How to have an EPIC 10 Day Vancouver Island Road Trip!

Ready for the ultimate Vancouver Island road trip? In this guide we’re sharing a 10 day Vancouver Island road trip itinerary, plus helpful information for your adventure!

During our big Journey to Alaska in 2022 one of the top spots we wanted to prioritize along the way was Vancouver Island, which we had visited very briefly back in 2017. While not directly on our route, we decided to take a two week detour to experience the island much more in depth than our previous visit. And it did NOT disappoint! In fact, it was our favorite place we visited on our way up to Alaska!

Watch our experience on Vancouver Island, including different cities and towns, unique beaches, gorgeous hikes, and more!

In this guide we’re sharing a 10 day Vancouver Island road trip itinerary to help you experience the diverse scenery that this island has to offer, plus information on how to get to the island, where to stay, what to bring, and more! We hope you fall in love with the island as much as we did!

WARNING: This is a long guide, but we hope it provides everything you need to know to plan your own epic Vancouver Island road trip! We have a table of contents feature below if you’d like to skip ahead to any section. Looking for even more detail? We will be linking to other Vancouver Island guides and videos in this guide to further help with your planning.

Looking for more things to do on Vancouver Island and in Canada?

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

About Vancouver Island

Things to do in Tofino on Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island is located on Canada’s Pacific coast in British Columbia, just west of Vancouver. If we had to describe Vancouver Island we’d say it’s as if you combined all of the best parts of the Pacific Northwest into a more condensed area.

There are over 500 named mountain peaks, lakes, gorgeous coastline, tons of hiking trails, waterfalls, charming small towns, remote wilderness, wildlife, delicious seafood and coffee, and so much more, all in just under 12,400 square miles. 

The Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth, and Coast Salish First Nations have lived on the island for centuries, utilizing all of these natural resources. And today, these resources have turned the island into an outdoor playground, attracting nature lovers, surfers (it is home to the surf capital of Canada!), and those who just want to enjoy a laid back, scenic getaway.

Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!

These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors. 

How to get to Vancouver Island

Victoria, BC | Vancouver Island Road Trip

Being an island, the only way to get to Vancouver Island is by ferry or plane and depending on where you plan to go, you may arrive and leave from different areas of the island. Below is a quick rundown of how to get to the island, whether you fly or take the ferry!

By Plane

Flying into Vancouver Island will be your quickest option. The largest airport on Vancouver Island is the Victoria International Airport (YYJ), which is located right in Victoria. The island also has two other medium sized airports, the Nanaimo Airport (YCD) and Comox Valley Airport (YQQ). All of these airports primarily have nonstop flights to locations in Canada, with the Victoria International Airport offering flights to Seattle. So depending on where you’re coming from, you’ll very likely have a layover.

Ferry to Vancouver Island

By Ferry (what we recommend!)

The most common way to get to Vancouver Island is by ferry, which is operated by BC Ferries. We LOVE riding the ferry! The views are incredible and being able to drive our van onto a boat is not only so cool to us, but also very convenient, because we can then drive our own vehicle all around the island.

The ferries we have been on have all been nice inside, with food to purchase and much more space to spread out than an airplane. But if you’re like us, you may spend the whole time outside enjoying the views!

There are three routes from mainland British Columbia to Vancouver Island:

  • Vancouver (Tsawwassen) to Victoria (Duke Point): 1 hour, 35 minute ride
  • Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay) to Nanaimo (Departure Bay): 1 hour, 40 minute ride
  • Vancouver (Tsawwassen) to Nanaimo (Duke Point): 2 hour ride

Any of these routes are a good option to get on the island, depending on where you’re going first. We’ll share what we recommend during the itinerary portion of this guide!

The cost of the ferry varies depending on the number of people in your party, if you’re bringing a vehicle (and its size), and other factors. To see the price for your situation, search for a route on BC Ferries website. For two of us in our oversized Sprinter van, we paid $250 round trip, but it is much cheaper if you are in a smaller vehicle.

Dogs are also allowed on the ferry, but must remain in your vehicle or in a designated pet area. 

Ferry to Vancouver Island

Visiting from the US?

Besides the BC ferries, you can also take the Black Ball Ferry from Port Angeles, Washington (on the Olympic Peninsula) to Victoria, which is a 1.5 hour ride, but Port Angeles is about a 2.5 hour drive from Seattle (and may require a ferry), so it’s about the same amount of time to just drive or fly up to Vancouver and take a ferry from there.

Make sure to study up on what you can and cannot bring into Canada from the US. You can see all of the rules here. And if you’re bringing a pet, make sure you have a copy of their rabies vaccination and that you only bring dog food in its original packaging, which has to be less than 20 kg (44 lbs).

Getting around Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island Road Trip
Our sick (rental car) ride on our first trip to Vancouver Island

As for transportation while on Vancouver Island, you have a couple options. You can either drive your own car or rent a car, which is what we’d recommend. Or you can take the Vancouver Island Connector Bus (seasonal), which can take you from various destinations on the island. However, by taking this bus you’ll be much more limited on where you can go and when. So we’d highly suggest having a car! 

