Vancouver Island is one of Canada’s most beautiful destinations, a self-contained region featuring phenomenal beaches, outstanding hiking, huge swathes of old growth forest and some of the best surfing in the country. Whether you are into wild camping, fascinating historic architecture, cascading waterfalls or world-class golf, it is possible to find exactly what you are looking for on a Vancouver Island road trip.
The two-week Vancouver Island itinerary on this road trip guide provides all of the above and more, giving you plenty of options to indulge in your favourite activities while chalking up plenty of new and unusual experiences along the way. If you can’t commit a full 2 weeks to your Vancouver Island road trip adventure, we will include a couple shorter itineraries at the end, or you can just pick and choose the parts that interest you most in each stop. On the other hand, if you are lucky enough that time is not really a factor, we would absolutely recommend slowing things down and stretching this itinerary into a month or more. After spending more than 2 months on the island recently ourselves, we can confidently tell you it is impossible to run out of new Vancouver Island adventures. We still have a pretty long list of ideas left over for next time and keep adding to it all the time.
Also, most of the destinations on this list are within a couple hours of each other so it is certainly possible to change up the order.
How to Get Started on Your Vancouver Island Road Trip
There are two ferries from Vancouver:
To get from Vancouver to Victoria, you head down to Delta and take the Tsawwassen Ferry to Swartz Bay. It runs 8 times per day starting at 7 am, takes roughly 1.5 hrs and costs $58 for a standard vehicle and $17 per passenger.
To or from Nanaimo you take the Horseshoe Bay ferry out of West Vancouver. It runs 7 times per day starting at 6:15 am. The price and approximate sailing times are the same.
There are also two different ferry lines between Washington and Vancouver Island that are not currently running but will presumably start up again once the border opens back up:
Washington State Ferries runs daily between Anacortes and Sidney, takes around 3 hrs and costs $US54 per vehicle and $US16 per passenger.
Black Ball Ferries runs daily between Port Angeles and Victoria, takes roughly 1.5 hrs and costs $US67 per vehicle and $US20 per passenger.
There are also airports in Victoria, Nanaimo, Qualicum Beach, Comox, Campbell River, Port Hardy and Tofino.
Vancouver Island Road Trip Map
Days 1-3: Victoria
Most people are familiar enough with Victoria to know it has a beautiful harbour, classic colonial architecture and arguably Canada’s best weather. They are often surprised to learn, however, that Victoria and its surrounding area also boasts many terrific beaches, several amazing hiking areas and a whole lot of superb coastal scenery.
Driving distance from Vancouver to Victoria: 115 km / 1 hr driving / 2 hrs ferry
Arrive from Vancouver in the morning on the Tsawwassen Ferry to Swartz Bay (ideally the 7 am, take the 9 am at the latest). Stop off in pleasant Sidney for a stroll along the picturesque promenade for lunch with views across to the mainland mountains. On the way to Victoria, stop off at wonderful Butchart Gardens, a century-old oasis renowned throughout the country. Stop off in Chinatown and explore this interesting historic area, then head to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch. Afterward, do some serious meandering around other Victoria hotspots like Victoria harbour, Breakwater Lighthouse, Beacon Hill Park, where you should make sure you get a look at “The Moss Lady”.
Spend the morning touring the best of the city beaches – Willows, Gonzales and Ross Bay Pebbles, then keep your eyes peeled for the famous sea monsters of Cadboro-Gyro Park. If you have time before lunch, stop off for a quick stroll and some bird watching at Swan Lake. In the afternoon, there the Government House grounds and Craigdarroch Castle, one of two superb castles in Victoria. Then, if you still have some life left in your legs, head to Mill Hill for a short half-hour hike to one of the best viewpoints in the city.
Prepare yourself for a busy day and some of the most unique spots in the Victoria area. Start with Fort Rodd Hill Park and Fisgard Lighthouse, then continue to neighbouring Hatley Castle (star of many Hollywood films, including the X-Men movies) and the fascinating driftwood sculptures of Esquimalt Lagoon. Then head into the wilderness of Goldstream Provincial Park to see the west coast version of Niagara Falls. Continue up the trail to see the iconic, although not particularly safe, Niagara Trestle. Now that you’ve whetted your appetite for historic railway bridges, keep driving up to the star of the trestle show, Kinsol Trestle, one of the most impressive anywhere in the country.
