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10 BEST Stops Between Victoria and Parksville: Road Trip Guide

10 BEST Stops Between Victoria and Parksville: Road Trip Guide

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So, you’re looking to take on the short but scenic drive from Victoria to Parksville – great choice! Growing up in BC, we often vacationed on Vancouver Island and I’ve taken this drive more times than I can count. 

It would be quite a short drive (about 2 hours) if you were to do it without stops, which we DON’T recommend doing because there are so many bucket list stops along this drive. Now, I won’t spoil the itinerary, but let’s just say there’s a wow-worthy skywalk, a great provincial park, and some hidden gems along the way. 

If you’re like us and would rather enjoy the journey than race to your destination, keep reading to find our favorite stops on the drive from Victoria to Parksville!

About the Drive from Victoria to Parksville

The drive from Victoria to Parksville is a common route as it connects two of the biggest cities on Vancouver Island. So, as you can guess, it’s one of Vancouver Island’s most popular road trips! Although short, at 148 km (92 miles), it truly highlights the best of the island.

Without stops, this route will take around 2 hours, but it would be a real shame to drive this scenic road without stopping a few times! I advise spending two full days on this road trip from Victoria to Parksville. That way you can take your time and enjoy all of the stops listed below.

As for where to stay along the way, we recommend spending the night in Duncan or Nanaimo, as they offer the most accommodation options. Duncan is a better choice, as it’s around the halfway mark. The itinerary below is spaced out so that you’re stopping about every 30 minutes, but you can cut that down to just a few select stops if you want to make it to Parksville quicker.

Getting to Victoria from Vancouver

Bailey enjoys a coffee on the outside deck of a BC Ferry to Vancouver Island
The ferry ride from Vancouver to Victoria is like a scenic cruise!

Before you start the drive from Victoria to Parksville, you’ll first need to make your way over to Victoria from Vancouver. There are a couple of different options when it comes to getting from Vancouver to Victoria, but the cheapest and most popular way to get there is by ferry! This 1.5-hour cruise across the water is really scenic – be sure to keep an eye out for whales!

There are a few different ways you can board the ferry: with your own car, a rental car, or no vehicle at all if you plan to rent a car in Victoria once you arrive (that’s a good option to save some money!).

Renting a car

For this road trip on Vancouver Island, unless you’re a local like us, you’ll need to rent a car. We recommend Discover Cars for car rentals as the price points are fair, and they have tons of options. If you rent a car in Vancouver, it’s easy to drive right onto the ferry. This allows you to immediately start your road trip to Parksville as soon as you get to Victoria.

If you don’t need a car while you’re in Vancouver and you’re looking to save a bit of money, it might be more cost-effective to rent a car when you arrive in Victoria. The cost to bring a car onto the ferry is around $68.50 CAD not including the cost of each person’s ticket (around $19 CAD), so the savings might be worth the small hassle of a cab ride to the rental car company!

Taking the ferry

All the ferry schedules can be found on the BC Ferry website so you can easily figure out which one you want to catch. The direct ferry to get from Vancouver to Victoria leaves from the Tsawwassen ferry terminal in Vancouver and arrives at the Swartz Bay ferry terminal in Victoria.

We recommend booking your ferry ride in advance to ensure that you don’t have to wait at the terminal for multiple sailings if the ferries are fully booked. The fares will run from around $19.10 CAD for a person traveling with no vehicle to $100-$150 CAD for a vehicle and two passengers, depending on what type of vehicle you’re bringing – a small car is cheaper than an SUV pulling a trailer, for example.

If you are traveling on your own without a vehicle, make sure you arrive at least 30-60 minutes before the ferry leaves to check in and get a boarding pass. You do pay a little bit extra to reserve in advance, but it is worth it if you don’t want to risk missing your chosen sailing time.

BEST Stops When Driving from Victoria to Parksville

1. Victoria

View of the historic city of Victoria on Vancouver Island
Victoria is such a beautiful city!
Bailey walks down Fantan Alley in China Town in Victoria BC
Exploring Fantan Alley is a must-do in Victoria!

