If you’ve been to the Pacific Northwest before, you know what a beautiful region it is. Many Americans overlook continuing north to Canada, but there are so many amazing areas in British Columbia waiting to be explored. One of those is Vancouver Island, and the best way to explore it is through a Vancouver Island road trip.
Driving around Vancouver Island will take you days, at which time you can chase waterfalls, kayak on the ocean, and even ski on a mountain (ideal if you’re adding this onto a winter in Vancouver trip!). This reason is why it’s taken me multiple Pacific Northwest trips to see new places on the island, and I still haven’t been to everywhere I want to go.
That said, you can see plenty of the island if you only have a few days for your Vancouver Island itinerary. Whether you have 3 days on Vancouver Island or 7 days on Vancouver Island, this Vancouver Island road trip itinerary will help you plan a fantastic vacation!
This post was last updated in March 2022.
Tips for a Road Trip to Vancouver Island
Here are some helpful tips to help you plan out your Vancouver Island trip.
How to Get to Vancouver Island
There are several ways to get to Vancouver Island. This is an island with no bridges, so you can either take a seaplane or a ferry. However, for your road trip on Vancouver Island, you’ll need to take the ferry so you can bring your car with you.
Several ferries will take you to Vancouver Island, so you’ll have to consider where you’re starting your trip from. Some people opt to spend 2 days in Vancouver first before heading to the island.
Here are some of the most popular options for Vancouver Island itineraries.
- Port Angeles (Washington) to Victoria (British Columbia) – If you’re coming from driving on the Olympic Peninsula, the Port Angeles option is the most convenient with a 90-minute crossing time.
- Tsawwassen (mainland Vancouver) to Duke Point (Vancouver Island near Nanaimo) – I take this way the most because Tsawwassen is just over the US-Canada border and puts you near Nanaimo when you get off. I also recommend reserving your spot in advance for this 2-hour ferry ride.
- Anacortes (Washington) to Sidney (southeast Vancouver Island) – This route is the longest with a 3 hour crossing time, but convenient if you live near Anacortes.
Note – as of 2022, you’ll need to get tested before entering Canada from the US and show proof of vaccination, but the rules are always changing. That’s why it’s best to look at the official website to see everything you need to enter.
How Long Does It Take to Drive Around Vancouver Island?
As you can see from this Vancouver Island road trip map, driving around Vancouver Island fully would take quite a while, which is why I picked out some of the best places to stop on this PNW road trip.
The island is 456 kilometers (283 miles) long, 100 kilometers (62 miles) wide, and 32,134 km2 (12,407 sq mi) in area. It would take you about seven or eight hours to drive from one end to the other end, and that’s without stopping to explore or for food.
That’s why I recommend spending multiple days on a road trip to Vancouver Island, and I’ve provided a 3 day Vancouver Island itinerary as well as a 7 day Vancouver Island itinerary at the end of this article. I have multiple Vancouver Island road trip ideas for you to choose from.
What is the Best Time to Visit Vancouver Island?
You can visit Vancouver Island any time throughout the year. However, you’ll want to think about what activities you’ll be doing first before deciding the best time to visit Vancouver Island.
For example, if you plan on doing plenty of hiking or exploring the beach, you’ll want to go from spring or fall so you can take advantage of fewer crowds and moderate weather. I personally love coming here in the fall, as you’ll see some beautiful foilage along your road trip on Vancouver Island.
Summer has the best weather, with minimal rain and temperatures in the high 70s, but it’s also the most crowded time to visit. Many tourists and locals alike are booking weekend getaways from Vancouver at this time. You’ll want to book your accommodations and any tours well in advance so you can have the Vancouver Island itinerary that you want.
If you’re more interested in indoor activities and want to enjoy the island without crowds, you may like visiting in the winter. Temperatures are in the low 30s, and it can be a cozy time of year to get a hotel by the water and watch the rain fall while having your morning cup of coffee. There are plenty of winter hikes you can go on during this time.
How Many Days Do You Need on Vancouver Island?
Due to how big the island is, you’ll want to spend multiple days there. It’s hard to pick how many days to spend on Vancouver Island, but the most common choices are 3 days and 7 days on Vancouver Island. That way, you can either do a short but packed weekend on Vancouver Island, or you can take your time and explore more of it at your leisure.
Do I Need a Car on Vancouver Island?
