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10-Day Vancouver Island Itinerary That Hits All the Highlights!

10-Day Vancouver Island Itinerary That Hits All the Highlights!

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Vancouver Island is a stunning island off the coast of Vancouver, British Columbia, and is the most perfect place imaginable to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s the largest island on the west coast of North America, and there are so many diverse landscapes and beautiful spots to explore.

There are some incredible places to visit on Vancouver Island. It’s widely known for the famous Butchart Gardens and amazing whale-watching tours in Victoria, but there is so much more to explore! That’s why taking a 10-day road trip around the island gives you enough time to see the big-ticket items, as well as quaint towns like Tofino, secluded beaches, and stunning provincial parks.

We lived in Vancouver, so we’ve been to the island countless times. Whenever we needed a break from the city, we would head here to hike, surf, hang out on the beaches, and explore the chilled-out cities. Ten days is the perfect length of time for a road trip on Vancouver Island, so without further ado, let’s jump into this epic itinerary!

Don’t have time to read the full article? There is a lot to explore in 10 days on Vancouver Island. Some of the highlights include whale watching in Victoria, visiting the world-famous Butchart Gardens, relaxing at the Grotto Spa, camping at Rathtrevor Beach, hiking the Alberni Valley trail, and catching epic sunsets. Oh, and you can’t miss out on seeing the Horne Caves – what a thrill!

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

Vancouver Island Itinerary Overview 

While you could simply take a day trip from Vancouver to the island, you’d really be missing out on a lot of unique beauty here! So, rent a car and spend a few days enjoying Vancouver Island by following our 10-day itinerary.

This itinerary is designed to show you all of Vancouver Island’s awesome highlights, and the great thing is that there aren’t any long stretches of driving involved. Plus, we’ve included fun stops on the way as you travel between destinations to ensure you see as much of the island as possible and break up the trip.

The road trip starts in Victoria, which is the capital of British Columbia. You can take the ferry from mainland Vancouver to Victoria with your vehicle. Then, the trip ends in Nanaimo, where you can catch a ferry back to the mainland again, and in between you’ll visit fantastic places such as the underrated surfing town of Tofino, artistic Salt Spring Island, and the beachside city of Parksville.

Getting to Vancouver Island from Vancouver

Bailey enjoys a coffee on the outside deck of a BC Ferry to Vancouver Island
It’s like a scenic cruise!

The best way to get to Vancouver Island from Vancouver is to take the ferry to Swartz Bay. Head to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, which is 36 kilometers (22 miles) from the city center. It should take you between 30 – 45 minutes, depending on traffic, and the ferry crossing takes 1 hour and 35 minutes. Then, from Swartz Bay, it’s a 30-minute drive to Victoria, so the entire journey will take around 2.5 hours in total. 

The ferries run between 7 am and 9 pm every day, with departures every 2 hours during the winter, and every hour during the summer months. The ferry costs about $20 CAD per person, and then it’s $60 CAD to take your car on board, although this does vary according to the time of day and year that you go. You can use BC Ferries’ fare calculator to work out exactly how much it will cost.

Victoria (Day 1 and 2)

The-parliamentary-building-in-Victoria-BC-1
The history and architecture are rich in Victoria!
Five steam ships from the Steamship Water Ballet in Victoria BC
Steamship show!

Victoria is a beautiful city located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. This is where you’ll catch the ferry from Vancouver, so it’s the perfect place to kick off your Vancouver Island road trip.

Victoria is one of the best places to visit in BC, and it’s got lots of history, beautiful architecture, and amazing restaurants. If you like seafood, you’re in luck here!

Victoria also has a very temperate climate, which means that you can enjoy the city’s hikes, parks, and gardens all year round. And if you need a better idea of what to do, there are tons of amazing tours on offer, too.

5 Things to do in Victoria

1. Go whale watching

Boats look on as a pod of orca swim in the coastal waters of British Columbia near Victoria and Vancouver
So cool!

Vancouver Island is the perfect place to go whale watching because its waters are home to four species of whales: orcas, humpback whales, gray whales, and minke whales. Some are here seasonally on their annual migrations, while others are here year-round, so your chances of seeing them are always high. 

One of our favorite tours in Victoria is this catamaran whale-watching tour. It’s a three-hour cruise on a large catamaran, and there are indoor and outdoor seating areas, as well as marine specialists on board to make sure you spot as many whales as possible. If you’ve never been whale-watching before, Victoria is a great place for your first experience. Not only is the marine life fascinating, but the landscape surrounding you is stunning!

This costs $211 CAD, including high-resolution photos of your adventure, and departs at 12:30 pm. If you get to Victoria early on day 1 of the road trip, you could head straight to the harbor to check in for your tour or save it for the afternoon of your second day. Regardless of when you go, you’ll be sure to have a great time – at least we did! You can check the details and book this tour in advance here.

2. Craigdarroch Castle

Craigdarroch Castle is a beautiful Scottish Baronial mansion that was built in the late 1800s to show the city that its owner, Robert Dunsmuir, was the richest guy in Victoria. In a darkly ironic twist of fate, he died before it was completed, but you can still visit this hilltop castle and enjoy the architecture and fantastic views of the city.

If you are particularly interested in seeing the interior’s intricate architecture, you can purchase an hour-long self-guided tour. Entry tickets are $20 CAD and can be purchased from the visitor center. You can visit Craigdarroch Castle between 10 am and 4 pm from Wednesday to Sunday.