You should know
Contrary to popular belief, Victoria was actually named in honour of the former British queen, not the mediocre (but cheap) Mexican beer.
Jocelyn Hill in Gowlland Tod Provincial Park – another great viewpoint.
Thetis Lake – nice hiking trails and some beaches.
Mount Work – good summit views and a decent hike.
Durrance Lake – excellent fishing and calm water for swimming.
Mount Finlayson – a steep but iconic Victoria climb.
Where to Stay in Victoria
The James Bay Inn Hotel is walking distance to the harbour and main tourist sites and has an on-site restaurant and pub with a vintage feel with wood furnishings and a handmade grand staircase. It is known for its friendly and helpful staff and there is a two-bedroom cottage for bigger groups.
If you want a harbour view, Victoria Regent Waterfront Hotel & Suites is the perfect choice. Overlooking Victoria’s inner harbour and parliament buildings, this hotel features a balcony or patio in each room and magnificent views of the Blue Bridge lit up at night. It is located right in the old part of Victoria, close to all the best shops and restaurants.
At Victoria Ocean View B&B House you can wake up to an ocean view and your choice of a very good continental, Full English or Full Irish breakfast. It is very close to Esquimalt Lagoon and many of the other top sites on our itinerary.
Day 4: Sooke
Driving distance from Victoria to Sooke: 40 km / 40 min
It is time to start making your way west starting on the Pacific Marine Circle Route to explore the wonders of the south coast. First stop, the charming little city of Sooke. On the way you can check out captivating Witty’s Lagoon, with a beach, excellent views from Tower Point, a bevy of birds enjoying the calm waters and Sitting Lady Falls, just as a bonus. Make sure you save some energy for your next stop, East Sooke Regional Park. The East Sooke Coast Trail is one of the best day hikes in British Columbia and can either be an all-day undertaking or you can just hike a small portion, still enjoying some of the fabulous views of the rugged coast and Juan de Fuca Strait. Later in the afternoon, head up to Sooke Potholes, a series of rapids and small falls along an easy trail. A little farther into the forest you’ll find the criminally underrated Mary Vine Waterfall, absolutely rushing in the winter.
Finally, back in town, it is worth going for a short walk on Whiffin Spit either for sunset or first thing the next morning – nice scenery, but we mostly just liked the great name.
One of the biggest landmarks along the East Sooke Coast Trail is Cabin Point, where you can explore an authentic trapping cabin from the 1930’s. Except it’s not from the 1930’s, it was actually built recently and made to look like a depression-era trap shack. Does this actually change your experience? I’d argue no, but I suppose it depends how much of a stickler you are when it comes to trapping history.
Where to Stay in Sooke
Arbutus Cove Guesthouse is 9 km from Sooke towards East Sooke park and offers beach-front accommodation with an included continental breakfast, shared lounge, garden, private beach and sun terrace hot tub. The location is terrific, with spectacular views from the huge windows, and guests give it top marks for comfort, peace and relaxation.
Located on the shores of the Juan de Fuca Strait, Sooke Harbour Resort and Marina is just a 5-minute drive from Sooke near the marina. They have two- and three-bedroom townhouses with kitchens, sea views and access to communal hot tubs.
Days 5-6: Port Renfrew
Driving distance from Sooke to Port Renfrew: 70 km / 1 hr 10 min
Ready for some beach-hopping? Because this part of the island has some of the best around. First stop, French Beach, an expansive family favourite with a good playground and picnic areas. Then on to Sandcut Beach, a little-known stop that features a small but scenic beach waterfall dropping in front of an undercut so it is actually possible to clamber in behind for some unique photos. After that you will reach Jordan River, one of the top surfing destinations on Vancouver Island. Whether you just stop off to watch the local experts strut their stuff or take a stab at the impressive waves yourself, the highway passes right by so it’s impossible to miss. Farther along is China Beach, another terrific surfing spot. The China Beach parking lot is also the starting point for the 47-kilometre Juan de Fuca Marine Trail backpacking route. While that is probably an adventure for another day, you should at least walk the first 2 rough, rooty and muddy kilometres to amazing Mystic Beach, where you will find the best and biggest beach waterfall in the area. You can admire it from afar or get right under the water, your choice. There are also some interesting caves to explore at the opposite end.