Type of vehicle

Any vehicle will work just fine on Vancouver Island. A high clearance vehicle would be nice to have just to be safe, but our non 4×4 Sprinter Van was able to get to every spot on this guide just fine!

Rent a van!

A really fun way to experience Vancouver Island would be by campervan…we know from experience! By being in a van, you’ll be able to have a consistent “home” every night, even if the location of your home changes. Plus, you’ll be able to stop and cook on longer drives, which is one of our favorite parts of van life.

There are a handful of companies on the island who rent vans.

Van rentals in Victoria
GoCampers
Cool Camper Rentals (they have a pickup option in Sidney as well)
Base Camp Adventure Rentals
Let’sGo Campers (they have a pickup option in Nanaimo as well)

Van rentals in Nanaimo
JUSTGO Camper Van RV Rentals

Van rentals around the island
Outdoorsy is sort of like Airbnb, but for camper vans and RVs! If one of the options above doesn’t work for you, check them out!

When to visit Vancouver Island

Mystic Beach | Vancouver Island Road Trip

Although Vancouver Island is an island, it’s not exactly a tropical destination. The island is known for having a mild climate year round, with most of the sea level destinations having highs between 18-24ºC (65-75ºF) in the summer and lows between 0-4ºC (32º-40ºF) in the winter, with snow being a possibility in the lower elevations and a guarantee in higher elevations.

Summertime on Vancouver Island, and in the Pacific Northwest in general, is heaven. With way cooler temperatures than most of the United States, plus abundant sunshine after an often gloomy and rainy winter and spring, nothing beats summer in the PNW in our opinion. This would be the prime time to visit Vancouver Island to enjoy everything it has to offer, with the best weather.

However, summertime also brings crowds and higher prices. So for the best of both worlds, less crowds and still decent weather (although, be prepared for some rainy days!), we’d suggest visiting in late May, early June, or mid to late September. 

We visited Vancouver Island in late May and it was pretty perfect! Our first couple days were gloomy and rainy, but the rest of our time on the island had plenty of sunshine, with a few random sprinkles here and there.

Where to stay during your Vancouver Island Road Trip

Since this road trip itinerary covers quite a bit of ground, you will need to change lodging throughout the road trip. We will include suggestions of places to stay under each day of the itinerary!

Things to know before your Vancouver Island Road Trip

Before you go, here are a few important things to know before hitting the road on your Vancouver Island road trip!

Book in advance

We highly recommend booking things in advance, such as ferries, campsites and other lodging, and anything else that requires a reservation. This will give you the most options and ensure you are able to do everything you want!

Parking fees

Some of the spots on this guide do require a fee to park and we will make sure to mention that, as well as how you can pay.

Seasonal closures

Some restaurants and businesses listed on this guide may close for the winter season. While this guide is definitely catered more towards the summer, we suggest checking the hours of the places you want to visit beforehand so you’re not disappointed!

Pets are mostly allowed

Minus some restaurants, coffee shops, and maybe a few other locations, Vancouver Island is a very dog friendly place! Our dog Kona was able to join us on many hikes, at the beach, and as we explored some towns.

Dogs tend to be allowed on many beaches on Vancouver Island, but typically must remain on leash. Please follow this rule, as not all humans or other dogs (our pup Kona included) like having strange dogs run up to them.

Learn how we travel with a dog and what we do with Kona when she cannot join us on our adventures.

Cell Service can be limited

Cell service was hit or miss on Vancouver Island. In the cities, you’ll definitely have service, but there were times when driving on Vancouver Island that we didn’t have cell service, mostly around Strathcona Provincial Park Reserve, on the way to Tofino, and some other more remote areas.

If traveling from the US, something else to keep in mind is that your cell phone provider may not provide the same amount of high speed service as in the US. We have Verizon for our phones and we only get 0.5 gb of high speed data and once that is used, the speed will drop dramatically. This would probably be fine for most people who aren’t working or relying on their phone for work, but for us 0.5 gb doesn’t last very long. 

One other interesting thing to note is that when you’re on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, you might pick up US cell towers and be able to use your normal amount of data. That was a pleasant surprise for that area of the island! 

Know the tides

If you plan on visiting a lot of beaches, it will be important to know when the high and low tides are, so you can not only explore them as you’d like, but also safely! You can find tide times at the NOAA Tides and Currents predictions site.

What to bring with you to Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island Road Trip

Passport

If you’re visiting from the United States or another country, don’t forget your passport! For US Citizens, we highly recommend getting NEXUS, which makes crossing the border a breeze!

Note: Most travel credit cards will cover the fee for NEXUS! See which travel credit cards we love.

Hiking gear

If you’re doing any hiking, make sure to bring the appropriate hiking gear with you (see what all we take here!). We also always recommend having the 10 essentials on you!

Camera

You will definitely want to bring a camera with you to Vancouver Island! The best camera is the one you have at the moment, but if you’re curious what cameras and gear we use, check out our gear list.

Since it may be rainy, you’ll want to also bring protection for your camera. We just use a good ‘ol shower cap on our camera to keep it dry, which works pretty well.

Bear Spray

Black bears do live on the island, as do wolves and cougars (although these are more rare). When hiking in bear country we always carry bear spray with us. While black bears are not as aggressive as grizzlies, mama bears can be unpredictable, so we’d rather be safe than sorry.

