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5 BEST Vancouver Island Road Trips (3 to 14 days)

5 BEST Vancouver Island Road Trips (3 to 14 days)

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With its rugged coastline, beautiful mountains, and tall, old-growth forests, Vancouver Island is a stunning destination for a road trip in British Columbia. The island has an incredible amount of natural beauty, from the scenic beaches of Parksville to the ancient forests of Tofino, as well as the Butchart Gardens in Victoria.

We love road-tripping in British Columbia, and there are so many incredible places to visit on Vancouver Island. Plus, since it is an island, you can have so many fantastic experiences in a relatively short space of time. 

One of our favorite things about taking a road trip is the freedom to choose your route and make it work for you – and in this blog post, we’ve provided 5 different self-drive itineraries for an unforgettable experience on Vancouver Island. 

We’ve designed these itineraries so that you can catch the ferry to Victoria, where your trip will begin. Then, you’ll sail back to the mainland from Nanaimo. Whether you’re planning to be on the road for 3 days or 2 full weeks, we’ve got you covered! 

Table Of Contents
  1. 1. 3-Day Taste of Vancouver Island Itinerary
  2. 2. 5-Day Vancouver Island Sightseeing Itinerary
  3. 3. 7-Day Vancouver Island Adventure Itinerary
  4. 4. 10-Day Vancouver Island Explorer Itinerary
  5. 5. 14-Day Epic Vancouver Island Itinerary
  6. Thanks for reading!
  7. Why We Book Tours with Viator
  8. Renting a Car in British Columbia

1. 3-Day Taste of Vancouver Island Itinerary

Map of 3 day road trip on Vancouver Island

For those looking for a short but sweet taste of Vancouver Island or the perfect weekend trip, this 3-day itinerary is ideal! You’ll get to visit 3 cities on the island with limited driving and an easy loop back to Vancouver using the ferry service.

Victoria (Day 1)

The-parliamentary-building-in-Victoria-BC-1
The history and architecture are rich in Victoria!
Two boats at the Steamship Water Ballet in Victoria BC
Steamboats in Victoria!

The historic city of Victoria is the perfect place to kick off a fun road trip. This beautiful city is located right on the tip of Vancouver Island, and it offers the perfect blend of modernity and quaint historical charm. Plus, it’s easy to get from Vancouver to Victoria on the ferry.

To get here, you can take the ferry from the Tsawwassen Terminal, which is 35 minutes outside of Vancouver. You’ll head to Swartz Bay, just 30 minutes from the center of Victoria. The ferry itself takes 1 hour and 35 minutes, so in total it will take you just over 2.5 hours to get from A to B. Ferries run from either 6 am or 7 am to 9 pm, and they leave every 2 hours during winter, or every hour in the summertime.

Since you’ll have a car for your road trip, getting around Victoria is easy peasy. The downtown core is also very walkable, and you can even take this self-guided audio tour of the city to get your bearings here.

To maximize your time in Victoria, I recommend staying the night here. Helm’s Inn is a great budget choice, or the luxurious Fairmont Empress Inn is always a treat if you want something more luxurious. 

Things to do in Victoria

There is no shortage of fun things to do in Victoria! But if you only have one day here, we recommend the below activities.

  • Check out the Legislative Building – This is the most iconic building in the city, and you can either admire its facade, go inside for a self-guided look around, or book a free tour (which we found super fun and informative). On weekdays, you can also enjoy a delicious breakfast or lunch inside the beautiful Parliament Dining Room for as little as $15 CAD! Be sure to book this dining experience well in advance, though. 
  • The Butchart Gardens – The Butchart Gardens are a must-visit while you’re in Victoria. No trip here would be complete without visiting these beautiful gardens, which have tons of beautiful themed displays and over 900 different types of plants. To get the most out of your visit, you can also take a Butchart Gardens tour from Victoria.
  • Visit Craigdarroch Castle – Craigdarroch Castle is a Scottish mansion built in the 1800s to prove its owner was the richest man in the land. However, ironically, he died before it was completed. The castle offers beautiful city views, and you can visit between 10 am and 4 pm from Wednesday to Sunday, or by joining this fun bike tour, which takes you to many of Victoria’s most historic buildings.

Parksville (Day 2)

Bailey walks the waterfront in Parksville, Vancouver Island
So beautiful!

It’s a 2-hour drive from Victoria to our next stop Parksville – aka paradise for lovers of beaches, hikes, parks, and waterfalls. If you love the great outdoors as much as we do, you’ll easily fall under the spell of this small city. 

On the way here, you can stop for a quick swim in Goldstream Park during the summer, which is located about 16 kilometers (10 miles) outside of Victoria. You can also explore some of the shorter walking trails if you feel like stretching your legs. And if you visit between October and December, you might spot chum salmon swimming in the river. 

About 35 minutes outside of Victoria, you’ll also drive past the Malahat Skyway. This spiral ramp takes you to a viewing platform with fantastic views of the Malahat Forest and the Salish Sea. Best of all, you can get down to the ground via a big slide! I suggest spending about 90 minutes here, so allow 3.5 hours for your journey to Parksville if you want to check out this awesome attraction. 

Things to do in Parksville

Once you arrive, you won’t have trouble finding things to do in Parksville! Just check out a couple of our ideas below.

  • Watch the sunset at Little Mountain Lookout – Since you’ll have a car, you may as well make the most of it by driving up to Little Mountain Lookout for a gorgeous sunset. The views are fantastic! However, this is a popular spot, so we recommend packing a picnic and getting here early to make sure that you’ve got a prime viewing position. 
  • Go fishing – If you feel like heading out on the water and catching some salmon, Parksville Charter Fishing has a variety of excursions. Tours run from spring to fall, and you’ll also have the chance to spot lots of wildlife along the way. 

