kayakers have even enjoyed close-up encounters with orcas!

3. Discover the majesty of Cathedral Grove

Shortlisted for the CBC’s recent Seven Wonders of Canada, Cathedral Grove (located in MacMillan Provincial Park) boasts an accessible collection of the biggest and oldest Douglas firs in Canada—some of which are over 800 years old and measure more than 250 feet in height. Take a trek along the winding wooden pathways and well-tracked dirt trails, climb through trunk openings that are as large as castle doorways, and teeter along fallen tree trunks as you read about the history of the area through which you’re adventuring.

4. Creep through the caves of Horne Lake

The highest concentration of caves in North America is found on Vancouver Island, yet many locals are unaware of the “wild within” that exists so close to home. Whether it’s your first peek into the world of caving, or you’re an extreme underworld adventurist, Horne Lake Caves offers thrills for every skill level. Get your toes wet with a multi-cave self-guided tour (for all ages), or go extreme with a five-hour Extreme Cave Rappel tour (for ages 15 and up) where guests can crawl, climb, and rappel down a seven-story waterfall, while marvelling at rock and crystal formations.

5. Stay on the stunning waterfront

Whether you’re road-tripping with a large brood in tow, or looking for a luxuriously large suite to hang your hat and warm your toes, True Key Hotels & Resorts has a space fit for you. 

Start in Sooke with a stay at the Sooke Harbour Resort & Marina, a waterfront dwelling featuring spacious suites that offer one to four bedroom accommodations, and fully-equipped kitchens. In the four-bedroom penthouse suite, a private pool table is housed in its own party room. Relax after a full day of adventure in one of two hot tubs, and enjoy views of the harbour as you sit back and soak it all in.

Wrap up your road trip with a wind-down at Sunrise Ridge Waterfront Resort, another True Key property, offering roomy rentals with lavish kitchens and spacious sitting rooms. The sand of the town’s popular beach on the shoreline of the Strait of Georgia is only steps away, and—in warmer months—guests can enjoy a dip in the heated pool.

6. Sail smoothly to your island getaway

Bookend the adventure with a little fresh air… from one of the decks aboard the fleet of BC Ferries. Sail Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay, and return from Nanaimo on the Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay route. Schedules vary, with plenty of sailings to suit your calendar. As a valuable bonus, BC Ferries Vacations offers significant savings on travel package bookings. Certainly, no one can argue the appeal of their offering to “linger a little longer” on the beautiful southern island.