There is plenty to do in and around remote, refreshing Port Renfrew, most of which we are going to suggest you see and do on one busy day. Fascinating Botanical Beach is a must-see and a great starting point, although you will need to consult the local tide chart to make sure you visit at low tide when the tide pools are at their most accessible. Then, head back toward Victoria about 20 minutes to Sombrio Beach, yet another phenomenal surfing beach. It is rightly popular with campers and backpackers (wild camping is allowed anywhere on Sombrio Beach) and the scenic highlights are a pair of unique waterfalls – Hidden Waterfall, located in a narrow canyon just back from East Sombrio Beach, and Second Waterfall (that name being more descriptive than official), falling from a good height into a small bay about 10 minutes east along the Juan de Fuca Marine trail.
You don’t necessarily need a 4×4 to get to the next section but the road does get a bit rough and it’s easier with decent clearance. North of Port Renfrew, up into the heart of the old growth forest, just a tiny fraction of which still remains, you can find Big Lonely Doug, a gigantic, ancient Douglas fir (the second-largest on the island) towering over the surrounding young forest. To get there you may have to pass through a roadblock of activists protesting logging in the area (they will happily let tourists through). Nearby, Avatar Grove is a conservation success story, a captivating stand of old growth forest that received protected status about a decade ago. The short, atmospheric hike in to see Canada’s Gnarliest Tree is well worth it.
Sound Like a Local
Many residents simply refer to Port Renfrew as “Renny”. So I don’t know why they looked at me funny when I called Pacheedaht Beach “Patchy” and the police station “Polly”.
Shirley Delicious – a tasty stop on the way to Port Renfrew.
Pacheedaht Beach – right next to Port Renfrew, featuring a basic campground, good fishing and occasionally good waves.
San Juan River Estuary – excellent fishing, salmon in particular.
Red Creek Fir – even harder to reach than Big Lonely Doug, but it boasts the title of largest tree on the island (some claim the world).
Juan de Fuca Marine Trail – a classic, scenic 4-day backpacking trek.
West Coast Trail – the big brother of the Juan de Fuca, the WCT is one of the most famous treks in Canada and a serious undertaking, requiring you to carry enough supplies for an entire week of rough hiking and camping in consistently inconsistent weather.
Nitinat Lake – a geographical anomaly with absolutely perfect windsurfing conditions.
Where to Stay in Port Renfrew
With an incredible view and the sound of the waves to lull you to sleep, Wild Renfrew Seaside Cottages is a great choice for accommodation in Port Renfrew. It is close to the local pub and marina and also has a private beach to relax on.
Handsome Dan’s Cottages have that intriguing name, of course, as well as kitchens in all the cottages so you can make some of your own meals. It is pet-friendly and the fire pit is a great way to end the day.
There are also several excellent camping options around Port Renfrew.
Day 7: Lake Cowichan
Driving distance from Port Renfrew to Lake Cowichan: 60 km / 1 hr 20 min
From Port Renfrew, you follow a very scenic forest road up to stunning Lake Cowichan. Heading out of Port Renfrew you need to make a stop at cute little Fairy Lake, popular for swimming, fishing and camping, but famous for its bizarre little “bonsai tree”. Of course, it isn’t really a bonsai tree at all, just a fledgling Douglas fir growing out of a dead log in the middle of the lake that looks uncannily like a Japanese bonsai tree. You better check it out, though, just in case.
Definitely the best way to see massive Lake Cowichan is from the summit of Bald Mountain, as long as you are up for hiking about 10 kilometres with 500m elevation gain for 3-4 hrs. If you are not an avid hiker this might sound daunting but the trail is easy to follow and not technical, just steadily uphill, and the views from the top are definitely worth it.
Even if that level of hiking isn’t your thing, it is easy enough to check out the various beaches around the lake and maybe use your extra time to do some swimming, kayaking or fishing. Other nearby highlights worth a visit are Skutz Falls, Horseshoe Falls and 66 Mile Trestle. There are some nice short hikes connecting all of these to give you a taste of the area.
