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Two Weeks on Vancouver Island Itinerary 

Two Weeks on Vancouver Island Itinerary 

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Planning a road trip around beautiful Vancouver Island? Honestly, you’re in for SUCH a treat! But with so many beautiful places to see on the island, it’s important to plan your road trip efficiently so that you get to see as much as possible, which can be hard to do when you’ve never been here before! 

As Vancouver locals, we’ve road-tripped around Vancouver Island tons of times. It was the perfect escape from the city when we lived here! So we’ve put together an ideal two-week itinerary to ensure you get to experience the very best that the island has to offer. 

Table Of Contents
  1. Vancouver Island Itinerary Overview
  2. Getting to Vancouver Island from Vancouver
  3. Victoria (Day 1 and 2)
  4. Port Renfrew (Day 3 and 4) 
  5. Salt Spring Island (Day 5 and 6)
  6. Parksville (Day 7 and 8)
  7. Port Alberni/Stamp River Provincial Park (Day 9) 
  8. Tofino (Day 10 and 11)
  9. Courtenay and Campbell River (Day 12 and 13)
  10. Nanaimo (Day 14 – Last Day and Ferry Back to Vancouver) 
  11. Thanks for reading!
  12. Renting a Car in British Columbia

Vancouver Island Itinerary Overview

Vancouver Island 2 Week Road Trip Map
Vancouver Island 2 Week Road Trip Map

Two weeks is plenty of time to enjoy the beauty and laid-back pace of Vancouver Island. This itinerary will enable you to experience just how unique and diverse the island is, from artsy Salt Spring Island to the surfing town of Tofino and the underrated gems of Courtenay and Campbell River. There aren’t any super long drives, but we’ve still mentioned plenty of fun stops between destinations – after all, that’s half the fun of a road trip! 

The road trip begins in Victoria and ends in Nanaimo, both of which are accessible from Vancouver via ferry. We’ll dive more into the specifics of the ferry crossings next, but both journeys take a little over 1.5 hours. We think it’s best to rent a car in Vancouver and cross over to Victoria with your vehicle, so you don’t waste time once you’re on the island.

Getting to Vancouver Island from Vancouver

Bailey enjoys the view on a sunset sail with BC Ferries to Vancouver Island, Canada

When embarking on a road trip from Vancouver, the best way to get to Vancouver Island is via ferry! 

We always catch the ferry from the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, which is 30-45 minutes outside of Vancouver, depending on traffic. The crossing itself takes 1 hour and 35 minutes to get to Swartz Bay, which is 30 minutes outside of Victoria. So it usually takes us about 2.5 hours in total. 

The ferries are run by BC Ferries, and boats go between 7 am and 9 pm every day. The service runs year-round, although the schedule does change. Boats go every 2 hours during the winter, and hourly during the summer. It costs about $20 CAD each, plus $60 CAD for our car, although prices do fluctuate so we usually use the BC Ferries Fare Calculator to be sure! 

For in-depth information, check out our guide on getting from Vancouver to Victoria here.

Victoria (Day 1 and 2)

Bailey sits out the front of Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria BC
Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria BC
Bailey at the Butchart Gardens in Victoria BC
The Butchart Gardens are so peaceful!

Victoria is the capital of British Columbia and a scenic destination year-round, so where better to kick off a Vancouver Island road trip? We always love exploring this city because it’s so beautiful and historic, with culture in spades and a fantastic food scene. We’ve done lots of fantastic tours here, so check out this article to find our favorites.

5 Things to do in Victoria

1. Enjoy a whale watching cruise

An Orca off the coast of Vancouver Island
One of the coolest experiences on Vancouver Island!

Vancouver Island is ideal for whale watching because four different species of whales inhabit its waters: humpback whales, gray whales, minke whales, and orcas (aka killer whales!). In fact, Dan and I actually got to see a pod of orcas when we took this half-day whale watching tour from Victoria. I couldn’t believe my eyes! 

There are a couple of whale watching tours from Victoria to choose from (check out this post for more info) but we loved this tour because the catamaran was spacious and comfy, and there were marine specialists on board who taught us loads. We got free high-resolution photos included in the $211 CAD price tag and, of course, we saw tons of whales! Since it’s a half-day tour, I also think it’s ideal for this road trip itinerary, as you’ll still have plenty of time to explore Victoria. 

2. Visit Craigdarroch Castle

Yup, Victoria has its very own castle – told you it was historic! Craigdarroch Castle was built in the late 1800s to prove that its owner, Robert Dunsmuir, was the richest man in Western Canada. Unfortunately, he died before it was completed, but his legacy lives on since checking out this hilltop castle and its impressive views over the city remains one of the best things to do in Victoria

We’ve purchased tickets from the visitor center to have a look around inside the castle, which cost $20.60 CAD, including an hour-long self-guided audio tour. This is available between 10 am and 4 pm from Wednesday to Sunday, but if you can’t make this window, we also like coming here just to admire the exterior and the panoramic views. 

Alternatively, lots of sightseeing tours of Victoria, such as this top-rated 2-hour bike tour, include Craigdarroch Castle on their route. I think this tour is an ideal way to go sightseeing in Victoria when you’re only here for a couple of days anyway because you cover a lot of ground in just a few hours and tick off lots of city highlights. 

3. See the Legislative Building

Bailey walks in front of the Legislative Building in Victoria BC
The architecture is so beautiful in Victoria!

