If you love local markets, laid-back island charm, as well as outdoor adventure, this itinerary combines the best of both worlds. First, you'll head to Salt Spring Island (imagine Matha's Vineyard meets the Pacific Coast) where you'll stay in a beautiful B&B and check out the local art galleries, orchards, and wineries. After Salt Spring, head to the Pacific Rim, a wild stretch of coastline interspersed with beaches and backed by coastal rainforest along Vancouver Island's eastern shore.  Here, spend your days sea kayaking, hiking, and exploring the coastline.

Highlights

  • Explore the local markets and laid-back charm of Salt Spring Island
  • Go whale watching, sea kayaking, and hiking in Pacific Rim National Park
  • Stay in the comfort of local lodges perched on windswept coastline
  • Discover Vancouver and Victoria's great restaurants, breweries, and neighborhoods

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Vancouver Vancouver
Day 2 Explore Vancouver's Downtown & Neighborhoods Vancouver
Day 3 Vancouver to Salt Spring Island (2-4 hours) Salt Spring Island
Day 4 Explore Salt Spring Island Salt Spring Island
Day 5 Salt Spring Island to Victoria (1 h 30 min) Victoria
Day 6 Explore Victoria Victoria
Day 7 Victoria to Pacific Rim (4 h 45 min) Pacific Rim
Day 8 Explore Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve Pacific Rim
Day 9 Hiking in Pacific Rim National Park Pacific Rim
Day 10 Pacific Rim to Vancouver (6 hours) Vancouver
Day 11 Depart Vancouver  

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

The Pacific Ocean meets Stanley Park's Seawall Promenade
The Pacific Ocean meets Stanley Park's Seawall Promenade

The majority of downtown Vancouver’s main attractions—Stanley Park, Gastown, the seawall, and art galleries—are within walking distance of downtown hotels. You can rent a bike, explore by foot, or take a guided tour to places only locals know well.

If you're exploring on your way, consider heading to the University of British Columbia's ("UBC") campus to spend a couple of hours exploring its Museum of Anthropology, a great introduction to the history of the Pacific Northwest. Showcasing spectacular First Nations totem poles and impressive carvings, join a free daily tour to get a better understanding of British Columbia's rich indigenous history.

After that, make your way along the coast to Vancouver's trendy beachside suburb of Kitsilano (locally referred to as "Kits") for an afternoon of picnicking on the beach and swimming in the ocean or the outdoor saltwater pool. From Kits' shoreline, you have some of the best views in the city of Vancouver's skyline and nearby Coastal Range. 

Walking distance from Kitsilano, head over to Granville Island, checking out the restaurants, gift shops, fresh food markets, and local boutique shops that reflect the island's maritime heritage. For a deep-dive of the island's culinary offerings, join a walking food tour that takes you through the bustling Granville Island Public Market.

Just before sunset, work up an appetite by walking (two hours) or biking (one hour) around Stanley Park's Seawall, a 6-mile (10-km) loop around a 400-hectare natural West Coast rainforest with views over the city. Time your walk to hit the midpoint at Siwash Rock and Third Beach for the best spot to watch the sun dip below the horizon. 

Day 3: Vancouver to Salt Spring Island (2-4 hours)

Life on Salt Spring Island
Life on Salt Spring Island

Leave Vancouver and head south to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal where you'll catch the ferry to Salt Spring Island. Ferry times and durations vary by day of the week, so be sure to check the schedule in advance and reserve your spot online.  

Catch the early morning ferry from Crofton (just south of Chemainus) to Vesuvius Bay on Salt Spring Island. Salt Spring is a popular, laid back island where you can browse countless galleries in the town of Ganges or visit the local farms, wineries, breweries, and distillers. If you're visiting on a Saturday between April and October, don't miss the Salt Spring Saturday Market in Ganges, where everything sold is made or grown on the island.