But, if simply admiring the exterior is enough for you, that’s completely free! Since this is one of the best things to do in Victoria, many tours include this as a stop, such as this 2-hour bike tour. Led by a Victoria local, you’ll cruise around the city seeing iconic sites like the Legislative Building (more on that below), Beacon Hill Park, and Craigdarroch Castle, of course! Bike tours are one of my favorite ways to explore a new city, it’s super fun and a great way to see the highlights.

3. Check out the Legislative Building

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

The Legislative Building is one of the most famous and beautiful buildings in Victoria and was built in the late 1800s. Located just a 3-minute drive from downtown Victoria, visiting here is an essential addition to your itinerary! Not only is the architecture gorgeous, but it’s also a fascinating activity for those interested in Canada’s political history.

You can take a self-guided tour using a visitor guide from the information center or join a 45-minute free group tour. Tours are offered weekdays from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm and you can check the exact tours offered on their website.

While here, you can explore the Public Gallery to see the legislative assembly happening in real time. Or you can grab lunch in the Parliamentary Dining Room – just think of all the deals that have been struck there! But, if you’d rather keep your visit quick, you can gawk at the beautiful exterior on the same guided city bike tour mentioned above.

4. Watch the sunset from Mount Douglas

Mount Douglas is the number one spot in Victoria for enjoying the sunset. It offers stunning 360-degree views of the city, coastline, and mountains. The best part is that you don’t even have to hike up! You can just park near the top and walk two minutes to the summit. Keep in mind that the road up is very steep and parking is limited, so I’d only recommend this option if you plan on arriving early.

However, if you do want to hike, you can tackle the moderate 4.5-kilometer (2.8-mile) Irvine Trail. It should take you about 90 minutes and has some steep parts, but at the top, you’ll be immediately blown away by the views! I like to bring a beverage to celebrate my efforts and enjoy the sunset. Going back down won’t take nearly as long, but be sure to have a light of some sort as it will start to get dark. Whichever way you choose, make sure to leave yourself plenty of time because this spot gets busy.

5. Visit the Butchart Gardens

Bailey at the Butchart Gardens in Victoria BC
So peaceful!
Stairs leading up to a viewpoint at The Butchart Gardens in Victoria BC
Honestly, it’s memorizing!

The Butchart Gardens are some of the most beautiful botanical gardens we’ve ever seen. It’s hard to believe but about 120 years ago, these gardens were once a quarry! Instead of rocks, you’ll now find over 900 plants spread across multiple themed gardens. It’s a wonderful place to explore, and you can enjoy it all year round.

There are plenty of sightseeing tours that will take you to Butchart Gardens, but my favorite is this private Victorica City and Butchart Gardens tour. You’ll spend a few hours exploring Victoria’s best city sights, then have 2 hours at the stunning Butchart Gardens. I love that you have a local guide so you can learn about this important piece of Victoria’s culture, and all about the flora and fauna of the botanical gardens. This tour is private (my favorite type of tour!) and is $580 CAD for the whole group of 6 people.

Alternatively, if you want to visit for yourself, admission tickets range from $22 CAD to $41 CAD per adult depending on the season. There is free parking onsite, and you can stay for as long as you want!

Where to Stay in Victoria

Right in the heart of Victoria’s harbor, The Embassy Inn has the best location and doesn’t break the bank. You can walk to many of the city’s top sights and enjoy the included breakfast before your day full of adventures in the city. Each room has a balcony, so you can take in that fresh Vancouver Island air! The hotel is near the docks, which makes it convenient when you get off the ferry. Rooms start around $200 CAD and can be booked on Booking.com or check out other options for hotels in Victoria here.

Related Read: Summer is my favorite time of year in BC! Check out the best things to do in Vancouver in the summer so you can experience it too.

Salt Spring Island (Day 3 and 4)

Bailey at the beach in Ganges on Salt Spring Island
Salt Spring is so beautiful!

Salt Spring Island is a small island that’s a hub for Canada’s artists, many of whom live here full-time. When you see the stunning scenery that this island has to offer, you’ll understand why creatives are so drawn to this place. It’s only a 45-minute drive from one end of the island to the other, but there’s so much to do here, with lakes, mountains, wineries, and farmers’ markets to explore.

How to get to Salt Spring Island

the ferry terminal at Crofton on Vancouver Island to get to Salt Spring Island
Crofton Ferry Terminal

Salt Spring Island is part of the Southern Gulf Islands and is located between Vancouver Island and mainland BC. You’ll need to take the ferry here from Victoria, and you’ve two options for this.

The first is to take the ferry from Swartz Bay to Fulford Harbour, which takes about 35 minutes to cross. It leaves every two hours Monday through Saturday between 7 am – 9 pm, and from 9 am on Sundays, and costs $11.60 CAD per person and $34.10 CAD for a regular-sized vehicle. Then, when you leave, you can get the ferry from Vesuvius Bay to Crofton, which is much easier for getting to our next stop, which is Parksville.

Alternatively, you can drive from Victoria to Crofton, which takes an hour, and then get the Crofton to Salt Spring Island ferry. The crossing only takes 25 minutes and arrives at Vesuvius Bay on the west coast, which is the same place you’ll depart from again.

It’s a longer drive, but the advantage of doing it this way is that you can make a road trip out of it and visit beautiful Goldstream Falls on the way. It’s 16 kilometers (10 miles) from Victoria, and you can swim in the waterfalls on a hot day, or spot salmon swimming in the river between October and December.

