Spend 16 days driving through some of the most unique and remote wilderness in southern British Columbia. After a quick visit to Vancouver and Whistler, you'll slow down the driving as your make your way on Highway 20 from Gold Rush Country to the coastline of the Great Bear Rainforest. En route, hike, raft, go horseback riding, and take to the sky to fly over one of Canada's largest waterfalls. End your trip with some relaxation and comfort in the Pacific Rim of Vancouver Island.

Highlights

  • Explore "The Last Frontier" of the Chilcotin Coast, famous for its unique diversity
  • Get a true sense of adventure, away from the popular tourist routes and crowds
  • Catch a glimpse of the rare Spirit Bear in the Great Bear Rainforest
  • Stay at historic, family-run ranches and wilderness lodges in the heart of this remote wilderness

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Vancouver Vancouver
Day 2 Vancouver to Whistler (2 hours) Whistler
Day 3 Whistler to Clinton (3 h 30 min) Clinton
Day 4 Clinton to Chilcotin Lodge (2 h 30 min) Chilcotin Lodge
Day 5 Chilcotin Lodge to Big Creek Lodge (1 hour) Big Creek Lodge
Day 6 Big Creek Lodge to Tatla Lake (3 hours) Tatla Lake
Day 7 Tatla Lake to Nimpo Lake (1 hour) Nimpo Lake
Day 8 Nimpo Lake to Bella Coola (2 hours) Bella Coola
Day 9 Explore the Bella Coola Valley Bella Coola
Day 10 Bella Coola to Port Hardy (11 hours) Port Hardy
Day 11 Port Hardy to the Comox Valley (3 h 30 min) Comox Valley
Day 12 Comox to Pacific Rim (3 hours) Pacific Rim
Day 13 Explore Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve Pacific Rim
Day 14 Explore Pacific Rim National Park Pacific Rim
Day 15 Pacific Rim to Victoria (4 h 45 min) Victoria
Day 16 Victoria to Vancouver, Depart (2 h 30 min)  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Vancouver

Stanley Park, Deadman's Island, and downtown Vancouver
Stanley Park, Deadman's Island, and downtown 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 Whistler (2 hours)

Town of Squamish, outdoor mecca for rock climbing, hiking, and water sports.
Town of Squamish, outdoor mecca for rock climbing, hiking, and water sports.

Begin your road trip north to Whistler along the Sea-to-Sky Highway (otherwise known as Route 99), one of the country's most iconic drives. A scenic route from sea level to the mountains, there are several beautiful spots worth stopping at during the drive. 

Halfway to Whistler—and where the ocean, river, and alpine forest meet—there's Squamish, an access point for outdoor activities and adventure. Just before reaching Squamish, you can see the area's most famous peak from the highway, the Chief, a sheer granite rockface popular with skilled climbers. Pick up the Stawamus Chief Trail for a hike up the back to reach the summit (divided into three peaks and graded as an intermediate hike, it takes the average person 3-4 hours to reach the first—and most visited—summit). Or, take the Sea-to-Sky Gondola up the mountain for excellent views of Howe Sound from Summit Lodge at the top where you can also grab lunch.

You'll reach Whistler, an upscale, chalet-style pedestrian village (and venue for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics) in the early to mid-afternoon. Whistler is North America's largest winter sports resort worth a visit at any time of year. The village is built around Whistler-Blackcomb, twin peaks accessed by an ultramodern lift system that provides opportunities to hike, bike, canoe, kayak, rock climb, or zip-line in warmer months and ski or snowboard in the winter.

Driving time (Vancouver to Whistler): 2 hours (75 miles / 120 km)

Day 3: Whistler to Clinton (3 h 30 min)

Joffre Lake Provincial Park
Joffre Lake Provincial Park

Head northeast, transitioning from the pacific coastal rainforest and mountains to the hot, dry interior of British Columbia's ranch lands. You'll pass through the small towns of Pemberton and Lillooet and cross the mighty Fraser River, entering into the Cariboo region of the province, famous for its gold rush history. 