For a real slice of Canadian history, don’t miss the Legislative Building. The architecture is stunning and as a history fan, I think it’s so cool that they offer free guided tours on weekdays. If this is something you’re interested in, keep an eye on the schedule, which is posted every Friday for the following week. And if you’re a bit pressed for time, the sightseeing bike tour I mentioned above also stops by the Legislative Building to teach you a little about its history. 

There are also self-guided tours on offer, and I recommend exploring the Public Gallery where you can actually see the legislative assembly taking place, but my top tip would be to go and eat at the Parliamentary Dining Room. It’s a bit of a local secret (so don’t tell anyone I told you this), and enjoy some true fine dining for about $15 CAD at this restaurant, since it’s not-for-profit. 

4. Head to Mount Douglas for sunset 

Bailey at the top of Mount Douglas at sunset
Mount Douglas at sunset in Victoria BC

Mount Douglas is our favorite place to enjoy the sunset over Victoria, and we’re definitely not alone in this! It offers 360-degree views of the city so you get a real sense of just how beautiful Victoria really is. And if you’re not one for hiking, you can drive right to the top and just walk two minutes to the summit. We only do this when we’ve got enough time to arrive early, though, as the parking lot fills up fast.

When I’m in the mood for a hike, the Irvine Trail is 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) long and takes about 90 minutes to get up. I won’t lie to you, it can be challenging, but it’s so worth it and all of that effort makes the view much sweeter. I like to bring a drink with me to enjoy the sunset and a flashlight so that I can get back down after dark! 

5. Visit the Butchart Gardens

Bailey sits in the gardens at The Butchart Gardens near Victoria, BC
Welcome to my happy place!
The Butchart Gardens on Vancouver, Island
Just stunning!

The Butchart Gardens are just too beautiful to miss when in Victoria! This site was once a quarry, owned by Robert and Jennie Butchart, who transformed it into a sunken garden after the quarry was exhausted. Today, there are over 900 plants here across multiple landscaped gardens, each with a different theme. 

We’ve done some fantastic sightseeing tours of the Butchart Gardens, but I loved this private tour the most. The route covers Victoria’s top sights as well as a private guided visit to the Gardens. I loved learning about the city from a local guide, as well as the history and ecology of the botanical gardens. At $580 CAD for up to 6 people, I think this is a really well-priced option for groups, too. 

With that said, Dan and I have visited by ourselves, too. Entry costs between $22-$41 CAD and there’s free parking on site, which is handy! 

Where to Stay in Victoria

The Embassy Inn is our top pick for Victoria hotels. It wins in terms of location, since it’s right in the harbor and means you’re within walking distance of lots of Victoria’s must-see attractions. Given its prime position, it’s a real steal with rooms starting at $200 CAD per night – and yes, that price includes breakfast! We booked our stay on Booking.com as it offered the best price, but you can also check out other accommodation options in Victoria here

Related Read: Since this road trip starts and ends in Vancouver, it’s worth reading up on where to stay in Vancouver, too! 

Port Renfrew (Day 3 and 4) 

beach in Port Renfrew on vancouver Island, canada

Port Renfrew is 111 kilometers (68 miles) from Victoria, and it’s a beautiful drive. It would take just shy of 2 hours without stopping, but today is all about the drive! 

We love stopping in Sooke to visit Potholes Provincial Park. It’s only about 45 minutes from Victoria, and it’s super scenic, with clear water and beautiful rock pools. This is an ideal (albeit slightly cold) spot to swim but when we’d rather stay dry, we love walking along the river and exploring the rock pools, although this does require shoes with good grip.

Jordan River Regional Park is another 32 kilometers (20 miles) from the potholes. The park is home to Sandcut Beach, which is really pretty, as well as plenty of walking trails. Our favorite thing about the park, though, has to be the day-use area, because we could see across the water to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State from here – yes, Washington State in the USA! 

It’s even possible to camp overnight in Jordan River Regional Park. The campground is first-come, first-served and is suitable for tents and RVs, but personally, I recommend staying for two nights in Port Renfrew, which is just down the road from Jordan River.

5 Things to do in Port Renfrew

1. Visit Botanical Beach 

Botanical Beach is probably one of the most unique beaches we’ve ever visited. Port Renfrew is the gateway to Juan de Fuca Provincial Park (although don’t worry, it’s a lot more than that) where you can find this rocky beach and its tidal pools. I like coming here at low tide to paddle around and spot marine creatures like purple sea urchins and sea cucumbers, and I think this would be an ideal place to bring the kids, too. 

2. Explore Avatar Grove

I know what you’re thinking and yes, Avatar Grove WAS named after the famous Avatar movies. It only became a protected area after the first movie came out, and now there are 1.2 kilometers (0.75 miles) of boardwalks here to allow visitors to explore easily, without getting lost amongst these gnarly, old-growth trees. In fact, you can even find “Canada’s gnarliest tree” here, which is signposted. 

3. Chill out at Lizard Lake 

Lizard Lake is yet another of Vancouver Island’s beautiful lakes, and we love coming here to relax on a sunny day in Port Renfrew. There’s a long, wooden dock that stretches out into the lake, so it’s ideal for jumping off of when you feel like swimming! We’ve also brought paddleboards here as the lake is very calm, so the conditions are ideal, and there’s even a campsite if you’d like to stay the night.

4. Hike the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail 

The Juan de Fuca Park is stunning, and the best way to explore is to tackle a section of the Marine Trail. It’s 47 kilometers (29 miles) long but of course, you don’t have to walk to do it all! It’s a rugged trail, so it’s not for everyone, but if you love to hike as much as we do, then it’s worth using one of your days in Port Renfrew to complete a portion of the trail.