We didn’t encounter any bears on any hikes, but we did see two on the drive from Victoria to Jordan River, which was super exciting!

Good hiking shoes (+extra shoes)

With often wet and muddy trails, you’ll definitely want to bring some hiking shoes with good grip! You can see which shoes we use here. We’d also suggest bringing an extra pair of shoes (and socks) in case your shoes get muddy!

Rain Jacket

If visiting outside of the summer months, there is a high chance you’ll get rained on, so make sure to bring a rain jacket!

Layers 

The weather on Vancouver Island can be cool in the mornings and evenings, with mild daytime temperatures that can feel a bit warmer when sunny, so you’ll want to pack some layers to ensure you’re always comfortable.

AllTrails maps

As we mentioned, cell service can be spotty in a few areas and on the trails, so we highly suggest downloading the offline AllTrails map for any hikes you plan on enjoying.

Vancouver Island Road Trip Route

There are many ways to experience Vancouver Island and many areas to choose from, but for this guide we’ll be focusing on what we personally experienced during our time on Vancouver Island, which we highly recommend for first timers to the area. There are many more areas to explore that we can’t wait to come back to check out!

For this Vancouver Island Road Trip we suggest starting in Victoria and then heading to Jordan River/Port Renfrew, Tofino, Campbell River, and ending in Nanaimo. This is actually a bit opposite of what we did when we visited Vancouver Island, but it’s the least amount of driving, which means you’ll have more time to explore!

10 Day Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary

Now that you know a bit more about the area, how to get there, and what to bring, it’s time to plan out your time on Vancouver Island! Below is our 10 day Vancouver Island road trip itinerary, following the route above, which can of course be adjusted to what you want to do, how much you want to do in a day, and how much time you have. 

But before we jump into some of the best things to do on Vancouver Island, here are some notes we wanted to make about this itinerary.

  • We love jam packed adventures and typically need a vacation from our vacation. This guide is loaded with hikes and activities, with some early wake up calls, so it may not be super relaxing, but it will be a blast! Feel free to adjust it as needed to fit your travel style.
  • On a similar note, we have included a variety of hikes and activities on this guide to make it doable for different activity levels and to give you options to choose from.
  • We are also including some optional add ons if you have more time or are just looking for even more options!
  • Some of these activities are dependent on the tides. Make sure to look at the tide charts beforehand and adjust as needed to ensure you visit places during the proper tide levels.
  • Don’t have 10 days to spend on Vancouver Island? We’re including a few options to shorten the trip at the end of this itinerary!

Day 1: Arrive on Vancouver Island + Explore Victoria

Victoria, BC | Vancouver Island Road Trip

Welcome to Vancouver Island! Day one will be a mix of travel and play, as you make your way to Vancouver Island and then explore the beautiful city of Victoria, which is not only the largest city on the island, but is also the second oldest city in Western Canada, and the capital of the entire province of British Columbia.

Watch our experience on the ferry to Vancouver Island and our experience exploring Victoria,  including enjoying tea, hiking, and seeing the gorgeous buildings!

Travel Time: 2.5 hours

This includes a 1 hour, 35 minute ferry ride from Tsawwassen in Vancouver to Swartz Bay, plus 40 minute drive from the ferry terminal in Swartz Bay to Victoria.

Itinerary

Hop on the ferry! Since this road trip begins in Victoria, you’ll want to take the ferry from Tsawwassen in Vancouver to Swartz Bay. We suggest taking one of the earliest ferries, so you can ideally arrive in Victoria by 9:30 AM at the latest to have enough time to explore!

As soon as you get into Victoria, you’ll immediately notice the gorgeous buildings! The city has had a lot of British influence over the years, with the Hudson’s Bay Company establishing a fort here in 1843 and with the island becoming a British Crown Colony in 1849. And you can see this influence in its architecture! Spend some time walking around the harbor, including admiring the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia building and the Empress Hotel.

Enjoy some afternoon tea (well, in this case, morning tea!)! Due to British history in Victoria, tea has been steeped in its culture since the 1840s! We like going to Murchies’s Tea & Coffee for an affordable tea, but for a more elegant English tea experience, check out the Tea at the Empress, which is offered starting at 11 AM and reservations are highly recommended.

Grab lunch at Red Fish Blue Fish, which is a very popular spot. Make sure to get the tacones, which are basically fish tacos, but in a cone shape! Their chowder is also amazing!

Head towards Chinatown to walk through Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in Canada! We love wandering around the streets in this area. There are so many cool, colorful buildings!

Venture a tiny bit from downtown to Parachute Ice Cream! This is an incredible ice cream shop with delicious, constantly changing flavors. We LOVED it!

Spend the rest of the day exploring Beacon Hill Park, which is a large park that goes from town down to the Strait of Juan De Fuca and has nice walking paths, coastal views, and tons of free roaming peacocks!

Before white settlers moved into the area, this area was the native land of the Lekwungen People. And what is now Beacon Hill Park was an important area for them to harvest camas root, which was a staple in their diet, as well as traded with other First Nations.

While in the park, we love just admiring the flowers, ponds, and walking to Finlayson Point, where you can see Washington’s Olympic Peninsula!

