Canadian islands are some of the most beautiful places to visit in the country. While Canada may not be the country with the most islands in the world, it’s right up near the top with at least 50,000 islands. Georgian Bay has the world’s largest freshwater archipelago with at least 30,000 islands alone. There’s also the Thousand Islands region that adds at least another thousand to the mix (1,864 in total, but some are across the border in the USA). With over 129 island groups, there’s no shortage of island hopping in Canada!
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It might seem a bit daunting to plan a trip to Canadian islands. Which are the best islands of Canada to visit? I’m going to break the list down for you featuring the best of Canada’s islands, from the largest islands (that are entire provinces!) to smaller ones. Here are the 20 best islands in Canada to visit for your next travel getaway.
Cape Breton Island
Cape Breton Island is one of the more popular Canadian islands to visit and for excellent reason. It’s ranked the number one island in Canada for the third year in a row by Travel + Leisure. The 298km Cabot Trail is one of Canada’s most scenic drives, and there are an endless amount of outdoor adventures. Unreal ocean vistas, quaint fishing villages, and the Cape Breton Highlands National Park await.
Ellesmere Island is the largest of the Queen Elizabeth Islands in Nunavut, off the northwest coast of Greenland. Cape Columbia is the northernmost point of Canada and Barbeau Peak is the highest peak of Nunavut. There are three settlements on Ellesmere Island, and the population is 191 (as of 2016). It’s one of the most remote places in the world where you’ll find rugged mountains, deep fjords, and Arctic wildlife. Quttinirpaaq National Park is one of the main attractions and you can only reach it by small plane. There are no connecting roads on the island, only unspoiled wilderness.
Fathom Five National Marine Park is a freshwater ecosystem in Lake Huron, Ontario, with 22 shipwrecks, dive sites, rocky cliffs, islands, and ancient rock formations. Most of the islands are isolated and off limit to tourists, but there are small boats that travel to Flowerpot Island daily. The main attraction are the two natural “flowerpot” rock pillars on the shore, worn away gradually over the centuries. There are hiking trails and caves on the island to explore, too. You can combine your vacation to Flowerpot Island with a road trip to Tobermory and the Bruce Peninsula.
Fogo Island is the largest island off the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador. Yes, it’s an island of an island (which is a province of Canada!). An unspoiled wilderness awaits in a place where they experience seven changing seasons instead of four. The Fogo Island Inn is the famous art hotel with floor to ceiling windows facing the wild Atlantic ocean. Traveling should always be an option, and you can stay in luxurious and sustainable accommodations in one of the most remote corners of Canada. Activities on Fogo Island vary with the seven seasons and include nature hikes, stargazing, wildlife spotting, iceberg watching, foraging for berries, and more.
Baffin Island is the largest island in Canada and the fifth largest in the world. It’s part of the territory of Nunavut and home of the Inuit. This northern island attracts outdoor adventurers and those seeking views of this spectacular Arctic scenery. There are Arctic wildlife safaris where you can spot polar bears, beluga, and narwhal. Embark on a skiing expedition between mountains that extend into the sky.
Bonaventure Island is off the southern coast of the Gaspe Peninsula in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec. It’s only a little over four square kilometers, and it’s home to 218 different species of birds. Bonaventure Island has one of the largest colonies of gannets in the world with over 50,000 breeding pairs. The island is part of the Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock National Park and you can travel there by boat for the day. There are four hiking trails on the island, and there are also opportunities to go sea kayaking, scuba diving, whale and seabird watching, and more.
British Columbia’s Calvert Island looks more like the Caribbean than Canada. Turquoise waters, white sand beaches, and secluded coves await on Calvert Island, about 400km north of Vancouver. When you hike the trails of the island, you’ll be following in the footsteps of the Indigenous people who have lived there for more than 10,000 years. In fact, the oldest footprints in North America were discovered here, and they’re over 13,000 years old. While it’s a long journey to reach Calvert Island (a seven hour drive from Vancouver and then a three hour boat ride from Port Hardy), it’s a tropical island getaway you can have without leaving Canada.
Grand Manan Island
Grand Manan is a remote island off the coast of New Brunswick in the Bay of Fundy. It’s only an hour and a half from the mainland by ferry, and it’s one of the best islands in Canada to visit. There are picture perfect lighthouses, amazing rock formations, spectacular bird watching opportunities, and cozy cottage accommodations. You can participate in whale watching trips by day and unreal stargazing by night.
The Magdalen Islands, also known as Les Îles de la Madeleine, are a small collection of Canadian islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Even though they’re part of Quebec, they are closer to the Maritime Provinces than the Gaspe Peninsula. In the summer, you’ll find white sand beaches, stunning landscapes, and vast cycling trails. In the winter, you can go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and seal watching excursions to spot seal pups.