Our favorite section of this trail is from Bear Beach Campsite to Chin Beach Campground. The trail boasts dramatic coastal views the entire way and takes around 6 hours out-and-back, so we’d recommend 7-8 hours to allow for time to stop, and appreciate the views. Make sure to take your time at Chin Beach, as it’s very striking and, in our opinion, the best beach in the park! 

5. Spot the Fairy Lake Bonsai Tree

The Fairy Lake Bonsai Tree is an adorable feat of nature! Fairy Lake is a 10-minute drive outside of Port Renfrew, and sure, it’s a pretty lake, but what makes it stand out is the fact that a single log protrudes out of its calm, reflective waters, with a bonsai tree growing on top of it! I couldn’t believe it when I found out that the tree is estimated to be around 50 years old – it just goes to show how resilient bonsai trees are!

It’s believed that the tree took root here naturally, rather than being planted by a human, which makes it even more amazing. And as you can imagine, it’s a coveted spot for photographers. There’s no official parking lot but you can just park up along the road and snap away – there’s no hiking involved. 

Where to Stay in Port Renfrew

Wild Coast Chalets is our top pick. With beach access and ocean views, these self-contained chalets are modern, cozy, and oh-so-quiet. We loved the outdoor deck area as it was perfect for enjoying a glass of wine. The location is ideal, too, as it’s close to Juan de Fuca Provincial Park and a 15-minute walk from the town center. Chalets start from $330 CAD per night and you can check availability on Booking.com

If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly place to stay, The Hiker Huts is our choice. The huts are adorable and reasonably priced at around $124 CAD. They tend to have last-minute availability too if you didn’t book super far in advance. Book online here!

Salt Spring Island (Day 5 and 6)

Bailey at the beach in Ganges on Salt Spring Island

Salt Spring Island is an island off of Vancouver Island. It’s island-ception! 

Many prominent Canadian artists have settled here, thanks to the stunning scenery, leisurely pace of life, and free-spirited atmosphere. From farmers’ markets, art galleries, and wineries to lakes and mountains, there’s a lot to love about Salt Spring Island. We love it even more every time we visit! 

How to get to Salt Spring Island

Bailey walks the waterfront in Ganges on Salt Spring Island

There are two different ways to get to Salt Spring Island, although they both involve a ferry. When coming from Port Renfrew, the best thing to do is drive to Crofton, which takes about 2 hours, and catch the ferry over to Vesuvius Bay on Salt Spring Island from there. On the way, you can stop at Robertson River Falls and grab a bite to eat at Jake’s at the Lake, which overlooks beautiful Lake Cowichan.

The ferry crossing itself only takes 25 minutes and costs $12.30 CAD per adult, and then $36.20 CAD for a regular-sized car. Ferries run regularly between 6:30 am and 10 pm year round.

5 Things to do on Salt Spring Island

1. Shop at the Saturday Market 

Bailey walks the stalls at the Saturday Market in Ganges on Salt Spring Island
Bread at the Ganges Saturday Market on Salt Spring Island

We always try to hit the Saturday Market when we’re on Salt Spring Island. It’s open from 9 am until 4 pm on Saturdays, and as far as we’re concerned, it’s the best place to shop for everything that the “Island of the Arts” has to offer. From local cheese to handmade clothes, it really has everything! For me, the hand-thrown pottery stood out. 

We always skip breakfast before we come here because there’s so much delicious food on offer, and then we usually stick around for a few hours afterward. Time just flies by! 

2. Hop between art galleries

Salt Spring Island is like a magnet for artists, so checking out the art galleries is a must! We loved visiting the Salt Spring Gallery. The stained glass artwork, in particular, impressed me. However, the gallery we loved the most was Steffich Fine Art because it not only showcases a diverse range of styles and mediums but also represents artists from the many different ethnic and religious groups in Canada. Keep an eye out for the Rock and Roll Art Collection, which was my favorite! 

3. Relax and swim at St. Mary Lake 

Bailey swims in St Mary Lake on Salt Spring Island
Bailey swims in St. Mary Lake on Salt Spring Island

For a small island, Salt Spring packs a punch in terms of scenery! There are 8 lakes on the island but since you’re only here for two days, put St. Mary at the top of your list. It’s a beautiful, serene lake that’s ideal for swimming, watersports, and relaxing. We always try to come early during the summer, as the public beach gets pretty busy. 

4. Hike Mount Maxwell

The view from Mount Maxwell on Salt Spring Island, BC
The highest point on the island comes with the best view!

Mount Maxwell is one of the highest points on Salt Spring Island, and it offers incredible views of the island. If your rental car is a high clearance 4×4 you can always drive up to the summit, but that wasn’t the case for us, so we hiked up! There are 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) of trails in the area, and we found them to be well maintained. We loved hiking through the Douglas fir trees and spotting birds on the way up, and then when we got to the top, we loved the views of not only Salt Spring Island but Vancouver Island and even mainland BC in the distance.

5. Go wine tasting

Salt Spring Island’s climate is ideal for grape vines, so of course we had to check out some of the area’s wineries while we were here – our hands were tied!

Salt Spring Vineyards was one of our favorites because their tasting room was right in the middle of the vineyard, so we felt totally immersed! We loved Garry Oaks Estate Winery just as much because it was tucked right underneath the peak of Mount Maxwell, so the location couldn’t have been more scenic. 

