Combine the mountains and the coast on this 9-day road trip. Starting and ending in Vancouver, you'll first head to the mountains and lakes around Whistler where you'll find countless hiking and biking trails. Then, taking the ferry over to Vancouver Island, you'll have a day on the beach before heading to the Pacific Rim, a beautifully rugged stretch of coastline that's famous for both adventure and relaxation. End your trip with a day to explore the great restaurants and neighborhoods of Victoria.

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
  • Seek out resident and transient whales off the coast of Victoria

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Vancouver Vancouver
Day 2 Vancouver to Whistler (2 hours) Whistler
Day 3 Explore around Whistler Whistler
Day 4 Whistler to Parksville (3 h 30 min) Parksville
Day 5 Parksville to Pacific Rim (2 h 45 min) Pacific Rim
Day 6 Explore Pacific Rim National Park Pacific Rim
Day 7 Explore Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve Pacific Rim
Day 8 Pacific Rim to Victoria (4 h 45 min) Victoria
Day 9 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: Vancouver 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.

Begin your road trip north to Whistler along the Sea-to-Sky Highway (otherwise known as Route 99), 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 3: 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 4: 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 5: 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 6: 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 7: 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 8: 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 9: 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)

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