Yes, you’ll want to have a car to explore Vancouver Island fully. There isn’t easy public transportation to rely on, and you won’t be able to see many of these stops. It’s easiest to have your own car, but you can also rent one if you don’t have access to it.
If you take a ferry to Victoria or fly in, there are plenty of options to choose from. You can look on Expedia or Kayak to find a vehicle that works for you. Most of the roads are wide so you’ll be fine with a medium-sized car and won’t need a larger one unless you have a big group with you.
What to Bring on a Vancouver Island Road Trip
Anytime I go on a road trip, I always refer to my road trip essentials packing list that makes sure I don’t forget anything. However, here are a few items I recommend specifically for your 3 days on Vancouver Island:
- Car phone charger – make sure your phone always stays charged for when you need to take pictures and videos
- Emergency roadside kit – hopefully you’ll have no issues on your road trip on Vancouver Island, but putting this in your trunk will give you peace of mind
- Water bottle – staying hydrated is always important when driving around Vancouver Island
- Cooler – store your drinks and snacks in here so you don’t have to stop as much
- Polarized sunglasses – cities on the coast get plenty of sun and the water reflects off the glasses, so have a solid pair of sunglasses
- Rain jacket – it can always randomly rain in the Pacific Northwest, so keep this in the back of your car
Need help planning out your road trip? I’ve been using Roadtrippers for years to see exactly how long it’ll take from one point to the next and find new places to add to my itinerary!
13 Amazing Stops for Your Vancouver Island Road Trip
Part of the appeal is that the island’s landscapes vary greatly. You’ll find sandy beaches, a mountain range, glaciers, waterfalls, and dense forests populated with giant cedars. Much of the island is also protected, making it a great place to see black bears and whales. While the Sea to Sky Highway is one of my favorite drives in Canada, this island rivals it.
Packed to the brim with unique places to stop, this island is a blast to explore. Doing a little planning beforehand will also help you see the best of it, so this list will help you create your Vancouver Island trip itinerary. Pick a few of the stops below for an amazing Vancouver weekend getaway. The best part is creating your own Vancouver Island itinerary with how many options you have.
Nanaimo, the Harbour City, is a great starting point for your road trip around Vancouver Island. In addition, you can reach it by plane or ferry. Located on the east of the island, it’s a vibrant urban center that offers plenty of fun sea- and sky-based activities.
Lakes and harbors dot Nanaimo with mysterious coves that you can explore by canoe or paddleboard. This city also has a great craft beer and culinary scene to add to your Vancouver Island itinerary for 3 days. Foodies will also love getting to grips with the area’s specialty dessert, the Nanaimo bar.
If you stop here during your road trip on Vancouver Island, make sure you check out the Nanaimo Museum with its cannon-firing ceremony at noon, accompanied by lusty bagpipes.
If you’re searching for some fun Vancouver Island tours, here’s something special. You can take to the sky to see the majesty of Canada’s Sunshine Coast on a 40-minute seaplane flight, and the panoramic views will also leave you speechless.
If Vancouver Island isn’t enough for you, you can take a ferry to another island!
Newcastle Island is connected by a ferry across from Nanaimo that leaves every half hour (you can find the ferry schedule online). For 5 CAD, you can walk the trails of this beautiful area.
2. Protection Island
Protection Island was also one of the most unique experiences I had on my first road trip on Vancouver Island. You can take a short ferry ride to the island from a marina in downtown Nanaimo. It’s the cutest little boat, and everyone was excited to see what the island was like.
The boat docks right at the Dinghy Dock Pub, which may be one of the coolest pubs I’ve ever been to. It’s Canada’s only floating pub and gives you a fantastic view of Nanaimo. The fish and chips were somehow made better because I was right on the water.
Courtenay is the only city and the largest community in the Comox Valley area. It’s located north of Nanaimo, along the island’s east coast. This area is also home to over 40 parks, making it an excellent stop for nature lovers.
There’s a different flavor for every undercover conservationist from Seal Bay Park to the Miracle Beach Provincial Park. For those who have a love affair with ancient history, the District Museum and Paleontology Center will satisfy your curiosity.
To top it all off, there are many wineries in the area. Pull out a seat, kick back and enjoy some samples of the local vintage.
