When most Americans think of an island vacation, they likely envision the Caribbean or Hawaii. But Canada has plenty of beautiful destinations that are great for getting away from it all, too. Some of these, like Galiano Island, are best for outdoorsy pursuits such as hiking and canoeing. Meanwhile, Fogo Island is home to a stylish hotel that offers luxe spa treatments. Many of these islands are great for families, while others appeal to adventurous types. Take a spin through our guide below and discover which Canadian island is best for you.
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Salt Spring Island
The largest and most populated of British Columbia’s southern Gulf Islands, Salt Spring Island is located fairly close to Victoria (some even consider it a distant suburb), making it a relatively easy trek. For much of the year, the climate is temperate, hovering around the mid-40s in the winter and the low 70s in summer. The trails in Ruckle Provincial Park offer plenty of opportunities for birding and watching sailboats in the nearby water. The Salt Spring Island Cheese Company, which makes goat and sheep’s milk cheeses, is a must-visit for foodies craving farm-to-table flavors. The shop’s tour delves into the cheesemaking process and stars the furry folks responsible for the ingredients. The owners of the Blue Horse Folk Art Gallery set their whimsical sculptures and paintings throughout the property, which also doubles as a bed-and-breakfast. Much of the lodging on the island leans toward rustic, like the Salt Spring Inn and Quarrystone House Bed & Breakfast. Vacationers looking for a more upscale experience can stay at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel and make a day trip. Fun fact: Children’s music superstar Raffi is a resident of Salt Spring Island.
Located on the west side of the Strait of Georgia, the long, thin Galiano Island is a major flight path for migrating birds. Eagles, herons, and falcons are all regularly spotted. Much of the offshore marine life is protected, and visitors can find orca whales, sea lions, and seals here. Several local hotels, such as Serenity by the Sea Retreat and Salish Sea Bed & Breakfast, make the most of those coastal views. For those who want to get even closer to the water, Gulf Island Kayaking rents boats. Landlubbers can stop by one of the island’s most popular destinations, Shell Beach in Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park, which is covered in weathered seashells. Travelers planning a visit should also keep in mind that development on Galiano Island is limited and focused on being sustainable. Many of the accommodations are cottages or bed-and-breakfasts.
The largest island in Canada and the fifth-largest in the world, Baffin edges the Arctic Circle and is an excellent destination for those who love snowy adventures. Baffin Island’s climate is similar to Reykjavik’s, which lies around the same latitude. Temperatures can get as high as 48 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and as low as minus 27 degrees in February. No roads lead here, so you’ll need to fly in. Once on the island, snowmobiles and dogsleds are used for traveling over the land. Boats shuttle visitors around it. From October to April, it’s an excellent perch to see the Northern Lights. Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, is located on the island and has several museums and shops dedicated to Inuit artwork. One of the major reasons tourists travel to Baffin Island is the Arctic wilderness. The Soper River in Katannilik Territorial Park is a great place for rafting and kayaking in the summer. You can ski and hike in Sirmilik National Park as well as search for polar bears, beluga whales, and walruses. Many people like to camp on Baffin Island, but if you’re hoping for more upscale accommodations, Iqaluit’s Frobisher Inn has stylish rooms and The Discovery is a boutique hotel with a top-notch restaurant.
French colonial culture runs deep in the Magdalen Islands archipelago. Jacques Cartier, the man who claimed Canada for France, first visited them in 1534. By 1765, they were inhabited by 22 French-speaking Acadians and their families. Even though the islands are near Nova Scotia, they’re part of Quebec, and many inhabitants consider themselves as both Acadian and Quebecois. The population remains fairly low. L’Étang-du-Nord, one of the larger islands, has only about 3,000 inhabitants. The climate is a bit chilly, averaging in the high 60s during the summer and the mid-20s in the winter. In the colder months, tourists come to see the baby harp seal pups waddle their way into the world. When the temperatures get a bit higher, more active visitors bike, kayak, and windsurf. If you time your visit right, you may see a kitesurfing or windsurfing tournament. All year, the Permian red sandstone cliffs paint a dramatic coastline that’s filled in with white-sand beaches and deep green fields. Many of the accommodations, like Auberge de Gros-Cap in Etang-du-Nord, are minimalist and have a low room rate and astounding views. Meanwhile, Auberge Chez Denis a Francois offers travelers a taste of a classic bed-and-breakfast with excellent cuisine.