Nanaimo (Day 3)

Departure Bay Beach in Nanaimo, BC
Departure Bay Beach in Nanaimo, BC
Food and drinks at Dinghy Dock Pub on Protection Island in Nanaimo, BC
Dinghy Dock Pub on Protection Island

It’s around 30 minutes from Parksville to Nanaimo, so this is a nice, quick drive. You can arrive in the morning and enjoy this chilled-out, outdoor playground for a full day! 

Nanaimo is a gorgeous city, with a relaxed vibe and plenty of activities to enjoy! We love the slow pace of life here, and the ocean views certainly don’t hurt, either. There’s a real hippie vibe around here, and the Old City Quarter is especially quaint and charming. We love relaxing on one of the many patios around here with a craft beer during the summer! 

After spending a day in Nanaimo, you can catch the ferry back to Vancouver. The last departure is usually at 8:45 pm, so you can enjoy a full day enjoying Nanaimo before returning to the big city. To learn more and plan your stay, you can read our complete guide to visiting Nanaimo here (which includes more details on the activities below).

Things to do in Nanaimo

  • Try a Nanaimo bar – A Nanaimo bar is a delicious Canadian dessert that consists of a crunchy coconut and wafer base, a middle layer of custard icing, and then chocolate ganache on top. It’s SO good and since Nanaimo is the birthplace of this indulgent treat, you’ve got to try one while you’re here. You can find them all over town, but we especially like Nanaimo Bakery and A Wee Cupcakery
  • Go whale watching – Vancouver Island is one of the best places to go whale watching in Canada. and you can join this half-day open boat whale-watching tour, which gives you unobstructed views of the water. As well as humpback whales, you can also spot seals, porpoises, sea lions, and eagles, so it’s a real adventure out on the Salish Sea. 
  • Enjoy a meal at a floating pub – For a unique thing to do in Nanaimo during the summer, you can pay $12 CAD and take the ferry to Dingy Dock Pub (or even kayak out!). They’ve got delicious fish tacos and beers, which taste even better when coupled with the fantastic coastal views. Plus, this place is family-friendly and often hosts live music events. You can learn more about their hours and offerings on their website.

Related Read: If you love craft beer, you’ll enjoy our guide to the best craft brewery tours in Vancouver.

2. 5-Day Vancouver Island Sightseeing Itinerary

Map of 5 day road trip on vancouver Island

If you’ve got more time, then we recommend stretching out your Vancouver Island road trip to 5 days. This allows you to spend more time exploring Victoria, and you can make it to Tofino, which is an awesome surfer town with the best waves in Canada! Plus, there are loads of fun stops on the drive from Victoria to Tofino and we’ll cover our highlights below.

Victoria (Day 1 and 2)

Reflection shot of the Victoria waterfront with the Fairmont Empress hotel
Fairmont Empress Hotel

It’s definitely worth spending two days in Victoria if you can because there’s so much to see and do here. Ferries run from Tsawwassen Terminal, which is a 35-minute drive south of Vancouver, to Victoria every 2 hours from 6 am or 7 am to about 9 pm. The ride takes 1 hour and 35 minutes, so we recommend catching an earlier boat so that you can make the most of your time here.

Things to do in Victoria

We’ve already mentioned some of our activities in Victoria in our 3-day itinerary, such as exploring Craigdarroch Castle and visiting the Butchart Gardens. However, spending two days in Victoria gives you more time to take in the atmosphere of this gorgeous city. So below, we’ve added a few more ideas! 

  • Take a whale-watching tour – After spending the morning in the city, you can join this half-day whale-watching adventure. You’ll set sail at 12:30 pm and spend 3 hours spotting orcas and humpback whales along the Haro Strait. These types of tours typically have a 95% success rate between April and November and 79% outside of that, so your chances of seeing these majestic creatures are high year-round, and you get free photos of your trip afterward. And if you’re on a romantic road trip, you can even take this sunset whale cruise
  • Check out Cook Street Village – We love this part of Victoria, which is located just a 5-minute drive from downtown. It’s got an elevated, hipster vibe, with tons of cool coffee shops and places to eat. The Beagle Pub has a really nice patio and is open daily from 11 am to 11 pm (or even later).

Parksville (Day 3)

Bailey looks at the camera at Little Mountain Lookout near PArksville, BC
Little Mountain Lookout

It takes roughly 2 hours to drive from Victoria to Parksville, although we do highly recommend factoring in an extra 1.5 hours to check out the Malahat Skywalk, which offers beautiful views from the top and a big slide back down to the bottom – what’s not to love? If you’re already sold, you can purchase admission tickets to the Malahat Skywalk here.

You’ll probably be pretty busy with sightseeing in Victoria, so arriving in Parksville is a chance to take it slow and enjoy the relaxed pace of this smaller city. Best of all, you can even stay overnight here in an eco-friendly treehouse, which comes with sauna and barbecue facilities on-site.

Things to do in Parksville

  • Stroll along the Parksville Waterfront Walkway – The Parksville Waterfront Walkway is a 445-meter-long (1460-feet-long) boardwalk that is the perfect place to enjoy a walk and get yourself acquainted with Parksville’s vibe. We especially love it here during the summer when there are lots of food trucks around, and you can catch a nice sunset from here. 
  • Shop at Goats on the Roof – One of Parksville’s quirkiest attractions is The Old Country Market also known as Goats on the Roof, which is 10 minutes down the road in Coombs. There are some really cute stores and restaurants at this market, so you can pick up some tasty treats and fun souvenirs. However, the biggest draw is the goats, whose job it is to eat the grass on the rooftop to keep it nice and tidy! The market is open from 9 am until 6 pm daily, but individual vendor hours vary.
  • Explore Top Bridge Community Park – This park is just a few minutes outside of Parksville and is home to lots of great hiking, cycling, and running trails, as well as a suspension bridge where you can enjoy great views of the gorge and stream below. There’s also a beautiful swimming hole here, which is very popular with Parksville residents during the summer months, so bring your swimsuit if you’re visiting on a warm day! 