Both wineries are open daily from 11 am until 5 pm between May and September. During the winter, they operate with more limited hours but check ahead, as they often do maintenance and renovations when the island is quiet. We found the tasting fees at both wineries to be really cheap and we got fees waived because we bought bottles. I mean, we couldn’t leave without a souvenir, could we?

Where to Stay on Salt Spring Island

The Harbour House Hotel is where we like to stay on Salt Spring Island. It’s in Ganges, which is the island’s main town, and has been open for well over a century! But don’t worry, it was renovated pretty recently so it’s got modern amenities, while still retaining that charming, old-world touch. We loved the outdoor patio and fire pit, as it was the perfect way to round off our days on Salt Spring Island, and we even woke up at sunrise one day to watch the sunrise from our room, which was so worth it. 

Rooms at the Harbour House cost around $400 CAD during the busy summer season, although there are bargains to be had during the winter. We found the best rates through Booking.com, and snagged a generous cancellation policy, too. 

Parksville (Day 7 and 8)

Bailey walks in downtown Parksville, Canada

We just love the small city of Parksville. It’s got beaches, farmers’ markets, caves, and a cute downtown area so really, what’s not to like? This place encapsulates what Vancouver Island is all about! 

When traveling here from Salt Spring Island, get the ferry from the Vesuvius Terminal over to Crofton, which only takes about 25 minutes. From there, it takes an hour to drive to Parksville, and we always have to stop at the Old Town Bakery in Ladysmith for one (or two) of their famous cinnamon buns. 

Related Read: Before or after you finish your epic Vancouver Island road trip, make sure to enjoy a couple of day trips from Vancouver. There are too many amazing places within reach of the city to stay put! 

5 Things to do in Parksville 

1. Treat yourself to a sumptuous spa experience 

Bailey in the grotto at Tigh-Na-Mara, Parksville
So relaxing!
Bailey with a meal and wine at the 17 course dinner at Tigh-Na-Mara, Parksville
There was so much food!

This is the halfway point on this road trip itinerary, so I’d say it’s time for a treat, wouldn’t you? Well, that’s what Dan and I decided, anyway, so we treated ourselves to a luxurious spa experience at Grotto Spa at Tigh-Na-Mara

We started with a 2-hour soak in the Grotto pools which are just beautiful, and we were excited to learn that they have recently added brand-new cedar barrel saunas. Then, we enjoyed a 17-course tapas meal, while still wearing our robes. It was such a treat, especially after living out of a backpack for a week! The soak costs $95 CAD per person and then the tapas dinner costs another $95 CAD, so it’s pricey but we thought it was worth it. 

Unsurprisingly, this is a really popular thing to do in Parksville so make sure you book it well in advance. Try to do this 4-6 weeks before your visit during the summer – I promise, you won’t regret it. 

2. Enjoy the public beach 

Daniel relaxes on Parksville Beach
The beach in Parksville is gorgeous!

Parksville is a beachside city and the public beach is walkable from most places in town, so you have to visit while you’re here! There are food trucks, a playground, and a waterpark, so you could spend all day here. I like bringing a book and relaxing here in the summer afternoons, as the beach gets busy enough to have a fun atmosphere, but it doesn’t get too packed, thankfully. 

3. Visit Rathtrevor Provincial Park 

The beach in Rathtrevor Provincial Park
We woke up to this beach every morning from our campsite!

Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park is one of my favorite places to visit not only in Parksville but in the whole of Vancouver Island! With dense forests, a beautiful beach, and great trails for hikers and cyclists, this place is a must for anyone who loves the Great Outdoors – and that’s certainly us! 

The beach is actually 5 kilometers (3 miles) long which is ideal for a beachy stroll, and it also means that it never gets overcrowded. In fact, this super long stretch of sand is always quieter than the beaches in town, and I love to explore the tidal pools at low tide. I guess I’m just a big kid! 

Of course, we have to check out a new trail every time we’re here. The one from Rathtrevor Provincial Park to Top Bridge Municipal Park is one of our favorites as it took us to a great swimming spot in the Englishman River.

We’ve also camped in the park before and had a great experience. We booked our campsite well in advance to secure our spot as this place is deservedly popular among campers, and we paid $35 CAD per night. Since the campsite has bathrooms, showers, drinking water, and fire pits, we thought it was worth it – not to mention the fact we were just steps away from the beach! 

4. Go caving! 

The Horne Lake Caves are just half an hour’s drive from Parksville, so we couldn’t resist the chance to visit. It’s an extensive cave system filled with fossils, stalactites and stalagmites, narrow passages, and even a waterfall! 

We think that booking this 2-hour tour is ideal for families or those who are new to caving. There’s no crawling or vertical climbing involved but it’s still a fun adventure. The guides are friendly and encouraging, and share a ton of information about the fossils and rock formations you see. Plus, group sizes are capped at 7 so it feels safe and personal. Not bad for $54 CAD apiece! 

However, since we have been caving quite a few times, this multi-cave tour is our personal favorite. It’s a bit more extreme (although still very safe), and we got to do plenty of climbing and crawling, although the highlight was whooshing down the natural slide, which is actually the only one of its kind in Canada! For $90 CAD each, we felt like it was worth it. 

5. Drive up Little Mountain Lookout for sunset 

Bailey on Little Mountain Lookout for Sunset in Parksville
Little Mountain Lookout, Parksville
Bailey sits and enjoys the view from Little Mountain Lookout for Sunset in Parksville
Sunset at Little Mountain Lookout

We’re self-professed sunset chasers, so of course we know the best spot in Parksville to watch the sun go down. Normally, we like hiking up to viewpoints for sunset, and the trail here is 4.2 kilometers (2.6 miles) out and back, so it’s only about an hour of hiking. However, we actually prefer driving up to Little Mountain Lookout because the drive up is just so scenic, and you miss out on that if you hike! 

