With its vast and diverse landscape, Canada is home to a multitude of captivating islands that offer a varied and unforgettable experience for visitors. From the rugged beauty of the Atlantic provinces to the serene tranquillity of the Pacific coast, these islands boast breathtaking scenery, rich wildlife, and a fascinating cultural heritage. Whether you seek adventure in the untamed wilderness, or a peaceful retreat surrounded by pristine beaches, these Canadian islands have something to offer everyone. Immerse yourself in the charm of Prince Edward Island, explore the mystical archipelago of Haida Gwaii, or witness the dramatic coastal cliffs of Newfoundland. Embark on an extraordinary journey of island life.
Vancouver Island, BC
Vancouver Island, off the coast of British Columbia, is an outdoors person’s dream. The largest island off the west coast of North America boasts beautiful views, parks with indigenous flora and fauna, museums, and just about any ocean activity one could imagine—especially fishing, kayaking, windsurfing, and scuba diving. Its mild climate makes it a suitable destination year-round. Vancouver Island also marks the ancestral home of the Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth, and Coast Salish peoples; and the province has tried to celebrate that indigenous origin with cultural tours and through their website.
Haida Gwaii, BC
This archipelago is located north of Vancouver Island and a bit farther out from the mainland of British Columbia. The Haida people have inhabited the islands before written record. Haida Gwaii—formerly known as the Princess Charlotte Islands—is a place of great respect and history. One of the main attractions of the Island is Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, which is a Haida Heritage Site. This park balances recreation with preservation, allowing the space to be enjoyed while also respecting the land it sits upon. Kayaking is a common recreational activity on the islands, as well as biking and hiking. Boat tours make for some exquisite whale watching as well.
Prince Edward Island
With gorgeous lighthouses and no shortage of beaches, Prince Edward Island is a perfect spot to spend a summer. The Island boasts rich, multicultural roots that can be seen even today—Indigenous, French, Acadian, Black, Scottish, Irish, and other influences continue to make the Island a diverse cultural experience. Explore the land of Anne of Green Gables at Green Gables Shore; take a relaxing drive along the North Cape Coastal Drive or any of the many scenic heritage roads; experience the Celtic roots of the Island in Summerside—the Island’s second largest city.
Newfoundland & Labrador
If you want to see massive icebergs and the most exciting whale watching in the world, Newfoundland & Labrador is where you need to go. It is an excellent vacation spot from May to September where you are more likely to see icebergs and whales, and also when the weather is at its best. St. John’s is the biggest city in the island province, and it boasts beautiful water views as well as colourful, historic churches, art, and buildings. Consistently described as ‘the friendliest people’, Newfoundlanders are considered some of the best hosts in the world. Visit one of the many national parks, or explore rocky coastal harbour towns while taking in panoramic ocean views.
Cape Breton Island, NS
Located on the northeastern tip of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island is another maritime island that offers breathtaking views, a plethora of outdoor activities, and meaningful cultural sites—especially of the Mi’kmaq people. Hiking is a wonderful way to spend a day, and if you come during Waterfall Season—or Spring—you can hike trails to numerous waterfalls like the Beulach Ban falls in the Highlands National Park, Devil’s Hill Falls in the Louisbourg area, or Gairloch Mountain Falls on the Cabot Trail, just to name a few. Cape Breton doesn’t shut down for winter, either. They have numerous snowshoeing, skiing—downhill and Nordic—and snowmobiling activities on the island even as the winter temperatures plunge!
Sable Island, NS
Unlike the other islands on this list, Sable Island is, in its entirety, a National Park Reserve. This thin, crescent shaped island is not a bustling metropolis. It is a place for people who want to explore a nearly untouched wildlife preserve. Only a few people actually live on the island. Moreover, the island is constantly moving! As the western part of the beach erodes, the eastern part is built up, moving the island just a little farther east every day. If you are interested in wildlife, it’s worth noting that Sable Island is the world’s largest breeding colony for grey seals, and more than 350 species of birds have been spotted on the island. Most notably, the island is home to more than 500 wild horses.
Thousand Islands, ON
What many people will know about the Thousand Islands is that it is where Thousand Island dressing originated. But there is so much more to these 1,800+ islands on the upper St. Lawrence River between the US and Canada. Once a pirating thoroughfare, you can take a boat trip around the river to the sites of sunken pirate ships, or explore Boldt Castle. Or if you are more adventurous, go white water rafting. If you need a place to stay, the islands are full of charming Bed and Breakfasts that allow you to settle in a way chain hotels do not.
Manitoulin Island, ON
Manitoulin Island is the largest freshwater island in the world. Situated in Northern Ontario in Lake Huron, the island is home to Wikwemikong, which is the only unceded Indian Reserve in Canada. It also happens to be the site of the first European settlement in Canada. Endless trails make it a hiker and a cyclists’ dream. Paddle along the lakes and rivers for crystal clear water, waterfall views, and some of the best fishing in Ontario.
Ellesmere Island, Nunavut
This arctic archipelago might be the passage to the north pole, but don’t let that discourage you from visiting. While, yes, it reaches into the High Arctic, Ellesmere Island is home to a rich environment of flora and fauna. You can literally visit the most northern National Park in the world at Quttinirpaaq National Park with gorgeous ice-capped mountain views. Polar bears, Arctic foxes, and white wolves— animals almost never seen by humans—call Ellesmere home. Due to the climate and location, Ellesmere can only be visited by the public between May and August and the most convenient way to visit is through an online expedition cruise service.
Dave Gordon | Contributing Writer