For dinner, there are many amazing places to eat in town! We love La Taqueria Pinche for delicious tacos! We also really enjoyed a nice Italian meal at Il Terrazzo.

Where to stay

Tonight you’ll want to stay in Victoria, so you can explore a bit more in the morning!

Campgrounds: Goldstream Campground, Sooke River Campground (in Sooke, west of Victoria on the way to Jordan River/Port Renfrew)

Hotels: Chateau Victoria Inn & Suites, Hotel Fairmont Empress, Victoria Regent Waterfront Hotel & Suites, Hotel Grand Pacific, Delta Hotels by Marriott

Vacation Rentals: Oceanfront Penthouse w/Private Rooftop Patio, Unique Chinatown Loft, Bright Studio in Old Town District, Oceanside Getaway (pet-friendly), Modern Living in Old Town 

Day 2: Victoria + Drive to Jordan River/Port Renfrew

Vancouver Island Road Trip

On day two on Vancouver Island you’ll explore a park of your choice near Victoria and then head west to the Jordan River and Port Renfrew area! Jordan River and Port Renfrew are two small beach towns along the Strait of Juan de Fuca and are home to the Juan de Fuca Trail, which is a 47 km (29 mile) wilderness trail that runs along the coastline and can be done as a backpacking trip or as multiple day hikes. And along this trail are tons of unique beaches!

Watch our time in the Jordan River and Port Renfrew area, where we checked out a bunch of unique beaches! 

Travel Time: 1-1.5 hours

Depending on which activities you choose, the drive from downtown Victoria to Jordan River is a little over 1 hour drive. 

Itinerary

Have breakfast at Jam Cafe in Victoria, which is a delicious spot with a wide variety of options! Make sure to get there right when they open, as it gets busy! We also love Hey Happy, which is a coffee shop that has pastries and breakfast items if you want something quicker.

For the first half of the day, you have a couple options:

After exploring some of the nature close to Victoria, head to Jordan River! Depending on the tides, we suggest arriving close to low tide so you can visit one of the amazing beaches in the area, like Sombrio Beach! Sombrio Beach is a beautiful beach, but what makes it special is that there is a hidden waterfall!

Sombrio Beach | Vancouver Island Road Trip

To get to the waterfall, you’ll hike down to the beach, which takes 10 minutes, and then once at the beach, go left. You’ll follow the beach this direction, going around a large rock cliff that is on the sand (it’s best to go at a falling tide to avoid this). Shortly after this rocky section, you’ll notice a very small stream going down the sand. Look to your left and you should see where the stream meets the trees, which is where you’ll want to enter.

You’ll hike through streams to get to the waterfall (your feet may get wet!), which is tucked into a narrow gorge and is SO unique and cool! It reminded us of the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon and is such a magical place.

We share a bit more of how to get to the waterfall in our YouTube video and this AllTrails Map is helpful to have downloaded to find the waterfall as well!

Where to stay

Jordan River Campground | Vancouver Island Road Trip

This evening you’ll want to stay in the Jordan River or Port Renfrew area, as it’ll make exploring more tomorrow a breeze!

Campgrounds: The BEST developed camping option in the area is the Jordan River Regional Park! This campground is right on the ocean (the road is right there as well, but it’s quiet at night) and it’s only $10 CAD (Nov-May) or $15 CAD (June-Oct) a night (cash only), which is a steal! It’s first-come, first-served, with only 15 drive in sites and 7 walk in sites, so try to arrive early!

You can also camp ON the beach at many of the beaches! Sombrio Beach is a popular choice to do this and it costs $10 CAD per night (you can get the backcountry permit in advance here or pay cash at the trailhead). Just make sure you set up your tent far from the high tide line.

Hotels:
Fossil Bay Resort, Point No Point Resort

Vacation Rentals:
Ferngully Cabins, Jordan River Cabin, Jordan River Cedar House and Hot Tub, Mystic Beach Vacation Home, Wild Renfrew cottages

Day 3: Jordan River/Port Renfrew

Today you’ll continue exploring the Jordan River and Port Renfrew area, including more unique beaches, plus delicious local spots!

Note: We are listing the itinerary for this day in order from east to west, in order to reduce backtracking while driving, but depending on the tides, you may have to switch it up to ensure you visit beaches at the best time!

Travel Time: 1.5 hours

The drive between Jordan River and Port Renfrew is about 45 minutes each way, so you’ll likely drive 1.5 hours round trip!

Itinerary

Enjoy breakfast at Shirley Delicious! This cafe is in an A-frame, tucked in the woods and makes food that shirley is delicious! We enjoyed their corn fritters, breakfast sandwich, and caramel latte and everything was insanely good, plus the setting can’t be beat!

Just down the road from Shirley Delicious is the Sheringham Point Lighthouse if you want to go for a quick stroll!

Go for a hike to Mystic Beach! This is a 4 km (2.5 mile) hike through a peaceful forest (warning, there are a lot of roots on the trail) and along a cool bridge, which leads to Mystic Beach, a stunning beach that has THREE unique features.

The first unique feature is a wooden swing, which you can find by going to the right once at the water. It is a lot of fun to swing on this over the sand and water!