Where to Stay in Parksville

As far as we’re concerned, nothing beats staying on the beach! So it makes sense that the Beach Club Resort would be our go-to as it’s right on the shore, and we loved the rooms with ocean views and balconies where we could enjoy that sea breeze. The indoor swimming pool and hot tub were also great for bad weather days. We were also impressed by how affordable the rooms were for the quality. They start at $207 CAD in the off-season and $309 CAD in peak season when you book online in advance

Port Alberni/Stamp River Provincial Park (Day 9) 

Bailey with the totems at rbor Quay in Port Alberni, BC
It’s so cool that the ocean travels this far inland!

The 50-kilometer (31-mile) drive from Parksville to Port Alberni has some incredible stops. It would only take around 40 minutes without stopping, but where’s the fun in that?

We love stopping at Cathedral Grove which is an old-growth forest filled with boardwalks and trails, so it’s easy to explore, and pretty magical to be honest! Then, hit the road again, but only for a short time because 12 minutes from Cathedral Grove is the Hole in the Wall hike. And yes, the Hole in the Wall is exactly what it sounds like. This hike only takes about 40 minutes out and back, but do wear good shoes or hiking boots if it has rained recently as the path can be slippery. 

We highly recommend staying in the campground at Stamp River Provincial Park. If, like us, you love to camp, then this is an incredible place to do it. We were lucky enough to see the salmon run here, which is a yearly phenomenon between August and December, and we even saw bears fishing for their dinner along the river, which was pretty insane! 

5 Things to do in Port Alberni/Stamp River Provincial Park

1. Wander Harbor Quay 

fish and chips at The Starboard Grill in Harbor Quay
fish and chips and clam chowder at The Starboard Grill in Harbor Quay

Harbor Quay is Port Alberni’s waterfront area, and it’s a haven of shops, eateries, and fresh seafood (which is all locally sourced, of course!). We like to spend a few hours eating our way through this area, especially at Turtle Island Fish and Chips, but arrive hungry because the portions are huge! Our go-to is The Starboard Grill, and we always ask what the specials are because that’s usually the best thing on the menu that day. The last time we were here, I had the most delicious salmon chowder.

As an incurable sweet tooth, The Donut Shop is a must for maple sprinkle donuts (yum), and the Spirit Square Farmers’ Market on Saturday is always worth a visit. It runs from 9 am until 12 pm and there are always some nice handmade goods on offer. 

2. Hike up to The Lookout 

We had a blast hiking up to “The Lookout, although it’s possible to drive if you have a 4×4. Still, we were content to park at the Coombs Candy store and hike the Alberni Valley Lookout Trail, we even spied an eagle flying overhead as we walked. It was a 5.3-kilometer (3.3-mile) loop and although it was steep in places, the sweeping views from the viewpoint made it more than worth it. Then, we grabbed some candy afterward to reward ourselves – it only seemed fair!

3. Go fishing 

A man fishing in Stamp River Provincial Park
With so many salmon around, how hard can it be?

Port Alberni is known as “the Salmon Capital of the World” so we decided it was worth waking up super early to cast a line – and fortunately, we were right! We organized our own fishing licenses and went to Stamp Falls Provincial Park to fish. Fishing isn’t allowed in a certain section of the river between June 15 and November 15, but there are clear boundary markers on the trees, so this wasn’t an issue for us – we just fished in a different zone. 

Alternatively, West Coast River Charters offer fishing tours all year round, which means there’s no need to organize equipment or worry about a thing! They’ve got options lasting for 4-8 hours, and since it’s a private tour the experience is catered to you, whether you’re a beginner or a pro. Freshwater charters start at $500 CAD per group, or it’s $600 CAD for a saltwater tour. 

4. Go ziplining

WestCoast WILD Adventures zipline
Photo credit: WestCoast WILD Adventures

It’s not often that we’ll pass up the chance to go ziplining, so we just had to check out the course at West Coast WILD Adventures. Their course had us flying through the trees and over the canyons, and our guides taught us so much about the history of the area as well, which was a fantastic bonus. 

The course is only open between March and October, as this is very much a summertime activity. It’s 45 minutes outside of Port Alberni along the Pacific Rim Highway, and we paid $130 CAD each for a 90-minute zipline tour. 

5. Drink craft beer 

A beer at Twin City Brewing, Port Alberni
Photo credit: Twin City Brewing
A beer at Twin City Brewing
Photo credit: Twin City Brewing

We’d be lying if we said that craft beer doesn’t play any role in our love for Port Alberni! There are some amazing breweries in town. We loved relaxing at Dog Mountain Brewing after an adventure-filled day, and their Apricot Wit Beer went down a little too easily! The Alberni Brewing Company was also great and we could see why it has won so many awards, although I liked their blueberry mojitos best of all. 

Those two were great but Twin City Brewing really took the cake for us. We just chatted about the beer that we like, and they hooked each of us up with our perfect brew! The Twin City Munich Helles Lager remains one of the best craft beers I’ve ever tasted, anywhere in the world. 

Where to Stay in Port Alberni

The Hummingbird Guesthouse is where I like to stay in Port Alberni, because it’s quiet, cozy, and feels like a real home away from home. It sits on 2 acres of land, so you feel out in nature, but it’s only a 5-minute drive from town. That’s a perfect happy medium in my book! Rooms start at $207 CAD, with the option to add breakfast, and when you reserve through Booking.com, you get free cancellation until the day before.

