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7 Days on Vancouver Island – A Pre-Planned Itinerary!

7 Days on Vancouver Island – A Pre-Planned Itinerary!

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Planning a road trip around Vancouver Island, but not sure where to start? With so much to do, we know it can be a struggle to create an efficient road trip itinerary, which is why we’re here to help! 

We’ve road-tripped around the island multiple times, and while we think a week is just about the perfect amount of time to get a taste of this scenic area, you will have to pick and choose your activities. Unfortunately, you can’t do it all!

So this 7-day Vancouver Island itinerary combines a little bit of everything, including can’t-miss activities, where to stay, and our favorite hidden gems.

Vancouver Island Itinerary Overview 

Bailey walks down some steps in Goldstream Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

This road trip starts and ends at two different ferry ports, both of which connect you to Vancouver. We love this itinerary because it showcases all of our favorite places on the island and allows you to experience its variety, from historic cities to beaches, hikes, caves, and of course a craft brewery or two.

The journey begins in the historic city of Victoria, and takes you through the beachy city of Parksville, quaint Port Alberni, and the surfing paradise of Tofino, before wrapping up in Nanaimo. By the time you’re on the ferry back to Vancouver, you’ll probably be just as in love with Vancouver Island as we are!

Victoria (Day 1 and 2)

Bailey on the outside deck of the BC ferry on her way to victoria from Vancouver on a tour
Coffees on the ferry deck – that’s the only way!
Bailey at the Butchart Gardens in Victoria BC
The Butchart Gardens are so peaceful

We always love visiting Victoria because it’s beautiful and historic, and the whale watching opportunities don’t exactly hurt! It’s actually the capital of British Columbia and with so much to do here, it’s an ideal place to kick off your Vancouver Island road trip.

You can catch the ferry from Vancouver’s Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal over to Swartz Bay, and then it takes us about 30 minutes to drive to Victoria from there. Boats go between 7 am and 9 pm, and prices start at $82.15 CAD for one person and one vehicle. The crossing takes 1 hour and 35 minutes, and this route is bookable in advance here.

Things to do in Victoria

  • Go on a whale watching tour – We can’t say enough good things about this half-day whale watching tour, mainly because we got to see so many whales. And, great news, you can do it all year round, although it’s best during summer when you can spot four different kinds of whales – how amazing is that? The tour goes at 12:30 pm, so if you catch the earliest ferry to Victoria on day one, you could kick off your road trip on a serious high note. It costs $199 CAD and the price includes hi-res photos to make everyone back home jealous.
  • Visit the Legislative Building – We always love visiting the Legislative Building, because it’s so beautiful! Plus, there are free guided and self-guided tours on offer, so check the schedule if you’d like to catch one. And if that’s not your thing, we think it’s worth snapping a photo of the facade. 
  • Visit the Butchart GardensThe Butchart Gardens are most definitely worth visiting. In fact, they’re some of the best botanical gardens we’ve ever visited. There are tons of themed gardens that boast over 900 different types of plants, so allow a few hours to enjoy them properly. Tickets cost between $26.50-$41.50 CAD, but if you want to have a stress-free visit, check out our reviews of the best guided tours available.

Where to Stay in Victoria (2 Nights)

Budget – Helm’s Inn

Mid-range – The Embassy Inn (it’s right near the docks – handy for when you get off the ferry!)

Luxury – Fairmont Empress Hotel

Related Read: If you have more time, have a look at our perfect two-week Vancouver Island itinerary!

Parksville (Day 3)

Daniel and bailey take a selfie in Parksville
We love Parksville!

It’s a 149-kilometer (92.5-mile) drive from Victoria to Parksville, which takes about 2 hours. However, no road trip is complete without some fun trips along the way! The last time we made this journey, we loved climbing up the Malahat Skywalk, and taking the giant slide back down, of course! We recommend leaving fairly early in the morning and allowing 3.5 hours for the journey if you want to do the Skywalk so that you have plenty of time to enjoy all that there is to do in Parksville. 