Tofino (Day 4 and 5)

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

It’s not hard to fall in love with the surfing town of Tofino – in fact, I challenge you not to! 

This is the ideal place to experience small-town Canadian life. Trust me, it’s easy to fill two days here because there are so many things to do in Tofino. Between surfing, hiking, hanging out on the gorgeous beaches, and pigging out at all of the great cafes and eateries in town, time here just seems to fly by. 

It’s a 2.5-hour drive from Parksville to Tofino. We recommend staying here overnight before making the 3-hour drive back to Nanaimo on the final day of your Vancouver Island road trip. You can catch the last ferry of the day at 8:45 pm. If you’ve got time, it’s worth stopping halfway to stretch your legs with the 25-minute loop hike to Little Qualicum Falls.

Things to do in Tofino

  • Surf – Tofino is best known for being one of the best surfing towns in Canada, so don’t miss the chance to grab a board and catch some waves while you’re here! Cox Bay is a great spot for beginners to learn, and there are plenty of surf schools around, but it’s popular with the pros, too. 
  • Hike – Our favorite hike in Tofino is Cox Bay Lookout, which is where our best friends got engaged! It’s a short but very steep hike up from Cox Bay Beach to the lookout point, but the views are spectacular, so all of that sweating will be worth it. Or, for something a bit easier, you can park on Radar Hill and walk 100 meters (328 ft) to the top for fantastic views, with virtually no effort involved! 

Related Read: For beautiful trails on the mainland, see all the best easy hikes in Vancouver.

3. 7-Day Vancouver Island Adventure Itinerary

Map of 7 day road trip on vancouver Island

This 7-day Vancouver Island adventure itinerary is like an extended version of the 5-day itinerary above. As well as hitting Victoria, Parksville, and Tofino, you’ll get extra time to explore Nanaimo and Port Alberni for hikes and seafood galore! 

This is such a fantastic itinerary if you love adventurous activities and spending time outdoors. Plus, having extra time on the last day means that you can hit some of the cool stops on the road from Tofino to Nanaimo, like Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park and the old-growth forest in Macmillan Provincial Park. 

Victoria (Day 1 and 2)

Bailey walks down Fantan Alley in China Town in Victoria BC
Exploring Fantan Alley in our free time!
Stairs leading up to a viewpoint at The Butchart Gardens in Victoria BC
Honestly, it’s memorizing!

Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia, and it’s just over a 1.5 ferry ride from Vancouver. As well as heritage charm and lots of stylish places to eat and drink, there are also a ton of adventurous activities in Victoria. Believe me, you won’t be short of exciting things to do here. We’ve listed several ideas in the previous section, but here are a couple more to keep you busy!

Things to do in Victoria

  • Float down the river in a hot tub – Yup, you read that right! If you’re in Victoria during the summer with a group, you can rent a six-person hot tub boat and drift down the Upper Harbor and Gorge Waterway. It’s so much fun, and you don’t need any prior boating experience. 
  • Enjoy the sunset at Mount Douglas – You can either drive to the top of Mount Douglas or hike the moderate Irvine Trail, which takes about 90 minutes to reach the summit. Either way, you’ll get beautiful views of the city, the mountains, and the ocean as the sun goes down, so this will really end a day in Victoria on a high note.

Parksville (Day 3 and 4)

The waterfall at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park
The waterfall at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park
Daniel at Mount Arrowsmith Brewing Company, Parksville
The beer is fantastic!

After two days in beautiful Victoria, it’s time to make the 2-hour drive to Parksville, where plenty more adventurous activities await you. This city is surrounded by so much gorgeous scenery, so although it’s often overlooked in favor of more popular destinations like Victoria and Tofino, we definitely think it’s worth spending a couple of days here. 

Things to do in Parksville

  • Visit Englishman River Falls Provincial Park – Englishman River Falls Provincial Park is 15 minutes outside of Parksville, and its lush forest and pretty waterfalls make it a fantastic place for outdoor lovers to explore. It’s a 1.3-kilometer (0.8-mile) loop hike to reach the two waterfalls, and the lower one empties into a swimming hole, so bring your swimsuits during the summer! You can also camp overnight in the park in a tent or RV, and spend even more time exploring the trails.
  • Explore the Horne Lake Caves – If you’re looking for a real adventure, make sure to check out the Horne Lake Caves. For an easy tour, try this 2-hour experience, which doesn’t involve any crawling or climbing, but if you’re up for more of a challenge, this 3-hour tour takes you through tight passages and climbing up steep ramps, and you also get to explore a secret underground waterfall. How cool is that?

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.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

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

Port Alberni/Stamp River Provincial Park (Day 5)

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

Port Alberni is located roughly a 45-minute drive from Parksville, and it’s the perfect gateway to Stamp River Provincial Park, where you can watch the spectacular salmon run between April and November every year! 

Situated right on a long, narrow inlet, Port Alberini is a colorful little town surrounded by stunning scenery. With so many beautiful destinations right on your doorstep, this place is the ideal spot to spend a day on your Vancouver Island road trip. There are many things to do in Port Alberni, but you should definitely make sure to try out some of the awesome local craft breweries while you’re here – and for even more ideas, keep reading! 