Most likely, you’ve arrived in Victoria via ferry from Vancouver. Before you hit the road, we advise spending 1-2 days exploring Victoria, aka the capital city of British Columbia. There’s so much to see and do in Victoria, but a few of our highlights include wandering through the colorful Butchart Gardens or heading out on a whale-watching cruise to see the “giants of the sea” up close! 

We loved taking a stroll down Fan Tan Alley, which will give you major Harry Potter vibes. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of the movies, I loved wandering through this cute and quirky narrow street! It’s actually the narrowest street in the country, at just 1.8 m (6 ft) wide. There are loads of cool shops here to check out, including Just Matcha Tea Shop.

Considering Victoria is the home of the BC Government, plan a stop at the Legislative Building. It was constructed way back in the 1890s and is a beautiful example of Neo-Baroque architecture. Free guided tours are available year-round, with each tour lasting around 45 minutes (you can find the schedule on their website here).

Stunning gardens and paths at The Butchart Gardens in Vancouver Island, BC
The Butchart Gardens are a treat for the eyes!

We believe no visit to Victoria is complete without spending a few hours walking around the spectacular Butchart Gardens. As a matter of fact, it’s one of my favorite things to do in all of BC! Your eyes will be treated to thousands of colorful flowers and plants, and if you have time, you can enjoy afternoon tea here. The Rose Carousel is a local favorite, and a good idea on a nice day is to grab a gelato, take a seat, and admire the scenery. We spent about 3-4 hours exploring and felt that was the perfect amount of time. Free parking is available and it’s only about a 30-minute drive from downtown Victoria.

Of course, for wildlife lovers, a whale-watching tour from Victoria is also a must! This half-day whale-watching adventure takes you looking for orcas and humpback whales and includes complimentary photos and a whale sighting guarantee. I stand by this tour company because it’s one of the most trusted tour operators on Vancouver Island and advertises an over 95% whale sighting success rate. They even have a policy that if you don’t see whales, you can keep booking tours until you do. We saw a pod of orcas on our tour! Tickets cost $199 CAD.

Where to stay in Victoria

The Fairmont Empress Hotel is definitely a luxury option, but it is the most iconic Victoria hotel. The Empress is a beautiful chateau-style hotel that you see front and center whenever you see a photo of Victoria’s downtown inner harbor skyline. A double room here starts at $315 CAD per night and can be booked online here.

For a more budget-friendly option, the Helm’s Inn is a great choice. All of the rooms are suite-style and equipped with kitchenettes, so if you’re looking to save a bit of money and cook a few of your meals yourself. The location is fantastic as well, right across from Beacon Hill Park and within walking distance of downtown! Rooms start around $150 CAD, but we recommend booking ahead online for the best deal!

2. Goldstream Provincial Park

Goldstream Falls in Goldstream Provincial Park
Goldstream Falls within the park!
Bailey walks down some steps in Goldstream Provincial Park, Vancouver Island
The boardwalk here is so scenic!

Goldstream Provincial Park is located just 16 km (10 miles) from Victoria, but I think it feels like a whole different world – one filled with old-growth forests, waterfalls, and wildlife. So, it makes sense that this would be the first stop on your drive from Victoria to Parksville.

If you plan to visit the park between October and December – lucky you, as you should be able to spot Chum salmon in the Goldstream River here. Keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles during these months, too – as there’s a good chance you’ll see one or two swooping down to catch the salmon. We were lucky enough to witness this phenomenon when we visited last!

If you visit during the summer, we recommend bringing your swimwear and swimming in the Goldstream Falls. These gorgeous waterfalls are the perfect spot to cool down on a hot day and soak in the area’s natural beauty.

There are several other waterfalls in the park – in fact, there’s even one named Niagara Falls! But don’t get confused, this waterfall is only a fraction of the size of the real Niagara Falls. However, it’s still worth hiking to if you’ve got the time.