Manitoulin Island is located in Lake Huron in northern Ontario, and you can reach it by ferry or car. It’s the largest fresh water island lake on Earth. There are six Indigenous reserves on the island, and it has Canada’s first European settlement. There are lots of amazing outdoor activities on Manitoulin Island like hiking, paddling, and relaxing at the beach. In August, you can attend the Haweater Festival, one that celebrates the hawberries that grow on the island. It’s also possible to see the northern lights at Manitoulin Island.
One of Canada’s largest islands is Newfoundland, part of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. When I visited Newfoundland, it reminded me a lot of Ireland for its rugged scenery and friendly people. It’s one of the best places to go for a road trip in Canada for its serene landscapes and outdoor adventures. You can go whale watching, iceberg watching, and hike on ancient footpaths. From its rows of jellybean houses in St. John’s to the brilliant national parks, there’s no place like Newfoundland.
The Gulf Islands are a collection of 15 islands and tiny islets off the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. It’s home to the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, an ecological gem with protected reefs and scuba diving opportunities. On its largest island, Salt Spring, there are small farms, artisan products, and organic vineyards. You can stay at a charming B&B and dine on organic produce while experiencing the incredible nature, wildlife, and coastal adventures.
Haida Gwaii is an archipelago of 150 Canadian islands off the west coast of British Columbia that you can reach by plane or ferry. It’s known as Canada’s Galapagos for its diverse flora and fauna. Its totem pole and longhouse are the oldest remaining examples of First Nations coastal villages. There’s an abundance of wildlife, spectacular landscapes, and over 500 archaeological sites. Haida Gwaii is a significant place to visit in Canada for its nature, culture, and history.
Ile d’Orleans is a small island on the outskirts of Quebec City, Quebec. It’s called the “Garden of Quebec”, “Treasure Island”, and the “Cradle of French Civilization in North America”. There are many farms growing fresh fruits and vegetables on Ile d’Orleans, and small businesses that make products from the local produce. This serene and picturesque place is perfect for a road trip or many visitors go cycling around the island. It’s easy to plan a day trip to Ile d’Orleans from Quebec City, and you can stop at Quebec City’s waterfall (Montmorency Falls) on the same outing.
The Thousand Islands region is one of the prettiest in Canada, and it’s a dream for outdoor adventure lovers. You can find the 1000 Islands on the St. Lawrence River, divided between Canada and the USA. There are actually 1,864 islands in total. To be considered one of the 1,864 islands, the island must have a minimum of one square foot of land above the water level all year long and at least two living trees. I highly recommend going kayaking, cycling, hiking, or taking a helicopter ride while you’re there to absorb the beautiful scenery. Check out the Thousand Islands National Park, too.
Pelee Island is the southernmost inhabited place in Canada and one of the most unique Canadian islands. It’s an amazing place for wildlife seekers with two provincial nature reserves and countless conservation areas. It has a rare Carolinian forest with many species of birds and animals. You can soak up the views at the beaches on Lake Erie. It’s one of the best places to experience island living in Canada.
Spirit Island is one of the most beautiful islands in Canada. Nestled on Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, it’s only accessible by small cruise boat. You’ll sail around glaciers and high cliffs to reach the island. For part of the year, it’s cut off from the shore (due to rain and melting snow), and it’s connected to the shore for other parts of the year. It’s one of the most photogenic places in Canada and featured in many movies and paintings alike.
Prince Edward Island
Here’s another Canadian province that made the list of the top islands of Canada: Prince Edward Island. It’s the smallest province in Canada, but definitely worth the trip. There are quaint villages, red sand beaches, and beautiful scenery all around. There are stunning coastline vistas, rolling green hills, and spectacular pastoral scenes. It’s the home of Anne of Green Gables. You can reach PEI by ferry or by car.
The Toronto Islands always tops my list of the top things to do in Toronto. It’s a peaceful getaway from the city that’s only a short ferry ride away. The Toronto Islands are a chain of 15 islands in Lake Ontario, although you’ll likely spend most of your time on Centre Island. At Toronto Island, you can rent a bicycle, kayak or stand-up paddle board for some outdoor adventures. There are also beaches for relaxing or you can simply walk around and soak up those Toronto city skyline views.
Vancouver Island is the last of the Canadian islands on my list, but that doesn’t mean you should save it for last (I’ve listed Canada’s islands alphabetically here!). Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, is located on Vancouver Island. Vancouver Island spans 460km and it’s perfect for surfing, wildlife spotting, or wandering around adorable towns and communities. Along with the nearby Gulf Islands, it’s possible to admire the waves of the Pacific, rugged mountains, and old growth forests all in one day.