No matter your age, learning about the environment and our local ecosystems is fun!
Whether you’re getting outside to a local park or trail, learning about the marine environment such as intertidal critters through touch tanks at an aquarium, or learning about Indigenous cultures on the land that you live on through virtual or in person field trips, there is so much to explore.
Click the map to explore!
Museums, aquariums, nature centres, and more
Rainy day with nothing to do? Check out some of our Island's great museums!
- The Royal BC Museum in Victoria has exhibits on natural history and human history, including the Indigenous cultures of BC. Be sure to check out their rotating exhibits, and features in the IMAX theatre.
- Explore the Hand of Man museum in Maple Bay to see their packed displays of natural history and artifacts.
- Try out the Nanaimo Museum to understand your local history and cultures. The museum’s permanent exhibits offer learnings about the impacts of industry like forestry, coal mining and transport, as well as many aspects of life in a traditional longhouse of the Snunéymuxw Nation. This is a great place to take a school group, as they offer both in person and virtual field trips! Be sure to check their website often for seasonal events and presentations.
- Visit the Whale Interpretive Centre in Telegraph Cove to learn all about the gentle giants of the sea. Check out their collection of marine mammals skeletons and learn about the life cycles of these amazing creatures.
- Owned and operated by the Northern Vancouver Island Salmonid Enhancement Association (NVISEA), the Quatse Salmon Stewardship Centre in Port Hardy is a great place to learn about all things salmon in the north island region. Take a walk through their interpretive gallery to discover the intricacies of the salmon life cycle, their natural habitats, salmon enhancement and local conservation initiatives.
Vancouver has a renowned aquarium, but did you know about these gems on Vancouver Island? Dive into the fascinating world of marine life on our coasts at
- the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea in Sidney where you may see a giant Pacific octopus play with toys and hear fascinating lectures!
- the Ucluelet Aquarium, Canada’s first collect-and-release aquarium! Located on the traditional territory of the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ (Ucluelet) First Nation, this facility features many native fish and invertebrate species who are collected from the local waters, then returned after a short residency. The aquarium is also a part of many initiatives to map and protect nearshore habitats like eelgrass, and clean up microplastics and marine debris from their shorelines, and
- the Discovery Passage Aquarium in Campbell River, which offers a 'hands on' experience and offers summer camps and school programs.
Many national, provincial, and regional parks on Vancouver Island have nature houses or nature centres to learn about the features, ecology, and culture of the area. A few to check out include
- the Goldstream Nature House, where you can learn about our temperate rainforest ecosystem, see the work of local artists, and bare witness to the incredible salmon run up the Goldstream River!
- the living classroom that is the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary, and their Nature House, where you can explore the native plant and animal species of the Garry Oak meadow on Christmas Hill, and the lake and wetland of Swan Lake. Did you know that Garry Oak meadows are almost exclusively found on the southeast coast of Vancouver Island and the southern Gulf Islands?
- Connect with the Garry Oak Meadow Preservation Society (GOMPS) to learn more about these incredible ecosystems, and how you can help preserve and restore habitat.
- the Gorge Waterway Nature House, located within Esquimalt Gorge Park, which is a community environmental learning hub, complete with a Seaquaria Aquarium marine touch tank and a model of the Gorge Waterway watershed!
- the Cowichan Estuary Nature Centre, an interpretive centre overlooking the Cowichan Estuary. Over 80% of the area’s wildlife use the estuary. You can learn about many of them and even observe some close up in their aquariums, touch tank, and microscopes! The nature centre offers immersive learning programs for students from kindergarten to grade 12 on topics like estuary ecosystems, microplastics pollution, and ecological restoration.
- the Strathcona Park Lodge and Outdoor Education Centre, which offers youth programs like their Wilderness Youth Leadership Development camp expedition, where teens connect to nature and develop leadership and stewardship skills. Programs are also available for school groups.
- Curious about composting and conservation? Check out the Compost Education Centre in Victoria to dig into their educational fact sheets on different methods of composting and other tips for your garden. They also offer workshops and educational programs for all ages on a wide range of topics – including how to convert your lawn into a native plant meadow and growing practices for a resilient garden!
- Learn about birds of prey at Pacific Northwest Raptors in Duncan, which has a variety of experiences to get up close to amazing birds and support their raptor rescue efforts.
- Check out the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre (NIWRC) to learn about the native wild animal species of Vancouver Island, their habitats, and what we can do to reduce our impacts on those species. Did you know that the NIWRC is able to rehabilitate up to twenty bears at a time at their facility? Through their Bear Cub Program, they are able to care for orphaned cubs in their facility until they are strong and healthy enough to be released. They also use radio collars to track the bears once they return to the wild to ensure their safety. (Errington, BC). The North Island Wildlife Recovery Association also offers free online learning resources including videos and activities.
- Deep Bay Marine Station offers public drop ins, and hosts class field trips that are tailored to each age group. Whether you are a curious university student or just starting grade 2, Deep Bay Marine Station has so much for you to explore and learn. They even offer summer camps for kids!
Explore Through a First Nations’ Lens
There is no better way to learn about our natural places than from the First Nations who have stewarded these lands since time immemorial. On Vancouver Island, we live on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth and Kwakwakaw’akw Peoples. Check out Indigenous Tourism BC’s list of other places to visit on the mainland too to learn about the Indigenous cultures of BC.
Become familiar with the traditional place names where you live, the Nations on whose territory you live and work, and the history of colonization on these lands. With the Native Land interactive map, you can explore different areas to view the traditional territories, treaties, as well as the languages spoken by the Indigenous group.
Here are some amazing places to visit on Vancouver Island:
- Book a walking or canoe tour with Explore Songhees to learn about the Lekwungen People on whose traditional territory Victoria and Esquimalt lie. Join cultural guides for an immersive experience that will enrich your understanding of the Lekwungen People, culture and connection to place.