Then, another 20 minutes along the Trans-Canada highway, you’ll reach the Malahat Skywalk. Set in the Cowichan Valley, this Skywalk only opened in 2021, so even if you’ve been to Victoria before, you may not have had a chance to visit! For $37 CAD, you can climb to the top, take in the views, and then take the 20-meter (65-foot) slide back down again, which is so much fun. 

This drive is definitely not boring, and aren’t fun stops along the way what road trips are all about?

5 Things to do on Salt Spring Island

1. Check out the Saturday Market 

Bailey walks the stalls at the Saturday Market in Ganges on Salt Spring Island
So many local vendors!
A stall at the Saturday Market in Ganges on Salt Spring Island, BC
There’s some cool stuff to see!

From April to the end of October, the Saturday Market is open from 9 am to 4 pm (on Saturdays only, obviously). It’s near Centennial Park, in the small village of Ganges, and taking a wander through will make it clear why Salt Spring Island is known as Canada’s “Island of the Arts.” Every week, there are over 120 vendors here, who sell everything from organic produce and cheeses to jewelry, clothing, and photography from local artists. 

You can easily spend a few hours here, wandering through the stalls and looking at the local art. I was especially impressed by the hand-thrown pottery and woodworking! Skip out on breakfast before you come here, because there are plenty of food vendors and coffee stands, so you can get your fill on some artisanal treats.

2. Explore the art galleries 

You can’t miss the chance to check out the art galleries in one of Canada’s most prominent artistic hubs. Salt Spring Gallery of Fine Art has a variety of works, from stained glass to textiles.

Our personal favorite was Steffich Fine Art. It showcases many different mediums of work from some of the most diverse groups of artists in Canada. Because it is such an eclectic mix of artwork, there was something for everyone. My personal favorite was the Rock and Roll Art Collection, see if you can find it when you visit!

3. Hang out at St. Mary Lake 

Bailey swims in St Mary Lake on Salt Spring Island
Seriously, does it get more beautiful than this!?

Even though Salt Spring Island is so small, there is no shortage of amazing outdoor places to explore. In fact, there are 8 lakes on this island! St. Mary Lake is at the top of that list as it is a gorgeous and serene lake that you simply can’t miss. 

St. Mary Lake is the perfect place to spend a relaxing afternoon in the summer. You can canoe, paddleboard, fish, swim in the freshwater lake, or just chill out on the sandy beach. There’s even a nice pontoon that you can swim up to and admire the beautiful landscape.

You’ll find the public beach gets pretty busy during the summer, so be sure to come early! It’s a pretty untouched area, so you’ll only find a pit toilet and if you want to kayak or paddleboard, you’ll have to bring your own. 

4. Hike Mount Maxwell

On a sunny day, make sure you head up to the top of Mount Maxwell, which is one of the highest points on Salt Spring Island and offers spectacular views. If you’ve got a high clearance 4×4, you can drive up to the summit, but you’ll want to make sure your vehicle can handle the road erosion.

Alternatively, you can hike up to Mount Maxwell, as there are roughly 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) of maintained trails in the area. There are some gorgeous Douglas fir trees and on the way you can spot falcons, vultures, and deer along the way. Baynes Peak is the top of the mountain and you’ll get sprawling views of Vancouver Island and can even spot mainland British Columbia in the distance!

5. Go wine tasting

Bailey at the at the tasting room at Salt Spring Vineyards on Salt Spring Island
Salt Spring Vineyards!
Tasting wine at Salt Spring Vineyards on Salt Spring Island
Yum!

This part of the world is known for its wine production. The temperate and rainy climate is perfect for growing grapes, so you know we are heading to the winery while here!

We really loved Salt Spring Vineyards, not only are their wines some of the best on the island, but their tasting room is in the middle of the vineyard, so the ambiance is totally unique. Another one of our favorites is Garry Oaks Estate Winery, which is a super scenic vineyard under the peak of Mount Maxwell. They are open daily from 11 am to 5 pm from May to September, and with more limited hours in other months. 

Both of these wineries have relatively cheap tasting fees and often waive the fee if you purchase a certain amount of bottles. Looks like you found the perfect souvenir from your Vancouver Island trip – who doesn’t love to share a bottle of wine and tell of all your adventures?

Where to Stay on Salt Spring Island

The Harbour House Hotel is in Ganges and has everything you need. This historic hotel has been in business for over 100 years and recently had major renovations, so it’s the perfect balance of old charm and new amenities. You can see the water from most of the rooms, and if you’re an early riser, you’ll catch amazing sunrise views. I love the outdoor patio that has a cozy fire and comfy chairs. Rooms start around $400 CAD during the busy summer season. You can check the details and book your stay on Booking.com.

Parksville (Day 5)

We love coming to Parksville to spend time on the beach and enjoy all of the delicious local food around. Although it’s a small city, Parksville has a lot to offer, including a quaint downtown area, farmers’ markets, and even caves! 

To get here from Salt Spring Island, head to the Vesuvius Terminal and catch the ferry over to Crofton. The ferry ride takes 25 minutes, and then it’s an hour’s drive to Parksville. 

Related Read: After your time on Vancouver Island, head to Banff National Park! The drive from Vancouver to Banff is full of amazing stops and sights.

5 Things to do in Parksville 

1. Enjoy a grotto spa and a 17-course dinner at Tigh-Na-Mara 

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!

By day five, you’re probably getting a little sore from all your adventuring! So why not treat yourself to a super luxurious spa experience at Grotto Spa at Tigh-Na-Mara? We try and fit this into our itinerary whenever we come to Vancouver Island, and it’s not as expensive as it might seem! 