Tofino (Day 10 and 11)

126 kilometers (78 miles) down the road from Port Alberni lies the gorgeous surfer’s town of Tofino, although there’s plenty to do here besides surfing! The drive takes 1 hour and 45 minutes without stopping, but there are some really fun things to do on the way. The West Coast WILD zipline we talked about above is on the way, and Kennedy Lake viewpoint is really pretty.

Either on the way to Tofino or while you’re there, we highly recommend visiting Ucluelet, which is 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the townsite – roughly a 40-minute drive. It’s a cool, laid-back town with plenty to offer, including fantastic craft beer, a scenic waterfront area, and lots of yummy food! 

Things to do in Tofino and Ucluelet 

1. Go surfing

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 surfing at Long Beach in Tofino, Vancouver Island

Tofino is ideal for surfing! With lots of beautiful beaches, waves suitable for both beginners and pros, and plenty of surf schools, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve been catching waves for years or have never tried surfing before. I must warn you that the water here is on the cooler side (this is Canada, after all) but hey, that’s what wetsuits are for!

Two days in Tofino is a perfect opportunity to try out a few of the beaches. We love Cox Bay Beach because it’s got everything a surfer could want, regardless of ability level. The bay is beautiful, the conditions are ideal, and there are a couple of surf schools dotted around. We rented our boards and wetsuits from Surf Grove Campground, which is right on the beach, it cost us $65 CAD for a full day, and they offer lessons, too.

There are two Chesterman Beaches which we also think are worth checking out. North Chesterman is a tried-and-true spot, while South Chesterman is less convenient, but can be a lot of fun. Both of these beaches are pretty calm, making them suitable for beginners. Meanwhile, Long Beach is great for advanced surfers, although we love coming here for sunset! 

We were really happy with our rentals from Surf Grove Campground but if you want some alternatives, Pacific Surf Co, Tofino Paddle Surf, and Swell Tofino all offer surf lessons starting at around $100 CAD for a 2-hour group session. I think it’s worth learning to surf because once you know how, you can catch waves all over the world. I’m so glad I learned! 

2. Walk the Lighthouse Loop in Ucluelet

The Amphitrite Lighthouse in Ucluelet, BC
Amphitrite Lighthouse in Ucluelet, BC

Ucluelet is so cute, and I just love exploring on a day trip from Tofino. Some of the best things to do in Ucluelet include chowing down on seafood, strolling along the Ancient Cedars Trail, and checking out the local aquarium, but my favorite is walking the lighthouse loop! 

The Lighthouse Loop is 2.6 kilometers (1.6 miles) long and takes about 45 minutes to hike. I really enjoy this trail because it offers beautiful coastal and rainforest views, but of course the highlight is the postcard-perfect Amphitrite Lighthouse. As soon as I saw it, I immediately understood why it’s so popular with photographers. 

3. Hike to Cox Bay Lookout

Bailey at the top of Cox Bay Lookout in Tofino, Vancouver Island
Cox Bay Lookout in Tofino, Vancouver Island

Short, sweet, and a bit sweaty, the Cox Bay Lookout hike is definitely our favorite one in Tofino! It only takes about 20 minutes to get up to the lookout but it is pretty steep, and you’ll want to wear good hiking shoes and choose a dry day if possible. 

The trail begins at the southern end of Cox Bay Beach and there are a few different trails you can take to the top. Don’t stress too much about which one to choose as they’re all very similar so it doesn’t really matter. Once at the top, the lookout point is the ideal place to get beautiful views of the bay and I love watching the surfers up here. We could see the mountains in the distance, too. 

4. Watch the sunset at Long Beach

As far as we’re concerned, Long Beach is the best place to watch the sunset in Tofino. Plus, it’s about halfway between Tofino and Ucluelet, so if you take a day trip to Ucluelet, this is the perfect sunset stop on the way back. 

True to its name, Long Beach is 16 kilometers (10 miles) long, so it never gets crowded and we can always find a spot. We like to pack a cooler full of drinks (usually from the Tofino and Ucluelet Brewing companies!) and relax on a beach blanket as the sky changes color. 

5. Enjoy Ucluelet’s baked goods and beers!

Food and coffee at Zoe's Bakery in Ucluelet, BC

Ucluelet is full of independently owned cafes and bakeries where you can find the most delicious, freshly baked treats. Personally, I love The Barkley Cafe because their breakfast sandwiches and muffins are mouth-wateringly good.

Later on in the day, we love hanging out at Ucluelet Brewing, which is a welcoming brewery housed in a big barn with the best beer in the area. And if you’re not into beer, they’ve also got a selection of local wines, spirits, and ciders, as well as delicious sourdough grilled cheese sandwiches. 

Where to Stay in Tofino

You always know what you’re getting with a Best Western, but the Best Western Plus Tin Wis Resort surpassed our expectations. We were impressed by the views over Mackenzie Beach from our room (and all rooms have this!) and the fact that they offer a complimentary breakfast, as well as surfing lessons and board rentals. Prices vary between $334-$725 CAD per night. This hotel is super popular so we’d recommend booking your stay well in advance.

If that hotel is fully booked, we have a whole blog on the best places to stay in Tofino full of options!

Courtenay and Campbell River (Day 12 and 13)

Nymph Falls near Courtenay, BC
If you come during the right time of year, you can see salmon here.