Things to do in Parksville 

  • Visit Rathtrevor Provincial Park – I love hanging out at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, and even camping here when we have more time! It’s only 5 minutes from the city center, so it’s a fantastic place to come for a stroll and enjoy one of Parksville’s best beaches. There are 5 km (3 mi) of beachfront here and a lot of great hikes too – check out some of the trails here!
  • Treat yourself at Tigh-Na-Mara – One of my favorite experiences in Parksville is the Tapas Dining experience at Grotto Spa at Tigh-Na-Mara. It’s a real treat because it includes a relaxing soak in the mineral pool, and then a 17-course tapas dinner. We even got to wear our robes while we ate! At $190 CAD per person, it’s not the cheapest thing to do, but it definitely made our road trip memorable. 
  • Explore the Horne Caves – The Horne Lake Caves are 30 minutes from Parksville, and I actually visited them for the first time as a kid! Nowadays, you have to join a guided tour to go inside, for safety reasons, but that’s not a bad thing because this 2-hour cave tour is so much fun, and not too physically demanding. Or if you want an all-out adventure, you can book this 3-hour tour which involves climbing, crawling through narrow passages, and checking out an underground waterfall.

Where to Stay in Parksville (1 night)

Budget – Camp at Rathtrevor Provincial Park or stay at The Tide’s Inn which has unlimited mini golf!

Luxury – The Beach Club Resort (located right on the beach!)

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Lowest price guarantee – If you happen to find the same tour at a lower price elsewhere, Viator will refund you the price difference.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

Port Alberni/Stamp River Provincial Park (Day 4)

A bear hunts salmon in almon run at Stamp River Provincial Park 
A bear fishes for salmon at Stamp River PP!
Bailey with the famous Hole In The Wall near Port Alberni
The famous Hole In The Wall near Port Alberni

The drive from Parksville to Port Alberni is 50 km (31 mi) long, so it would take 40 minutes without stopping. However, we love exploring some of the stops along the way – after all, isn’t that what road trips are all about?

Cathedral Grove is one of my personal favorites. It’s part of MacMillan Provincial Park, and it’s an old-growth forest filled with colossal-sized trees, some of which are 800 years old. Scenes from Return of the Jedi were shot here, so Star Wars fans, take notes! There are lots of trails to explore and the forest is free to visit, so no complaints from us. 

Bailey walks along a boardwalk enjoying the trees at Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island
Cathedral Grove is worth a stop!
Daniel stands in the trunk of a tree at Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island
The trees are so big you can stand in them!

12 minutes down the road you’ll come to Hole in the Wall which is, well … exactly that! It’s a huge hole in a wall of rock, with water flowing through. I also enjoy this scenic stop and it’s only a 20-minute walk from the trailhead to get there. We usually park at Coombs Country Candy store and then reward ourselves with some sugar afterward.

During the late summer, we like to stay in Stamp River Provincial Park campground, rather than Port Alberni itself. Between August and December, you can see the salmon swimming upstream in the park, which is pretty amazing – and worth seeing even if you don’t want to camp! We saw bears here, too, which was even more incredible but also means you’ll need to bring bear spray with you and be aware of your surroundings. 

Things to do in Port Alberni/Stamp River Provincial Park

  • Wander around the Harbor – Port Alberini’s charming Harbour Quay is such a nice place to stretch your legs and grab some fish and chips, of course! I love Turtle Island Fish and Chips because they have huge portions and checking out the cute shops is a must. There are also some small art galleries around, as well as the quirky clock tower.
  • Hike up to The Lookout – We loved hiking the Alberni Valley Lookout Trail, which is a 5.3 km (3.3 mi) loop that took us just under 2 hours to complete. Driving to the trailhead requires a 4×4 as the road isn’t in the best condition, but we parked at the Coombs Candy store and walked instead. It added an extra 25 minutes or so to our hike but on the bright side, we used that as an excuse to buy tons of chocolate! 
  • Go fishing – Port Alberni is known as “the Salmon Capital of the World”, so if you’re an angler, then why not arrange a fishing license and cast a line in Stamp Falls? However, I should make you aware that a portion of the river is off-limits between June 15 and November 15. There will be markers on the trees to make this clear! Or, if you’re traveling in a group, you can book a charter with West Coast River Charters and enjoy a full or half-day fishing adventure.