- Kwisitis Visitor Centre in Tofino, BC. This visitor’s centre within Pacific Rim National Park offers incredible opportunities to learn about the First Nations of this coastal area: the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation of the Nuu-chah-nulth People. Listen to stories, and recordings of local animal names in the local Indigenous languages, and explore the replicas of coastal animals, and a replica of a traditional long house.
- Take a day trip over to Saysutshun/Newcastle Island from Nanaimo and learn about the significance of the island for sourcing traditional medicines and healing from native plants for the Snuneymuxw People.
- Visit the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay to learn about the tribes of the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw. You can join a cultural tour, check out an exhibit, and maybe even catch a youth performance of traditional dance.
The Province of BC has even created this interactive map where you can visualize all the parks in BC, as well as current closures or restrictions. Many parks have information centres where you can pick up brochures and maps, and learn about the history of a place and the nature it protects.
It is important to recognize the connections that Indigenous peoples and communities have with these special places having managed them for millennia. Read about Parks Canada’s commitment to honour the contributions and history of Indigenous people, co-management projects, and resources here.
Explore the parks in your own backyard
Here are a few suggestions for getting out there and enjoying your local areas along with links to regional directories to help you find outdoor adventures:
- Looking for a more spiritual experience? Try a guided mindfulness-based forest walking tour with Elemental Magick to discover the benefits of forest bathing.
- Capital Regional District has a find a pak directory as does District of Metchosin, and the Township of Esquimalt has walking and cycling trails, and parks search functions.
- Take a walk through the beautiful trails of the Somenos Marsh Conservation Area in Duncan and see the Open Air Classroom – stop in at the informational signs to learn about the native wildlife, their habitats, and their name in the language of the Quw'utsun people.
- Cowichan Valley Regional District has a directory of outdoor places to explore by area or activity type.
- Take a stroll around Buttertubs Marsh Conservation Area in Nanaimo. Don’t forget to bring along your Nature Guide to learn about the many plants and animals of the marsh as you walk!
- The Morrell Nature Sanctuary, which is owned and managed by the Nature Trust of BC, offers walking programs for seniors, field trips for school-aged children, and even summer day camps.
- At Stamp River Park, you can explore 2 km of interpretive trails, and may have the opportunity to see salmon migrating up the river through the fish ladder or swimming in the pools below the falls.
- The beautiful Comox Valley Regional District has a searchable map of trails, parks and beach access.
- As a launching pad to the northern reaches of Vancouver Island, Campbell River is rich with outdoor places to explore, including within the City of Campbell River.
Special events can be an excellent way to learn about local initiatives and get some hands-on learning experiences. There are many events around the Island that celebrate our coast, native species, and, of course, Pacific salmon. Keep an eye on your local newspaper to find other events near you and check out our events page to find ones Resilient Coasts for Salmon will be at!
- The Brant festival, hosted by the Nature Trust of BC, celebrates nature and migratory Brant geese that visit Parksville and Qualicum Beach each spring. This annual event typically runs for about 7 days, with many different events, tours and presentations to attend.
- Ocean Week Victoria offers 10 days of activities and fun events throughout the city of Victoria to celebrate our oceans and learn about ocean stewardship.
- The Qualicum Beach Day annual event provides a ton of opportunities to learn about our local beaches and the critters that rely on good coastal habitat, including Pacific Salmon and forage fish.
- Witness Nanaimo’s famous Silly Boat Regatta and Bathtub Race events every July!
- Spend your BC Day long weekend at the Comox Nautical Days “Free Festival of Family Fun”!
- Celebrate Pacific salmon at the Port Alberni Salmon Festival & Derby on September long weekend.
- Join us for a shoreline mapping workshop in communities on the east coast of Vancouver Island. We will be hosting workshops each summer from Victoria to Port McNeill, so be sure to sign up for our newsletter to be the first to register!
- Celebrate BC’s rivers at the Alberni Valley Rivers Day at Stamp Falls Provincial Park.
- Fancy a visit to Pender Island? Be sure to check out (and register for) the Trees to Seas Ecofair. The Ecofair boasts incredible workshops, forest walks, lectures, and markets all related to conservation, restoration and environmental education and action. Not able to attend the Ecofair? Consult the Pender Island Conservancy’s event calendar for fun opportunities such as bird counts and exhilarating lectures on topics ranging from fungi to salmon!
- Be sure to visit your local watershed during spawning season (usually late summer and fall) to witness the incredible migration and spawning of Pacific salmon in rivers throughout BC! Consult the PSF Salmon Spotting map to plan your trip to a spawning river near you.
Want to be even more involved?
- Volunteer with a local stewardship group on a shoreline clean up, forage fish sampling, and more! Visit our Tool Kit article on stewardship to learn more about the opportunities for hands-on learning on Vancouver Island.
Virtual exploring options
- BC Invasive Species Council has a selection of webinars available - Webinar Gallery - Invasive Species Council of British Columbia (bcinvasives.ca), plus virtual courses and e-learning through their Learning Centre
- The Royal BC Museum has options for learning online as well! Many of their exhibits are available to scroll through, as well as digital field trips!
- If you live on the west coast of Vancouver Island (Ucluelet to Hesquiaht), you could connect with N.E.S.T. (Nature. Education. Sustainability. Transformation.), a collective that offers west-coast based educational courses and resources from outdoor education to Indigenous-led courses.
- Don’t forget to visit the Pacific Salmon Foundation’s Salmon School for educational videos and lessons on all things salmon, including a salmon dissection, salmon life cycle, habitat restoration, and freshwater habitat (coming soon).
Photo credits: Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto on Pexels, Kyla Sheehan, Nicole Christiansen