Where to Stay in Lake Cowichan
Cowichan River Lodge has great terrace views of the Cowichan River, along with a peaceful riverside seating area. Rooms are spacious, have floor-to-ceiling windows and include either an a la carte or Full English/Irish breakfast. The helpful owners can provide lots of useful suggestions for things to see and do in the area.
Crown House B&B is a small, two-room B&B just across the road from the lake run by friendly owners. Each room has a private bathroom and includes a delicious and filling breakfast.
Days 8-10: Tofino and Ucluelet
Driving distance from Lake Cowichan to Tofino: 280 km / 3 hrs 40 min
There is just no quick or easy way to get to Tofino and Ucluelet, which is why the area is known as “the end of the road”. Even though Lake Cowichan is only about 135 kilometres from Tofino “as the crow flies” (and roughly the same for an unladen European swallow), we are assuming you are doing this trip in a car, meaning double that distance and probably around 4 hours of driving time by the time you pass through Duncan, head north to Parksville, then completely cross over to the west side of the island. The bright side is that there are plenty of great stops along the way.
In Coombs, which is just after you turn onto the #4 highway, you can stop in at the Old Country Market to see the “Goats on the Roof”. It is exactly what it sounds like, and probably won’t take long. Next up, you’ll reach Cameron Lake which has a few worthy viewpoints to stop off at, then you’ll pass through the mighty, 800-year-old Douglas firs of Cathedral Grove. The MacMillan Provincial Park is currently closed so check the latest updates, but they are impressive even from the car.
Getting closer to Port Alberni, you’ll want to take a short break to visit the Hole in the Wall waterfall. There is a small parking lot next to Coombs Country Candy and Creamery Store (please park in the public gravel lot, not the one directly in front of the store). Confusingly, this is not in the town of Coombs, the shop just started out there before moving to this new location. The Hole in the Wall made our list of 9 great waterfalls on Vancouver Island with its picturesque cascade shooting out of a perfectly round hole in a ridge (or wall, if you prefer).
Past Port Alberni, Wally Creek is right on the highway and is worth another short stop to see the impressive rapids and a local version of the globally kitschy “love locks”. You’ll know them when you see them. After that you will pass a couple good viewpoints over enormous Kennedy Lake before making it to the all-important junction – left to Ucluelet, right to Tofino.
Regardless of which one you choose as your base, everything on this list is very close by. Tofino is probably a bit more convenient to the best beaches, although Ucluelet typically offers better deals. Either way, Tonquin Trail is a must even for non-hikers, a short, easy jaunt out of Tofino that hits several great viewpoints and beaches. Long Beach is massive (16 km long), flat and completely evocative of this wild section of Pacific coast. It is one of the most famous surfing spots in Canada and is obviously great for taking long beach walks.
On a calm day, Grice Bay offers up some of the most amazing reflections from roadside viewpoints and the Rainforest Loops in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve are two short, easy walks on boardwalks through outstanding old forest. There are even information boards so you when you finish you will know more than just “those trees were really big and covered with cool moss”. Cox Bay is the place to go for sunset or storm watching. I’m not sure if the public is officially welcome but if you go to the far northern end of the beach you can cut through the Pacific Sands Resort to the boardwalk that leads to Pettinger Point – an incredibly scenic spot to watch the waves crashing in.
Wickaninnish Beach is another beauty, popular with surfers and walkers alike. We recommend exploring Lismer Beach at the far southern end, where you’ll find a good collection of tide pools, a photogenic little bay and a great islet that you can scramble on at low tide. From there, head down to the very bottom of Ucluelet and take in a short portion of the Wild Pacific Trail around a beautiful peninsula to Amphitrite Lighthouse Point. After a short break, and maybe a specialty hot dog or top notch taco at Ukee Dogs Taqueria, it’s time to tackle more of the Wild Pacific Trail, this time starting from Brown’s Beach for some of the wildest and best coastal views on the island. In the afternoon, put on your most waterproof footwear for the nice – but very muddy – walk to the Canso Plane Crash site, the remains of a WWII plane that went down here and just… stayed.
If you have an extra day, consider taking a boat tour across the bay from Tofino to hike the Lone Cone trail, an iconic climb to an extraordinary viewpoint.
There are also popular boat tours that visit nearby hot springs.
