Starting and ending in Vancouver, this road trip takes you to the rugged coastline of Pacific Rim National Park. Base yourself in a wilderness lodge or cozy B&B along the coast and spend three days exploring the beaches and rainforest around Tofino and Ucluelet as well as the remote islands of Clayoquot Sound. This trip is ideal for those looking to combine beautiful coastline with outdoor adventure. 

Highlights

  • 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

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Vancouver, Head to Parksville (3 h 30 min) Parksville
Day 2 Parksville to Pacific Rim (2 h 45 min) Pacific Rim
Day 3 Explore Pacific Rim National Park Pacific Rim
Day 4 Explore Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve Pacific Rim
Day 5 Pacific Rim to Victoria (4 h 45 min) Victoria
Day 6 Victoria to Vancouver, Depart (2 h 30 min)  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Vancouver, Head to Parksville (3 h 30 min)

Ferry at Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver
Ferry at Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver

Start your trip and depart Vancouver, crossing the Lions Gate Bridge and following the Sea-to-Sky Highway to Horseshoe Bay. From here, 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 2: Parksville to Pacific Rim (2 h 45 min)

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

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 3: 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 4: 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 5: 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 6: 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)

Map

Map of Pacific Rim Adventure: Vancouver to Tofino Road Trip - 6 Days
Map of Pacific Rim Adventure: Vancouver to Tofino Road Trip - 6 Days