This itinerary includes two of Vancouver Island's best wildlife viewing locations as well as a diverse range of landscapes—from islands to rugged mountains to coastal rainforest. You'll have ample time to explore by paddle and by foot and to relax in cozy lodges perched along the coast. Finally, end your trip in Victoria before heading back to Vancouver for your departure.

Highlights

  • See Humpback and Orca whales off the coast of Telegraph Cove
  • Go sea kayaking and explore marine life around Quadra Island
  • Hike and canoe to waterfalls in the rugged Strathcona Provincial Park
  • Explore the rugged coastline and coastal rainforest of the Pacific Rim

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Vancouver Vancouver
Day 2 Explore Vancouver's Downtown & Neighborhoods Vancouver
Day 3 Vancouver to Telegraph Cove (2 h 30 min) Telegraph Cove
Day 4 Explore around Telegraph Cove Telegraph Cove
Day 5 Telegraph Cove to Quadra Island (3 h 30 min) Quadra Island
Day 6 Explore Quadra Island Quadra Island
Day 7 Quadra Island to Strathcona Provincial Park (2 hours) Strathcona Provincial Park
Days 8-9 Explore Strathcona Provincial Park Strathcona Provincial Park
Day 10 Strathcona Provincial Park to Pacific Rim (4 h 30 min) Pacific Rim
Day 11 Explore Pacific Rim National Park Pacific Rim
Day 12 Hiking in Pacific Rim National Park Pacific Rim
Day 13 Pacific Rim to Victoria (4 h 45 min) Victoria
Day 14 Explore Victoria Victoria
Day 15 Victoria to Vancouver, Depart (2 h 30 min)  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Vancouver

Stanley Park and downtown Vancouver
Stanley Park and downtown 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's Downtown & Neighborhoods

Stanley Park's 5.5-mile seawall loop
Stanley Park's 5.5-mile seawall loop

Vancouver's downtown core—along with Stanley Park and the colorful neighborhoods of Kitsilano, False Creek, and Commercial Drive—are great to explore by foot or rental bike. Or, head farther afield by public bus or Skytrain to the museums and gardens of UBC or to the mountains and cedar forests of the North Shore.

In the morning, consider renting a bike and riding around the Stanley Park Seawall and along the beaches of English Bay before grabbing lunch in Granville Island, a hub of art galleries, studios, unique shops, and the vibrant Granville Island Public Market. After lunch, continue biking along the seawall of Kits Beach and then head to False Creek and through the Olympic Village toward Science World. In the early evening, make reservations at one of the great restaurants in the city before heading out for an evening stroll or to one of the local breweries. 

Day 3: Vancouver to Telegraph Cove (2 h 30 min)

Humpback Whale off the coast of Port Hardy
Humpback Whale off the coast of Port Hardy

Head to Vancouver Airport's South Terminal for the flight to Port Hardy. Arriving in the small community of Port Hardy, pick up your rental car at the airport and drive to Telegraph Cove. Perched on the coast, Telegraph Cove is a charming village with a small year-round population that grows exponentially in the summer (a good reason to come in spring or fall). Along the water, you'll find old colorful houses built on stilts lining a long wooden boardwalk. Telegraph Cove is also one of the best places in the world for whale and orca (killer whale) watching given its proximity to Johnstone Strait, which has almost as many whales as people.

Flying time (Vancouver South Terminal to Port Hardy): 1 hour
Driving time (Port Hardy to Telegraph Cove): 1 hour (40 miles / 60 km)

Day 4: Explore around Telegraph Cove

Thick fog off of Telegraph Cove
Thick fog off of Telegraph Cove

Telegraph Cove is famous for being a prime location for whale and orca sightings in Johnstone Strait. Boat tours usually depart in the morning and are run by local outfits in town. You can also drive to Port McNeill and take the short ferry ride to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island to visit the U’Mista Cultural Centre and its Potlatch Collection, a rich collection of masks and ceremonial objects that were restored to the Kwakwaka’wakw people after having been confiscated by the Canadian government and sent to museums around the world.

Day 5: Telegraph Cove to Quadra Island (3 h 30 min)

Sunset on Quadra Island
Sunset on Quadra Island

Drive southeast to Campbell River where you'll catch the ferry to Quadra Island, part of the Discovery Islands archipelago group. Stepping foot on the island, you'll be in the historical center of the Kwagiulth First Nations. The island has a wide range of outdoor activities, such as mountain biking, canoeing, and sea kayaking, which is a great way to explore the channels and inlets and see marine life. Tours include rental equipment and an introduction to kayaking and how to navigate the elements.