Goldstream Provincial Park also has many hiking trails to explore. You’ll pass by 600-year-old Douglas fir trees venturing through forests on a series of paths. What’s great is that there are accessible pathways for strollers or wheelchairs, as well as more challenging hikes where you’ll pass by abandoned gold-digging sites from the Gold Rush. We were in heaven wandering through the stunning Pacific Northwest landscape here!

If you’re a camping enthusiast, you can stay overnight in the park’s campground, which we highly recommend. Reservations are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, so it’s best to get there during the week, especially if you’re visiting during peak season (between May and September).

3. Malahat Skywalk

The slide and viewpoint structure at Malahat Skywalk on Vancouver Island
The slide was so much fun!
The tree walk!

Our next suggested stop on your drive from Victoria to Parksville is brand-new (having only opened in 2021), and it’s definitely one of the best places to visit on Vancouver Island! Yep, the Malahat Skywalk is an essential stop on this drive. We had so much fun on the slide and got some great photos on the tree walk when we last visited.

The Skywalk is located within the beautiful Cowichan Valley, a 40-minute drive from Victoria. If you love nature and don’t mind heights, I highly recommend checking it out! You can even read about our top tips for visiting the Matahat Skywalk here.

Would you believe it cost a massive $17 million CAD to build? It took two years to construct and is made from steel and Douglas fir timber. The Malahat Skywalk is actually part of the traditional territory of the Malahat Nation, and developers partnered with the Malahat people to operate the skywalk.

We purchased our admission tickets ahead of time for $38.80 CAD (including all taxes and fees) which let us jump straight into the fun.

Our favorite part of the Malahat Skywalk was ascending the gentle spiral walkway to the viewing platform, which boasts breathtaking 360-degree views. After all, the viewpoint is 250 meters (820 feet) above sea level, so you’ll be above the HUGE trees below!

There is also a net at the top with a large drop below it, showing you just how high you are from the ground. I admit it’s pretty scary to walk on, but it’s completely safe. Once you’ve finished taking in the glorious views, it’s time for the best part – the huge slide! Yep, you can slide down the 20-meter (65-foot) slide. Reaching the bottom takes just 8 seconds, and it’s so much fun! 

The Malahat Skywalk is wheelchair and stroller-friendly, so everyone can experience the wow-worthy views! It’s open from 9 am – 3 pm in winter, 9 am – 6 pm in spring and fall, and 9 am – 8 pm in summer.

4. Mill Bay

Bailey sits at a table at BruGos coffee with coffees and snacks
BruGos is the perfect road trip stop if you’re hungry!

The little village of Mill Bay is a nice place to stop and grab a coffee or something to eat en route to Parksville. If you need a caffeine kick, we love BruGos Coffee. They make great hot drinks, and the baked goods are super tasty!  

However, at this stage of the drive, you’re likely super hungry, and a pastry won’t cut it, so we recommend checking out Bridgemans Bistro. They have a bunch of burger or sandwich options, and great pizzas, too!

If taking a stroll on a beautiful orchard sounds like your idea of heaven, stop in at Merridale Cidery & Distillery. The farm here is stunning, and the cider is even more delicious! If you happen to be there on a Saturday, you can book orchard tours, or you can also do a self-guided tour if you prefer.

The Farmhouse Eatery at Merridale has delicious food and they sometimes host events like picnics and live music, so check their website to see if anything is happening on the day of your road trip.  

5. Duncan

Bailey looks at a display at the Cowichan Valley Museum & Archives in Duncan, BC
Bailey in the Cowichan Valley Museum!
The Duncan Totem Poles
The Duncan Totem Poles

There’s more to Duncan than meets the eye! Sure, when you’re driving up to it on the highway, it looks little more than a couple of box stores on both sides of the road, but don’t let first impressions throw you off. The actual town of Duncan is full of amazing activities and sights.

Its nickname is the “City of Totems” because it’s home to over 40 carefully crafted totem poles, each with its own unique story. From raven to bear to eagle, each totem features animals strongly symbolic in Indigenous culture. These totems are intricate and eye-catching – I loved admiring the details of each one during my time in Duncan. 

