- Hit the trails through coastal rainforest and driftwood-strewn beaches
- Delight in some of the province's best restaurants in Ucluelet and Tofino
- Sea kayak through the beautiful Broken Group Islands
- Watch the storms break against the rugged pacific coastline
|Day 1||Arrive in Vancouver||Vancouver|
|Day 2||Explore Vancouver||Vancouver|
|Day 3||Vancouver to Parksville (3 h 30 min)||Parksville|
|Day 4||Parksville to Pacific Rim (2 h 45 min)||Pacific Rim|
|Day 5||Explore Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve||Pacific Rim|
|Day 6||Hiking in 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: Explore Vancouver
Explore Vancouver's downtown by foot or rental bike or head to farther-away sights by public bus or Skytrain. In the morning, consider renting a bike and riding around the famous Stanley Park Seawall for great views of the North Shore Mountains and the downtown cityscape.
For lunch, there are a number of great restaurants throughout the city but if the weather is nice, head to Granville Island, a hub of art galleries, studios, unique shops, and the vibrant Granville Island Public Market. After lunch, walk or bike the seawall along False Creek around the recently built-up Olympic Village as a result of the Vancouver Olympics. Alternatively, rent a kayak in Granville Island or False Creek to explore by water.
Day 3: Vancouver to Parksville (3 h 30 min)
Leaving Vancouver, cross the Lions Gate Bridge and follow the Sea-to-Sky Highway to Horseshoe Bay where you'll catch the ferry over to Nanaimo. It's a beautiful sailing, departing through Howe Sound and passing by Bowen Island on its way across the Salish Sea. (Remember to reserve your spot on the ferry the day before as there can be long wait times in the summer.)
From Nanaimo, it's just over a thirty-minute drive to Parksville, a quaint oceanside town with fantastic beaches and a popular spot to overnight before exploring more of the island. En route, stop at the Old Country Market in Coombs to stock up on picnic supplies, from baked goods and sizeable pizzas to fresh produce and deli fixings.
Once in Parksville, simply enjoy the fresh sea air or take a short drive along Highway 4 to two popular highlights of the Pacific Rim Highway—Cathedral Grove where you can find ancient and enormous Douglas fir and Western red cedar and Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park for those that love waterfalls.
Driving time (Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay): 30 minutes (12 miles / 20 km)
Ferry time (Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay): 1 hour, 45 minutes
Driving time (Departure Bay to Parksville): 45 minutes (23 miles / 36.4 km)
Day 4: Parksville to Pacific Rim (2 h 45 min)
Follow 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 and Halfmoon Bay to Chesterman Beach, famous for its sunsets.
Driving time (Parkville to the Pacific Rim): 2 hours, 45 minutes (107 miles / 172 km)
Day 5: Explore Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve
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 ashore—enough time to soak in a few of the mini baths!
Day 6: Hiking in Pacific Rim National Park
Spend today hiking in one of the most beautiful parks in the province. There are countless trails to choose from whether you want to stick to the coast or head inland through the coastal rainforest. Consider doing one hike in the morning before breaking for lunch and then heading off on another hike in the afternoon. The park receives around 3000 mm of precipitation a year so you'll be surrounded by continual moisture and dense lush forest, marshes, and bogs. For up-to-date information on the trails, swing by the visitor center in Tofino or at the park entrance where you can ask questions and pick up trail maps.
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.