40 Islands in Canada to Visit or Learn About in Your Lifetime


Canada has the longest coastline in the world, and much of that is due to the meandering shores of the many islands that lie within its borders. Our smallest province is an island—and so are many wildlife sanctuaries, parks, vibrant communities and places of spiritual and historical importance.

To get to some of these, you’ll need to fly. For others, take a ferry, travel across a bridge, paddle under your own power or maybe even swim! However you want to reach them, here are 40 Canadian islands that every adventurer should strive to visit in their lifetime.


Northwest Territories & the Yukon

  1. Herschel Island, the Yukon’s only offshore island along its Arctic coast, is the stuff sea shanties are made of. At this territorial park, you can find historical artifacts from the commercial whaling presence here between the 1890s and early 1900s, as well as the rich archaeological presence of Thule settlements dating back 1,000 years.
  2. Home to two migratory bird sanctuaries and Aulavik National Park, Banks Island is part of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. If you travel here in the spring, you’ll be in the company of roughly half a million snow geese who call the island home when they migrate north. The community of Ikaahuk (Sachs Harbour) lies along its southwest coast.
  3. Victoria Island, straddling the border between the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, holds an intriguing claim to fame. Inside its borders is what is currently thought to be the world’s largest recursive sub-sub-sub island (an island within a lake within an island within a lake within an island).



  1. Baffin Island, called Qikiqtaaluk in Inuktitut, is the largest island in Canada and home to Iqaluit, the territorial capital of Nunavut. This is the place to find Thor Peak, the mountain with the greatest vertical drop in the world, in Auyuittuq National Park.
  2. Ellesmere Island is the northernmost in Canada. It is home to the community of Ausuiktuq (“the place that never thaws,” also known as Grise Fiord), the research stations of Eureka and Alert and healthy populations of polar bear and muskox.
  3. Although it lies just off the coast from Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario, Akimiski Island is actually part of the territory of Nunavut. Snow geese, Canada geese, Atlantic brant and black scoters can all be found in abundant numbers here at the migratory bird sanctuary on the largest island in the James Bay.
  4. Also technically within the territory of Nunavut but just off the coast of Nunavik (the Inuit homeland of northern Quebec), Akpatok Island in Ungava Bay is named for the akpait (thick-billed murres) that nest here in the hundreds of thousands. The island’s steep cliffs are coloured by their guano and polar bears can often be found prowling these shorelines in the summertime.
  5. The largest uninhabited island in the world today, Devon Island is home to a dome-shaped ice cap of the same name. The Haughton crater on the island has been used as a research site by NASA for its similarity to the Martian environment.
  6. Beechey Island is a haunting historical site of the infamous Sir John Franklin Expedition that was lost while searching for a route through the Northwest Passage. But pedantically speaking, Beechey is not an island at all—in truth it is a short peninsula of Devon Island.


Newfoundland & Labrador

  1. At the very northern tip of beautiful Torngat Mountains National Park, Killiniq Island holds the only land border between the territory of Nunavut and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
  2. The island of South Aulatsivik within the Inuit homeland of Nunatsiavut (northern Labrador) is rich in wildlife. Polar bears, wolves, caribou, lynx, hares, ptarmigan and Arctic char are all plentiful here. Aulatsivik means “the place that has everything you need” in Inuktitut.
  3. Newfoundland, affectionately nicknamed “the Rock,” is the island half of Canada’s easternmost province. Known for its welcoming and friendly culture, the geology is also outstanding—from the Tablelands in Gros Morne National Park to the fossils of the Avalon Peninsula—and it’s one of the best places in the country to see moose.
  4. Fogo Island is Newfoundland and Labrador’s largest offshore island. Here you can find plentiful springtime icebergs, the incredible Fogo Island Inn and wild lupines dotting the roadways. Quirky adventurers will want to try the hiking trail to Brimstone Head, claimed to be one of the four corners of the world by the Flat Earth Society.


The Maritimes

  1. Prince Edward Island is Canada’s smallest province. Famed for red soil, potatoes and Anne of Green Gables, it also has great options for outdoor exploring, including mountain biking, cycling, hiking, windsurfing and kiteboarding.
  2. Cape Breton in Nova Scotia has strong Acadian and Gaelic settler roots and is part of the unceded, ancestral territory of the Mi’kmaq. Cycle or drive along the island’s nearly 300-kilometre-long Cabot Trail that passes through Cape Breton Highlands National Park or find the world’s largest fiddle in Sydne.
  3. Sable Island is a shifting, smile-shaped sandbar off the southeast coast of Nova Scotia. This Parks Canada reserve holds an intriguing history of shipwrecks and a population of iconic wild horses believed to have been brought to the island during the Acadian expulsion, plus a riotous grey seal colony.
  4. Off the northeastern tip of New Brunswick, Miscou Island is a haven of sandy beaches with a historic lighthouse at the entrance of Chaleur Bay. The island’s beautiful peat bogs are a stunning spot to view the changing autumnal colours.
  5. Although also part of New Brunswick, Grand Manan Island in fact lies closer to the coast of Maine. Along with the whales, dolphins, seals, otters and seabirds that can be spotted here, those who explore the tidal pools of Grand Manan’s shores can find diverse sea stars, nudibranchs, urchins and more, all left behind by the Bay of Fundy’s giant tides.