4. Comox Valley
This gorgeous valley is filled with wildlife and activities based on the great outdoors. There are all kinds of things to see here on your Vancouver Island road trip. In summer, you can take a trip to Strathcona Provincial Park, where you can spy the tallest peak on the island, the Golden Hinde.
You’ll also get some great shots of the Della Falls – the highest waterfall in Canada. This magnificent waterfall is also in the top 10 highest waterfalls in the world! The Comox Glacier is also a beautiful landmark to visit as it’s easy to access and visible.
Comox Valley is also home to Comox Town, which has roughly 15,000 people. This town is the Royal Canadian Air Force base seat, the CFB Comox, and the HMCS Quadra, a Sea Cadet training facility.
If you’re heading to Vancouver Island during the winter months, head to Comox Valley’s Mount Washington Alpine Resort. It’s known for its snowfalls and is a popular tourist destination for skiing and snowboarding that’s on par with skiing in Banff.
5. Campbell River
Follow the island’s east coast upwards from Courtenay, and you’ll reach Campbell River. This area is also known as the “Salmon Capital of the World,” and anglers and fisherfolk gather here in shoals. With attractions like Quinsam River Salmon Hatchery and Discovery Pier, Canada’s first saltwater fishing pier, you can understand why.
Between July and September, you can witness a stunning natural phenomenon. You’ll be able to see and snorkel with thousands of salmon returning to the river of their birth.
You can also take a short walk down to the swinging Elk Falls Suspension Bridge. Here, you’ll see the thundering waterfall followed by a hike into the forest of sky-high trees.
The capital city of the Canadian province of British Columbia, Victoria, is positioned on the southern tip of the island. It’s another excellent starting point for your Vancouver Island road trip because it’s a quick ferry ride from Seattle and Vancouver, making it a great long weekend trip from Seattle.
The “City of Gardens” is relatively small, so many of the main attractions are within walking distance of the city center. According to both National Geographic and CNN, one such attraction is Butchart Gardens, considered one of the world’s top gardens.
Do yourself a favor and take a few hours to tour this enchanting wonder. You’ll see the Japanese Garden, Rose Garden, the Sunken Garden, and other natural treasures. You’ll be amazed by the incredible diversity you find there on your road trip on Vancouver Island.
Where to Stay: Marketa’s Bed and Breakfast is in a quiet neighborhood, so you’ll sleep great but can quickly walk to central Victoria for the action. (rates start at $81 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
Driving to Ladysmith from Victoria, you’ll pass through farm-filled Cowichan, affectionately known as “The Warm Land.” After this scenic stretch, you’ll also end up in the quaint seaside town of Ladysmith.
A peaceful town with a lively twist, Ladysmith boasts a bustling main street, First Avenue. This avenue also offers great boutique stores and creative local businesses. You’ll love exploring all these unique gems.
The town is located right by the ocean, so there are plenty of seaside activities on offer. In addition, you can take a leisurely walk to the marina or visit the Sea Life Center to brush up on your oceanic knowledge. It’s also ideal to relax and watch the boats ebb and flow while enjoying the waterfront feel.
Where to Stay: Inn of the Sea is a private apartment you can rent, making it great for families looking for multiple rooms and a kitchen area. (rates start at $240 per night; book your room on Booking.com or read reviews on TripAdvisor)
Where Ladysmith is known for its harbor, Parksville is famous for its beaches and libations. This city makes it the perfect spot for kicking back on the beach and cutting loose. While you’re here, make sure you visit Parksville Bay and Craig Bay for some coastal explorations.
Check out the boardwalk and visit the Mount Arrowsmith Brewing Co for a refreshing beer. You can’t go wrong with their award-winning Arrowsmith Blonde – fruity with a dry finish that won’t go over your head.
Parksville is a great place to stop over for a beachfront stay. Book a night at Tigh-Na-Mara to get a good night’s sleep with the sounds of the ocean as your lullaby.
Vancouver Island wins the award for some of the most scenic beaches in the world. Rathtrevor Beach is one of the most beautiful places on Vancouver Island to walk around, as the tide goes out really far during the day. Bring a picnic so you can take your time exploring the beach and take a break from driving around Vancouver Island.
Where to Stay: Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort is my favorite place on the island (I’ve stayed here multiple times!) due to being right on the coast and having a spa to enjoy. (rates start at $154 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
9. Qualicum Beach
Qualicum Beach is a 10-minute drive northwest of Parksville. Located at the foot of Mount Arrowsmith along the Strait of Georgia, this area has picture-perfect views combined with small-town charm that you’ll want to see during your road trip on Vancouver Island.