The Dip and Dine experience is by far the best way to experience the Grotto. It starts with 2 hours of relaxation in the spa with a mineral pool, cedar barrel saunas, and beverage service. I can’t forget to mention the decor, it truly looks like you’re in an underwater grotto – it’s quite beautiful! But the best part is the 17-course tapas dinner menu, while still wearing our robes.

Let me tell you, this experience is just as relaxing as it sounds. It is $145 CAD for this experience, and worth every penny in my book! You must request a reservation in advance and they are very popular, so you’ll want to do this 4-6 weeks before you visit.

2. Relax at the beach 

Parksville is located right on the beach, so it would be a disservice to your trip to skip this activity! The public beach is located right in front of the Community Park, so it’s walkable from most of Parksville (it’s not a huge town). The park has a volleyball court, a playground, a waterpark, and food trucks, so paired with the beach, it’s the place to be on a warm summer day.

You’ll find tourists and locals alike enjoying the beach during the summer, it gets quite lively! You can swim (although the water never gets warm!), pack a picnic lunch, and spend an afternoon soaking up the sun.

3. Visit Rathtrevor Provincial Park 

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

One of my favorite things about British Columbia is that there is a ton of outdoors to discover. Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park is one of the best places on Vancouver Island and is made up of dense forest, an extensive beach, hiking and biking trails, and tons of wildlife. 

If you’re only going to stay one day here, you can enjoy the 5 kilometers (3 miles) of beach, which is always less busy than the beaches in town! During low tide, the water goes back an entire kilometer, and you’ll find tons of tide pools full of marine life. I’d say kids especially love it, but let’s be honest, this is fun to explore for anyone!

You can also strap on your hiking boots and check out the hiking and biking trails. There are a few that lead you through the Douglas fir-filled forest. The trail from Rathrevor Provincial Park to Top Bridge Municipal Park leads to a great swimming spot at the Englishman River. 

And if you just can’t get enough of the great outdoors, check out the camping options! We have camped here in the past and it is a fantastic spot. There is a large campground, but you should still try and make reservations in advance as it is incredibly popular. Camping is $35 CAD per night and you’ll find bathrooms, showers, drinkable water, fire pits, and beach access.

4. Get underground at Horne Caves 

Half an hour outside of Parksville, you can explore the Horne Lake Caves. This is an extensive cave system that has any adventurer itching to explore. 

If you’ve never been caving before, no worries, this 2-hour cave tour is the perfect fit for you. You won’t have to do any crawling or vertical climbing, but will still get to explore the crevices, rocks, and fascinating geological features. This cave is filled with fossils, so you’ll get to learn a ton and have a unique experience. It is limited to 7 people per group and can be booked in advance for $54 CAD per person. 

But if you’re up for more of an adventure, this multi-cave experience will have you climbing through tight passages, up steep ramps, and even exploring an underground waterfall. This is known as “wild caving” and it is 3 hours of true adventure – you’ll get to slide down Canada’s only natural cave slide! This experience is $90 CAD per person and can be booked in advance here.

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.

5. Drive up Little Mountain Lookout for sunset 

Bailey sits and enjoys the view from Little Mountain Lookout for Sunset in Parksville
I mean, check out that view!
Bailey on Little Mountain Lookout for Sunset in Parksville
This was a hidden gem we’re glad we found!

Little Mountain Lookout boasts the best view of Parksville, and you can drive up the scenic road to the summit to enjoy an epic sunset. If you’re a sucker for a good sunset like we are, you’ll love visiting Little Mountain! 

You can either hike up Little Mountain or drive up it. Most of the time, I’d say go for the hiking option, but for this specific sunset spot, I love the drive! It’s incredibly scenic as the road winds up the mountain. 

The hiking trail is about 4.2 kilometers (2.6 miles) out and back and will take about an hour to complete. But, if you hang out at the top for sunset, it will obviously take longer! The hike is moderately challenging and is doable for most people. Regardless of if you hike or drive, you’ll not want to miss out on these sunset views from Little Mountain Lookout.

Where to Stay in Parksville

If you’re looking for beachfront views, The Beach Club Resort will deliver! The hotel is conveniently located on the beach, but the big selling point is the rooms with balconies and ocean views. You will also find an indoor swimming pool and a hot tub for those less-than-ideal weather days, and a beachside restaurant for a sunset dinner view! The best part is the prices are quite affordable for this level of luxury, starting at $250 CAD during the peak summer months. You can check prices and book on Booking.com.

Port Alberni/Stamp River Provincial Park (Day 6)

Daniel stands underneath the largest tree at Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island
This is one big tree!
Bailey with the famous Hole In The Wall near Port Alberni

It’s only a 40-minute drive from Parksville to Port Alberni, but there are still some really fun stops on the 50-kilometer (31-mile) journey.

The first is Cathedral Grove, which is in MacMillan Provincial Park, just 28 kilometers (17 miles) from Parksville. It’s an old-growth forest filled with towering trees, and it takes you back to the land before time! There are plenty of trails and even stroller-friendly boardwalks, so this place is accessible to everyone. It’s free to visit, and only 25 minutes outside of Parksville.

After Cathedral Grove, head to Hole in the Wall, which is only 12 minutes from the forest on your way to Port Alberni. As the name would suggest, it’s a huge hole in a rock wall and the hike is only about 20 minutes, although you’ll need good hiking shoes if there’s been rain recently. You’ll need to start at the Hole in the Wall trailhead, so either search for a safe space to park along the highway or use the lot for the Coombs Country Candy store and then grab a sweet treat afterward. 