Right next to the swing is a cave that you can go into! This cave is ONLY accessible at a low or falling tide, so please know the tides in advance.

The final (and our favorite) feature is a waterfall that cascades over the cliffside onto the beach and then into the ocean. We love waterfalls and seeing one ON a beach is something we don’t see often! This waterfall can be viewed at high tide, but you can only get close to it at low tide. So we’d suggest visiting this beach at low tide or falling tide to really take advantage of its fun features!

Next up, head to Botanical Beach in Port Renfrew! It’s just a 1 km/0.6 mile hike down to the beach, which is known for its tidepools. Make sure to visit at low tide so you can see them! We saw a variety of wildlife in the pools, like anemones, but unfortunately no starfish. Hopefully you’ll have better luck than us!

After a day of exploring the beaches in the area, have dinner at Stoked Wood Fired Pizzeria & Market!

Where to stay

For day 3, we suggest staying in Jordan River or Port Renfrew at one of the lodging options we listed above!

Day 4: Drive to Tofino

It’s time to hit the road to Tofino! This will be a long day of driving, but we are listing some stops to make along the way to help you stretch your legs. You likely won’t have time for them all, but you’ll be doing a portion of this drive again on Day 7, so you can check out whatever you miss then!

Watch us explore some amazing stops on the way to Tofino, including some beautiful waterfalls!

Travel Time: 5 hours

This drive is about 5 hours from Jordan River, but closer to 6 from Port Renfrew. 

Itinerary

Grab a quick coffee and breakfast at Cold Shoulder Cafe, which is such a cool coffee stand, and hit the road to Tofino!

Along the drive to Tofino there are tons of things you can stop at! Here are some of our favorites!

  • Englishman River Falls Provincial Park: This park has two waterfalls that are just a short walk from the parking area!
  • Old Country Market- Goats on the Roof: This market not only has donuts, jerky, and other food items, but it also has goats on the roof! It’s definitely a touristy stop, but if you need a quick snack or just want to see the goats, make sure to swing by. You’ll start to notice their famous goat stickers all across the island!
  • Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park: This park is also home to some beautiful waterfalls! Along this easy and short hike you’ll encounter a variety of different vantage points to view the river and falls!
  • Cameron Lake: This lake has a stunning mountain backdrop and makes for a great spot to have a picnic or kayak!
  • MacMillan Provincial Park (Cathedral Grove): This park is home to some of the tallest trees in all of Canada and some of the oldest trees here are 800 years old, with the Big Tree being the tallest in the park at 72m (236 ft) tall and 9m (30 ft) in width!

As you get closer to Tofino, you may encounter some road closures. Highway 4 is experiencing closures at Kennedy Hill and the delays can be a bit long. We waited for quite some time on our way to Tofino, but it was worth it because as we went through the construction, we spotted a black bear. It was awesome!

Once arriving in Tofino, head to dinner at Shed, Surfside Grill, or Wildside Grill and then relax after a big day of driving!

Where to stay

This evening you’ll want to stay in Tofino. Below are some options!

Campgrounds: We stayed at Surf Grove while in Tofino and LOVED it! It is a nice wooded campground just steps from Cox Bay Beach with a store, laundromat, a fire lounge, crate barrel saunas, extremely nice restrooms and showers, surf rentals, and wifi! It’s not cheap, but the amenities and location make it worth it.

Some other options include Wildpod Glamping, Green Point Campground, Bella Pacifica Campground, Crystal Cove Beach Resort, West Coast Campground

Hotels: Best Western Plus Tin Wis Resort, Tofino Motel Harborview, Hotel Zed Tofino, Wickaninnish Inn, Ocean Village Resort Tofino, Pacific Sands Beach Resort

Vacation Rentals: Waterfront Condo, Cannery Loft, Tofino Surf Cabin, 5 Star Executive Rental, Middle Beach Lodge 

Day 5: Tofino

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve | Things to do in Tofino on Vancouver Island

Today on your Vancouver Island road trip you’ll be exploring Tofino! Tofino is located on the west coast of Vancouver island on the tip of the Esowista Peninsula and what was once a small fishing village is now known for its pristine beaches, a unique mix of coastal, forest, and mountain scenery, and surfing. In fact, it’s nicknamed Canada’s surf capital!

The town itself is pretty small and takes a bit of effort to get to, but has become a popular hot spot for Canadian and foreign tourists in the summertime, who want to hit the waves, hike the trails, and enjoy the beaches. And we can see why!

It feels like a wild, remote place that while has become more developed over time, still maintains that authentic, smaller town, laid back feel. And with gorgeous views from the harbor, ample outdoor activities, a quaint downtown with shops, plus trendy local eateries, there is a little something for everyone in Tofino. 

Watch our experience in Tofino, Vancouver Island, including different hikes, surfing, local foods, and more! And to learn even more about the area, check out our guide with 12+ FUN Things to do in Tofino!

Travel Time: < 1 hour

The only driving you’ll be doing today is to just get between the different trails and sights in Tofino!

Itinerary

Enjoy coffee and breakfast at Rhino Coffee House in downtown Tofino. Make sure to get donuts or a bronut, which is a breakfast sandwich on a donut!

