Vancouver Island

Marine Ecology & Conservation
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Smithsonian Student Travel  |  Student Journey  |  Vancouver Island

Travel to British Columbia this summer and experience the rugged landscapes of the Pacific Northwest—from its ancient, wild forests to its island-dotted waters, ideal habitat for massive runs of Pacific salmon and home to pods of orcas. In Vancouver, a bustling and diverse seaport city, dive into the ecology and First Nations history of the area. Then travel by ferry to Vancouver Island and meet with researchers to learn about salmon conservation efforts and public policy. Scout for orcas as you kayak through kelp forest, and hike along forested ridges with First Nations educators and guides. Gain insights from experts and discuss tangible actions to help protect these ecosystems for future generations.
June 17, 2021–July 1, 2021 (15 days)
June 22, 2021–July 6, 2021 (15 days)
Students completing grades: 8–12
Tuition: $6,490 + airfare
Typical Group: 16–18 students + 2 leaders


  • Search for black bears and wolves in secluded coves with naturalist guides

  • Meet First Nations elders to deepen your knowledge of Indigenous cultures

  • Participate in conservation science to better understand native wildlife

  • Kayak along the coastline and spot orca whales, sea otters, and bald eagles


This itinerary represents our best projection of the group’s schedule. However, we may implement changes designed to improve the quality of the program.

Arrival • Travel Day • Meet your student travel group and one of your trip leaders in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Vancouver, British Columbia • 3 days • Begin your journey in the cosmopolitan city of Vancouver, a bustling seaport and one of Canada’s most diverse cities. After an orientation to get to know your fellow student travelers and leaders, explore the gardens, parks, and museums that make the city unique. Visit the Museum of Anthropology and develop an understanding of the history and culture of the First Nations peoples of the Pacific Northwest. Wander through the Bloedel Conservatory, a modernist glass dome that is home to lush tropical plants and birds. Then, meet local scientists and researchers during an excursion to the Vancouver Aquarium. Learn about the food chain and how damming rivers and overfishing salmon affects the health and safety of native orca populations and their larger ecosystems. Savor delicious dim sum in Chinatown and fresh seafood along the waterfront. Finally, climb Grouse Mountain for a panoramic view of the city and its surrounding natural beauty. 

Telegraph Cove, Vancouver Island • 4 days • From Vancouver, travel by ferry across the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver Island. Home to expansive temperate rainforest, the island provides the perfect habitat to study the relationships between plants, animals, and human populations, and how they have evolved over thousands of years. Explore the coastal town of Nanaimo on foot and deepen your understanding of First Nations history with visits to protected cultural sites. Then, travel north past towering cedar and Douglas fir trees, rushing streams, and rugged mountains, keeping an eye out for elk, wolf, and bear. 

Settle into life in the remote fishing village of Telegraph Cove for the next four nights. Once home to a large salmon cannery operation, the village is now a launching point for sustainable land- and water-based eco-adventures. Meet with local tourism officials to understand the important economics of the salmon fishing and orca watching industries. Spend a day on the water searching for pods of transient and resident orca whales as they socialize and hunt in the narrow waters of Johnstone Strait. Learn to photograph dorsal markings and attempt to identify individual whales by their unique patterns. Then, get an insider’s perspective at the Whale Interpretive Center to learn more about the biology, habitat needs, and threats to the local killer whale populations. Explore the western end of the island by land with a fishing excursion for steelhead trout in a lake or river, and hike along mountain paths on the westernmost tip of the island. Return to Telegraph Cove for a kayak adventure along the winding coast in search of seals, sea otters, and dolphins. 

Tofino, Vancouver Island • 4 days • Venture back across the island to the Pacific Coast town of Tofino. With easy access to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, uninhabited islands, and remote coves, this area provides ample opportunities for hiking, fishing, and wildlife watching. Travel by boat with carbon-neutral outfitters and conservationist guides to learn more about local wildlife and data collection efforts to protect them. Search for more than just orcas as you scan the horizon for gray, humpback, and minke whales, as well as puffin, sea lions, and porpoises. Then, stop in a secluded cove and wander along the cedar boardwalk deep into the forest to warm up in natural hot spring pools. Back on shore, meet with botanists to learn about the local flora at the botanical gardens, search for sea stars and anemones while tidepooling at Long Beach, and squeeze into a wetsuit for a surf lesson with professional teachers. 

Victoria, Vancouver Island • 2 days • Depart Tofino and spend two final nights on the island in Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. Photograph the colorful seaside shacks and interview local fishermen about their experiences living and working on Puget Sound. Discover how their livelihoods have changed over the years as they witness firsthand the effects of public policy and wildlife management on their fishing operations and the industry as a whole. Spend the last night with your fellow travelers watching one final sunset over the Pacific Ocean and discuss ways and opportunities to use your new knowledge and experiences to continue the work of wildlife conservation in your future. 

Vancouver, British Columbia • 1 day • Take the ferry from Victoria back to Vancouver for one final night together before traveling home.

Return • Travel Day • Fly from Vancouver, British Columbia, to your final destination.

What to Expect

Physical Activity This is a physically active summer travel program. You can expect to hike, kayak, fish, and surf over the course of the trip. You do not need to be at peak fitness to participate, but it is important that you have a desire to be physically active, and that you are excited about trying all activities. 

Accommodations We stay in local hostels and rustic lodges. Leaders stay together with students throughout the program.

Climate • Coastal British Columbia has a temperate climate, with highs in the mid-70s °F and lows in the 50s. Students can expect some intermittent rain throughout the summer months as well. 

Meals Meals are a mix of group breakfasts at local accommodations, as well as visits to cafes and restaurants for lunches and dinners. 

Cuisine • With an emphasis on local sourcing, the cuisine of British Columbia comprises fresh-caught fish, meat, and produce prepared with traditionally British and French influences, while also reflecting the influence of cuisines from across the Pacific.

Language • English is the primary language spoken in British Columbia.

Sign up for two programs & save $500!

$300 tuition discount + no application fee