A salmon jumps up a waterfall in almon run at Stamp River Provincial Park
Stamp River Provincial Park
A bear hunts salmon in almon run at Stamp River Provincial Park 
A bear fishes for salmon at Stamp River!

Once you arrive in Port Alberni, we highly suggest staying in Stamp River Provincial Park campground, which is 20 minutes outside of town. If you’re there from August and December, you can catch the salmon run, when thousands of salmon swim upstream and jump out of the water. 

You’ll also have the chance to spot bears here – we were lucky enough to spot some fishing for salmon along the river! Just remember to bring bear spray and be on the lookout. 

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

1. Wander Harbor Quay 

The waterfront in Port Alberni, BC
Where the coast meets the mountains!

Harbor Quay is a super cute waterfront area in Port Alberni, full of restaurants, shops, and lots of locally-sourced seafood! Like any good fishing town, the harbor is the central hub of activity. You can spend a few hours wandering through this area, but I highly suggest bringing your appetite, because the choices of restaurants are endless. 

Turtle Island Fish and Chips are known for their fish and chips (no surprise there) and also for the ginormous portions! We typically head to The Starboard Grill which has a huge menu including burgers, poutine, and salmon and prawns. I always ask what the specials are because they always have something unique and delicious on – like the salmon chowder! The restaurant sits on the water so you can gaze out as you feast on your delicious meal. 

Afterward, stop for dessert! The Donut Shop is the best-known stop for a sweet tooth, here you can make like a Canadian and grab some fresh maple sprinkle donuts. 

And if you happen to be in the area on Saturdays, stop by the Spirit Square Farmers’ Market to see more of the local vibe and tons of handmade items. 

2. Hike up to The Lookout 

If you’re only going to do one hike in the Alberni Valley, don’t miss the Alberni Valley Lookout Trail. It’s a 5.3-kilometer (3.3-mile) loop that will take you to “The Lookout” with a sweeping view of the city, the inlet, and the surrounding mountains. We got lucky and even spotted an eagle flying over the forest beneath us. 

If you’ve got a 4×4, you can drive to the trailhead, but since it can be rough and muddy, you can also park near the Coombs Candy store and walk to the trailhead. This is also where you can start the Hole in the Wall hike, as we mentioned above, so if you’ve got lots of energy you can even do both! Plus, you’ve got all of the yummy candy to help fuel you! 

3. Go fishing 

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

If you enjoy fishing, “The Salmon Capital of the World” is the perfect place to cast a line. Fishing here was one of the best experiences we had in Port Alberni. Even though it required an early wake-up, it was worth it!

West Coast River Charters offers year-round fishing tours with all the equipment required to reel in some great catches. Their experiences take between 4-8 hours and the price depends on how many people will be fishing and the type of fish you want to catch. Freshwater fishing experiences start at $500 CAD and saltwater experiences start at $600 CAD, both options include multiple people for the fishing trip. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner or a pro, because they’ll be able to cater to you! 

You can also get a fishing license and go fishing in Stamp Falls on your own, although do note that fishing along a certain section of the river is not allowed between June 15 and November 15 to protect the salmon. There will be boundary markers on the trees so that you know where to go.

4. Go ziplining

We are all about high-flying adventures, so going ziplining was an easy addition to our 10-day Vancouver Island itinerary! Our zipline tour was through West Coast WILD Adventures, and they truly live up to the name. 

We soared over the canyons to six different platforms. Not only was it an incredibly beautiful area, but we also got to learn all about the valley’s history. They keep safety as a priority by checking our harnesses at each platform, and the guides were truly so much fun to hang out with!

To get here, you’ll head about 45 minutes west from Port Alberni along the Pacific Rim Highway. You can go between March and October, and 90-minute zipline adventures cost $130 CAD per person.

5. Drink craft beer 

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

The best way to relax after a day of adventure activities is with a pint of craft beer. Luckily, Port Alberni has a handful of amazing breweries, so the hops are not in short supply. 

Dog Mountain Brewing is a cozy spot, located right on the main street. They had a huge selection of beers and some unique brews, such as the Apricot Wit Beer which paired perfectly with the pulled pork! Alberni Brewing Company is another notable brewery in town that crafts award-winning beers. Although, I must say, their blueberry mojito was my favorite thing here!

However, the brewery that deserves a special mention is Twin City Brewing, it was by far our favorite! The staff is super knowledgeable and can suggest the perfect beer based on your typical preferences. They suggested Twin City’s Munich Helles Lager, and to this day it is still one of the best craft beers I’ve had!

Related Read: If you’re a craft beer enthusiast, then you’ll love Vancouver’s breweries. Check out our favorite Vancouver brewery tours to find the best pint out there!

Where to Stay in Port Alberni

Located just out of town, the Hummingbird Guesthouse is a cozy and serene stay while in Port Alberni. It has a very homey feel with rooms that have a kitchen or kitchenette. The guesthouse is on 2 acres near the Somass River, so the patio and landscaped garden make you feel right out in nature. They offer breakfast daily and rooms are very affordable starting at $150 CAD. You can check the rooms and book this stay on Booking.com.

Tofino (Day 7 and 8)

Scenic view of the waterfront in Tofino
The view from the wharf is hard to beat!

The next stop on this epic road trip is Tofino, which is one of our favorite destinations of all! It’s a surfer’s paradise, so if you enjoy catching waves, or have ever wanted to learn how to do it, this is the place.