Where to Stay in Port Alberni (1 night)

Budget – Camp at Stamp River Provincial Park or stay at the Hummingbird Guesthouse

Mid-range – Best Western Plus Barclay Hotel

Tofino (Day 5 and 6)

Daniel and Bailey high five before going out for a surf at Cox Bay Beach in Tofino
Bailey and I about to go surfing at Cox Bay!
Daniel and Bailey kiss at Cox Bay Lookout in Tofino
Cox Bay Lookout!

It takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes to drive from Port Alberni to Tofino, without stopping, or just under 2 hours if you’re staying in Stamp River Provincial Park. We like to stop off at Sproat Lake on the way, as it’s an ideal place to SUP and swim. Alternatively, you could take a quick detour to Ucluelet if you don’t mind adding another 20 minutes to the drive. We’re big fans of the waterfront area here and the Ucluelet Brewing Company

Then, once you get to Tofino, you’ll find yourself in a surfer’s paradise. But even if catching waves isn’t your thing, no worries, because we’ve found that there are plenty of other activities here to keep you occupied! 

Things to do in Tofino 

  • Surf at Cox Bay Beach – There are three popular surf beaches in Tofino but Cox Bay is the most famous of them all. It’s a bit of a Goldilocks beach since beginners and pros both love the waves here. We paid $55 CAD each to rent boards from Surf Grove Campground for 24 hours and had an amazing day catching waves on Cox Bay Beach. We already knew how to surf but if you need some pointers, Surf Grove offers 2-hour lessons starting from $90 CAD per person.
  • Hike to Cox Bay Lookout – Cox Bay isn’t just about surfing! We also love hiking to the Cox Bay Lookout, which has a special meaning for us as it’s where our best friends got engaged. It only takes about 20 minutes to get to the top but trust me, you will be working hard for all of that time, so bring some water with you and be prepared for a workout. And wear decent hiking shoes, as the trail gets pretty muddy.
  • Canso Plane Crash hike – Parks Canada maintains this trail but keeps it pretty quiet, so you didn’t hear this from us, okay? It takes you on a mostly flat walk through Tofino’s forest to find the remnants of a WWII plane crash. We found it by parking at the lot on Radar Hill and then looking up the trailhead on Google Maps. From there, the path was easy to follow, and the walk took us about an hour each way.
  • Check out Tofino Distillery – While I do enjoy tasting spirits, sometimes straight liquor can be a bit much. So we were happy to find out that Tofino Distillery allows you to sample spirits in the best way possible – with a cocktail-tasting flight! It was so much fun and it’s a great way to try their handcrafted spirits, from jalapeño vodka to absinthe. They’re open daily from 12-7 pm, so if you’re a fan of cocktails, try to swing by while you’re in town.

Where to Stay in Tofino (2 Nights)

Budget – The MAQ Hotel (or stay in nearby Ucluelet which is cheaper – Pacific Rim Motel has good reviews!)

Mid-range – Hotel Zed Tofino

Luxury – Best Western Plus Tin Wis Resort (they even offer surf lessons or board rentals!)

Or check out our guide on all the places to stay in Tofino!

Related Read: We love Tofino’s beaches, but did you know there are plenty of beautiful beaches to visit in Vancouver?

Nanaimo (Day 7 – Last Day and Ferry Back to Vancouver) 

Bailey takes a photo with the Nanaimo Sign
The Nanaimo sign!