Prince Edward Island
About 120 miles north of Halifax, Prince Edward Island (PEI) is one of the most popular destinations in Canada. It first became a British colony in the 1700s, and later became part of Canada in 1873. Much of the current population and culture can be traced back to the early English, Irish, and French settlers. Literature fans know PEI from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novel, “Anne of Green Gables,” which likened the island’s shades to jewels: ruby, emerald, and sapphire. Travelers to the island can visit the Green Gables Heritage Place, which reconstructs moments from the book intertwined with references to the author’s life. Green Gables isn’t the only historic place on the island — others include the Dalvay by the Sea Victorian estate and the neoclassical Province House, the seat of PEI’s legislature. Throughout the summer months, the island hosts several festivals, featuring music, gourmet food, plays, and dance performances. The relatively large amount of tourism to the island also means an array of accommodations are available, from the luxurious Holman Grand Hotel to the quaint Kindred Spirits Country Inn & Cottages.
National Geographic says Fogo Island is more of a “state of mind” than a place, but to get there, you’ll need to fly into Newfoundland and drive to Farewell to catch a ferry. Fogo’s art communities have turned the former maritime settlement into a hipster destination. Its combination of down-to-earth and oh-so-now influences make Fogo an ideal setting for a “Northern Exposure” reboot. Walkways skirt past green meadows, brightly painted clapboard houses, and over miles of jagged coastline. Local restaurants like Scoff serve duck confit toutons and salt cod pierogis in addition to the expected fish and chips. Then there’s the Fogo Island Inn, which looks like a bone-white space station that was dropped onto the island’s otherworldly terrain. The operators offer a combination of humble pastimes, like picking berries, and indulgent pleasures, like luxe spa treatments. After a relaxing massage, head to a quirky attraction like the Museum of the Flat Earth.
If you want a spot that’s easy to visit from the U.S. and includes much of what’s great about the Canadian isles, Vancouver Island is a top choice. One of the most temperate parts of Canada, the island is also the only part of the country that extends below the 49th parallel. Even in the winter, the thermometer rarely dips below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit), and is in the 80s for much of the summer. Just off the west coast of British Columbia, the bottom of Vancouver Island juts into the northwest coast of Washington state (the Strait of Georgia drifts in between), making it a relatively easy hop to and from the U.S.
An abundance of nature retreats, museums, and historic architecture are all found within a short distance. The 900 plant varieties found at Butchart Gardens extend over 55 acres. In the summertime, the sand at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park stretches over a half-mile into the Strait of Georgia (a quality that also helps make it a family favorite). Kids will also get a kick out of Hatley Castle, a Scottish baronial-style mansion that has appeared in both the “Deadpool” and “X-Men” movies. During the winter, skiers and snowboarders can traverse the slopes at Mount Washington Alpine Resort or Cypress Mountain. Those who want a more urbane getaway can stick close to Victoria, which has the Royal BC Museum, Parliament Buildings, and primo restaurants like the hip OLO and more traditional Brasserie L’Ecole. As you might expect from a major tourist destination, accommodations here range from the upscale Magnolia Hotel and Spa and the The Fairmount Empress (an actual castle) to the more humble Arbutus Inn.
Island of Montreal
Did you know that most of Île de Montréal is the city of Montreal? The island, at the confluence of the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers, also includes suburbs like Pointe-Claire, but is primarily the urban heart of Quebec. Unlike most of Canada’s other islands, this is not the place to get away from it all. You are in one of the biggest centers of France’s former colonial empire. That culture still permeates throughout the city, evidenced by the architecture (Notre-Dame Basilica and Hôtel de Ville), the attractions (Cirque du Soleil and McCord Museum), and the food. Montreal has the highest number of restaurants per capita of any city in Canada. Like many of the other islands on this list, there’s also nature to enjoy on Île de Montréal, especially at Cap-Saint-Jacques Nature Park and Clock Tower Beach. You can also take river cruises around the island. The most famous hotel in Montreal may be The Queen Elizabeth (where John Lennon wrote “Give Peace a Chance”), but the city is also home to five-star accommodations like The Ritz-Carlton, chic boutique offerings like Le Petit Hotel (housed in a 19th-century building), and even hostels like Le Gite Plateau Mont-Royal.
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