- Explore the seaside villages and laid-back islands of the Sunshine Coast
- Hike through the mountains and waterfalls of Strathcona Provincial Park
- Go whale watching and sea kayaking in the wilderness of the Pacific Rim
- Drive and ferry your way along the best of British Columbia's coastline
|Day 1||Arrive in Vancouver||Vancouver|
|Day 2||Vancouver to Sechelt (2 h 30 min)||Sechelt|
|Day 3||Explore the Lower Sunshine Coast||Sechelt|
|Day 4||Sechelt to Powell River (3 hours)||Powell River|
|Day 5||Powell River to Pacific Rim (5 hours)||Pacific Rim|
|Day 6||Explore Pacific Rim National Park||Pacific Rim|
|Day 7||Pacific Rim to Victoria (4 h 45 min)||Victoria|
|Day 8||Victoria to Vancouver (3 hours)||Vancouver|
|Day 9||Depart Vancouver|
Day 1: Arrive in Vancouver
Fringed by the Pacific Ocean and backed by the coastal mountains, Vancouver is one of the world's most livable cities with some of North America's best cuisine, rich indigenous heritage, and opportunities for outdoor activities.
It takes around 30 minutes to get from the airport to downtown. The city center and surrounding neighborhoods are within easy walking or biking distance and all the main attractions are a short distance away. To get your bearings, start with a stroll along the seawall from English Bay to False Creek before wandering the historical, cobbled streets of Gastown and Chinatown.
With over 60 different cultures, pick from a variety of international restaurants serving anything from Asian cuisine to seasonal farm-to-table dishes. For dinner, choose from a selection of top-notch eateries—from downtown and the West End to the North Shore and Kitsilano. Keep in mind, Vancouverites love eating out any day of the week so be sure to make a reservation if it's a popular restaurant.
Day 2: Vancouver to Sechelt (2 h 30 min)
Head north toward Horseshoe Bay and catch the ferry to the Sunshine Coast. This 112-mile (180 km) stretch of coastline—from Howe Sound in the south to Desolation Sound in the north—holds countless bays and inlets, driftwood-strewn beaches, lush fir forests, and rugged headlands backed by snowcapped mountains.
After arriving on the Lower Sunshine Coast, stop in Gibsons, a historic fishing village named the world’s most liveable small town by the International Awards for Liveable Communities in 2009. You'll find shops, cafes, and local artisans' galleries overlooking Howe Sound where it's easy to drift away the afternoon. Check out the Gibsons Public Market for a fresh cup of coffee and baked goods or head to the Sunshine Coast Museum to learn about the local history. For great seafood, head to Smitty’s Oyster House overlooking the harbor. Don't forget to also sample the great local craft beer at Tapworks Brewing or Persephone Brewing; both are highlights on British Columbia's popular Ale Trail.
Continuing up the coast, stop in the village of Roberts Creek, where 1930s-era cottages meet an enduring 1960s vibe. Walk along the driftwood-strewn beach at Roberts Creek Provincial Park, or, if you didn't grab lunch in Gibsons, head to the Gumboot Café which serves excellent farm-to-table meals and is just a short walk from the beach.
Sechelt, the coast’s biggest town, is rich with craft shops and cultural attractions. Check out the Arts Centre which features works by local artists as well as live music and literary events or the Tems Swiya Museum which documents the culture of the shíshálh Nation, who have lived along the coast for thousands of years. For dinner, head to the Lighthouse Pub perched scenically over the Sechelt Inlet for great seafood and local craft beer.
Driving time (Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay): 30 minutes (12 miles / 12 km)
Ferry time (Horseshoe Bay to Langdale): 40 minutes
Driving time (Langdale to Sechelt): 30 minutes (16 miles / 26 km)
Day 3: Explore the Lower Sunshine Coast
The Lower Sunshine Coast stretches from Gibsons in the south to Egmont in the north and offers a bit of everything—mountains, lakes, and long stretches of coastline to explore. Spend the day in the outdoors, hiking a number of great trails, paddling and relaxing along the coast, or renting a boat and exploring Pender Harbor. In the afternoon and evening, hit up a couple of the great local breweries and restaurants around Gibsons and Sechelt.
Day 4: Sechelt to Powell River (3 hours)
Follow the coast north to Powell River, which involves a ferry crossing from Earls Cove to Saltery Bay (check departure and wait times in advance). En route, both Sechelt and Egmont are great places to stop and explore or grab a meal. It's a pretty drive, with the highway winding its way along coves and inlets past the beautiful coastline. Remember to drive slowly and stop often to enjoy the views!
At Egmont, Skookumchuck Narrows is a popular stop to witness a whitewater wonder of the world. It's an easy 5-mile (8 km) return hike that leads to a section of the river where, twice a day, the saltwater flow changes directions and creates large waves and whirlpools. Be sure that your timing is right to catch the waves!
If there's time left in the day, follow Highway 101 north to the historic fishing village of Lund on the shores of Desolation Sound where you can head out on a sea kayaking tour or short hike. Don’t miss a stop at Nancy's Bakery for their celebrated blackberry cinnamon buns. Head back to Powell River for a pint of Pow Town Porter at Townsite Brewing before heading out for dinner.
Driving time (Sechelt to Earls Cove): 1 hour (34 miles / 54 km)
Ferry time (Earls Cove to Saltery Bay): 50 minutes
Driving time (Saltery Bay to Powell River): 30 minutes (20 miles / 30 km)
Day 5: Powell River to Pacific Rim (5 hours)
Be sure to catch an early ferry as it's a long, scenic day of travel. It's a straight ferry crossing to Comox, from where you'll head south along the coast toward Parksville before turning off onto the Pacific Rim Highway to Vancouver Island's west coast.
