This quick adventure features two of coastal British Columbia's most popular destinations—Whistler and the Pacific Rim. Skipping Vancouver, you'll head straight to Whistler for two days of exploring the mountains, lakes, and stunning outdoor scenery. From there, it's a long day of driving and sailing over to Tofino and the Pacific Rim on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Here, follow trails through coastal rainforest and along storm-swept coastlines or simply relax in your beach-side cottage while enjoying the views. It's also the perfect place to spot whales while sea kayaking to remote islands.

Highlights

  • Catch the sunset over the Strait of Georgia from Vancouver Lookout
  • Follow the Stawamus Chief Trail to peer off the “Chief,” a sheer granite rockface
  • Get outfitted with a wetsuit and a surfboard and take a surf lesson in Tofino
  • Roam the blooming grounds of renowned Butchart Gardens
  • Seek out resident and transient whales off the coast of Victoria

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Vancouver, Drive to Whistler (2 hours) Whistler
Day 2 Explore around Whistler Whistler
Day 3 Whistler to Pacific Rim (6 h 30 min) Pacific Rim
Day 4 Explore Pacific Rim National Park Pacific Rim
Day 5 Pacific Rim to Vancouver (6 hours) Vancouver
Day 6 Depart Vancouver  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Vancouver, Drive to Whistler (2 hours)

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

Welcome to Vancouver! Instead of spending the night in the city, hit the road right away and head north to Whistler along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, one of the country's most iconic drives. A scenic route from sea level to the mountains, there are several beautiful spots worth stopping at during the drive. 

Halfway to Whistler—and where the ocean, river, and alpine forest meet—there's Squamish, an access point for outdoor activities and adventure. Just before reaching Squamish, you can see the area's most famous peak from the highway, the Chief, a sheer granite rockface popular with skilled climbers. Pick up the Stawamus Chief Trail for a hike up the back to reach the summit (divided into three peaks and graded as an intermediate hike, it takes the average person 3-4 hours to reach the first—and most visited—summit). Or, take the Sea-to-Sky Gondola up the mountain for excellent views of Howe Sound from Summit Lodge at the top where you can also grab lunch.

You'll reach Whistler, an upscale, chalet-style pedestrian village (and venue for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics) in the early to mid-afternoon. Whistler is North America's largest winter sports resort worth a visit at any time of year. The village is built around Whistler-Blackcomb, twin peaks accessed by an ultramodern lift system that provides opportunities to hike, bike, canoe, kayak, rock climb, or zip-line in warmer months and ski or snowboard in the winter.

Driving time (Vancouver to Whistler): 2 hours (75 miles / 120 km)

Day 2: Explore around Whistler

Peak 2 Peak Gondola
Peak 2 Peak Gondola

Whistler is an outdoor paradise and basecamp for mountain adventure. You can take the Peak 2 Peak gondola up the mountain to access alpine hiking and mountain biking trails, go ziplining, or head out on one of the longer multi-hour hikes nearby Whistler in Garibaldi Provincial Park. Or, simply take the day to relax next to the lakes, waterfalls, or at the plush Scandinave outdoor spa.

For day hikes atop Whistler, you can hike through the high alpine to Harmony Lake (1.6 miles / 2.5 km from the top of the gondola) or touch the toe of a small glacier on a similarly lengthed trek. For something unique, rent a pair of snowshoes to explore areas covered in year-round snow. Alternatively, there are hiking trails you can take from the village itself. Follow the Valley Trail to Lost Lake, where you can take a dip or enjoy a picnic in the summer months or cross-country ski along its shoreline in the winter. 

For something a bit more unique, head out on a flightseeing tour from Green Lake over the glaciers of Garibaldi Provincial Park or fly down the 2010 Winter Olympic Games' track on a bobsled with wheels (careful, you can reach speeds up to 50 mph (80 km/h). 

Day 3: Whistler to Pacific Rim (6 h 30 min)

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

Get an early start as today's a long day that will take you from the Coast Mountains to the wild west coast of Vancouver Island. Start by driving the Sea-to-Sky Highway south to Horseshoe Bay where you'll catch the ferry across the Strait of Georgia to Nanaimo (be sure to reserve and check wait times, in advance). 

From Nanaimo, 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, Halfmoon Bay, Florencia Bay to Chesterman Beach, which is famous for its sunsets.

Later in the afternoon, visit the Eagle Aerie Gallery for artworks from the highly respected Tsimshian artist, Roy Henry Vickers.

Driving time (Whistler to Horseshoe Bay): 1 hour, 15 minutes (62 miles / 100 km)
Ferry time (Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay): 1 hour, 40 minutes
Driving time (Departure Bay to Tofino): 3 hours (124 miles / 200 km)

Day 4: 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 5: 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 6: 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.