Whether you’re the adventurous type, an explorer or a camper, for everyone, there’s something to do on Vancouver Island. From Wineries & Cideries to waterfalls, age-old trees in the rainforest, rugged coasts and the charming harbors. Vancouver Island is the ideal destination to start or end your road trip through Canada.
Vancouver Island tips
In this blog we share a handy route and Vancouver Island tips. We have bundled the best Vancouver highlights and give you advice on where to sleep and where to go.
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Getting on Vancouver Island
The ferry from Vancouver: There are 2 popular mainland ports from which most travelers arrive: Via Nanaimo (from the mainland via Horseshoe Bay) or from the mainland via Tsawassen. You can also get on the ferry with your vehicle, but you have to pay extra for the vehicle depending on the size of your vehicle.
Don’t have a car or camper? Then you can choose to get on the island byGreyhound bus. For example, you can buy a bus / ferry combination ticket.
You can buy tickets for the ferry with means of transport from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo via the BCFerries website
Route Vancouver Island
Start in Nanaimo or Victoria Island
Most travelers skip Nanaimo or drive directly to Tofino or Victoria after one night. A shame, because Nanaimo also has a lot to offer. In any case, set aside 2 nights for Nanaimo or use it as a base for a day trip to Victoria (only 1 / 1.5 hour drive) and north of Vancouver Island.
- How about a floating pub on Protection Island with parks named after Captain Morgan or Captain Flint. Arr Matey!
- A short 30-minute hike to the Ammonite Falls, the waterfalls in Nanaimo.
- View sunset from Neck Point Park, Living Forest campsite or Pipers Lagoon.
- Are you traveling for a while like us? Then you might like to browse shops or go to the cinema. We watched Deadpool 2 and Han Solo (it rained :)) at Landmark Cinemas (in the Woodgrove Center). In the mall you will also find a food court, nice skate shops, a cinema, Walmart and you can have your eyebrows done for $ 12.
- Buy your food for Tofino at Walmart or Save on Foods (but no worries, the Coop supermarkets can be found in Tofino and Ucluelet)
Camping in Nanaimo
We slept at the Brennan Lake campsite and at Living Forest. Do you want to sleep at the sea and do you like lively campsite? Then I would opt for the latter. Do you want larger camping spots in the woods? Then the former is a better choice. Prices are quite the same, but the Living Forest sunrise cannot compete with the forests of Brennan Lake.
Day trip from Nanaimo?
- Drive the Old Island Highway or more known as the Oceanside Route. This road runs parallel to the coast of the island and from your car you have a beautiful view of the Salish Sea. The route is known as a scenic route and you then drive through small towns such as Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Fanny Bay, Union Bay, Royston, Black Creek, Oyster River and Campbell River.
- If you choose the scenic route, you can visit a suspension bridge from Campbell River.
The road to Tofino: where to stop
The winding road to Tofino goes past lakes, beautiful forests, and rocks. There are several places where you can make a stop.
- Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. Here you will find the upper and lower falls. I have to say we were spoiled by all the beautiful waterfalls in British Columbia. We were not impressed then. If you are not spoiled, then the short hike of 5min. well worth it.
- Cathedral Cove hike. This hike can be done on two sides and runs through a forest with huge trees. The number of trees in size was more than the Rainforest Trail at Tofino, but in Tofino, you get the rainforest feeling more. The hike is not too long, by the way, and we found the trees just as impressive as the sequoia in America. You will find here the largest tree on Vancouver Island: 800 years old and 76 meters high!
Tofino is a small surfers village with a chill vibe. You will find nice coffee shops and trendy restaurants with a surfer’s vibe here. Tofino is also the place to spot bears and whales and you can make beautiful hikes through ancient rain forests.
Camping in Pacific Rim National Park
If you travel with a camper or tent, go camping at Long Beach. We slept on the edge of the ocean at the Green Point Campground – Long Beach Unit campsite. A simple, affordable site on the edge of Long Beach between the beach and Pacific Rim Highway. The camping spots are spacious and there are normal toilets, rangers, there is a shower and you are exactly in between Tofino and Ucluelet (ideal!)
Trails in Tofino and surroundings: where to hike?
- The Rainforest walk – an easy walk through an ancient rainforest.
- The Ancient Cedar walk – walk along old meters-tall trees (they are huge!). The trail runs from the forest to the beach and ends again on the Pacific Rim Highway, but a lot further south.
Ucluelet feels like Tofino, but less touristy. It is a little less cramped. This was our base after we camped in the rain. We booked a motel (West Coast motel) with good reviews near the port of Ucluet. Our room had its own bedroom and living room with a kitchen and like in every motel; a parking space in front of the door. Ideal for us to dry the tent in the bathroom.
Tips in Ucluet
- Coffee and cakes at Zoe’s Bakery & Cafe: this is a great place to chill and have a cake + coffee
- A Watermelon Sour cider if you’re into beer at the local liquor store.
Hikes around Ucluet
- The popular Wild Pacific Trail starts in the city, from which you can walk small sections;
- The Amphitrite point Lighthouse trail runs along the beautiful coast and through the rainforest. The lighthouse itself is not very special, but separate, but the walk is great for a short beach walk.
Victoria Harbour and Merridale Cidery & Distillery
Victoria Harbor seems to be one of the most beautiful harbors. And although Victoria seemed like a nice, cozy city, we mainly came to Canada for nature. After a short stop at Fisherman’s Wharf in Victoria, we drove on to a nearby town for thrift shopping (unplanned) on the way to the Merridale Cidery & Distillery.
Fisherman’s Wharf is a nice place to score a coffee or food. The wharf is surrounded by colorful houses of locals and cafes, it’s very cozy.
On the way back: drive to the Merridale Cidery & Distillery for a taster with four ciders. For $ 5 excl. Taxes you can try both dry and sweet ciders and they are tasty. The cidery is nicely decorated (choose a table with a view over the orchard!). You can also do a short self-guided tour through the orchards or the distillery, we absolutely loved it!