En route, stop at Joffre Lakes Provincial Park to hike to a series of turquoise lakes that are framed by hanging glaciers and mountain peaks. The first (lower) Joffre Lake is a short 5-minute walk from the parking lot and Upper Joffre Lake (6 miles / 10 km, return) takes more effort but is well worth the views (if you have the time).

From Lillooet, continue east along the Gold Nugget Route toward Clinton, taking in the changing desertlike scene of sagebrush-covered hills and mostly-barren landscape.

Driving time (Whistler to Clinton): 3 hours, 30 minutes (150 miles / 235 km)

Day 4: Clinton to Chilcotin Lodge (2 h 30 min)

Banks of the Chilcotin River
Banks of the Chilcotin River

Head north to William's Lake and then turn off onto Highway 20  to the historic Chilcotin Lodge on the Chilcotin-Bella Coola Highway. Surrounded by rolling hills and grasslands of Riske Creek, this is a great spot to base yourself to explore the surrounding region, especially the sculpted hoodoos and the Bighorn Sheep of Farwell Canyon.

Driving time (Clinton to Chilcotin Lodge): 2 hours, 30 minutes (130 miles / 210 km)

Day 5: Chilcotin Lodge to Big Creek Lodge (1 hour)

Horseback riding at Big Creek Lodge
Horseback riding at Big Creek Lodge

Today, drive south to Big Creek Lodge, stopping at Farwell Canyon along the way. The lodge is a classic working Chilcotin ranch run by German owners where you can go trail riding in the country, fishing along rivers, or ATV touring from the end of April to October (or, simply relax for the rest of the day). 

Driving time (Chilcotin Lodge to Big Creek Lodge): 1 hour (50 miles / 80 km)

Day 6: Big Creek Lodge to Tatla Lake (3 hours)

Landscape around the Chilcotin River
Landscape around the Chilcotin River

After breakfast, drive back to Highway 20 and continue your road trip west. At Bull Canyon Provincial Park, stop for a riverside walk and picnic along the banks of the turquoise-colored Chilcotin River. If you're into fishing, just beyond Alexis Creek you'll find Puntzi Lake, famous for its Kokanee and Rainbow trout.

Reaching Tatla Lake, you'll start to notice the landscape changing from the grasslands and lake-dotted hills of the Chilcotin plateau to more rugged mountain vistas. Around Tatla Lake, there are a number of rustic cattle ranches and lodges where you can spend the night and learn about the history of these family-run establishments. Activities include horseback riding, fishing, canoeing, hiking, mountain biking, and helicopter tours. 

Driving time (Big Creek Lodge to Tatla Lake): 3 hours (112 miles / 180 km)

Day 7: Tatla Lake to Nimpo Lake (1 hour)

Grasslands of the Chilcotin, nearing Tweedsmuir
Grasslands of the Chilcotin, nearing Tweedsmuir

Drive to Nimpo Lake, edging closer to the peaks of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park—British Columbia's largest provincial park. Spend the day at Nimpo Lake, relaxing by the lakeshore, heading out for a standup paddleboard, or partaking in a yoga class at Retreat Wilderness Inn. If you're only spending one night, here, arrange for a charter flight today to Turner Lake and Hunlen Falls, one of Canada's highest waterfalls. In the evening, grab a cocktail and settle in next to a fire. 

Driving time (Tatla Lake to Nimpo Lake): 1 hour (50 miles / 80 km)

Day 8: Nimpo Lake to Bella Coola (2 hours)

Shoreline near Bella Coola
Shoreline near Bella Coola

If you haven't already, charter a floatplane to fly over Turner Lake and get a glimpse of Hunlen Falls, one of North America’s highest waterfalls, which plunges 850 ft. (250 m) over a sheer rock face. 

Then, head west on Highway 20, coined the "Freedom Highway" for the determined locals who constructed the road in the 1950s after the provincial government declined to build it themselves. From Heckman Pass, the road descends through a series of switchbacks for more than 25 miles (40 km) from the pine and spruce forests of the Coast Mountains to the towering hemlock and cedar groves of the Bella Coola Valley. (The road is mostly paved apart from a well-maintained gravel section.) Keep your eyes peeled for mountain goats, black bears, caribou, moose, and numerous bird species.