Things to do in Port Alberni

  • Hike to the Hole in the Wall – The hike to this huge hole in a giant rock wall is actually pretty easy and only 20 minutes long. I would recommend wearing some hiking shoes with good grip, though, as it can be pretty muddy if there’s been rain in the last few days (which is often on Vancouver Island!).
  • Camp in Stamp River Provincial Park – Watching the salmon run at Stamp River Provincial Park is just amazing, and we were lucky enough to see bears trying to catch some fish when we visited. The salmon run happens between late August and early December, but you can also camp here to enjoy more of the park’s trails, wildlife, and pools. It’s first-come, first-served, so arrive early if you want to stay overnight. 

Tofino (Day 6 and 7)

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

Tofino is located about 2.5 hours from Port Alberni. If you want to break up the drive, you can book this zipline adventure. The zipline is only available from March through October and is located about 45 minutes outside of Port Alberni. Tours last 90 minutes and are full of beautiful views, and our fantastic guides taught us a lot about the valley’s history between bursts of adrenaline. 

Once you get to Tofino, you’ll instantly be enchanted by this surfing town and its hippie vibe. It’s such a laid-back place to spend a few days catching waves, chilling on the beach, and seeking out exciting adventures! 

Things to do in Tofino

  • Catch some waves – We’ve already mentioned surfing in one of our previous itineraries, but you can’t come to Tofino without surfing! We rented our boards from Surf Grove Campground, and you can also take lessons from them for around $101 CAD for a 2.5-hour group lesson, or $201 CAD upwards for a private class. 
  • Find the Canso Plane Crash – For a truly one-of-a-kind hike, the Canso Plane Crash hike takes you on a chilled 2-hour walk through the forest, to a WWII plane crash. Don’t worry – everyone survived, and the plane wreckage has just been left there. Parks Canada keeps this one a bit of a secret, although they do maintain the trail. Just park at the Radar Hill lot, where you’ll begin this 4.7-mile (7.6-kilometer) out-and-back hike.

Nanaimo (Last day and ferry back to Vancouver)

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

On the 7th and final day of your Vancouver Island adventure, it’s back to Nanaimo to enjoy a relaxed day by the sea, squeeze in some more adventures, or just stuff your face with delicious Nanaimo bars! 

The great thing about Nanaimo is that if you want to be super active here, you can! Or, if you’re tired after a jam-packed week of road-tripping, you can take it easy. Wander around the Old Town, hop between microbreweries, and peruse some of the farmers markets. It’s one of those laid-back, friendly cities that really encapsulates what Canada is all about. 

Once you’ve gotten a taste of Nanaimo (and its local dessert), you can head back to the mainland on the ferry. The last ferry usually leaves Departure Bay at 8:45 pm, but you can check the full schedule online.

Things to do in Nanaimo

  • Go scuba diving – Vancouver Island has some of the best diving in North America, and if you want to end your road trip on a high note, you can head to Nanaimo Dive Outfitters or Sundown Diving to book a diving excursion. You’ll be exploring underwater forests and shipwrecks which is pretty epic! 

4. 10-Day Vancouver Island Explorer Itinerary

Map of 10 day road trip on vancouver Island

The great thing about a 10-day itinerary is that you get a bit more time to chill along the way. Plus, you’ll get to enjoy more activities at each destination. With additional stops on Salt Spring Island and Courtney and Campbell River, you also get to see several of the best places on Vancouver Island!

Victoria (Day 1 and 2)

Flowers and Victoria harbor on Vancouver Island, BC
Victoria Harbour!

Two days in Victoria is plenty of time to see the best that BC’s capital city has to offer. As well as ticking off the highlights like the Butchart Gardens and the Legislative Building, we also recommend enjoying this city’s cosmopolitan vibe before heading to quieter destinations on Vancouver Island. After all, variety is the spice of life!

There are a few ways to get from Vancouver to Victoria. We usually take the ferry from the Tsawwassen Terminal. You can check the full schedule online here. And once you arrive, you can dive into the activities below!

Things to do in Victoria

  • Check out Fisherman’s Wharf – Once a commercial fishing hub, Fisherman’s Wharf is now a bit of a tourist playground in Victoria – although you can still spot plenty of working fishing boats here. As you take a stroll through, you’re bound to spot lots of the resident seals swimming around and basking in the sun. There are some great cafes, restaurants, and shops to check out, as well as floating houses!
  • Take a wine tour – Did you know that Vancouver Island has its very own wine region? On this wine tour, you can visit three different scenic wineries in the Cowichan Valley, with breakfast mimosas and baked goods, as well as a delicious cheese and charcuterie board for lunch. At $159 CAD per person for all of your tastings, food, and roundtrip transport from Victoria, this tour represents amazing value for money! 
  • Go craft brewery hopping – After a morning of sightseeing in Victoria, there’s nothing better than checking out some of the city’s best breweries in the afternoon. Phillips Brewing is one of the most popular places in town, or build your own tasting flight at the artsy Driftwood Brewery

Related Read: To explore even further, you can take one of these cool walking tours of Victoria.

Salt Spring Island (Day 3 and 4)

Bailey stands at the top of Mount Erskine looking at the view on Salt Spring
Mount Erskine hike on Salt Spring Island
Bailey walks the stalls at the Saturday Market in Ganges on Salt Spring Island
Walking the Saturday Market!

Whilst a lot of other destinations on this itinerary focus on the great outdoors, Salt Spring Island is known as Canada’s “Islands of the Arts.” As such, visiting here is more of a cultural activity – although don’t worry, you’ll still have the chance to enjoy some beautiful scenery and great hiking routes

Salt Spring Island is so small that you can drive from one end to the other in about 45 minutes, but there’s so much variety within that space! Its natural beauty may well be why so many artists have been drawn to its shores, and nowadays the island is known as a haven for creatives. 