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve | Things to do in Tofino on Vancouver Island

Explore Pacific Rim National Park Reserve’s Long Beach Unit, which boasts kilometers of beautiful coastline, temperate rainforests, and the beautiful, but wild Pacific Ocean. This park does have a fee to enter, which varies depending on your age group and where you plan to visit. You can find more information on the fees here! Dogs are also allowed here (except  Combers Beach from April 14 to October 1), but must be on a leash.

We especially suggest hiking the Nuu-chah-nulth and South Beach Trail (6.4 km | 4 miles), which takes you to three beaches, plus through the forest, plus hiking to the Canso Bomber Plane Crash (7.5 km | 4.7 miles), which is the site of a plane crash from 1945 (don’t worry, everyone lived!). We go into much more detail about these hikes in our Tofino guide!

Grab a late lunch at Toki Doki, which is Japanese street food served out of an ‘80s Airstream at Tofino Brewing Co. Make sure to get the Osaka style Okonomiyaki! While you’re there, grab a beer (if you drink) or if you’re like us, head to Licks for ice cream instead! Note: if you want to eat there, you will need to buy something from Tofino Brewing Co.

Toki Doki | Tofino Food | Things to do in Tofino on Vancouver Island

Explore the town of Tofino, including the House of Himwitsa First Nations Art Gallery and other shops!

Watch the sunset from Chesterman Beach, which is quite.possibly the most popular beach in the area. It is pretty large at 2.7 km and is popular for exploring tidepools at low tide, visiting the Carving Shed by the Wickaninnish Inn, taking a surf lesson or watching the surfers at the south end, and so much more!

Unlike most beaches in the area, this one has FREE parking, but it does fill up! Tofino offers a shuttle from town that you can take if you’re unable to park.

Have dinner at one of the spots we listed on day 4 that you haven’t tried yet!

Where to stay

For day 5, we suggest staying in Tofino at one of the lodging options we listed above!

Day 6: Tofino

Cox Bay Lookout | Things to do in Tofino on Vancouver Island

Travel Time: < 1 hour

The only driving you’ll be doing today is to just get between the different trails and sights in Tofino!

Itinerary

Hike up to the Cox Bay Lookout (2.5 km | 1.6 miles), which was hands down our favorite view not just in Tofino, but on Vancouver Island!

While the distance looks easy for this hike, there is a lot to know beforehand. First, this hike MUST be done during low tide or a falling tide, as the entrance to the “trail” is not accessible during high tide and you do not want to risk getting stuck.

Finding the actual start of the trail is a challenge, but it doesn’t get easier from there, as it’s not a maintained trail and is very muddy and steep. It can be very confusing to know where to go, so we suggest downloading the AllTrails map in advance. You can see our exact route here.

Cox Bay Lookout | Things to do in Tofino on Vancouver Island

With all that said, for those willing to tackle the challenge, it’s worth it! From the top you can see Cox Bay Beach, the various islands nearby, and tons of mountain peaks. It doesn’t get much better views wise than this!

We share a lot more details about this hike on our Tofino guide, so please give it a read to ensure it’s the right fit for you and you’re prepared.

Tacofino | Tofino food | Things to do in Tofino on Vancouver Island

Enjoy lunch at Tacofino! This is very likely the most popular spot to eat in Tofino, as evidenced by the very long line and wait times (even at around 2:30 PM we waited an hour), so we’d suggest getting there right before they open if you can. Waiting in line for food is never fun, but if you go there with the expectation of waiting and embracing it then you’ll be just fine! Trust us, it’s worth it!

We ordered the Krispy Chicken Burrito, which had fried chicken karaage, guacamole, black chili mayo, cabbage, and pickled red onion and was loaded with different textures and flavors. We also got some Gringa tacos, which are basically a taco/quesadilla hybrid full of melty, cheesy goodness and it was top notch!

Surfing in Tofino | Things to do in Tofino on Vancouver Island

Spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon either surfing or have a beach day and check out the different beaches in the area. If you’d like to surf, some of the best beaches to do so are Long Beach, Wickaninnish Beach, Chesterman Beach, and Cox Bay Beach.

If you don’t have a surfboard, there are tons of places to rent boards and wetsuits in town. Adam rented his from Pacific Surf Co, which is a cool little shop and the staff were super friendly and helpful. It was $50 CAD for a surfboard and wetsuit for 24 hours, which isn’t too bad!

As for beaches to hang out at, Mackenzie Beach (calm waters that are great for kids and stand up paddle boarding), Long Beach, Cox Bay Beach, and Wickaninnish Beach are great! All of these do require some sort of fee to park, which can be paid with a credit card.

If you have time, we suggest going on a sunset hike on the Wild Pacific Trail Lighthouse Loop (2.9 km | 1.8 miles), which is located south of Tofino in Ucluelet and takes you to various coastal viewpoints, plus to the Amphitrite Lighthouse. This lighthouse was originally built in 1906 after a shipwreck of the Pass of Melfort, but was replaced in 1915 to better withstand hurricane force storms. It’s so adorable and unique!

Have dinner at Wolf in the Fog or one of the spots we listed under day 5!