To see all 40 of the totems, you can do the Totem Tour Walk, which starts just outside the Cowichan Valley Museum (which is well worth stopping into, too!). Simply follow the little yellow footprints painted on the sidewalk, leading you past all 40 unique totems. 

Next, grab a coffee and a croissant at Duncan Garage Cafe & Bakery and make your way over to Alvin’s Alley, a Duncan hidden gem. It reminded us of old-school alleyways in Europe, with some awesome murals done by local artists for everyone to enjoy. While you’re strolling down this alley, check out some of Duncan’s colorful thrift shops – we both loved Eclectic Avenue Vintage Boutique, which sells beautiful clothing and jewelry for a great price.

Another memorable thing to do in Duncan is to pay a visit to the Pacific Northwest Raptors. This sanctuary is dedicated to conservation and teaching visitors about beautiful birds of prey, like falcons, eagles, and owls. Entry starts at $22 CAD, which includes all-day admission and access to the flying demonstration. The birds swoop so low you feel like their wingtips might graze you! Opening hours and the flying demos change depending on the season, so check their website in advance.

Where to Stay in Duncan

Treat yourself to a luxurious stay at the Oceanfront Suites at Cowichan Bay, only 10 minutes from Duncan. It’s an all-suite hotel overlooking the water, so you’ll have plenty of space and a view! You can even hear the relaxing sound of the water from your room. Rooms here are more like tiny apartments and range from $285-$365 CAD per night and can be booked here

Another right off the highway, the Best Western Cowichan Valley Inn is an easy stop on your road trip. The rooms are a good size, and you’ll get the quality and convenience you’d expect from a hotel chain. There’s an outdoor pool and a restaurant on-site, and it’s close to our next suggested stop – the BC Forest Discovery Center. Rooms here average around $195 CAD per night. Book online here.

Related Read: Duncan is also one of the best stops on the drive between Victoria and Tofino – which we always say is one of our favorite road trips in Canada!

6. BC Forest Discovery Centre

The train at the BC Forest Discovery Centre in Duncan, BC
The train at the BC Forest Discovery Center!

Next up, on your trip from Victoria to Parksville, you’ll have the opportunity to trade in your wheels to travel by train for a bit! The BC Forest Discovery Centre is an open-air museum and while you can learn all about the history of logging and forestry, the coolest way to get around is by train.

It’s not just any train either – we’re talking vintage gas and steam locomotives you can ride over the Somenos Lake Trestle and around the property. We opted for the best of both worlds and took the train to the halfway point, then continued to walk around and explore.

The museum is open (and the train is running!) from April to September, from Thursdays to Mondays. Ticket prices range from $16-$18 CAD for adults and $14-$16 CAD for kids – check the schedule and prices here before you go.

7. Chemainus

Chemainus Public Market
Photo credit: Chemainus Public Market

The tiny artisan village of Chemainus makes for an ideal quick pitstop on your drive from Victoria to Parksville. Filled with small art galleries and local stores, you’ll find it easy to kill an hour or two here. 

The best thing to do in Chemainus is to hit up the popular Public Market, which houses several artisan and food vendors. Even if you’re not hungry, be sure to pick up a (strong) coffee from Coffee Row to keep your energy levels topped up for the drive ahead. 

This small town boasts a sand and gravel beach in the downtown area – Kinsmen Beach Park. Here you’ll find lovely views across to some of the Gulf Islands. If you’re doing this road trip with kids, it’s a great spot to spend an hour or so, as there’s a playground, a picnic area, and public and accessible washrooms. On summer days, the water is usually warm enough to swim in!

There’s also a dock that features a slide into the water – again, a lot of fun for older kids. Or if you’re keen on a game of volleyball to get your muscles moving, you’ll find volleyball courts here too. 

8. Ladysmith

Coastal views in Ladysmith, BC
Ladysmith is stunning!

Ladysmith is a small town of about 9,000 people. Many people drive right through without stopping to see how cute this town is, and we think they are missing out! This town is built on a hillside overlooking the water. Yes, it’s as dreamy as it sounds!  