It may be small with a population of around 9,000 people, but there are still plenty of good reasons for you to visit. The beaches transform as golden sand makes way for beds of wave-stroked rock and pebbles north of this town.
Take a stroll along a pebble beach and enjoy the sights of sea lions, ships, and even some killer whales. If you’re looking for something a little more action-packed, try out some caving. Discover the mysteries of the marble passages and crystal caverns on a guided multi-cave tour during this unique Vancouver Island tour.
When you come to Qualicum Beach, you have to stop at Milner Gardens. After a short walk, you’ll be in the gardens, where they have some of the most beautiful flowers.
It was rated one of the ten best public gardens in all of Canada, and it’s easy to see why.
There are 70 acres of a beautiful forest filled with Douglas firs, unique artwork, and colorful flowers like rhododendrons. It’s such a tranquil place that even Princess Diana, Prince Charles, and Queen Elizabeth have been here to visit. You can even have afternoon tea like the Royals in the Milner House.
With several different sections to explore, it’s the perfect place to find peace and quiet and reflect on your thoughts. You’ll feel a sense of calmness when you leave the garden.
What’s a road trip without a waterfall or two? Little Qualicum Falls Park has both the upper and lower falls, so make sure to walk around the whole park. Don’t forget to bring your camera, either!
10. Port Hardy
Port Hardy sits in the Great Bear Rainforest on the island’s northeastern side. This area is breathtakingly beautiful as it is surrounded by lush, ancient rainforest set against a dramatic backdrop of mountains.
Take a break from driving Vancouver Island and stretch your legs with some hiking and bear-watching in the forest. You can also grab a kayak and paddle to the God’s Pocket Marine Provincial Park. You can hop on the water taxi from Port Hardy to Bell Island for a leisurely trip if you’re not an experienced kayaker.
If you want to stay the night here, The Quarterdeck Inn & Marina Resort offers a hot breakfast and a convenient location. The Seven Hills Golf & Country Club is an easy drive away, and there is a ferry terminal nearby.
Where to Stay: The Quarterdeck Inn & Marina Resort has private kitchens if you want to cook or a restaurant if you prefer someone to cook for you after a long day. (rates start at $153 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
11. Port Alberni
Port Alberni is renowned for its pleasant climate and breathtaking scenery. Surrounded by mountains, streams, and freshwater lakes, you’ll get an authentic Canadian experience. You might want to extend your time in this area to get the most from your trip.
The area is a hotspot for boating, sport-fishing, windsurfing, hiking, and ATVing. You can even rent a kayak and explore the Broken Group Islands. You can hop on a water taxi to Sechart Lodge at the Pacific Whaling Company historic site if you have the whole day.
Near Port Alberni is Nahmint Valley, an old-growth forest home to centuries-old trees. There’s no better way to explore the mountain terrain than taking a 4WD guided tour from Alberni Valley. Witness Vancouver Island at its most dramatic while enjoying the thrill of 4WD.
Where to Stay: Best Western Plus Barclay Hotel has a beer and wine store and snacks available if you forget something late at night. (rates start at $137 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
If you take the westerly road from Port Alberni to Ucluelet, be prepared for one of the longest stretches on your road trip on Vancouver Island. It’s a good idea to fill your tank and take some rest stops on the way, as well as one of the best places to visit on Vancouver Island.
When you reach Ucluelet, you’ll be met by a lovely seaside town that’s heavy on adventure tourism and wildlife. This town has Canada’s first collect-and-release aquarium.
It also offers several access points to the Wild Pacific Trail. The trail is excellent for birding, walking, and taking memorable photos.
Ucluelet Harbour is the ideal spot to take a sea kayak tour of Vancouver Island’s west coast. Keep your eyes peeled for eagles scouting the skies and black bears strolling along the shores during this Vancouver Island tour.
Tofino is located on the island’s west side and is the ideal point to wrap up your road trip with an authentic West Coast activity, such as surfing. If you’re a first-timer, book yourself a lesson and get ready to hit the waves. This area is one of the most beautiful places on Vancouver Island, in my opinion, and there are many Airbnbs in Tofino to choose from.
If surfing isn’t your thing, maybe storm watching will catch your attention. Tourists visit this location to witness the impressive storm skies and ocean swells in the winter months.