Something to consider:
When clambering up a rotting log to find the very best angle for a sunset photo, at least consider the possibility that it might suddenly give way and leave you with a bum shoulder for, oh, a month or more. I’m not saying don’t do it, just weigh your options (i.e. how important is the use of your right arm, really?)
Where to Stay in Tofino and Ucluelet
In Tofino, an excellent choice is The Inn at Tough City, which is made of recycled bricks from downtown Vancouver and features some fascinating, campy decorations. Each room has a deck or balcony with ocean views, there is a good sushi restaurant on-site and it is close to many other Tofino restaurants.
Seafarers Bed & Breakfast is located south of Tofino on Chesterman Beach, just a 2-minute walk from the water (and close enough to hear the waves). Each room has its own unique theme and some feature a jacuzzi, perfect for warming up after spending the day surfing in the frigid Pacific waters.
Long Beach Lodge Resort boasts a stunning location on wild, wonderful Cox Bay Beach where you can watch the surfers, beach walkers, passing eagles and frolicking families from one of the classic Muskoka chairs or the impressive dining room. Some of the rooms have balconies and ocean views, the perfect choice for one of the best sunset spots on all of Vancouver Island. They also offer private surf lessons to guests.
A luxury choice offering spectacular ocean views and a private beach, A Snug Harbour Inn is an adult-only B&B located in Ucluelet run by owners who get rave reviews for service. All rooms have private balconies and a romantic fireplace, as well as an outstanding breakfast. The main deck features a hot tub that is open for use year-round.
If you are more interested in a camping adventure, check out this detailed breakdown of the good, the bad, and the ugly of Tofino campgrounds.
Days 11-13: Comox Valley
Driving distance from Tofino to Courtenay: 225 km / 3 hrs
It’s time to head back across the island for our last full stop on the tour – the fantastic Comox Valley. Full of tremendous outdoor possibilities and some very different, much calmer, ocean scenery, Comox Valley is a favourite of hikers, mountain bikers and kayakers. While Courtenay is the main commercial hub of the region, along with neighbouring Comox, the third valley centre is the best. Wonderful little Cumberland is quaint, charming and surrounded by phenomenal wilderness. Cumberland Community Forest is full of hiking/biking trails that can be mixed and matched into whatever level of exertion you are up for, plus the China Bowls are a pretty intriguing set of rapids and pools (as long as the winter river isn’t high enough to completely submerge them). If you got an early start from Tofino you should also have time to check out pretty Comox Lake, then complete your waterfall tour with the short hikes to Trent Falls and/or Medicine Bowls.
Head north to Campbell River, enjoying the winding coastal road and steadily impressive scenery of the bay on one side and Mount Washington looming on the other. The Ripple Rock trail just north of Campbell River offers up amazing variety, with deep forest, placid bays, rocky viewpoints and cantankerous seals. Elk Falls in the Elk Falls Provincial Park are awe-inspiring, with a narrow canyon and fun suspension bridge, while nearby Deer falls are nice, but less notable, similar to how their respective namesakes compare. On your way back to Courtenay, stop off in Comox at Seal Bay Nature Park for the easy walk down to the scenic shoreline.
Get moving early and head for Buckley Bay to catch the ferry across to Denman Island. Then drive all the way across Denman Island (don’t worry, that sounds long but really only takes about 15 minutes) and take another ferry across to Hornby Island, a riveting little island full of artists, terrific natural beauty and a lot of local wine. Like, a lot. You can easily fill a whole day checking out the various art galleries, vineyards, beaches and spa retreats on this modern-day version of a hippie enclave. In fact, there is so much to do on Hornby that it is a great choice for a longer stay if you have more time. There aren’t much in the way of hotels, but there are some excellent camping and glamping options. Whenever you leave, though, make sure you save yourself a little extra time for Denman Island. The short hike to Boyle Point provides exceptional views of Chrome Island and its lighthouse, the mountainous mainland and, if you’re lucky, dozens of seals heading back to the island at the end of the day toward, I don’t know, wherever it is seals go at night. Glamping?
Strathcona Provincial Park / Mount Washington – the Lake Helen Mackenzie Loop is an unforgettable mountain hike.
Just because “tiny toads” have the right-of-way on Cumberland Community Forest trails, that doesn’t mean they are more important than you. Just smaller.