If you prefer to stay on land, head over to the beautiful Rebecca Spit Provincial Park. This is a popular place for both locals and visitors to relax, go swimming, or simply read a book while soaking in the sun. The park extends on a thin, 1.3-mile (2 km) sliver of land that juts out from the island where both sides are lined with sandy beaches and driftwood.

Driving time (Telegraph Cove to Campbell River): 2 hours, 30 minutes (125 miles / 200 km)
Ferry time (Campbell River to Quadra Island): 10 minutes

Day 6: Explore Quadra Island

Walking and biking trails on Quadra Island
Walking and biking trails on Quadra Island

Spend the day exploring Quadra Island, tucked between the Coast Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The island has a wide range of outdoor activities such as mountain biking, sea kayaking, canoeing, ocean fishing, and wildlife viewing. You can explore on your own or join a half-day or full-day tour.

For ocean lovers, sea kayaking is a great way to explore the channels and inlets and catch views of marine life. Tours include rental equipment and an introduction to kayaking and how to navigate the elements.

If you prefer to stay on land, head over to the beautiful Rebecca Spit Provincial Park. This is a popular place for both locals and visitors to relax, go swimming, or simply read a book while soaking in the sun. The park extends on a thin, 1.3-mile (2 km) sliver of land that juts out from the island where both sides are lined with sandy beaches and driftwood.

Day 7: Quadra Island to Strathcona Provincial Park (2 hours)

Lakes and mountains of Strathcona Provincial Park
Lakes and mountains of Strathcona Provincial Park

It's a short ferry sailing to Campbell River where you'll then head inland on Highway 28 to the rugged Strathcona Provincial Park, British Columbia's oldest provincial park. It's a beautiful drive through spectacular scenery and winding mountain roads with viewpoints along the way. 

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 mainstream tourism making it all the more reason to come here. You'll find solitude, fresh air, and breathtaking views over the mountains, lakes, and waterfalls. 

Ferry time (Quadra Island to Campbell River): 10 minutes
Driving time (Campbell River to Strathcona Provincial Park): 1 hour, 45 minutes (45 miles / 70 km)

Days 8-9: Explore Strathcona Provincial Park

Lower Myra Falls
Lower Myra Falls

Strathcona Provincial Park is the perfect place to unwind and get away from it all. Lying off of the main tourist circuit, the park is overlooked by mainstream tourism making it all the more reason to come here. You'll find solitude, fresh air, and breathtaking views over the mountains, lakes, and waterfalls. 

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 or short day hikes to beautiful waterfalls. Keep your eyes open for black bear, elk, deer, bald eagles, and a variety of birdlife.

For canoe or kayak rentals and meals, check out Strathcona Park Lodge, which also has lakeside cabins where you can spend the night. There are very limited amenities within the park so bring all the necessary supplies and food and water with you. There's also no cell coverage.

Day 10: Strathcona Provincial Park to Pacific Rim (4 h 30 min)

Walking trail through Cathedral Grove
Walking trail through Cathedral Grove

Head back to Campbell River before driving south along the coast toward Parksville and the Pacific Rim Highway. 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, Halfmoon Bay, Florencia Bay to Chesterman Beach, which is famous for its sunsets.

Driving time (Strathcona Provincial Park to Pacific Rim): 4 hours, 30 minutes (200 miles / 320 km)

Day 11: 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 12: Hiking in Pacific Rim National Park

Trails through the coastal rainforest of Pacific Rim
Trails through the coastal rainforest of Pacific Rim

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 Pacific Rim National Park Reserve 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 13: 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 14: Explore Victoria

Victoria's Inner Harbor and Empress Hotel
Victoria's Inner Harbor and Empress Hotel

Spend the day exploring the historic neighborhoods, iconic landmarks, coastline and parks around Victoria, either by foot or bike. You can also head farther afield to the popular Butchart Gardens or to one of the provincial parks for hiking and swimming if the weather's good.

Around downtown, head to Market Square and wander the surrounding streets. Inside The Empress Hotel, you can soak in the opulent old-world charm over lunch or traditional afternoon tea. Next door, don't miss the Royal British Columbia Museum (highlights include an Ice Age woolly mammoth, IMAX theatre, and a wildlife photography exhibit every year from Feb. 14 to Mar. 29) and Thunderbird Park where you can see totem poles and other First Nations monuments.

Day 15: 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)