Salt Spring Island is just off the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, and it’s easy to catch a ferry here from Vancouver’s Swartz Bay Terminal. Mind you, you can’t book tickets for the ferries, so it’s first come, first serve. The ferry usually runs every 2 hours between 7 am and 9 pm, but you can check the schedule here. It only takes 35 minutes to get here and you’ll arrive at Fulford Harbour on Salt Spring Island.

Things to do in Salt Spring Island

  • Visit the Saturday Market – From April until late October, the Saturday Market livens up the weekends on Salt Spring Island with its amazing goodies of both edible and artistic varieties! The handmade pottery and woodwork are really something to see, and the live music creates a fun, celebratory atmosphere.
  • Go wine tasting – If you didn’t get your fill of wine in Victoria, you’ve got another opportunity! We loved checking out the small local wineries on Salt Spring Island! Salt Spring Vineyards was our favorite, especially as it’s only $5 CAD per tasting, and we really enjoyed Gerry Oaks Estate as well. 
  • Hang out at St. Mary Lake – St. Mary Lake is a super scenic lake, and since it’s freshwater, it’s great for swimming in the summertime. The lakeside beach is also a really lovely place to relax with a book and/or a picnic. And if you feel like canoeing, SUPping, or fishing, you can do all of that here, too! 

Parksville (Day 5)

Bailey enjoys sunset on the waterfront in Parksville
It’s such a beautiful walk!

Parksville is a hub of outdoor recreation, all year round! In the spring and summer, you’ve got beaches and farmers markets. In the fall and winter, Parksville has plenty of beautiful hikes so that you can check out the foliage, as well as lots of cool breweries and cafes to warm up in. 

To get to Parksville from Salt Spring Island, you’ll leave the island from the Vesuvius Bay Terminal and arrive back on Vancouver Island at the Crofton Terminal. You can’t book in advance, but you can check the ferry schedule online here. This route is non-bookable, and once you arrive in Crofton it’s about an hour’s drive to Parksville. 

Things to do in Parksville

  • Hit the local museums – We really enjoyed both Parksville and Qualicum Beach Museums, and visiting them is a cool way to discover some local history. Parksville Museum is more focused on local historical buildings while Qualicum Beach Museum focuses more on the area’s natural history and shows how the community has developed.
  • Explore a wildlife center – Since the 1980s, the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre has been providing a home to over 60 animals who can’t return to the wild, while helping those who can. You can spot eagles, owls, black bears, and turtles here, to name just a few! Also, you can feel good about visiting because it’s a nonprofit sanctuary and your $15 CAD admission fee goes directly towards supporting the animals. It’s located just outside town and is open daily from 9 am – 4:30 pm.

Port Alberni/Stamp River Provincial Park (Day 6)

The beach in e Sproat Lake Provincial Park outside of Port Alberni
This is one of the best lake beaches on Vancouver Island!

Port Alberni is 45 minutes southeast of Parksville, and it’s actually a pretty great place to camp if you feel like doing that on your Vancouver Island road trip. You can stay overnight in Stamp River Provincial Park, which is an especially great idea between late August and early December, which is the salmon run season.

However, during the summer you can also camp out in Sproat Lake Provincial Park, which has affordable campsites and is a fantastic place to swim, fish, and hike, and it’s only 15 minutes outside of town!

Things to do in Port Alberni/Stamp River Provincial Park

  • Visit Stamp River Provincial Park – The salmon run in Stamp River is fantastic to see, so this is a must if you’re visiting between August and December. You get to see salmon swimming upstream and jumping up waterfalls, and we even spotted some bears trying to catch them. You can also go fishing in the park if you’ve got your own gear.
  • Eat salmon – Even if you don’t see the salmon run, you have to at least try some salmon in the Salmon Capital of the World! You can find five types of Pacific salmon in Port Alberni, and we enjoyed an amazing salmon burger at Bare Bones Fish House
  • Hike the lookout trail – The Alberni Valley Lookout Trail is a 5-kilometer (3-mile) hike that takes you to a viewpoint with awesome views over the city. It takes around 2 hours to complete so it’s easy to fit into a single day in Port Alberni, and it showcases the natural beauty of the area well. Plus, it’s a good opportunity to spot wildlife – we were lucky enough to see a bald eagle flying overhead! 

Tofino (Day 7 and 8)

Bailey kayaks through the islands around Tofino on Vancouver Island
The kayaking is fantastic!
Daniel surfing at Long Beach in Tofino, Vancouver Island
Learning to surf!

It’s about 2.5 hours from Parksville to Tofino. To break up the drive, you can stop at Ucluelet, which is located about 35 kilometers (21 miles) outside of Tofino. We recommend heading to the Ucluelet Brewing Company if you’re thirsty – their Street Legal Pilsner is non-alcoholic, so you can enjoy a pint of that if you’re the one driving. 

Once you arrive in the idyllic surfer town of Tofino, the beaches and waves are your playground. And for a real beachy vibe, you can even book this beachfront cabin. If you’re not into surfing, there are museums, art galleries, shops, and cafes – you don’t need to catch waves to enjoy Tofino’s relaxed, surfer atmosphere. 

Things to do in Tofino

  • Walk! – You can explore some of Tofino’s most scenic spots on foot…whether strolling along the beach, walking along the waterfront, or heading to Anchor Park to admire the harbor’s beauty and discover some local art and history. We also like the dock near the Pacific Terminus Sign because you can walk right out onto the water, and it’s especially pretty at sunset!
  • Go whale-watching – Surfing isn’t the only way to get out on the water in Tofino! You can book a whale-watching tour with Jamie’s Whaling Station on a cruiser or amp up the adrenaline on one of their zodiac boats. These tours run between February and November and are a fantastic opportunity to see gray whales, orcas, humpback whales, and sea lions. 