Where to stay

For day 6, we suggest staying in Tofino at one of the lodging options we listed above!

Optional Add On: Go on an excursion in Tofino! 

If you have additional time in Tofino, or just want more ideas of things to do, we highly suggest going on a wildlife tour or visiting Hot Springs Cove, which is a hot springs area that requires a boat and/or plane ride to get to! 

Day 7: Drive to Campbell River

Things to do in Campbell River on Vancouver Island

It’s time to head to your final destination on Vancouver Island, Campbell River! It’s a bit of a drive to get there, but similar to the drive to Tofino, there are things to do along the way.

Travel Time: 3.5 hours

Itinerary

Grab a quick breakfast in Tofino (Tofitian Cafe is a good option!) and then hit the road!

On the way to Campbell River you’ll pass many of the stops we recommended under day 4, so if you didn’t have enough time for some of them before, we suggest stopping at them during this drive.

Once you get to Campbell River, grab a bite to eat at Beach Fire Brewing Company and then rest up for the last part of your Vancouver Island adventure!

Where to stay

Loveland Bay Provincial Park | Things to do in Campbell River on Vancouver Island

For your final few nights, you’ll want to stay in Campbell River. Below are some options!

Campgrounds: Quinsam Campground, Loveland Bay Provincial Park (where we stayed!), Miller Creek Recreation Site, Burnt Beach Recreation Site (FREE), Dogwood Bay Recreation Site (FREE)

Hotels: Brown’s Bay Resort, Dolphins Resort, Chateau Riverside Boutique Hotel, Comfort Inn & Suites Campbell River

Vacation Rentals: Luxury Villa with hot tub and private beach access, Oceanside Cottage, Bright 3 Bedroom Home

Day 8: Campbell River

Discovery Pier | Things to do in Campbell River on Vancouver Island

Campbell River is the third largest city on Vancouver Island and is located on the eastern side of the island along the Strait of Georgia, which is an inland waterway that separates mainland British Columbia from Vancouver Island.

While you may not find epic waves here, like on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Campbell River is still a gorgeous waterfront city that is a major outdoor paradise, both on and off the water! Campbell River, plus the surrounding area, is home to 5 Provincial Parks, marine parks, hiking and biking trails, snow sports, wildlife viewing, fishing, paddling, and so much more. It is also referred to as the “Salmon Capital of the World” because the waters are home to all 5 species of salmon!

Watch us explore Campbell River, including seeing waterfalls, eating local food, and more! And to learn even more about the area, check out our guide with the best things to do in Campbell River!

Travel Time: < 30 minutes

The only driving you’ll be doing today is around town!

Itinerary

Start the morning at Elk Falls Provincial Park, which is home to a 25 meter (82 feet) tall roaring waterfall, suspension bridge, canyon, a large network of trails, and excellent year round salmon fishing. And what makes it even better is that it is a FREE park to visit!

We suggest hiking this trail (1.8 km | 1.1 miles), which will take you down a bunch of steps to the main viewing platform, which directly overlooks the falls!

This will also take you to the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge! This bridge is 60m (197 ft) long and is one of the highest pedestrian bridges in all of Canada, stretching 60m above the canyon floor and river below it!

After viewing the falls from here, we highly suggest heading back towards the direction you came and then going right at the first junction, for one final view of the falls, this time from the left side of them.

Grab brunch at The Crooked Spoon Cafe or Ideal Cafe in Campbell River.

Head onto the Rotary Seawalk, which is a 6 km (3.4 miles) trail that traces the shore of Discovery Passage and runs parallel to Highway 19A. It’s a great path to walk or ride a bike and provides amazing views of the water, ships passing by, and wildlife. You can hop onto this pathway at Rotary Beach Park, as well as Frank James Park.

While on the Seawalk, walk to FoggDukkers Coffee to get some coffee and admire the gorgeous view! Continue on the Rotary Seawalk afterwards for even more views.

For the rest of the day you have a lot of options in and around town!

Campbell River Food | Things to do in Campbell River on Vancouver Island

Have dinner at Dockside Fish & Chips (they close by 7 PM, so go early)! We loved their two piece combo with salmon (of course, since it’s the salmon capital afterall!) and red snapper with garlic parmesan fries.

End the day with a sunset stroll at Dick Murphy Park!

Where to stay

For day 8, we suggest staying in Campbell River at one of the lodging options we listed above!

Day 9: Campbell River 

Strathcona Provincial Park | Things to do in Campbell River on Vancouver Island

Travel Time: 3 hours

For day 9, you will be driving a bit to explore more of the area around Campbell River.

Itinerary

Grab a coffee and a quick bite to eat at The Island Grind Coffee & Teahouse and head to Strathcona Provincial Park, which is the oldest provincial park in Canada (established in 1911!) and a massive one, with 250,000 hectares of wilderness. The park is dominated by mountain peaks, many of which are snow capped year round, as well as lakes, waterfalls, and so much more!

For your first stop in the park, head to Lower Myra Falls (1.6 km | 1 miles), a stunning waterfall with multiple tiers as it flows from different pools down the mountainside. While you can enjoy the view of the falls just from the end of the trail, if the conditions are safe, we’d suggest walking down some of the rocks to view more levels of the falls.