Tofino is 126 kilometers (78 miles) from Port Alberni, so it takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes to drive here, and about 10 minutes longer from Stamp River Provincial Park if you’ve decided to camp there.

With beautiful beaches, charm in spades, and the best waves in Canada, there’s a lot to love about Tofino, but we also recommend taking a day trip to Ucluelet to get a better sense of what small-town life is like on Vancouver Island. Ucluelet is 35 kilometers (22 miles) from Tofino, so it only takes 35 minutes to get here. We love coming here to soak in the views along the waterfront, chow down on tasty local food, and enjoy our favorite craft beers at the friendly Ucluelet Brewing Company. 

Things to do in Tofino and Ucluelet 

1. Go surfing

Daniel surfing at Long Beach in Tofino, Vancouver Island
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!

You might be surprised to find out that surfing is one of the best things to do in Tofino, but you shouldn’t be! While it isn’t quite as warm as surfing in San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua or in my hometown of Perth, Australia, as long as you throw on a wetsuit you’ll never know the difference. Tofino is a fantastic place for beginners, but long-time pros love the surf here too!

Since you have two days here, you can try a few of the beaches in Tofino! The most popular surf spot is Cox Bay Beach, with its gorgeous bay and perfect surfing conditions. There are a handful of surf schools, but it’s also popular amongst advanced surfers. 

We spent most of our time at Cox Beach and rented surfboards from Surf Grove Campground, which is conveniently on the beach. A full-day board rental with a wetsuit is $65 CAD, and they also offer surf lessons here. 

You can also check out Chesterman Beaches – yes, there are two! North Chesterman is ol’ reliable, there are always decent waves to catch. South Chesterman isn’t as consistent, but you can check the weather conditions and hopefully find some great surfing! Both beaches are relatively calm and good for beginners. 

Long Beach is another scenic beach that stretches about 16 kilometers (10 miles). This beach is best for advanced surfers, as the rip can be dangerous near Lovekin Rock. 

Other great rental companies are Pacific Surf Co, Tofino Paddle Surf, and Swell Tofino, and these shops also offer lessons. If you’ve never surfed before, I highly recommend taking a lesson. Plus, once you get the hang of it, you can surf all over the world, making your travels even more exciting. Surf lessons are around $100 CAD for a 2-hour group lesson or about $200 CAD for a private lesson. 

2. Walk the Lighthouse Loop in Ucluelet

Ucluelet is a quaint and cute town, so taking a day trip here is a must! The best things to do in Ucluelet are explore the waterfront and eat some fresh seafood, check out the historic lighthouse, and hike the Lighthouse Loop.

The Amphitrite Lighthouse is a beautiful lighthouse that’s popular with photographers, especially at sunrise and sunset. The lighthouse was built in 1901 after a shipwreck, and while it isn’t as big as other lighthouses out there, it served a very important purpose! The best way to view it is to walk the 2.6-kilometer (1.6-mile) Lighthouse Loop.

This trail takes about 45 minutes to hike, and you get beautiful coastal and rainforest views along the way. Make sure to stick to the trail and don’t climb on the rocks because they can be slippery and more dangerous than they look. 

3. Hike to Cox Bay Lookout

Daniel and Bailey kiss at Cox Bay Lookout in Tofino
Cox Bay Lookout!
Bailey stands at the top of Cox Bay Lookout at sunset in Tofino

There are some nice hikes around Tofino, but our favorite is the short-and-sweet Cox Bay Lookout. However, it means walking on a steep incline for about 20 minutes, so don’t underestimate the effort involved! 

Once you get to the lookout point, you get amazing views of Cox Bay Beach and the mountains in the distance. It’s really beautiful – in fact, so much so that our best friends got engaged here!

The hike starts on the left end of Cox Bay Beach (if you’re facing the water), and there are several paths you can take up, but they’re all steep and lead up to the lookout point. The trails can be muddy, so wear good hiking shoes and do this one on a dry day. 

4. Watch the sunset at Long Beach

After taking a day trip to Ucluelet, we highly recommend stopping at Long Beach for sunset on the way back. Long Beach is about halfway between Ucluelet and Tofino, so it’s a convenient and beautiful stop!

Long Beach is one of the best places to catch the sunset, as the coastline stretches for miles as you watch the sky change colors over the sparkling water. And since it’s such a huge beach, you’ll never need to worry about finding a spot here! Bring a cooler with some drinks and enjoy the sunset before heading back to Tofino.

It’s a beautiful spot and watching the sun sparkling on the water as the sky changes color is breathtaking. And since it’s such a huge beach, you’ll never need to worry about finding a spot here! 

5. Check out Ucluelet’s local cafes and bakeries 

Food and coffee at Zoe's Bakery in Ucluelet, BC
Yum!
A coffee from Zoe's Bakery by the water in Ucluelet, BC
Grab a coffee and go for a walk!

Ucluelet has that small-town charm, which means you can easily find locally-owned cafes and bakeries that are to die for!

The Barkley Cafe is our favorite and the perfect treat on your road trip. They are known for their muffins and breakfast sandwiches that have that homemade taste to them. If you’re an early riser or looking to hit the road, this cafe is one of the first to open at 7 am so you can grab breakfast and coffee to fuel a day of exploring!

Where to Stay in Tofino

Located just off the Pacific Rim Highway with views of the Pacific Ocean, the Best Western Plus Tin Wis Resort is our top pick out of all the places to stay in Tofino. Every room has a view of the water as you gaze over Mackenzie Beach. They even offer surfing lessons or board rentals at the hotel! This hotel offers breakfast daily, so you can have a nice hearty meal before you hit the waves.