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 towns on the east coast of Vancouver Island, and the drive between them is actually one of the best things to do on the whole island. Yup, that’s right, we’re including a road trip within a road trip!

Since you’ll be coming from Tofino, we recommend driving to Courtenay at the end of day 8 and spending a night here. When road-tripping, we usually find places to stay in Courtenay through Booking.com. After a solid night’s rest, you can use the following day to make the 53-kilometer (33-mile) drive to Campbell River. Sure, you could do it in 40 minutes, but with all the incredible stops in between, this road trip can easily become a full-day affair.

Courtenay is a small and scenic city with lots of fun things to do, such as tubing down the Puntledge River, and hiking to Nymph’s Falls and Barber’s Hole.

Meanwhile, Campbell River has an awesome art gallery and some great hikes. There’s also a cute downtown area framed by snow-capped mountains in the background. 

However, the real draw is all the stops between the two! We’ve even created an entire blog listing the best stops between Courtenay and Campbell River. To make things easy, we highlighted a few of them below.

Best things to do between Courtenay and Campbell River

  • Visit Miracle Beach Provincial Park – You could easily spend a few hours relaxing on the beautiful beach at Miracle Beach Provincial Park. Or, head into the forest to explore the 2.4-kilometer (1.5-mile) loop trail that takes you through the old-growth trees. It’s only 22 kilometers (13.6 miles) from Courtenay, so we usually make this our first stop! 
  • See the Oyster River Potholes – These unique potholes are such a fantastic place to stop, and you can even walk amongst them when the water levels are low enough. The river is super cold, so you can take a full-body dip to cool off during the summer, but we only recommend this on the hottest days! They’re located 35.7 kilometers (22 miles) from Courtenay, so they make a great half-way stop. 
  • Hang out in Willow Point – The lovely Willow Point Park has tennis courts, walking trails, and a playground for kids, which is ideal if they’re getting bored in the car. We also love strolling along the town’s Rotary Seawalk, an 8-kilometer (5-mile) paved pathway along the shore. It’s nice to stretch your legs and enjoy some sea views, even if you don’t walk the entire thing.

Nanaimo (last day and ferry back to Vancouver)

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

Nanaimo is the last stop on your 10-day road trip, and it’s such a wonderful place to end! It’s a 1.5-hour drive from Campbell River. So, to maximize your time in Courtenay and Campbell, we recommend catching one of the last ferries from Nanaimo back to Vancouver. 

The last ferry from Departure Bay leaves at 8:45 pm and you can check the full schedule online. It arrives at Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver.

Alternatively, you can take the ferry from Nanaimo’s Duke Point to Tsawwassen Terminal just south of Vancouver. This ferry might not be as convenient, but it usually runs a bit later which might give you an extra hour or so. You can check the schedule here.

However, it’s still worth arriving in Nanaimo a couple of hours beforehand to check out the town. I suggest strolling through Maffeo Sutton Park and, of course, eating a Nanaimo bar (or three!). 

5. 14-Day Epic Vancouver Island Itinerary

Map of 14 day road trip on vancouver Island

If you’ve got two full weeks, get ready for the most epic Vancouver Island road trip itinerary! Having 14 days to explore this beautiful, adventure-filled island allows you to hit all of the best stops and experience the incredible variety that the island has to offer. 

Victoria (Day 1 and 2)

An orca swims in the ocean near Victoria on a whale watching tour
How cool is this?!
Bailey at Church and State Winery on Vancouver Island
Church and State Winery in Victoria

Once again, we’re kicking off in Victoria. To get here, you can take the ferry from the Tsawwassen Terminal near Vancouver to Swartz Bay. You can go between 7 am and 9 pm, but naturally, we recommend setting out early and catching either the 7 am or 9 am ferry to maximize your time in Victoria. 

There’s so much to see and do in this beautiful city, including historical sites, the amazing Butchart Gardens, and lots of adventurous activities. You can experience so much variety here, and it’s surprising how much you can get done in just 2 days! 

Things to do in Victoria

  • Explore Chinatown – Victoria’s Chinatown is actually the second oldest in North America, after San Francisco’s, and its entrance is marked by the Gate of Harmonious Interest. Make a beeline for Fan Tan Alley, a narrow street that feels a bit like Diagon Alley from Harry Potter. There are tons of great shops to check out down here, including the Turntable for vintage vinyl records and Just Matcha Tea Shop, which is the only store in the country dedicated exclusively to matcha!
  • Treat yourself to high tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel – As far as sophisticated activities in Victoria go, it doesn’t get much better than high tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel. At $95 CAD per person, it’s not cheap, but it certainly delivers on luxury with delicious smoked salmon blinis, freshly baked scones, and pear macarons. You’ll need to book in advance because this is a very popular thing to do, but if it’s too pricey, you can still enjoy a stroll around the property’s perfectly manicured gardens. 
  • Go whale watching – Kick off your Vancouver Island adventure with a half-day whale-watching tour on a zodiac boat! Zipping around the Salish Sea in a zodiac boat amps up the adrenaline factor because you’re out in the open on a small 12-person boat. It was an absolute blast feeling so close to the water and our captain, Mark, taught us so much about the orcas, humpback whales, and seals that we saw! 

Port Renfrew (Days 3 and 4)

beach in Port Renfrew on vancouver Island, canada
Beach in Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, Canada

Port Renfrew is 111 kilometers (68 miles) from Victoria. It takes just under 2 hours to drive there without stopping, but we recommend taking advantage of the beautiful route and making an epic road trip out of it! 

