This two-week road trip takes you through some of the most beautiful landscapes of the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island. You'll base yourself in four main locations: Desolation Sound, Strathcona Park, the Pacific Rim, and Salt Spring Island. Activities range from sea kayaking to waterfalls hikes to exploring the galleries and farmers' markets of Salt Spring Island.

Highlights

  • Paddle some of BC's warmest waters in Desolation Sound
  • Explore the lakes, waterfalls, and trails of Strathcona Provincial Park
  • Relax and explore the rugged coastline around Tofino and Ucluelet
  • Enjoy the galleries, markets, and laid-back vibe of Salt Spring Island

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Vancouver to the Lower Sunshine Coast (3 hours) Egmont
Day 2 Paddle to Cabana Desolation Eco Resort Cabana Eco Resort
Days 3-5 Adventure & Relaxation in Desolation Sound Cabana Eco Resort
Day 6 Desolation Sound to Strathcona Provincial Park (3 h 30 min) Strathcona Park Lodge
Days 7-8 Explore Strathcona Provincial Park Strathcona Park Lodge
Day 9 Strathcona Provincial Park to Pacific Rim (4 h 30 min) Pacific Rim
Day 10 Explore Pacific Rim National Park Pacific Rim
Day 11 Boat Trip to Hot Springs Cove Pacific Rim
Day 12 Pacific Rim to Salt Spring Island (4 h 30 min) Salt Spring Island
Day 13 Explore Salt Spring Island Salt Spring Island
Day 14 Salt Spring Island to Vancouver (3 hours) Vancouver

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Vancouver to the Lower Sunshine Coast (3 hours)

Grab a bite to eat in Gibsons harbor
Grab a bite to eat in Gibsons harbor

It's a short drive and ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay over to the Lower Sunshine Coast from Vancouver. Here, you'll find a string of laid-back communities perched along the coast with great restaurants, craft breweries, and waterfronts. Don't miss Gibsons, Sechelt, and Pender Harbour, and you can drive the entire breadth of the coast from south to north on Highway 101 in just under two hours.

For those keen to explore the outdoors, there are a number of driftwood-strewn beaches to explore by foot, kayak, or paddleboard or to stop at for a picnic. For beautiful hikes and natural scenery, check out Smuggler Cove and Skookumchuck Narrows

Day 2: Paddle to Cabana Desolation Eco Resort

Boardwalk through Cabana Resort
Boardwalk through Cabana Resort

From Egmont, it's a 10-minute drive to Earls Cove where you'll want to catch an early ferry to Saltery Bay on the Upper Sunshine Coast. Make your way north to Powell River where you'll meet with the team from Cabana Resort and enjoy your first day of paddling (3-4 hours) as you make your way to their remote island camp (or you can transfer by boat, as well). There will also be a safe place to leave your vehicle for the duration of your stay on the island. 

Cabana Eco Resort is completely off the grid on a remote island and is the only resort located in Desolation Sound. Meals are made from fresh local ingredients and the cabins and boardwalks are handcrafted from Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar.

Days 3-5: Adventure & Relaxation in Desolation Sound

Sea kayaking in Desolation Sound
Sea kayaking in Desolation Sound

Now that you're off the grid, it's time to explore and relax in the coastal wilderness of Desolation Sound. Each day, you can either explore the islands and coves by sea kayak or simply relax and immerse yourself in the natural surroundings. While sea kayaking is a key experience, you can also go paddleboarding, snorkeling, swimming, or simply explore the island and numerous lookouts by foot on the local trails.

Sea Kayaking: Each day, an experienced local guide will take the group to a new location. A picnic lunch is packed into the kayaks.

Snorkel & Paddleboard: The resort has snorkel or paddleboard equipment that you can use and staff can direct you to the best locations. Desolation Sound has some of the warmest waters in BC, making it a great place to snorkel.

Relax:
There are hammocks, local trails, and peaceful common areas to simply relax and unwind. You can also head out on short walks to coastal lookouts and find the perfect bluff to relax with a book or cup of coffee.

Day 6: Desolation Sound to Strathcona Provincial Park (3 h 30 min)

Camping in Strathcona Provincial Park
Camping in Strathcona Provincial Park

Enjoy your last morning at Cabana Resort and then paddle (or take the boat) back to Okeover Inlet on the Upper Sunshine Coast. After picking up your car, drive back to Powell River and catch the ferry to the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. 

From Comox, head north to Campbell River on Highway 19 or opt for the slower (but more scenic) coastal route. At Campbell River, you'll veer inland for the 45-minute scenic drive into Strathcona Provincial Park, British Columbia's oldest park.

For mountain lovers, Strathcona Provincial Park is the perfect place to unwind and get away from it all. Due to its remote location and rugged landscape, the park is overlooked by mass tourism making it all the more reason to come here. You'll find solitude, fresh air, great views over the mountains, lakes, and numerous waterfalls. 