Kayak on the 23 km long Buttle Lake! We launched our kayak from the Karst Creek Boat Ramp (there are no kayak rentals). You can also enjoy a nice picnic near the water.

Continue chasing waterfalls with a stop at Lupin Falls (0.8 km | 0.5 miles) and Lady Falls (1 km | 0.6 miles).

Head back to Campbell River and enjoy dinner at Session Taproom + Kitchen! We tried the creatively named Tropic Like It’s Hot pizza, which is a jerk chicken pizza with a marinara base, pineapple and all kinds of other goodies on top. It was quite a unique and tasty flavor combo! They also  have tons of other unique pizza flavors, salads, and other options, as well as rotating beers and ciders, cocktails, wine, or any other beverage you might fancy.

Campbell River Food | Things to do in Campbell River on Vancouver Island

End the day with a beach campfire! Many of Campbell River’s beaches, including Ken Forde Park and Rotary Beach Park, allow campfires on the beach, but be sure to check local fire bans or restrictions beforehand, avoid private property, and always have your fire below the high tide line.

Where to stay

For day 9, we suggest staying in Campbell River at one of the lodging options we listed above!

Optional Add On: Go on a wildlife watching excursion in Campbell River OR go backpacking in Strathcona Provincial Park!

If you have additional time in Campbell River or just want some other ideas, you can also go on a wildlife tour to see whales, sea lions, dolphins, bears, elk, eagles, and so much more! There are many tour companies in town that can take you out for whale watching and bear watching. Grizzly bear watching is best from mid August- mid October.

You can also spend a night in the backcountry in Strathcona Provincial Park, which is the #1 thing we want to do on our next visit! We’d love to backpack to Landslide Lake (25 km | 15.6 miles, gains 1,129 m | 3,707 feet). It was too snowy in May, so make sure you plan for later in the summer.

Day 10: Head back to Vancouver

Travel Time: 3.5 hours

This includes a 1.5 hour drive from Campbell River to Nanaimo, plus under a 2 hour ferry ride to Horseshoe Bay, just north of Vancouver.

Itinerary

Ferry to Vancouver Island

Depending on your ferry time, head out early to hit the road to Nanaimo!

Make sure you get to Nanaimo a little early so you can try the city’s namesake dessert, a Nanaimo bar! This is an iconic Canadian treat that became popular after WWII and in 2006, it was declared Canada’s favorite confection. It has 3 layers and does not require baking. The bottom layer is a mix of wafer, nut, and shredded coconut, the middle is custard icing, and the top is chocolate ganache. We got ours from Bocca Café!

Head to the ferry terminal and enjoy the scenic ride back to Vancouver. We hope you enjoyed Vancouver Island!

Have less than 10 days on Vancouver Island?

If you don’t have 10 full days to spend on Vancouver Island, don’t fret! You can still experience a lot of what the island has to offer in less days, but you will not be able to visit all of the spots listed on this guide. Here are a few ways to shorten this itinerary, catered specifically to those who want to see as much as they can in a short period of time! 

3 Days:

  • Day 1: Arrive in Victoria and explore the city!
  • Day 2: Take a day trip to Jordan River/Port Renfrew and then head back to Victoria.
  • Day 3: Explore more of the Victoria area and catch the ferry back to Vancouver.

5 Days:

  • Day 1: Arrive in Victoria and explore the city!
  • Day 2: Explore Jordan River/Port Renfrew and stay the night.
  • Day 3: Drive to Tofino or Campbell River.
  • Day 4: Spend the day in Tofino or Campbell River.
  • Day 5: Drive to Nanaimo to catch the ferry back to Vancouver.

7 Days:

  • Day 1: Arrive in Victoria and explore the city!
  • Day 2: Spend the first half of the day in Victoria and then head to Jordan River/Port Renfrew and stay the night.
  • Day 3: Continue exploring Jordan River and Port Renfrew!
  • Day 4: Drive to Tofino or Campbell River.
  • Days 5-6: Explore Tofino or Campbell River.
  • Day 7: Drive to Nanaimo to catch the ferry back to Vancouver.

Ready to experience the beauty of Vancouver Island?

Pin this Vancouver Island road trip guide to help plan your trip!

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.

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3 Comments

  1. Krista

    Hi, Adam and Kathryn!
    Love your videos and this guide is incredible! I’ll be relying on it heavily for a trip we’re planning to Vancouver Island in September. One question I’m not sure you’ll know the answer to but just in case- the Nexus website is saying that it’ll take 12-14 months to process an application. In your experience, was that accurate or is there a chance it could be processed sooner? Our trip is in September so I’m trying to figure out if it’s worth trying (and paying). Again- totally understand if you don’t know the answer to this question, just thought I’d see what your experience was like. Thanks so much for the incredible content!

    Reply
    • Kathryn Frazer

      Hi Krista, thank you for watching! Wow, I had no idea they give that large of a timeframe. I want to say we got ours within weeks maximum, but that was also in 2018 and I believe (don’t quote me on this), that they shut down the program during COVID, so maybe they have huge backlogs now? But I know for sure it was not 12-14 months!

      Reply
      • Krista

        Got it- thanks for your response 🙂

        Reply

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