We always stop at the Old Town Bakery because they are famous for their cinnamon buns, voted Vancouver Island’s best cinnamon bun! While we haven’t tried every cinnamon bun on the island, we would be willing to wager that this is correct. They have a ton of other baked goods and pastries as well. Their bread looked amazing, so it could be fun to get a loaf, grab some meats and cheeses from the grocery store, and head down to the waterfront for a picnic!  

Another fun thing to do is to head down to the Ladysmith Marina and have a bite to eat at the Oyster Bay Cafe (note that they are only open seasonally). There is also a little maritime museum at the harbor which is cool to check out! If you want a tour of Ladysmith, you can stop by the Harbour Heritage Centre and get a guided tour of the Ladysmith harbor.  

Fun Fact: Pamela Anderson was born and raised in Ladysmith, BC, and has recently moved back!

9. Nanaimo

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

When visiting Nanaimo, the first thing you should do is wander the historic Old City Quarter, which is full of beautiful and quirky old buildings (some are 250 years old). These ancient buildings are home to specialty boutiques and some of Nanaimo’s best restaurants and cafes. We highly recommend La Isla Cafe for its strong coffee, baked goods, and Nanaimo bars.

To put it simply – you MUST try a Nanaimo bar while in Nanaimo. This classic chocolatey dessert was supposedly created here (hence the name) and has three layers: crumbled wafer, nuts, and coconut for the base, then custard icing, and a chocolate ganache on top. We LOVED the peanut butter crunch Nanaimo bar at Hearthstone Artisan Bakery

After getting your caffeine and sweet tooth fix, make a beeline for one of the most iconic buildings in the city – the Nanaimo Courthouse. It’s hard to miss with its distinct Richardsonian Romanesque style. 

Nanaimo Harbor is so pretty!

A great lunch or dinner spot in Nanaimo in the summertime is the unique Dinghy Dock Pub. It’s a floating restaurant that’s located on Protection Island. At this casual eatery, you’ll be treated to yummy food (seafood is their specialty, of course) and incredible views of Nanaimo. To reach Protection Island, you can either take the ferry or rent a kayak. However, keep in mind that it closes for the winter.

If you have a bit more time, one of my favorite memories of Nanaimo is my day spent on the water looking for whales. I went in without many expectations, only to be shocked to see a pod of orcas in the water around me!

The best chance to see whales is on an adventure like this open boat whale watching tour. You’ll have nothing blocking your view of the water, and the professional guides are so nice. It costs $227 CAD and is 4 hours long. It’s one of the top-rated whale-watching tours on Vancouver Island with tons of 5-star reviews you can read here!

And finally, one of the top things to do in Nanaimo is actually located a short drive from town. Petroglyph Park is home to prehistoric rock carvings that are said to have been created by the Indigenous people who lived here over 1,000 years ago. A short trail leads to information boards that will help you decipher the petroglyphs, and just a few minutes walk from these will have you at a sandstone gallery of petroglyphs, which overlooks Nanaimo harbor.

Where to Stay in Nanaimo

For a luxury option, check out Coast Bastion Hotel. This clean and modern hotel has all of the in-room amenities you could want, such as a fridge (which is great when on a road trip and traveling with food!). The location is stellar – right downtown and about 3 km (2 miles) from the ferry terminal. A room here starts from $196 CAD per night and can be booked online here.

If you are looking for something mid-range, The Spot is a great place to stay that was just renovated in 2022. Rooms are private and spacious and offer all the standard comforts and even have a patio area. Expect to pay somewhere in the $125-$175 CAD range depending on the time of year. Book a room here.

10. Parksville

Bailey in the grotto at Tigh-Na-Mara, Parksville
The Tigh-Na-Mara spa here is so relaxing!
Bailey on Little Mountain Lookout for Sunset in Parksville
Little Mountain Lookout for sunset is a must-do in Parksville!

And just like that, you’ve reached your final stop – the coastal city of Parksville. The 6th largest city on Vancouver Island – with a population of around 14,000 people.

