Visit two of the most popular destinations along coastal British Columbia—the alpine paradise around Whistler and the dramatic storm-swept coastline of Tofino and the Pacific Rim. You'll by following the iconic Sea-to-Sky Highway to Squamish and Whistler before taking the ferry to Vancouver Island. On the island, spend three days exploring the coast by foot and by kayak before visiting Victoria, British Columbia's provincial capital.

Highlights

  • Bike Stanley Park's seawall at sunset or sunrise for great city views
  • Ride Whistler’s Peak 2 Peak Gondola to hike through the high alpine to glassy lakes
  • Hug a giant Douglas Fir in the enchanting old-growth forest of Cathedral Grove
  • See whales, porpoises, and birdlife from your kayak as you paddle Barkley Sound
  • Find washed-up treasures on the surf-pounded beaches of the Pacific Rim

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Vancouver Vancouver
Day 2 Explore Vancouver's North Shore Vancouver
Day 3 Vancouver to Squamish (1 hour) Squamish
Day 4 Squamish to Whistler (45 min) Whistler
Day 5 Day Hike in Garibaldi Provincial Park Whistler
Day 6 Whistler to Parksville (3 h 30 min) Parksville
Day 7 Parksville to Pacific Rim (2 h 45 min) Pacific Rim
Day 8 Explore Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve Pacific Rim
Day 9 Explore Pacific Rim National Park Pacific Rim
Day 10 Pacific Rim to Victoria (4 h 45 min) Victoria
Day 11 Explore Victoria Victoria
Day 12 Victoria to Vancouver (3 hours) Vancouver
Day 13 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 North Shore

Old-growth forests of Lynn Canyon, North Vancouver
Old-growth forests of Lynn Canyon, North Vancouver

In the morning, head over to the North Shore of Vancouver via the Lions Gate Bridge or take the SeaBus from Waterfront Station to Lonsdale Quay.

Surrounded by temperate rainforest, the Capilano Suspension Bridge is one of Vancouver's most famous sights and draws large crowds in the summer. Walk the bridge over the Capilano River at 230 feet (70 m) below, step out onto cantilevered (sometimes glass-bottomed) decks, and saunter down forested nature trails and an elevated canopy walkway through the trees. (If you don't have a car, the park runs shuttle buses for guests from Canada Place downtown.)

A great alternative to Capilano Suspension Park is a less-crowded (and free) Lynn Canyon Park, where you'll find a suspension bridge and network of boardwalk trails that lead you through the park's ancient Douglas Fir forest. It’s a great spot for an afternoon picnic or an early morning stroll. 

Farther north, take the Grouse Mountain Skyride, North America's largest aerial tramway, for exceptional views of downtown Vancouver and access to a number of great hiking trails. The near-vertical 8-minute ride ends on the upper slopes of Grouse Mountain where you'll also find a cafe. In the winter, Grouse Mountain turns into a popular ski resort for locals. (For those looking for a physical challenge, hike the Grouse Grind, a grueling climb that’s often referred to as “Mother Nature’s Stair master”. )

When you're dong exploring the outdoors, head to the Shipyards District to browse the art galleries, historic sights, fine cuisine, indie stores, and craft breweries. From here, it's a quick ride on the SeaBus back across Burrard Inlet to Waterfront Station.

Day 3: Vancouver to Squamish (1 hour)

Town of Squamish, outdoor mecca for rock climbing, hiking, and water sports.
Town of Squamish, outdoor mecca for rock climbing, hiking, and water sports.

Enjoy the first section of the scenic 75-mile (120 km) Sea-to-Sky Highway to Squamish, passing through lush temperate rainforest with sweeping views of the ocean and nearby peaks. There are a number of great viewpoints, day hikes, and activities to enjoy along the way, so be sure to leave time to stop at whim without feeling too rushed. 

