Wildlife, nature, and hikes in national parks abound on this nine-day, relaxed summer trip to Vancouver Island. Your vacation begins in Victoria, where a trip to Butterfly Gardens and a whale watching cruise is followed by a drive to the island's west coast. Stay in Tofino for sand, sea, surf, and a seaplane to Maquinna Provincial Park's hot springs. Finish back in the capital and hop over to Salt Spring Island for a leisurely penultimate day exploring the island's galleries and beaches.


  • Hike nature trails and rainforests in three stunning national parks
  • Spot orcas and search for humpback whales on two marine cruises 
  • Relax on the beaches at Tofino and Salt Spring Island
  • Admire Victoria's architecture on a horse-drawn carriage ride 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Victoria, Visit Butchart Gardens & Victoria Butterfly Gardens Victoria
Day 2 Half-Day Whale Watching Tour in Victoria Victoria
Day 3 Drive to Tofino, Beach Afternoon & Surfing Tofino
Day 4 Hike in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Whale Watching Tour Tofino
Day 5 Self-Guided Trip to Maquinna Marine Provincial Park  Tofino
Day 6 Self-Guided Trip to MacMillan Provincial Park Tofino
Day 7 Drive to Victoria via Coombs and Chemainus, Horsedrawn Carriage Ride Victoria
Day 8 Explore Salt Spring Island or Visit Victoria's Landmarks Victoria
Day 9 Discover Victoria's Chinatown, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Victoria, Visit Butchart Gardens & Victoria Butterfly Gardens

Wander through the lush Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island

Welcome to the charming coastal city of Victoria, British Columbia's capital! Upon arrival, pick up your rental car and drive to your hotel to check in, freshen up, and enjoy the rest of the day at your own pace. Leave the city behind for a while and drive 30 minutes to Butchart Gardens, a 55-acre (22 ha) space full of vibrant blooms, floral displays, and themed gardens. Wander through the Japanese Garden, Mediterranean Garden, and Italian Garden to see plants from around the world. Don't miss the different lookout points, offering panoramic views of the colorful estate.

Continue to the nearby Victoria Butterfly Gardens to wander through a climate-controlled greenhouse and see thousands of fluttering colorful butterflies. As you walk, you'll encounter these dainty creatures in various stages of their life cycle, from delicate cocoons to graceful flight. After seeing the butterflies, stroll through the outdoor garden to look for exotic birds, like parrots, toucans, and flamingoes. In the evening, return to the city for dinner in the Inner Harbour, a culinary hotspot known for selling fresh seafood dishes overlooking the water.

Day 2: Half-Day Whale Watching Tour in Victoria

If you're lucky, you may see a humpback whale breaching on your boat cruise

Victoria is one of the best places in Canada to see whales, as orcas reside here year-round. Your chances increase even more in the peak season between May and October. This morning, you'll make your way to the port and board a boat with knowledgeable naturalists who can provide insights into the behavior and biology of the whales as your captain navigates the Salish Sea. Keep your eyes peeled and cameras ready; you never know when a tail or fin will appear. 

You'll have a chance to spot humpback, gray, minke, and transient orcas in addition to the resident ones. Other marine animals you might spot include seals, sea lions, and porpoises. After three hours on the water, return to shore and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure. If you're hungry, head to the Fairmont Empress for afternoon tea in the elegant Tea Lobby adorned with crystal chandeliers and plush furnishings. Enjoy an array of freshly baked scones, delicate finger sandwiches, and delectable pastries paired with tea or Champagne.

Day 3: Drive to Tofino, Beach Afternoon & Surfing

Watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean from one of Tofino's pristine beaches

Say goodbye to Victoria for now as you hit the road for a four-hour drive to Tofino, a small town on the west coast. Drive along the tranquil Strait of Georgia until you reach Duncan, known as the "City of Totems" for the 80 or so totem poles scattered throughout the town by the Coast Salish people. Admire the intricate carvings, each telling unique stories, and learn about their cultural significance. Back in the car, make another stop in the coastal city of Port Alberni to stretch your legs on a short hike or grab a bite to eat. 

Arrive and check in to your hotel, then, when you're ready, check out Tofino's beaches. The area is known for its incredible surf, so either rent a board and spend the day catching waves or relax as you watch others show off their skills. Long Beach is the best option for beginner surfers, while experienced surfers may want to head to Cox Bay or Wickaninnish Beach to test their skills on the wild waves. Stay on the beach until the sun begins to set to watch the sky transform into warm red, orange, and gold hues and catch one last wave. 
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Day 4: Hike in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Whale Watching Tour

Sail through pristine waters toward Clayoquot Sound in search of whales

Today, you'll lace up your hiking boots and venture into the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve for a guided trek along the rugged coastline. Your guide will tailor the tour to your skill level and interests so that you may follow popular paths like the Rainforest Trail or West Coast Trail. No matter which trail you conquer, you're sure to see a ton of natural beauty, including windswept beaches, rocky bluffs, and towering cedar and hemlock trees. Throughout the hike, your guide will teach you about the region's flora and fauna and the area's cultural significance to First Nations people.