  1. L’Île d’Anticosti, at the mouth of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, is Quebec’s largest island. Known for hunting and fishing tours, its protected areas include countless rivers, waterfalls, canyons and caves. White-tailed deer greatly outnumber the island’s small human population of about 220.
  2. The Magdalen Islands (Îles-de-la-Madeleine) lie between Anticosti, Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island. The varied geography of this archipelago makes hiking a dream—you can choose from beautiful red cliffs, sand dunes, beaches and grassy trails.
  3. A national park reserve, the Mingan Archipelago is an island chain filled with towering monoliths of sea-sculpted limestone. Puffins and other seabirds, whales and seals can all be spotted by visitors here.
  4. Percé Rock at the tip of Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula is a geological wonder. The island’s name, which means “pierced rock,” refers to the 15-metre-high natural arch carved into the sheer rock face by the sea.
  5. Montreal (known as Tiohtià:ke in the Mohawk language of Kanien’kéha) is the most populated island in Canada, but this urban heart of la belle province and the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation still has plenty to explore, including plentiful city parks, botanical gardens, the Biodôme science museum and the shores of the St. Lawrence River.
  6. René-Levasseur’s distinctive shape, easily visible from space, has given it the nickname of the “eye of Quebec.” This artificial island, ringed by the rising water levels in the Manicouagan Reservoir during the construction of the Daniel Johnson Dam, was originally formed by the impact of a meteorite.



Photo credit: Night sky Manitoulin Island – photo by Bill Blackport

  1. Wolfe Island is the largest of the more than 1,800 islands that make up the Thousand Island archipelago along the St. Lawrence River. A quick ferry ride from Kingston, Ontario, the island’s corn maze makes autumn a particularly fun time to visit.
  2. Though just a stone’s throw from the city’s urban core, the Toronto Islands are lush with greenery. Free of cars, it’s the perfect escape for a bike, stroll or paddle and is a particularly popular roosting site for migrating monarch butterflies.
  3. Pelee Island in Lake Erie is home to the renowned bird observatory of the same name. Pelee is known as the most southerly populated point in the country, but just farther off its coast is Middle Island, the true southernmost point of land in Canada.
  4. Manitoulin Island holds the title of the world’s largest freshwater island. Known as Mnidoo Mnising (“island of the great spirit”) in the Anishinaabemowin language, it has great options for hiking and a designated dark sky preserve.
  5. Flowerpot Island on Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay is part of the Fathom Five National Marine Park. The scenic island got its name from the top-heavy sea stacks on its eastern shore, said to look like flowerpots.


The Prairies

  1. In Manitoba’s Lake Winnipeg, Hecla Island is part of Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Park, with scenic walking paths, a lighthouse, wildlife viewing towers, sandy beaches and cross-country ski trails.
  2. Although Saskatchewan may be better known for its grasslands, the north of the province is peppered with small lakes and islands that are worthy of endless exploring. James Island on Jan Lake in Treaty 10 territory is just one of many choices that make for a sweet weekend getaway of paddling and camping.
  3. Alberta’s teeny tiny Spirit Island within Jasper National Park is one of the most photographed places in the country. It lies within Maligne Lake, traditionally called Chaba Imne (“Beaver Lake”), the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies. Much of the year, the land is connected to the lakeshore by a small peninsula, but during spring’s high water it can become an island proper.


British Columbia

  1. Off the north coast of British Columbia, Haida Gwaii is known around the world for its giant trees and totem poles. The hundreds of islands that make up this archipelago are part of the homeland of the Haida Nation and now host a number of ecological reserves, provincial parks and the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site.
  2. Perhaps more reminiscent of the Caribbean than of Canada’s Pacific Coast, Calvert Island has pristine white sand beaches backed by lush rainforest. It is the traditional territory of the Heiltsuk Nation and part of the Hakai Lúxvbálís Conservancy and the Calvert Island Conservancy protected areas.
  3. Vancouver Island in British Columbia has one of the mildest climates in Canada. With resident groups of orcas living around the island, this is a wonderful place to go whale watching. On land, keep an eye out for Roosevelt elk, Columbian black-tailed deer and the booming cougar population, too!
  4. Cormorant Island, off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, is Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw territory. The community of Alert Bay is home to the world’s tallest totem pole and the beautiful U’mista Cultural Centre.
  5. Gabriola’s three provincial parks, plentiful beaches, meandering walking trails and a vibrant arts scene make this a west coast must-see. The island is part of the traditional territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation and one of the Gulf Islands.
  6. Smack dab in the middle of Vancouver, Granville Island is more of a peninsula than an island proper. Renowned for its public markets, arts and culture, you can also find plentiful seabird life and connect to the South False Creek Seawall from this urban hotspot.
  7. Salt Spring Island is a haven for sustainable agriculture and locavore culinary delights. There’s a wealth of farmers’ markets, tasting tours and WWOOFing opportunities to explore.
  8. Last but not least, Turret Rock lies in the midst of the Nakwakto Rapids, through Gwa’sala Nakwaxda’xw traditional territory and British Columbia’s Inside Passage. Stories of the turbulent tidal currents supposedly causing the islet to quake have given it the nickname “Tremble Island,” while the surrounding waters are known both for white-water kayaking and scuba diving.



PS. Why 40? Because Explore Magazine is Turning 40 Years Old!

In Spring of 1981, the first issue of Explore Magazine went up for sale on newsstands around Canada.

Forty years later, explore is still on newsstands coast-to-coast; we’ve expanded to create a unique subscription box, adventure-focused podcast and a trusted online magazine, drawing in readers from around the world.

Don’t forget to pick up your free e-book copy of the Top 40 Hiking Trails in Canada.


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