Just before Squamish, take the Sea to Sky Gondola from seal level up 2,903 ft. (855 m) to Summit Lodge which has a viewing deck that overlooks Howe Sound and the surrounding peaks. From the lodge, there's a suspension bridge and suspended walkway where you can take photos or, instead, head out on a number of great hiking trails (both short and long). 

Arriving in Squamish, this friendly town attracts outdoor enthusiasts year-round and has claimed the title of the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada, tucked perfectly between Howe Sound and the Coast Mountains and surrounded by eight provincial parks. It's famous for rock climbing, rafting, windsurfing, as well as day hikes, biking, and scuba diving. For something a bit less adventurous, head out by paddle-board or kayak on Squamish Spit or simply enjoy the views of the iconic Stawamus Chief granite monolith which rises 2,300 ft. (700 m) above the town.

Later in the day, grab a beer from one of the local craft breweries or take a stroll on one of the nearby beaches lined with driftwood.

Driving time (Vancouver to Squamish): 1 hour (40 miles / 65 km)

Day 4: Squamish to Whistler (45 min)

Brandywine Falls Provincial Park
Brandywine Falls Provincial Park

Continue along the remaining stretch of the Sea-to-Sky Highway to the resort town of Whistler where you'll base yourself for another day of exploring the mountains and surrounding river valleys. Worthwhile stops to stretch your legs along the way include Alice Lake Provincial Park and Brandywine Falls (for many, prettier than Shannon Falls).

Driving time (Squamish to Whistler): 45 minutes (37 miles / 60 km)

Day 5: Day Hike in Garibaldi Provincial Park

Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Park
Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Park

Grab an early breakfast at Mount Currie Coffee before taking to the trails south of Whistler for a full day of hiking in Garibaldi Provincial Park. En route, pull over to warm up the legs with an easy in-and-out trek through forest and over the rushing Cheakamus River to the historic Train Wreck site, a popular attraction of colorfully graffitied boxcars leftover from a 1956 derailed train (1.2 miles / 2 km).

Home to glaciers, wildflower meadows (late summer), and saw-tooth peaks, including the park's namesake mountain and impressive Black Tusk, Garibaldi Provincial Park offers a host of trails to choose from (most requiring at least a moderate level of fitness and expertise). From the Rubble Creek parking lot, pick up the Garibaldi Lake trail for an intermediate 11-mile (18-km) trek through thick forests of Douglas Firs, as you hike over an elevation of 2,690 feet (820 m). Stay awhile to soak up the view of the turquoise lake and glacier off in the distance before looping back. (Allow five to seven hours.)

Back in the village, indulge in a post-hike meal at Garibaldi Lift Co.—a popular spot with the locals and affectionately referred to as GLC—for a casual dinner of pub fare, draft beer, and live music that carries well into the night. Alternatively, grab a quick bite to eat and get cleaned up with a soothing mineral soak at Scandinave Spa and then make your way to elegant Araxi Restaurant & Oyster Bar, one of Whistler's long-running top restaurants.

Day 6: Whistler to Parksville (3 h 30 min)

Ferries pass Horseshoe Bay's Whytecliff Park en route to Nanaimo
Ferries pass Horseshoe Bay's Whytecliff Park en route to Nanaimo

Get an early start to the day as you make your way back toward Vancouver along the Sea-to-Sky Highway to Horseshoe Bay, where you'll catch the car ferry across the Strait of Georgia to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. (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 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, noting the diverting rooftop goats. Once in Parksville, spend the afternoon at one of the local beaches.

Driving time (Whistler to Horseshoe Bay): 1.5 hours (63 miles / 102 km)
Ferry time (Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay): 1 hour, 45 minutes
Driving time (Nanaimo to Parksville): 45 minutes (23 miles / 36.4 km)

Day 7: 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 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: 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 10: 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 11: 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 12: Victoria to Vancouver (3 hours)

Rising sun lights the southern Saanich peninsula on Vancouver Island
Rising sun lights the southern Saanich peninsula on Vancouver Island

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 13: 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.