Today is the last day of the road trip, and it involves the longest stretch of driving. It takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes to drive the 206 kilometers (128 miles) from Tofino to Nanaimo, so what I recommend doing is leaving Tofino early and then booking the last ferry back from Departure Point to Horseshoe Bay in Vancouver. This will be at 8:45 pm during the winter or 10:45 pm during the summer, and then the ferry crossing takes 1 hour and 40 minutes – you can book the ferry ride here. It cost us $67.50 CAD for the two of us and our car.

However, if you need to get back to Vancouver and don’t have very long to explore Nanaimo there are also some short and sweet activities to check out in town! With that said, we do think it’s worth spending the day here if you have time.

Things to do in Nanaimo 

  • Take a photo with the Nanaimo sign – I always have to snap a photo with a city sign – and no, I don’t care if that makes me cheesy! The Nanaimo sign is located in Matteo Sutton Park and allows visitors to climb inside the “o” for a fun photo. I went nice and early to get my photo so that there weren’t too many people around to ruin my pictures! 
  • Try a Nanaimo bar – If you only do one thing in Nanaimo, it should be trying a Nanaimo bar. This decadent treat is popular all over Canada – and with layers of coconut crumb, custard icing, and chocolate ganache, it’s easy to see why! I love the bars at A Wee Cupcakery for the “pure” Nanaimo bar experience, but Hearthstone Artisan Bakery does a mouth-watering peanut butter crunch version.
  • Explore the Nanaimo Old City Quarter – Nanaimo’s Old Quarter is so charming, so why not spend a while exploring Victorian architecture and boutique stores (and maybe a patio or two during the summer?). Whenever we visit, we like to go patio hopping during happy hour to find a new hidden gem – spoiler alert: there’s a lot! I also love it here in the fall when the maple trees change color.
  • Visit Petroglyph Provincial Park – For a quick but super interesting activity, I suggest visiting Petroglyph Provincial Park, where you can see Indigenous rock carvings that are over 1,000 years old! This is a great activity to do with kids, as you can use paper to make rubbings of the carvings to take home, but we went by ourselves and enjoyed reading the information boards around. It only took about 20 minutes and it was totally free to visit, so I think this is ideal if you’re looking for a quick but worthwhile activity to tick off before you head back to Vancouver.

Related Read: The fun doesn’t have to end when you get back to Vancouver! Why not check out one of these fun boat tours? We always take friends who come to visit because it’s such a great way to sightsee!

Renting a Car in British Columbia

A rural road with Mt Currie in the background
Road trips are the best way to explore Canada!

If you’re arriving in British Columbia via plane, then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. British Columbia is a large province, and traveling between the best places to visit in BC requires transport. Although you can use public transport on some occasions, this means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.

Car rental in Canada isn’t relatively cheap, but it’s not that expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with a pick-up and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though, depending on the time of year. For car rentals, I use the website Discover Cars. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used Discover Cars all over the world, including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia. Read my honest review of Discover Cars here for more details!

Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter). Using Motorhome Republic, you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada and you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable! Read my tips on using Motorhome Republic here before you book!

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie in Nanaimo, BC
Thanks for reading!

Vancouver Island has loads to offer, from beautiful beaches and parks to cool museums and lots of great food! Whether you’ve got a few days or a couple of weeks, hitting the road to explore is totally worth it. We always have such a blast when we visit, so we hope that you love it as much as we do!

If this guide has been helpful for you in planning your trip, make sure to check out more of our blogs about Vancouver Island! We’ve got tons of blogs, but we suggest starting with the following…

22 BEST Places to Visit and See on Vancouver Island

Whale Watching on Vancouver Island: 10 Things to KNOW Before You Go!

How to Spend 4 Days in Vancouver – By a Local!

Is Whistler Worth Visiting? My HONEST Review from a Vancouver Local!