Driving time (Nimpo Lake to Bella Coola): 2 hours (100 miles / 160 km)

Day 9: Explore the Bella Coola Valley

Abandoned cabin near Bella Coola
Abandoned cabin near Bella Coola

Bella Coola is wedged between a deep fjord and the vast wilderness of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, making it the perfect place to explore nature. Spend the day hiking, rafting, kayaking, fly-fishing, or wildlife viewing in one of the world’s highest concentrations of grizzly bears. Or, if you're looking to relax, charter a boat to one of the remote coastal hot springs. Most of the activities are operated by the local wilderness lodges but the Copper Sun Gallery in town also offers local heritage walks led by a guide from the Nuxalk First Nations who have inhabited this region for centuries.

Day 10: Bella Coola to Port Hardy (11 hours)

Coast of British Columbia
Coast of British Columbia

Board BC Ferries (routes and service vary by season) for the journey from Bella Coola to Port Hardy. Stops may include Ocean Falls, Klemtu, Shearwater, and Bella Bella. As you sail west out of the fjord, keep your eyes open for whales or sea lions sunbathing along the rocky shoreline. The route passes by the forested islands of the Inside Passage before heading south through the open sea.

Ferry time (Bella Coola to Port Hardy): 11 hours

Day 11: Port Hardy to the Comox Valley (3 h 30 min)

Trent River Falls near Comox in autumn
Trent River Falls near Comox in autumn

Drive south and make your way down island to the Comox Valley. Early on in the drive, stop in Telegraph Cove, a charming fishing village with a small year-round population that grows exponentially in the summer. Along the water, check out the old colorful houses built on stilts lining a long wooden boardwalk. Telegraph Cove is also one of the best places in the world for whale and orca (killer whale) watching given its proximity to Johnstone Strait, which has almost as many whales as people.

From Telegraph Cove, you'll drive inland through the mountains before heading back to the coast for the final stretch toward Comox. 

Driving time (Port Hardy to Comox Valley): 3 hours, 30 minutes (180 miles / 290 km)

Day 12: Comox to Pacific Rim (3 hours)

Long Beach, Pacific Rim National Park
Long Beach, Pacific Rim National Park

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.

Driving time (Comox to Tofino): 3 hours (143 miles / 230 km)

Day 13: Explore Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve

Lone kayaker paddles off Vancouver Island's western shore
Lone kayaker paddles off Vancouver Island's western shore

Spend the day exploring Clayoquot Sound, a wild region of forests, trails, beaches, and islands that provide access to what is quintessentially western British Columbia. Devote the morning to a sea kayaking tour in the regional waters around Tofino; you can stick close to the coast with an easy two and a half-hour paddle, or, for something more extreme, set out into Clayoquot Sound for Vargas Island on a six-hour ocean paddle adventure. 

There are also a number of day trips from Tofino by hired zodiac or seaplane (tours depart late morning and early afternoon) to places such as Maquinna Marine Provincial Park. Keep an eye out for gray whales that feed here through the summer as well as other sea creatures that frequent the area. From the boat landing in Maquinna Park, just over a mile (2 km) of boardwalks lead to the natural hot springs of Hot Spring Cove where you'll have about three hours ashoreenough time to soak in a few of the mini baths!

Day 14: Explore Pacific Rim National Park

Driftwood on Chesterman Beach south of Tofino
Driftwood on Chesterman Beach south of Tofino

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 15: Pacific Rim to Victoria (4 h 45 min)

Victoria's Empress Hotel and Inner Harbor
Victoria's Empress Hotel and Inner Harbor

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 16: Victoria to Vancouver, Depart (2 h 30 min)

BC Ferries sailing from Victoria to Vancouver
BC Ferries sailing from Victoria to Vancouver

Leaving Victoria behind, head north to the Saanich Peninsula to Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal for the 90-minute ferry back to the mainland. Arriving at Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, you'll head straight to Vancouver International Airport.

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 International Airport): 30 minutes (20 miles / 30 km)