Keep an eye out for animals like black bears, deer, bald eagles, and even coastal wolves if you're lucky. In the afternoon, board a 12-seater motorboat and set off on a fast-paced cruise toward Clayoquot Sound, a prime location for whale watching, as you can find gray whales, humpback whales, orcas, and even the occasional blue whale here. Watch as they surface, breach, and feed in the nutrient-rich waters while your guide shares insights into their behavior, migration patterns, and the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve's conservation efforts.

Day 5: Self-Guided Trip to Maquinna Marine Provincial Park 

Take a seaplane or boat to Maquinna Marine Provincial Park to unwind in the hot springs

The day is yours to spend as you wish, and there are plenty of activities to choose from. If you want to relax, take a 20-minute seaplane or board a 1.5-hour boat to Maquinna Marine Provincial Park to unwind in the hot springs. When you disembark, follow the 0.9-mile (1.5 km) boardwalk trail through an old-growth forest to reach the springs, where you can choose from seven natural geothermal rock pools, each one gradually cooling as you near the ocean. Soak in the warm, mineral-rich waters while you listen to the waves crashing against the shoreline. 

When you're ready, take the seaplane or boat back to the mainland and return to the hotel to catch some downtime. In the evening, head to Industrial Way, a neighborhood known for its artisanal food, breweries, and bakeries. Stop in one of the breweries to sample handcrafted beers or venture into a distillery to savor small-batch spirits infused with coastal botanicals. Then, grab a meal at one of the food trucks, casual restaurants, or upscale eateries.

Day 6: Self-Guided Trip to MacMillan Provincial Park

Visit MacMillan Provincial Park to admire the old-growth trees in Cathedral Grove

Get ready for another day in nature this morning as you drive two hours to MacMillan Provincial Park, home to Cathedral Grove, a temperate rainforest with towering 800-year-old trees. Walk among these ancient giants, some reaching heights of more than 250 feet (76 m), creating a cathedral-like atmosphere and tranquility. As you wander, stop to read the interpretive signs to learn about the ecology of the rainforest and the importance of protecting these ancient trees.

The silence may be broken by calls from the park's avian residents, including Pacific wrens, pileated woodpeckers, and northern goshawks. You may also spot bears, Roosevelt elks, and black-tailed deer, so keep your eyes peeled. After exploring the park, you can drive another 50 minutes to Nanaimo, one of the largest cities on the island. Stroll along the picturesque Harbourfront Walkway for panoramic views of the marina and coastal mountains, then grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants overlooking the water before returning to your hotel in Tofino.

Day 7: Drive to Victoria via Coombs & Chemainus, Horsedrawn Carriage Ride

Explore Victoria in style on a horsedrawn carriage to see landmarks like the Parliament Buildings

Your day starts with a four-hour drive back to Victoria. Along the way, stop in the small town of Coombs to visit the Old Country Market, where you'll be greeted by a grass-covered roof full of grazing goats. Step inside to see the stalls offering everything from local produce and gourmet foods to handicrafts and souvenirs. If you're hungry, grab a German sausage, savory pie, or delicious ice cream from Billy Gruff Creamery. Another stop you can make is in Chemainus, where you can stroll through the downtown core in search of all the colorful murals lining the buildings.

There are over 40 murals throughout the city, creating an open-air gallery that tells a story of the community's rich heritage and artistic spirit. Back in the car, complete the drive to your hotel in Victoria to check in, then explore more of the city at your own pace. If you fancy a guided tour, opt for a horse-drawn carriage to see some of the city's landmarks, such as the iconic Parliament Buildings, Fairmont Empress, and bustling harbor. Meanwhile, your guide will regale you with tales of the city's history as your horse and carriage navigate the cobbled streets. 

Day 8: Explore Salt Spring Island or Visit Victoria's Landmarks

Spend the day exploring Salt Spring Island by foot or kayak

Your penultimate day in Victoria is free for any sightseeing you still have left. A good option is a trip to Salt Spring Island, located on the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people and accessible by a 35-minute ferry ride. When you arrive, pop in and out of the artisan studios, galleries, and craft markets dotting the island, showcasing the talents of local artists. If you're up for an active adventure, you can hike down one of the trails through verdant forests, taking you to panoramic viewpoints and hidden waterfalls, or kayak along the coastline. 

Those who want a more relaxing day can head to one of the island's beaches, such as Arbutus Beach or Beddis Beach, to relax on the sand or swim in the Salish Sea. In the evening, sit down for dinner in the village of Ganges, known for its fresh seafood and farm-to-table cuisine. Those who want to stay in Victoria for the day can visit landmarks like the Royal BC Museum to learn about the province's natural and cultural history or Beacon Hill Park for a stroll through the green space featuring gardens, ponds, and trails. 

Day 9: Discover Victoria's Chinatown, Depart

Spend your last few hours in Victoria exploring North America's second-largest Chinatown

Unfortunately, your adventure on Vancouver Island draws to a close today. If you have time before your flight, head to Chinatown, the second oldest in North America after San Francisco. Wander down the bustling streets lined with colorful storefronts and traditional Chinese architecture to look for last-minute souvenirs or sample delicacies like Peking duck, crispy spring rolls, or steamed buns filled with barbecue pork. When it's time, drive to the airport, return your rental car, and head inside to catch your flight home. Safe travels!

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Map of Self-Drive Summer Adventure on Vancouver Island - 9 Days
Map of Self-Drive Summer Adventure on Vancouver Island - 9 Days