Parksville is a popular beach destination with Vancouver Island locals. There are countless beaches to explore here, heaps of hiking trails for all abilities, and a surprisingly great foodie scene. Yep, in Parksville, foodies will be spoiled with the delicious local ingredients served in the area’s restaurants, as well as the many markets and food festivals throughout the year. 

But, one of the best things to do in Parksville involves spending the night here – at Grotto Spa at Tigh-Na-Mara, to be precise. The Sip & Dine experience was one of the best experiences we had on Vancouver Island. This unique package involves sitting down to an impressive 17-course tapas-style tasting menu in your robe (the restaurant here has a robe-only dress code). So, you’re sure to feel super-relaxed dining here. 

An excellent idea for the evening in Parksville is to spend a short and sweet hour here walking the Parksville Waterfront Walkway. This walkway boasts stunning coastal and mountain views.  

Another great thing to do in the area is drive up to Little Mountain Lookout. This winding scenic drive takes you to the top of a mountain to enjoy sweeping views of the surrounding valley.

Bailey walks the boardwalk of Cathedral Grove, Canada
Bailey walking the boardwalk at Cathedral Grove!

If you’re looking for the perfect day trip from Parksville, look no further than Cathedral Grove – a 25-minute drive away. It’s an old-growth forest filled with towering Douglas fir trees. Cathedral Grove always makes me feel like I’ve been transported back in time – it’s so peaceful here!

Cathedral Grove has well-maintained trails on both sides of a major road. There are plenty of trails and even stroller-friendly boardwalks. Some of the trees are more than 800 years old, and if you follow the Big Tree Trail, you’ll arrive at one of the largest trees in the park with a 9-meter (30-foot) circumference and has been growing for centuries.

Related Read: Cathedral Grove is one of the best things to do on Vancouver Island – check out the others here!

Where to Stay in Parksville

We love Parksville!

There are tons of different options when it comes to accommodation in Parksville, BC. From campgrounds to luxury hotels, this small town really has it all!

Beach Suites – $$$

If you are traveling with a large family or group, an entire apartment might be more suitable. Beach Suites offers large 3-bedroom apartments that sleep up to 8 people. The apartments include full kitchens, a living area, a washer/dryer, as well as an ideal location on a couple minutes’ walk from the beach. These units cost from $490 CAD per night depending on the number of people staying and the season. Check the rates here!

Beach Club Resort by Bellstar – $$

If you’re looking for something a little more luxurious, you can’t go wrong with The Beach Club Resort by Bellstar. This gorgeous hotel is located right on the beach, and some of the rooms even have balconies with an ocean view! The resort also features a large indoor swimming pool and hot tub as well as an on-site restaurant right next to the beach – perfect for sunset cocktails! Prices are reasonable, too, starting at $228 CAD per night when booked in advance.

The Tides Inn – $

For those looking for a budget-friendly yet comfortable hotel stay, you can’t go wrong with The Tide’s Inn. This motel actually has a huge mini-golf course on-site and you get free unlimited mini-golf if you stay here (perfect for families!). It’s also within walking distance of the beach, and super affordable with rooms starting from $114 CAD per night during the low season. Book The Tide’s Inn here.

Camping at Rathtrevor Provincial Park – $

When it comes to camping, we love staying at Rathtrevor Provincial Park. Although a few minutes outside of town, this campground is right on the beach and offers hot showers! The sites are spacious and include a picnic table with a fire pit. Prices start from $35 CAD per night and must be booked in advance online.

Renting a Car in British Columbia

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and bailey take a selfie in Parksville
Thanks for reading!

I hope this blog post has helped you decide what stops to make on the drive between Victoria and Parksville. As I said, it’s one of my favorite drives on Vancouver Island, and I know you’ll fall in love with the scenery along the way, as I did. So, take your time, and above all, have fun!

If you’re headed to BC soon, be sure to check out our other Vancouver Island blogs or some of our articles detailing travel in British Columbia. We have lots of ideas of places to see and things to do – no matter what season you visit.

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