Prices start from $270 CAD to $490 CAD depending on the time of year, and this is a very popular hotel so be sure to book your stay early. You can check the details and book your room on Booking.com

Courtenay and Campbell River (Day 9 and 10)

Scenic views of the wharf in Campbell River, BC
Campbell River is stunning!

Courtenay and Campbell River are two small, outdoorsy towns on the east coast of Vancouver Island. They’re close together and the road trip between them is really beautiful, so what we recommend is staying in Courtenay and taking a day trip to Campbell River

It’s 225 kilometers (140 miles) from Tofino to Courtenay, which is roughly a 3-hour drive, so you’ll probably want to make a stop along the way. Sproat Lake Provincial Park is 1.5 hours from Tofino, so it’s the perfect midway point, and it’s really beautiful. You can head to the beach and swim in the lake, or follow the trail on the east side of the lake to see some ancient petroglyphs carved in the rocks.

It’s another 1 hour and 20 minutes from Sproat Lake to Courtenay, and then when you arrive you can hike along the Puntledge River to see Barber’s Hole, or rent a tube and float down! 

Then, the next day, you should make the 53-kilometer (33-mile) drive to Campbell River. You could get there in 40 minutes, but instead, you should turn it into a road trip and check out some of the fun stops below.

5 Best Things to do in Courtenay and Campbell River

1. Oyster River Potholes

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie at Oyster River Potholes in Campbell River, BC
This place is so cool!
Bailey relaxes in the Oyster River Potholes  in Campbell River, BC
If you can brave the cold!

The Oyster River potholes are a super unique and beautiful natural pool area. The crystal-clear water is all glacial runoff, so it’s very cold! But, we stopped here after hiking Elk Falls and it was the perfect way to cool off on a hot day. It was peaceful and serene, and the natural landscape was simply breathtaking (or was it just the cold water!?). 

You can find the natural potholes on the drive from Courtenay to Campbell River, about 25 minutes outside of Courtenay. They are just 17 kilometers (10.6 miles) after Miracle Beach, which is another stop on this route so you can easily hit both in one day.

2. Shelter Point Distillery

The Shelter Point Distillery is only an 11-minute drive from the Oyster River Potholes and is a must-stop for those interested in distilling. This artisanal distillery produces some of the finest whisky, vodka, and gin in Canada. The best part is that everything is locally sourced, and I mean local! The spirits are made with barley that they grow on their very own farm, spring water from the nearby mountains, and hand-foraged botanicals.

You can even book an hour-long distillery tour to learn more about how they make the magic happen! They will take you through the entire process from the initial mashing of ingredients to the final bottled product. Tours are $20 CAD for an hour and include 3 tastings at the end. So not only do you get to learn a lot, but you get to taste the fruit of their labor!

3. Miracle Beach Provincial Park 

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

Just outside of Courtenay on your way to Campbell River is Miracle Beach Provincial Park. This beach stretches for miles and boasts the Pacific Northwest’s incredible scenery. You can easily spend a full day exploring this area and still won’t want to leave!

I also love the trail system that takes you to the old-growth forest. The trail extends for 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) and has some of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen! There is also an amphitheater and the Nature House where you can join educational talks and activities, or even catch a movie night throughout the summer months!

If you’re looking for some camping while on your Vancouver Island road trip, you can stay the night at the Miracle Beach Provincial Park. It is $33 CAD a night and you can reserve it in advance on the BC Parks page, or snag a first-come first-serve spot. 

4. Eat and Drink in Campbell River

Campbell River isn’t a huge town, but it is filled to the brim with good food and drink options! Since we love craft beer, we simply had to check out a few of their breweries – we are in the PNW after all. Beach Fire Brewing Company was a standout, I went for their High Tide pale ale, but they also had lagers, IPAs, and other house ales on tap. 

The food here is also worth a mention, we loved the parmesan bites that were perfectly paired with béchamel sauce and various chutneys. But, their menu is rather extensive and they have a lot of options that go perfectly with craft beer, so you really can’t choose wrong. 

Dave’s Bakery is another one of our go-to eateries in Campbell River. Not only do they make great pastries (a good road trip snack) but they also make a killer Reuben sandwich and mini pizzas!

5. Elk River Falls Provincial Park 

Elk Falls in Elk Falls Provincial Park and Protected Area near Campbell River, BC
Elk Falls near Campbell River
Views of the cliffs and waterfall at Elk Falls Provincial Park and Protected Area, Vancouver Island
The entire area is stunning!

Another day, another scenic provincial park! Elk Falls Park is one of the most popular parks on Vancouver Island because of its natural beauty and extensive network of hiking trails. Of course, the true highlight is Elk Falls which is a powerful waterfall 25 meters (82 feet) high.

It is located just 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) outside of Campbell River, making it a convenient way to get outside. The Elk Falls Loop Trail is a popular hiking trail that will take about 1 to 1.5 hours to complete and is rated as easy. You’ll venture down a 60-meter (197-foot) suspension bridge and have a perfect view of the falls surrounded by old-growth Douglas fir trees – it’s wildly beautiful! 

There are also camping options just 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) from the Elk Falls day-use area. So if you have extra time in your itinerary, this is the perfect place to stay for a night! It will give you time to enjoy the scenery, take a hike, and fish along the river that runs through the campground.