In the middle of the park on the shores of Upper Campbell Lake, you'll find Strathcona Park Lodge, the only facility within the park. Founded in 1959, this rustic (slightly off-the-grid) lodge is well maintained and has lakeside cottages and cabins for rent as well as canoes and kayaks for day-use. Don't expect to find TVs, wifi, or cell phone coverage, here, as the main goal is to connect with nature.

Days 7-8: Explore Strathcona Provincial Park

Lower Myra Falls, Strathcona Provincial Park
Lower Myra Falls, Strathcona Provincial Park

Strathcona Park is best explored by foot, canoe, or kayak. There are numerous hiking trails to choose from, ranging from short hikes to scenic viewpoints and waterfalls to longer treks that get you higher up in the mountains. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of the lakeside stops or at a waterfall and plans to spend the day in the outdoors. 

The park is divided into two main regions: Buttle Lake (accessible via Campbell River) and Forbidden Plateau (located adjacent to Mount Washington). Both of these regions offer great outdoor adventures, from multi-day trekking to short day hikes to beautiful waterfalls. Keep your eyes open for wildlife, such as black bears, elk, deer, bald eagles, and a variety of birdlife.

Day 9: Strathcona Provincial Park to Pacific Rim (4 h 30 min)

Walking trail through Cathedral Grove
Walking trail through Cathedral Grove

Say farewell to the mountains and drive back to Campbell River before heading south toward Parksville and the Pacific Rim Highway. En route, stop at Little Qualicum Falls and Cathedral Grove where you can 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 into Pacific Rim National Park—here, 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.

Day 10: Explore Pacific Rim National Park

Wild Pacific Trail at sunset
Wild Pacific Trail at sunset

Spend the day simply enjoying the beautiful coastline, rainforest trails, and communities of the Pacific Rim. In the early morning, Schooner Cove is a great spot to walk the tidal pools and sand dunes. The sheltered, kayak-friendly Grice Bay is another good spot to catch views of wildlife. Besides the countless hiking trails that stretch between Ucluelet (in the south) and Tofino (in the north), there are remote lakes and islands to explore and great local galleries, breweries, coffee shops, and restaurants in the towns.

Day 11: Boat Trip to Hot Springs Cove

Aerial view of Pacific Rim National Park
Aerial view of Pacific Rim National Park

Departing from the Tofino Marina, hop on a zodiac boat for your trip to Hot Springs Cove in Maquinna Marine Park (accessible by boat or floatplane). Most guided trips depart in the early afternoon and return at sunset.

Here, a series of natural geothermal pools and waterfalls (reaching 50°C) are reached via a boardwalk that winds its way over a kilometer through old-growth forest. The boat ride, itself, is also a highlight as you'll have to chance to catch glimpses of wildlife such as grey whales, bald eagles, and even black bears. (For a faster trip back to Tofino, splurge on a scenic floatplane return flight.)

Day 12: Pacific Rim to Salt Spring Island (4 h 30 min)

Vesuvius Bay ferry dock on Salt Spring Island
Vesuvius Bay ferry dock on Salt Spring Island

It's time to say goodbye to the Pacific Rim and head back across the island to Nanaimo. Here, grab lunch in the Old City Quarter, a heritage neighborhood with some great local restaurants (and home to the Nanaimo bar!).

From Nanaimo, it's a 40-minute drive to Crofton where you'll catch the ferry to Vesuvius Bay on Salt Spring Island. Salt Spring is a popular, laid back island famous for its friendliness, natural beauty, galleries, and artistic charm. You'll find quaint B&Bs along the coast and award-winning wineries, craft breweries, and local farms where you can buy organic produce, teas, and jarred goods. If you're visiting on a Saturday between April and October, don't miss the Salt Spring Saturday Market in the town of Ganges, where everything sold is made or grown on the island.

Day 13: Explore Salt Spring Island

Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island
Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island

Spend the day enjoying the laid-back vibes of Salt Spring Island. There are a number of outdoor activities to choose from and a great selection of local markets, shops, wineries, and breweries. On Saturdays, check out the Saturday Market which is one of the best in British Columbia (think pottery, jewelry, art, baked goods, and woodworking). Salt Spring Island Cheese is also worth a visit, where you can test Salt Spring's local produce. 

Day 14: Salt Spring Island to Vancouver (3 hours)

Crossing the Strait of Georgie on BC Ferries
Crossing the Strait of Georgie on BC Ferries

Grab a morning coffee in Ganges and explore the town's galleries, studios, bookstores, and boutiques shops. Alternatively, if you're up for some exercise, head out for an early morning hike in Burgoyne Bay, the Channel Ridge trails, or one of the other great trails along the coastline of the island. 

When you're ready to depart the island, head to the Long Harbor Ferry Terminal to catch the sailing to the mainland.  Ferry times and durations vary by day of the week, so be sure to check the schedule in advance and reserve your spot online.  

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