Courtenay and Campbell River are two separate towns but we’ve included them as one stop because the road trip between them is the best part about visiting, in our eyes! We usually stay in Courtenay and then take a day trip to Campbell River so that we can enjoy both towns and the stops along the way. 

Courtney is 225 kilometers (140 miles) from Tofino, so it takes about 3 hours to drive without stopping. But that’s no fun, so I recommend stopping at Sproat Lake Provincial Park, which is halfway between Tofino and Courtenay. It’s so beautiful and I loved walking along the trail on the east side of the lake, where I got to see some ancient rock carvings. 

Once you get to Courtenay, I recommend hiking along the Puntledge River to see Barber’s Hole, which is a secluded oasis that’s ideal for swimming. Or, we also had so much fun renting a tube near the river and floating downstream! 

So that’s day 12, and then on day 13, we suggest driving to Campbell River. It’s a 53-kilometer (33-mile) drive so it would only take 40 minutes without stopping, but the stops are the best part, so here’s where to pull over, in order. 

5 Best Stops Between Courtenay and Campbell River

1. Miracle Beach Provincial Park 

A man kayaks at Miracle Beach near Campbell River, BC
It’s a beautiful beach!

Miracle Beach Provincial Park is just outside of Courtenay as you head towards Campbell River, and we love the scenery here. It showcases what the Pacific Northwest is all about, and we like exploring the trail system in the old-growth forest. The trees are huge and perfect for taking fun photos. In fact, I could so easily spend a full day exploring here and relaxing on the beach, especially at low tide when the tidal pools are revealed. 

During the summer, there are regular educational talks, family-friendly activities, and even outdoor movie screenings hosted in the park. It’s also possible to camp here during the warmer months for $33 CAD per night. Campsites can be reserved in advance through BC Parks, although some first-come first-serve spots are available. 

2. Oyster River Potholes

Serene, beautiful, and unique, the Oyster River potholes are a must-see between Courtenay and Campbell River! We actually stopped here after hiking in Elk River Falls Provincial Park in Campbell River (more on that below) and so we just had to take a dip. The water was very cold since it’s glacial runoff, but that was welcome. Besides, it looks so clear and inviting that you’ll definitely want to at least dip your feet in! 

3. Shelter Point Distillery

the inside of Shelter Point Distillery
This is an interesting place to stop for a tour. Photo Credit: Shelter Point Distillery

After an icy cold dip in the Oyster River Potholes, we loved going to warm up at Shelter Point Distillery, which is only 11 minutes further down the road. Their artisanal whiskey will definitely warm you from the inside out, and if you don’t like to drink yours neat, they’ve got some amazing signature cocktails to help it go down a little easier. I loved The Whole Point, and the Beachfire at Sunset is a must for anyone who enjoys smoky whiskeys. 

Our favorite thing about this place is that all of the ingredients are locally sourced. For example, the barley is grown on-site, the botanicals are foraged from the local area, and the spring water comes from the nearby mountains. I don’t think it gets much more local than that! 

If you’re really into your spirits, I recommend booking Shelter Point’s hour-long distillery tour, as it goes behind the scenes and includes three tastings at the end. We learned about every stage of the spirit-making process and what it takes to make a quality product. Not bad for $20 CAD! 

4. Elk River Falls Provincial Park

Elk Falls near Courtenay, BC

Elk Falls Park is a really popular spot on Vancouver Island thanks to its excellent hiking trails, so of course, we had to go and check it out! It’s just 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) outside of Campbell River so we stopped on our way in to complete the Elk Falls Loop Trail, which took us to none other than the powerful Elk Falls! At over 25 meters (82 feet) tall, it’s certainly impressive and the trail took us just over an hour to complete, and we found it easy. We loved crossing the suspension bridge as the views from there were absolutely stunning.

In fact, it’s even possible to stay in Elk Falls Provincial Park! There’s a campsite just 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) from the day-use area so it’s ideal if you want to unplug and spend a while longer enjoying the scenery. We haven’t camped here yet, but we’d definitely consider doing so in the future!

5. Eat and Drink in Campbell River

Daniel and Bailey at Beach Fire Brewing Company, Campbell River, BC
Beer tasting paddle at Beach Fire Brewing Company
So delicious!

After hiking in Elk Falls, it’s time to eat and drink your way through Campbell River! We had a great time checking out the breweries here, especially the Beach Fire Brewing Company and their delicious High Tide pale ale. The food here was great too, especially the parmesan bites, but the menu is huge so there are tons of other options to choose from. Their beer cocktails are fun, too – who knew a “beermosa” was a thing?! – and they have some nice non-alcoholic options for the designated driver.

Alternatively, we loved the Reuben sandwiches at Dave’s Bakery, or their pastries are the perfect thing to grab before you hit the road again and head back to Courtenay. For fine dining, the Harbour Grill is popular or if you’re craving sushi, Takao’s Kitchen is the place to go. 

Where to Stay in Courtenay

For a hotel that’s got it all, the Old House Hotel & Spa is the clear choice! It’s ideally located with large rooms, an on-site pool and spa, and even a gourmet restaurant. The suites even have full kitchens, which is perfect because we sometimes get tired of eating out all the time on road trips.

The name may have “old” in it, but we were so impressed by how modern and comfortable this hotel was. It’s also well priced for a 4-star hotel, with standard king rooms ranging between $235 CAD and $381 CAD, depending on the time of year. You also get free cancellation until 2 pm on the day of your stay when you book via Booking.com.