Where to Stay in the Comox Valley
Cumberland Guest House features 4 comfortable, self-contained suites where guests have access to an extensive outdoor area with a BBQ, bike storage and even a bike wash station. The 2 largest units include well-stocked kitchens and en suite laundry.
The Riding Fool Hostel is a beautifully restored heritage hostel offering rooms with wifi and shared bathroom, as well as bike storage and an on-site bike shop. Staff can provide maps and recommendations for hiking and biking in the area.
Day 14: The Journey Back to Vancouver
Driving distance from Courtenay to Vancouver: 185 km / 1.5 hrs driving / 2 hrs ferry
Last day, by now you should be almost overloaded with all the incredible sights and activities you’ve experienced around Vancouver Island, not to mention free hotel soaps. But we still have a few more stops left before you take the Horseshoe Bay ferry from Nanaimo to the mainland, so buck up and keep that camera handy. First, head down to Qualicum for the short hike to Little Qualicum Falls. Then continue south past Nanaimo to Oyster Bay for another hike, this one to the fabulous Christie Falls, a diverse set of rushing cascades in a wonderful forest setting. Once you’ve had your fill of falls, head into town for a late lunch in delightful little Ladysmith, home of a traditional main street, some admirable meat pies and famous vegan Pamela Anderson. Then drive back up to Nanaimo where you will board the ferry (either at 5:55 pm or the last one at 8:45 pm) and, sadly, say your island goodbyes.
Special pee spot
A partly sheltered turnout just north of Oyster Bay.
Longer Vancouver Island Road Trip Itineraries
Obviously, two weeks is just a guideline, if you are lucky enough to have more time to spend on this huge, diverse island, the possibilities are virtually endless. Here are a few of the more notable spots that didn’t make their way onto our list:
Port Hardy – the real north, it is a long haul to get there but if you’re looking for wild nature and an outpost attitude, this is the place.
Salt Spring Island – residents of pretty Salt Spring Island are fiercely proud of its scenery and authenticity.
Hike the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail or West Coast Trail
Golf – Vancouver Island is probably the best year-round golfing destination in Canada. Storey Creek (Campbell River), Morningstar (Parksville) and Highland Pacific (Victoria) were the three best I played during our time on the island.
Whale tours – from May to October Vancouver Island is one of the best places to see migrating whales, and some of the tours can provide some impressively close views.
Shorter Vancouver Island Road Trip Itineraries
One-Week Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary
If you still want to touch on every region, just faster, I would focus on the following and just add in stuff from the two-week itinerary if you have time:
Victoria Harbour, Breakwater Lighthouse, Fisgard Lighthouse, Hatley Castle, Esquimalt Lagoon, Kinsol Trestle
East Sooke Coast Trail
Mystic Beach, Sombrio Beach, Botanical Beach, Fairy Lake
Hole in the Wall Waterfall, Tonquin Trail, Long Beach, Cox Bay, Wild Pacific Trail
Cumberland Community Forest, Ripple Rock Trail, Elk Falls, Hornby Island, Boyle Point
Another 7-day road trip option would be to reduce the overall number of stops so you can still explore each one thoroughly. I would have a hard time dropping any of these areas but, gun to my head, I’d say cut out Sooke, Lake Cowichan and Comox Valley, sticking with Victoria, Port Renfrew and Tofino. Now, as for the life choices I must have made that lead to someone forcing me to make such an unusual decision at gunpoint, we’re probably dealing with a while different set of problems.
Long Weekend Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary
If you only have 3 days on Vancouver Island, you are basically going to be limited to checking off one section at a time, such as a Tofino road trip, which sounds pretty fun in itself, other than all the extra money you’ll spend on ferry tickets.
What is the best Vancouver Island road trip itinerary?
Vancouver Island is one of the most fascinating and diverse places in Canada and all the highlights are within easy driving distance of each other, so the ideal road trip is going to depend on your particular interests. It is a great place to visit year-round, with hot, lush summers and mild, damp winters when the trails might be a bit muddier but the waterfalls are in epic form and there are hardly any other tourists. So, whether you have the time to hit all the highlights on this list on your Vancouver Island itinerary or are just checking off one section at a time, the most important thing is that you get the chance to enjoy at least some of this remarkable slice of beautiful Canadian nature.
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