You can stop at Sooke to enjoy the amazing Potholes Provincial Park which is 39 kilometers (24 miles) from Victoria. Here, you can get fantastic views of the unique rock pools by exploring the trails along the river. Just make sure to wear shoes with good grip, because the rocks can be slippery. 

Jordan River is another 32 kilometers (20 miles) from Sooke. It’s a small logging community and you can also find Jordan River Regional Park here, which is home to walking trails and the pretty Sandcut Beach. There’s also an awesome day-use area that has amazing views of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, USA, across the water – so you can quite literally see into another country!  

You could even camp overnight in the park, as there’s a first-come, first-served campground here that has both tent and RV sites. However, I much prefer staying for two nights in Port Renfrew, which is another 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from the Jordan River.

Things to do in Port Renfrew

  • Visit Botanical Beach – Port Renfrew is a gateway to Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, where you can find this stunning tidal pool, which is framed by a dramatic, craggy shoreline. At low tide, you can paddle around and spot amazing marine creatures, such as purple sea urchins, sea cucumbers, and anemones. 
  • Check out Avatar Grove – Avatar Grove is a famous, old-growth forest that transports you to another world, making you feel like you’re in one of the Avatar movies! There are 1.2 kilometers (0.75 miles) of boardwalks going through the forest, so it’s easy to follow along as you pass by trees that are up to 2,000 years old. Make sure to get a photo with “Canada’s gnarliest tree”, which is signposted – although you’ll probably know it when you see it because it’s so eye-catching.
  • Hang out or camp at Lizard Lake – During the summer, Lizard Lake and the adjacent campsite are the perfect place to relax in the sunshine. You can jump off of the long wooden dock that stretches out into the lake or hit the water with a paddleboard or kayak. 

Salt Spring Island (Day 5 and 6)

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

It’s a 1.5-hour drive from Port Renfrew to the Crofton Ferry Terminal, where you’ll need to catch the ferry to the Vesuvius Terminal on Salt Spring Island. Ferries run roughly once an hour and the crossing only takes 25 minutes, although the schedule does change according to the season. 

Once you get here, you’ll be welcomed by a warm and creative atmosphere. Salt Spring Island is truly an artist’s paradise and some big names live, or have lived, here. You can find some awesome galleries showcasing the best of Canadian art, and there are also many cute souvenirs to pick up around town. Plus, the island itself is very picturesque – which probably explains why so many creatives end up calling it home. 

Things to do on Salt Spring Island

  • Find fairy doors in Mt Erskine Provincial Park – We loved hiking in Mount Erskine Provincial Park, because as well as some fantastic viewpoints over Salt Spring Island, there are lots of sweet little fairy doors built into the tree trunks in the park. There are a few different trails you can take here, including the popular Juniper Trail and the Mount Erskine Loop.  
  • Visit Beddis Beach – In my opinion, Beddis Beach is the best beach on Salt Spring Island! With white sand, shallow pools, and calm water that’s ideal for swimming, it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a relaxing summer day and take in the beauty of the island. 

Parksville (Day 7 and 8)

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

To get from Salt Spring Island, you’ll need to head back to the Vesuvius Bay Terminal and catch the ferry back to Crofton. From there, it’s another hour to get to Parksville. However, you could always take a quick detour to Beachcomber Regional Park to check out the tidal pools and enjoy views of Parksville and Mount Arrowsmith across the water.

Once you arrive in Parksville, there are plenty of awesome beaches and forests just waiting to be explored. However, since this is the halfway point on your Vancouver Island road trip, you might want to indulge in a more luxurious experience while you’re here, and boy have we got you covered with that one! 

Things to do in Parksville

  • Grotto spa and 17-course dinner – Indulging in the spa and dining at Tigh-Na-Mara was our favorite thing that we did in Parksville! We did the Dip & Dine experience, which involved a nice long soak in the mineral pool, and then we had a 17-course meal consisting of delicious tapas and wine. The best part was that we got to wear our robes throughout! 
  • Explore Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park – The Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park is such a beautiful place to spend a day in Parksville because you can enjoy the walking paths inside the old-growth forest, as well as find a spot to relax somewhere along the 5-kilometer (3-mile) sandy beachfront. We loved it here during low tide because tons of tidal pools are revealed.
  • Hang out at Cameron Lake – Just a 20-minute drive from Parksville you’ll find Cameron Lake, which is the ideal spot for swimming, fishing, and kayaking on a warm summer’s day. This lake is just beautiful and it even has its own version of the Loch Ness Monster, so keep an eye out for the legendary Cammie! Also, this lake is en route to our next destination, so you can always save it for a road trip stop on your way out of town.

Port Alberni/Stamp River Provincial Park (Day 9)

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

Port Alberni is 50 kilometers (31 miles) southwest of Parksville, and it takes about 45 minutes to drive there. The route will actually take you right along the edge of Cameron Lake, so you can stop off for a swim or just take in the beautiful views as you cruise past! 

If you’re here between August and December, then you’ve got to make the 20-minute drive to Stamp River Provincial Park to see the salmon run, If you’re not visiting during this time, rest assured that there are plenty of other ways to fill a day here! 

Things to do in Port Alberni/Stamp River Provincial Park

  • Explore Cathedral Grove – Cathedral Grove is located in MacMillan Provincial Park and is home to giant trees that will make you feel absolutely tiny as you wander through. And – fun fact- scenes from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi were shot here! You’ll understand why as you walk along the 0.5-kilometer (0.3-mile) Big Tree Trail and gaze up at some of Canada’s oldest trees.
  • Enjoy the Harbour Quay – Port Alberni is a fishing town, so spend a few hours exploring the shops and restaurants at the Harbour Quay. If the sea views put you in the mood for fish and chips, head to Turtle Island Fish and Chips, or I loved the salmon chowder at the Starboard Grill. And don’t miss the chance to climb up the Clocktower for the very best views! 