Driving time (Vancouver to Tsawwassen): 45 minutes (25 miles / 40 km)
Ferry time (Tsawwassen to Long Harbor): 1.5-3 hours

Day 4: Explore Salt Spring Island

Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island
Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island

Spend the day enjoying the laid-back vibes of Salt Spring Island. There are a number of outdoor activities to choose from and a great selection of local markets, shops, wineries, and breweries. On Saturdays, check out the Saturday Market which is one of the best in British Columbia (think pottery, jewelry, art, baked goods, and woodworking). Salt Spring Island Cheese is also worth a visit, where you can test Salt Spring's local produce. 

Day 5: Salt Spring Island to Victoria (1 h 30 min)

Empress Hotel and inner harbor, Victoria
Empress Hotel and inner harbor, Victoria

It's a short ferry ride to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island and then another short drive to the city of Victoria. The elegant provincial capital of Victoria sits 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 harbour at night, as well, when the Empress Hotel and the parliament buildings are lit up by thousands of lights.)

Ferry time (Fulford Harbour to Swartz Bay): 35 minutes
Driving time (Swartz Bay to Victoria): 30 minutes (20 miles / 32 km)

Day 6: 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 7: Victoria to Pacific Rim (4 h 45 min)

Vancouver Island's Long Beach on the Esowista Peninsula
Vancouver Island's Long Beach on the Esowista Peninsula

Get an early start today as you make your way across the island to Tofino, breaking up the trip with a series of scenic and cultural pit stops. Choose from a network of hiking trails in Goldstream Provincial Park, one great option is to trek to the 156-foot (47.5-m) high Niagara Falls. Continuing along the Trans Canada Highway (Highway 1), make a point to visit Nanaimo's Old City Quarter, a heritage neighborhood with local eateries, and get your hands on a sweet Nanaimo bar—thought to originate here. 

Next, 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, noting the diverting rooftop goats. Find a spot for a picnic lunch along Cameron Lake before walking amid some of British Columbia's oldest forest, including centuries-old Douglas Firs, in Cathedral Grove

Eventually, you'll wind through mountain roads as you work your way to the wild coastline of the Pacific Rim National Park. Another worthwhile stop is the Kwisitis Visitor Center, overlooking Wickaninnish Beach, for an introduction to the area's natural history and First Nations heritage. If there's time, 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.

A haven for surf fans, families, and city-escaping Vancouverites, Tofino sits at the end of the long and narrow Esowista Peninsula on sheltered Clayoquot Sound and offers a wide range of food options and outdoor excursions. Catch a wave on a surfboard or spot whales, bears, and sea lions on a boat tour (to avoid disappointment, book tours well in advance).

Driving time (Victoria to Tofino): 4 hours, 45 minutes (196 miles / 316 km)

Day 8: 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 9: 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 10: Pacific Rim to Vancouver (6 hours)

Downtown Vancouver & Stanley Park
Downtown Vancouver & Stanley Park

It's time to say farewell to the Pacific Rim and head back across the island along the Pacific Coast Highway to Nanaimo where you'll catch the ferry to Horseshoe Bay. Take the time to stop at any of the places you missed on your way in and spend some time on the beautiful beaches around Qualicum Beach.

From Horseshoe Bay, it's a short drive back to Vancouver along the Sea-to-Sky Highway. You'll likely reach Vancouver in the late afternoon after a long day of transit. Make a reservation at one of Vancouver's great restaurants after taking a stroll along the beach or around Stanley Park at sunset.

Driving time (Tofino to Departure Bay): 3 hours (124 miles / 200 km)
Ferry time (Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay): 1 hour, 40 minutes
Driving time (Horseshoe Bay to Vancouver): 30 minutes (12 miles / 20 km)

Day 11: Depart Vancouver

Sunset over Vancouver from Kits Beach
Sunset over Vancouver from Kits Beach

Grab 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.

Map

Map of Vancouver Island Road Trip: Salt Spring & Pacific Rim - 11 Days
Map of Vancouver Island Road Trip: Salt Spring & Pacific Rim - 11 Days