Nanaimo (Day 14 – Last Day and Ferry Back to Vancouver) 

The Nanaimo Sign in Nanaimo, BC
The Nanaimo Sign in Nanaimo, BC

It takes 1 hour and 10 minutes to drive from Courtenay to Nanaimo, which is where you’ll catch the ferry. There’s a lot to do in Nanaimo so we recommend leaving Courtenay fairly early and then catching the last ferry back to Vancouver so that you can enjoy most of the day here. 

Speaking of the ferry, you’re probably wondering how to get back to mainland BC! Well, we always catch the ferry from Nanaimo’s Departure Bay back to Horseshoe Bay. The last one leaves at 8:45 pm during the winter or 10:45 pm during the summer, and the crossing takes 1 hour and 40 minutes. But if neither of those times works, boats depart roughly every 2 hours all year round. 

We’ve rounded up our top 5 favorite things to do in Nanaimo. Some of them don’t take long at all, which is handy if you need to get back to Vancouver earlier in the day.

Related Read: The fun doesn’t have to end when you get back to the city! If you need help deciding on some fun tours in Vancouver, this guide has got you covered.

5 Things to do in Nanaimo 

1. Visit Dinghy Dock Pub on Protection Island

Food and drinks at Dinghy Dock Pub on Protection Island in Nanaimo, BC
Dinghy Dock Pub on Protection Island
Beer and wine at the Dinghy Dock Pub on Protection Island in Nanaimo, BC

We always love grabbing drinks at an outdoor patio on a sunny day, and there’s nowhere better to do that in Nanaimo than the Dinghy Dock Pub. We hopped on the ferry out to this floating restaurant on Protection Island and the views were amazing, although there’s the option to kayak, too. 

The ferry runs hourly until 10 pm from mid-March until early December, as this place closes during the winter months. It costs $14 CAD per person for a return ticket and is cash only, so bear that in mind! Be sure to check all of the details on the Dinghy Dock website before you go.

During the summer, though, it’s always abuzz with live entertainment and fun events, so check out what’s on before visiting. But even without live music, the food here is still worth making the trip for, and the views are hard to beat. We loved the fish tacos although the fish and chips are also delicious if you’re in the mood for a heartier meal. 

2. Snap a photo with the Nanaimo sign

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

I love the design of the Nanaimo sign, as it’s designed so that visitors can climb inside the “o” or stand in front of the “i” to get an Insta-perfect photo! It’s in front of the lagoon in Matteo Sutton Park and was unveiled in 2021, so even if you’ve been to Nanaimo before, you may not have had this photo opportunity. I can never resist getting a classic sign photo, and my tip would be to tick this activity off early so that you don’t have to photoshop other people out of your photos!

3. Try a Nanaimo bar

Bailey enjoys a Nanaimo bar in Nanaimo, BC
Bailey enjoys a Nanaimo bar in Nanaimo, BC
A Nanaimo bar in Nanaimo, BC

Trying a Nanaimo bar whilst in Nanaimo is non-negotiable. Sorry! Nanaimo bars are popular all over Canada. With a crunchy wafer and coconut bottom, a layer of chocolate ganache on top, and thick custard icing sandwiches in the middle, it’s no surprise these bad boys caught on!

I recommend heading to either A Wee Cupcakery to taste the classic Nanaimo bars or if you’ve got time, follow the town’s Nanaimo bar trail. We usually split a couple of bars because they’re VERY decadent.

4. Explore the Nanaimo Old City Quarter

The old town in Nanaimo, BC
It’s such a cute place to take a morning walk!

Fun fact about Nanaimo: it’s actually one of BC’s oldest cities! So checking out the historic Old City Quarter is a must. We loved wandering through the streets which are lined with Victorian-era buildings, nice restaurants, and lots of boutique shops. If you haven’t grabbed any road trip souvenirs yet, now is your chance! 

I recommend kicking off your visit to the Old City Quarter by grabbing a sandwich from Real Food for lunch and enjoying it as you stroll around and take in all of the beautiful architecture. After that, we love to go patio hopping in this area during the summer, especially at happy hour when there are some great deals to be had. 

5. Check out the Nanaimo Museum

Bailey looks at a First Nationas display at the Nanaimo Museum in Nanaimo, BC
The museum is surprisingly big!

If you’d like to delve into the past of this city, we suggest heading to the Nanaimo Museum, which is in the downtown area. It only takes about 30 minutes to an hour to visit, so it’s a pretty quick thing to do before you hop on the ferry back to Vancouver. 

We enjoyed visiting this museum because it focuses on Canada’s fur trading and Gold Rush eras, as well as the history of the Snuneymuxw First Nations people. It gave us such an interesting insight into Nanaimo’s history that we would have completely missed otherwise, so we highly recommend taking the time to visit. The suggested visitor donation is only $2 CAD, so you can’t go wrong! 

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.

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 using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie at The Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, BC
Thanks for reading!

Vancouver Island is a true treasure trove of natural beauty, outdoor adventures, and quirky cultural attractions. A two-week road trip is ideal for exploring this diverse and scenic island, and immersing yourself fully in the beauty of British Columbia. You’ll see why we spend so much time in this part of the world! In fact, maybe we’ll even see you there on our next road trip!

We’ve spent years traveling around Canada, and we’re experts by this point! We’ve got tons of Canada blogs, so if you need help planning the rest of your travels before and after your epic road trip, the following articles are here to help:

25 BEST Stops on the Drive from Vancouver to Banff: Road Trip Itinerary

6 BEST Vancouver Brewery Tours: Which One to Book!

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

8 BEST Alberta Road Trip Itineraries (From 1 Day to 14 Days)