En route, stop at Little Qualicum Falls as well as Cathedral Grove to walk through one of British Columbia's oldest forests, with centuries-old Douglas Firs. Eventually, you'll wind your way up through the mountains before descending upon the wild coastline of the Pacific Rim National Park—here, nature surrounds you, as coastal rainforest gives way to expansive beaches and storm-swept coastline.
Once you come to a T-intersection on the Pacific Rim Highway, you'll find the Pacific Rim Visitor Centre where you can purchase your National Park Entry Pass (if you haven't already) and pick up trail maps. It's also a good place to check which trails are open or closed.
From here, you can either turn left to visit Ucluelet or right to head straight to Tofino (Ucluelet is about 10 minutes down the road and is a quieter, smaller version of Tofino). Nearby, stop at the Kwisitis Visitor Center (overlooking Wickaninnish Beach) for an introduction to the area's natural history and First Nations heritage. If there's time, take a walk along the sandy shore of Long Beach, a 7-mile (11 km) narrow expanse of beach that dominates the landscape before continuing up to Tofino.
With its laid-back vibe, Tofino is one of the top places to visit on Vancouver Island and a popular haven for surfers, families, and city-escaping Vancouverites, The town sits at the end of the long and narrow Esowista Peninsula on sheltered Clayoquot Sound and has a wide range of great restaurants and outdoor activities, such as whale and bear watching, sea kayaking, and coastal hikes. Even in peak tourist season, you can find your own stretch of coastline to explore, from Long Beach, Halfmoon Bay, Florencia Bay to Chesterman Beach, which is famous for its sunsets.
Ferry time (Powell River to Comox): 1 hour, 30 minutes
Driving time (Comox to the Pacific Rim): 3 hours (143 miles / 230 km)
Day 6: Explore Pacific Rim National Park
Pack your hiking boots (and beach gear) for a full-day if exploring the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Drive south on Highway 4 to Ucluelet, a small town on the northern edge of Barkley Sound that offers all of the same pursuits as in Tofino, but on a quieter scale. Rent a kayak and paddle the distance to a few of the wave-whipped islands (there are a hundred) of the Broken Island Group, where you can come ashore and hike the picturesque islands. Best to book a tour if you're not an experienced kayaker.
Sticking to firm ground, you can choose from a variety of trails found along the Long Beach area of the park. Opt first for the 1.6-mile (2.6-km) Lighthouse Loop that starts from He-tin-kis Park south of Ucluelet. Traveling back up the coast toward Tofino, try a couple of other routes: the 3-mile (5 km) Nuu-chah-nulth Trail, a historical loop that opens up to the beach; one of the two half-mile (1 km) Rainforest trails that offer views of towering western red cedar and hemlock, birds, streams, and massive ferns; or the Combers Trail, where a short walk leads to a shell- and driftwood-strewn expanse of beach—great to explore at low tide.
Day 7: Pacific Rim to Victoria (4 h 45 min)
Say farewell to the Pacific Rim and head back across the island along the Pacific Coast Highway to Nanaimo, stopping at any of the places you missed on your way in or for a walk on the beach in Qualicum Beach.
Stop for lunch in the Old City Quarter of Nanaimo, a heritage neighborhood with some great local restaurants (and home to the Nanaimo bar). Farther south, there's Cowichan Bay, a popular stop featuring a colorful string of wooden buildings that overlook a mountain-framed ocean inlet.
The elegant provincial capital of Victoria rests at the southern tip of Vancouver Island. A small city of 380,000, Victoria has retained elements of its British heritage, from double-decker buses and high tea to formal gardens (its top attraction is the world-renowned Butchart Gardens). Find your way on foot to the Inner Harbor, a busy waterway surrounded by the city's top sights and best restaurants, and the perfect spot to begin exploring the city. Be sure to visit the harbor at night when the Empress Hotel and the parliament buildings are lit up by thousands of lights.
Driving time (Tofino to Victoria): 4 hours, 45 minutes (196 miles / 316 km)
Day 8: Victoria to Vancouver (3 hours)
Leaving Victoria behind, head north to the Saanich Peninsula to Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal for the 90-minute ferry back to the mainland. En route, you can make an early morning stop at the famous Butchart Gardens to beat the crowds. Directly across the peninsula from Butchart Gardens lies Island View Beach Regional Park, where you can go for a quick dip in the ocean before catching the ferry.
As the ferry departs Swartz Bay, grab a coffee from the onboard cafeteria and head to the top outside deck for great views of the Gulf Islands as you make your way to the mainland. Arriving at Tsawwassen, it's a short drive to downtown Vancouver.
Driving time (Victoria to Swartz Bay): 45 minutes (20 miles / 32 km)
Ferry time (Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen): 1 hour, 15 minutes
Driving time (Tsawwassen to Vancouver): 45 minutes (23 miles / 37 km)
Day 9: Depart Vancouver
Head to The Naam (open 24/7) for an early morning breakfast before making your way to the airport. If you're feeling indulgent, splurge on a seaplane harbor tour to take in the magnificent scenery of the mountain-and-sea-dominated city from a new perspective. Alternatively, enjoy some more time at Stanley Park, paying a visit to Klahowya Village via the Spirit Catcher miniature train to watch cultural performances. Here you can also purchase souvenirs and gifts of traditional First Nations arts and crafts from the Artisan Marketplace and Métis Trading Post.
It usually takes 30 minutes to travel from downtown Vancouver to Vancouver International Airport but allow extra time in case of traffic. Best to arrive at least two hours prior to your international departure while allowing extra time to drop off your rental car.