Starting and ending in Victoria, this loop follows the southern coastline of Vancouver Island before veering north through old-growth rainforest accessed by former logging roads. The reward? Countless remote beaches, some of the largest trees on the island, and numerous great hiking trails. This is the perfect itinerary for getting off the beaten path in a short amount of time.

Highlights

  • Picnic on the remote, tree-strewn beaches of the southern coast
  • Explore old-growth rainforests on countless hiking trails
  • Pass through Port Renfrew, base camp for the West Coast Trail
  • Admire 40 totem poles in Duncan, testament to the island's indigenous roots

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Victoria Victoria
Day 2 Victoria to Sooke (45 min) Sooke
Day 3 Sooke to Port Renfrew (1 h 30 min) Port Renfrew
Day 4 Port Renfrew to Cowichan Bay (2 hours) Cowichan Bay
Day 5 Cowichan Bay to Victoria (1 hour) Victoria
Day 6 Depart Victoria  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Victoria

Lower Johnson Street, Victoria
Lower Johnson Street, Victoria

Welcome to the capital of British Columbia! On the southeastern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria (pop. 92,000) proudly displays its British colonial past and Victorian architecture, It's also a great jumping-off point for your Vancouver Island adventure.

Downtown, explore Victoria's harbor by foot or bicycle and check out the great collections in the Royal BC Museum. There's a paved pathway surrounding the city and local neighborhoods, making renting a bicycle a great way of getting in some afternoon exercise to work up an appetite. In the evening, stroll the harbor, once again, to catch the parliament buildings lit up at night by thousands of lights. 

Day 2: Victoria to Sooke (45 min)

Breakwater Lighthouse in Victoria
Breakwater Lighthouse in Victoria

Hit the road for the small oceanside town of Sooke, the beginning of the Pacific Marine Circle Route. Before departing, stop at a local grocery store in Victoria to stock up on snacks and picnic supplies as stores become scarce the farther west you go and there's a number of great beaches to picnic at over the next two days.)

It's a short drive, today, so take your time on the winding coastal roads en route to Sooke. Sooke is known as the place "where the rainforest meets the sea", with a number of great places to check out, such as the geological wonder that is the Sooke Potholes or its scenic shoreline walk along Whiffin Spit.

Driving time (Victoria to Sooke): 45 minutes

Day 3: Sooke to Port Renfrew (1 h 30 min)

Botanical Beach, near Port Renfrew
Botanical Beach, near Port Renfrew

Spend the day stopping during the drive, as you're heading through one of the most scenic and wild legs of the trip. At Jordan River, grab a cup of coffee and watch the surfers just off the coast. You'll also pass by Juan de Fuca Provincial Park which has some of Vancouver Island’s best beaches; Sandcut, China, Mystic, and Botanical beaches are all great places to pull off, explore the tidal pools, and take in some fresh ocean air. Just before French Beach, you can also walk out to Sheringham Point Lighthouse.

Nearing Port Renfrew, you'll come upon a small town perched on the San Juan inlet with wide-open ocean views. Port Renfrew has been slowly transforming itself from an old logging town into an eco-tourism hub and is best known for being the start of the famous West Coast Trail. The vibe, here, feels inherently West Coast. There isn't really a designated town center, but head down to the harbor and walk the docks to the Port Renfrew Rub, a local favorite, or grab a bite at Bridgemans Bistro. There's also a small general store if you need more supplies. 

Port Renfrew also serves as a great base camp for day trips. There are numerous short hikes, magnificent old-growth forests, and plenty of opportunities for day fishing trips.

Driving time (Sooke to Port Renfrew):
 1 hour, 30 minutes

Day 4: Port Renfrew to Cowichan Bay (2 hours)

Totem Pole in Duncan
Totem Pole in Duncan

Refreshed and ready to hit the road again, depart Port Renfrew for Avatar Grove (best accessed with a four-wheel-drive vehicle). This magical patch of old-growth forest has been protected since 2012 and is where you’ll find some of Vancouver Island’s oldest trees—Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar giants—including "Canada’s Gnarliest Tree" and Big Lonely Doug

Continuing on from Avatar Grove to Cowichan Bay, it's time to test your wilderness mettle. A former logging route, this section of road was recently paved to encourage more Vancouver Island visitors to follow this weaving route through its tall forests and rushing waterfalls.

En route, look out for Harris Creek Spruce (about 12 miles / 20 km outside of Port Renfrew), measuring 4-meters in diameter and approximately 80-feet in height as well as for Fairy Lake, famous for its “bonsai” tree – a tiny Douglas fir defying the odds, rising up from a submerged log in the lake.

The winding road will eventually take you into Lake Cowichan, a charming lake town and popular place swimming, fishing, and (most famously) floating down the Cowichan River on a tube on a hot summer’s day. For a meal, stop by Jake’s on the Lake or Carmanah Pizza.

Onwards from Lake Cowichan, you'll reach Duncan, the “The City of Totems”. Take a short walk through downtown to see over 40 beautifully carved totem poles, each depicting a mythological story told by the Indigenous carver. The downtown also has a number of book shops, boutique clothing shops, and hosts the Duncan Farmers’ Market on Saturdays from 10 am to 2 pm.

From Duncan, continue to Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island's east coast. This small maritime town is the first “Cittaslow” village in North America; a network of towns and villages in over 28 countries that have adopted the principles of the Slow Food Movement founded in Italy. Here, you can truly slow down and savor life: pay a visit to an Old World-style bakery, True Grain Bread, or explore Indigenous art at the Arthur Vickers Gallery.

Driving time (Port Renfrew to Cowichan Bay): 2 hours (60 miles /  100 km)

Day 5: Cowichan Bay to Victoria (1 hour)

Goldstream Provincial Park near Victoria
Goldstream Provincial Park near Victoria

It's a short drive back to Victoria at the southern tip of Vancouver Island. On the way, stop at Goldstream Provincial Park, where you'll find a network of hiking trails where you can see spawning salmon (late fall) or bald eagles (December).

Upon reaching Victoria, find your way on foot to the Inner Harbor, a busy waterfront close by to the majority of the city's best restaurants and main sights. At night, visit the harbor when the Empress Hotel and the parliament buildings are lit up by thousands of lights. 

Recommended stops and activities:

  • Meridale Cidery and Distillery. A patio bistro that produces several great ciders.
  • Kinsol Trestle. One of the tallest (187m) free-standing timber rail bridge in the world. Open for cyclists, hikers, and equestrians.

Driving time (Cowichan Bay to Victoria): 1 hour (34 miles / 55 km)

Day 6: Depart Victoria

Breakwater Lighthouse at Ogden point in Victoria
Breakwater Lighthouse at Ogden point in Victoria

Enjoy your last morning stroll around Victoria and, if there's time, grab a coffee and walk out to Breakwater Lighthouse (1 hour round trip) before catching your flight or ferry back to Vancouver. It's a 40-60 minute drive (depending on traffic) from downtown to Victoria International Airport or Swartz Bay Terminal.

Map

Map of Pacific Marine Circle Route - 6 Days
Map of Pacific Marine Circle Route - 6 Days