Where to Stay in Courtenay

Don’t let the name fool you, the Old House Hotel & Spa is anything but old! This place has it all, an amazing location, suite-style rooms with kitchenettes, a spa, a pool, and a gourmet on-site restaurant. Some rooms even have a full kitchen, fireplace, and a balcony overlooking the Courteney River Estuary. It is a very comfortable stay and conveniently located just minutes from downtown Courtenay. Rooms start around $290 CAD during the peak summer months. You can check prices and book your room on Booking.com

Nanaimo (Last Day and Ferry Back to Vancouver) 

View of Nanaimo Harbor in Nanaimo, BC
Nanaimo is a beautiful coastal city on Vancouver Island!

It’s a 1 hour and 10-minute drive from Courtenay back to Nanaimo, so leave Courtenay in the morning and spend the day here. 

Then, later on, the easiest way to get back to Vancouver is to catch the ferry from Nanaimo’s Departure Bay back to Horseshoe Bay in Vancouver. 

If you really want to make the most of the day here, then you can catch the last one, which is 8:45 pm during the winter and 10:45 pm during the summer. The crossing takes 1 hour and 40 minutes, so this will get you back quite late. 

In case you don’t have long, we’ve included some short and sweet Nanaimo activities, as well as a few longer ones if you want to spend as much time here as possible and catch a late ferry.

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

Patio drinks are always fun, but the Dinghy Dock Pub takes it to the next level because it’s a floating restaurant! You can even kayak your way to Protection Island, or take the ferry, which runs hourly until 10 pm from mid-March until early December. While getting to the island is half of the fun, the views of the city are also incredible! 

Dinghy Dock Pub often has live entertainment and events, so check out their Facebook page to see if anything’s happening when you’re in town. Even if there aren’t any events happening, you will still want to visit here for the food and the views. We had amazing fish tacos, but you also can’t go wrong with the classic fish and chips. 

The restaurant is closed from December to March due to weather, but the ferry runs year-round. The ferry departs hourly and fares are about $12 CAD. Find out details about catching the ferry before you go!

2. Take a photo with the Nanaimo sign

It may be cheesy, but I love taking photos with a city sign! The Nanaimo sign was built in 2021 and is right in front of the Swy-A-Lana Lagoon in Matteo Sutton Park. You can climb inside the “o” and get a perfect photo for your Instagram.

This is the perfect quick stop as you explore Nanaimo, as they say, “pics or it didn’t happen” right? I recommend making this one of the first things you do in the city to avoid anyone else in 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
Yum!

Even if you’re not spending long in Nanaimo, you’ve got to try a Nanaimo bar while you’re here! 

A Nanaimo bar is a triple-layered treat, with crunch wafer and coconut on the bottom, thick custard icing in the middle, and chocolate ganache on top. It became a popular treat during WWII when there was a sugar shortage. While its exact origins are unknown, Nanaimo claims to be where the dessert was created, and therefore is the namesake!

While in Nanaimo, you can’t just try one – do some taste testing! Nanaimo even has a “Nanaimo bar trail” where you can go from place to place. My suggestion is to get just one and split it, otherwise, you might get sugared-out!

A Wee Cupcakery and Nanaimo Bakery both serve great classic Nanaimo bars. You can also try specialty bars, like the peanut butter crunch Nanaimo bar at the Hearthstone Artisan Bakery.

4. Explore the Nanaimo Old City Quarter

Nanaimo is one of the oldest cities in British Columbia, and it has a charming Old City Quarter. Here, you’ll find 19th-century buildings, great restaurants, and boutique shops which give the area an artsy feel.

You can easily spend a few hours wandering around and finding hidden gems. There is something for everyone, whether you love history and old architecture, local shopping options, or are a foodie. During the summer months, you’ll see patios filled with patrons all around the quarter taking advantage of the great weather and happy hour deals!

However, my personal favorite thing to do in Nanaimo’s Old City Quarter is to grab a sandwich from Real Food while strolling along the streets. Find a bench under the shade of a maple tree and enjoy people-watching! This area is stunning during the autumn. 

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!

To learn a bit about Nanaimo and Vancouver Island to wrap up your time, take a trip to the Nanaimo Museum. It is conveniently located downtown and you’ll probably spend 30 minutes to one hour here. 

The museum has a large emphasis on Canada’s history during the fur trading and Gold Rush era. It was inhabited by Indigenous populations for thousands of years before European settlers arrived in the 16th century. The Snuneymuxw First Nations people were in this area and there is a ton to learn about their history. I found it to be a very interesting and insightful stop, and would recommend it to anyone passing through Nanaimo!

The museum has a suggested donation of $2 CAD, which goes directly back into maintaining the museum!

Related Read: Looking for more outdoor adventure? Check out our guide to the best hikes in Vancouver!

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 seflie in Tofino, Vancouver Island
Thanks for reading!

There is truly so much to explore on Vancouver Island, and a 10-day itinerary will give you plenty of time to see it all! Filled with incredible beaches, trees, lakes, and activities, you will be in for a treat as you discover British Columbia’s outdoor beauty. We love visiting Vancouver Island and make a trip whenever we can. Who knows, maybe we will run into you next time we’re there!

We hope you found this guide helpful as you plan your British Columbia travels. Be sure to check out more of our Canada blogs, we are travel experts in this area! Here are a few of my favorite Canada destinations to further your travel inspiration: 

How to Spend 3 Days in Vancouver: A Detailed Itinerary

The BEST Tours to Tofino from Vancouver

12 Absolute Best Lakes in Banff You NEED to Visit

13 Things to KNOW Before Visiting Yoho National Park