Tofino (Day 10 and 11)

the welcome to Tofino road sign
Welcome to Tofino sign

Tofino is 126 kilometers (78 miles) from Port Alberni, so it’s around a 2-hour drive. Once you arrive here, the surfing is second to none, and you could easily spend two full days catching waves and relaxing on the sand at Cox Bay Beach. But even if you don’t want to surf, this place is a dream come true for anyone who loves the great outdoors! Plus, we love the hippie, artsy vibe. 

Things to do in Tofino

  • Check out the art galleries – We loved exploring Tofino’s many art galleries – especially the Roy Henry Vickers Gallery, which displays a huge variety of work from this famous First Nations artist. The House of Himwitsa is also fantastic for learning about Indigenous Canadian Culture through art. 
  • Explore Long Beach – Long Beach is a fantastic place to surf, but since it’s such a huge beach, it’s also great to explore on foot. It’s 16 kilometers (10 miles) long, so a walk along the shore is a great way to soak up the scenery. There are rocks that you can climb on and tidal pools to check out. The sunsets here are also really something to see! 
  • Go kayaking – One of the best ways to explore Tofino’s beautiful coastline is to hit the water in a kayak. You can either rent your own for $80 CAD for a double kayak or take one of Paddle West Kayaking’s tours. They’ve got loads available, and we went for the Islands Option, which took us on a 2.5-hour journey to explore Tofino’s gorgeous island channels. 

Courtney and Campbell River (Day 12 and 13)

Views of the cliffs and waterfall at Elk Falls Provincial Park and Protected Area, Vancouver Island
Elk Falls!
Daniel and Bailey take a selfie at Oyster River Potholes in Campbell River, BC
Oyster River Potholes in Campbell River, BC

From Tofino, it’s a 225-kilometer drive to Courtenay, which is a small town on the east coast of Vancouver Island. The drive takes almost 3 hours, so you can drive here, stay overnight in Courtenay, and then take a road trip to Campbell River the following day. 

The drive from Courtney to Campbell River is only 53 kilometers (33 miles), but there are tons of cool stops along the way, including Miracle Beach Provincial Park, the Oyster River Potholes, and the awesome Shelter Point Distillery to sample some spirits. 

Things to do in Courtenay

  • Float down the Puntledge River – For a fun way to unwind after the drive to Courtenay, you can rent a tube in town at Blue Toque Sports, park up at the River Fish Hatchery, follow the path marked “Tuber’s Trail”, and then float down the river. It’s super scenic and the perfect way to take in Courtenay’s natural beauty on a sunny day.
  • Explore downtown – Courtenay’s downtown area is home to some cool shops, including a boutique bookstore, as well as street art murals and the famous (or should that be infamous) Bigfoot Donuts. The donuts are huge, so you might want to share one between two people! 

Things to do in Campbell River

  • Go bear-watching – Canada is famous for its black and grizzly bears, and on this full-day tour, you can explore the area between the Salish Sea and Orford Bay, with the help of a professional guide who will help you spot them and keep you safe! It’s also a fantastic way to get off the beaten track and immerse yourself in the beauty of Vancouver Island.
  • Visit Elk Falls Provincial Park and Protected Area – With hiking trails and a suspension bridge that offers amazing views of Elk Falls, this family-friendly provincial park is an awesome place to enjoy the great outdoors. You can even book a campsite here and stay overnight – we did this and had a fantastic time. 

Nanaimo (Day 14)

Bailey sits on a bench at Pipers Lagoon Park lookoing out at the ocean in Nanaimo, BC
Pipers Lagoon Park

Your road trip wraps up back in Nanaimo, where you can catch the ferry back to Vancouver. But it’s definitely worth making the most of the day here and checking out what this small city has to offer. It’s 155 kilometers (96 miles) from Campbell River to Nanaimo, which takes around 1.5 hours. This should give you plenty of time to enjoy this place, especially if you catch the last ferry from Nanaimo’s Departure Bay at 8:45 pm. 

Things to do in Nanaimo 

  • Walk in Maffeo Sutton Park – The beautiful Maffeo Sutton Park has an awesome walkway right along the coast, and a pier for even better ocean views! We loved starting our day in Nanaimo with a coastal stroll, and you get free parking for 3 hours, so you’ve got plenty of time to explore without paying a penny. 
  • Hike to Ammonite Falls – If you drive 15 minutes outside of Nanaimo to this parking lot, you can complete this 4.8-kilometer (3-mile) out-and-back hike to Ammonite Falls, where you can cool off in the pool on a hot day. The trail can be muddy and a few sections are a bit challenging, but it’s mostly easy as long as you’ve wearing the right pair of shoes. 

Related Read: If you’re planning to spend a couple of days in Vancouver at the end of your road trip, we’ve got you covered with recommendations for where to stay 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 enjoy on Vancouver Island from beaches and parks to visiting museums and trying out tasty food! Regardless of whether you have just a few days or a couple of weeks, it’s worth taking a road trip to see as much as you can. We hope you have as much fun exploring as we do every time we’re here!

If this guide helped you plan your travels through British Columbia, be sure to check out more of our Canada blogs. You can get started with one of the related blogs below:

How to Spend One Day in Vancouver, BC: An Ideal 1-Day Itinerary

8 BEST Vancouver Road Trip Itineraries

18 Fun Things to do on Granville Island, Vancouver & Guide to Visiting

16 BEST Stops on the Drive from Vancouver to Jasper