The highlight of Tofino is the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, home to the stunning Long Beach. This idyllic beach offers 10 miles of sandy stretches – perfect for intimate walks. The park has some epic hiking trails, so you’ll get a great mixture of tranquility and exertion.
You can also get a feel for Tofino’s foodie scene by taking a tour of the excellent eateries in the area. From oyster bars to a charcuterie counter, your tastebuds will thank you.
Where to Stay: Pacific Sands Beach Resort is right by the beach and has rooms with balconies for a stunning morning view. (rates start at $155 per night; book your room on Booking.com or read reviews on TripAdvisor)
Sample Vancouver Island Itineraries
If you pick one, some, or all of the stops mentioned earlier, you’ll have an incredible getaway. Bear in mind that the more days you have for the trip, the less rushed it will be and you’ll be able to see so much more. This is just my Vancouver Island suggested itinerary that you can choose to follow or edit to make your own.
Like a United States West Coast trip, there are many things you can put on the list for your road trip on Vancouver Island. To make things easier, I’ve included two sample Vancouver Island itineraries to help you plan the ultimate Vancouver Island road trip.
3 Day Vancouver Island Itinerary
You can see much of the island when driving around Vancouver Island in 3 days. You might be a bit rushed, but this 3-day itinerary will give you a great snapshot of the island.
If you’re leaving from Seattle, grab the ferry service to the capital of British Columbia. From there, take a 2-hour drive up from Victoria to Nanaimo to start your road trip.
Day 1 – Nanaimo to Courtenay
On the first day of your Vancouver Island road trip itinerary, I encourage you to catch the early ferry to start your weekend on Vancouver Island right away. You can grab your coffee and breakfast at either the ferry terminal or on the ferry.
Once you dock in Nanaimo, take some time to explore the town. There are plenty of restaurants, shops, and parks to check out.
You can hike, bike, and boat your way around Vancouver Island, but flying on a seaplane is a unique way to explore it. I did this with Sunshine Coast to fly from Nanaimo to Sechelt Inlet (on the mainland part of Canada) and loved it.
When you’re done, start making your way to Courtenay (a little over an hour drive without stopping). Stop in Parksville on your way there to eat lunch or check out some of the many beaches they have there.
You can get to Courtenay with enough time to have dinner at a local restaurant and watch the sunset on a nearby beach. This is a relaxing end to your Vancouver Island tour.
Day 2 – Courtenay to Campbell River
While the sunsets are beautiful, the sunrises are even more stunning. I recommend getting coffee and going to the beach to start the second day of your 3 days on Vancouver Island itinerary in a relaxing way.
Check out of your hotel and take a hike in Comox Valley. This gorgeous region has plenty of outdoor activities to do and some beautiful Vancouver Island hiking trails, and you can easily spend the whole day exploring.
Campbell River is only about a 40-minute drive from Courtenay, so you may decide you don’t want to go too far for your next stop. Campbell River has plenty of waterfalls and bridges to explore.
Alternatively, you may want to drive further on your second day, in which case you can drive up to Port Hardy (3 hours from Courtenay). Many people want to go as far north as they can, but keep in mind you’ll be headed all the way south on the island for your last day.
Day 3 – Campbell River to Victoria
If you choose to stay in Port Hardy for the night, it’d be about a 5.5-hour drive to Victoria without stopping. That means you’ll want to get on the road early.
From Campbell River, Victoria is only 3 hours away, so you’ll have a more leisurely day exploring stops in Vancouver Island along the way.
Qualicum Beach has beaches, waterfalls, and many local, organic restaurants.
There are also several stops near this area, such as Cameron Lake. On my Vancouver Island driving tour, I drove by Cameron Lake and had to pull over because it was so beautiful spontaneously. Only a few people were swimming on the opposite side, so it was a relaxing place to stop. I loved how clear the water was and all the rocks you could see at the bottom.
At the north end of Cameron Lake is Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park. Walking through this 800-year-old forest will have you in awe as you look at the giant Douglas Firs. The road splits the forest in two, but I recommend checking out both parts. It’s a peaceful place to take a walk and relax in nature.
Stop by Ladysmith to check out the shops and get a snack on your way to Victoria. This is a good place to get souvenirs as well.
When you get to Victoria, you may decide to spend an extra night there. From taking a water taxi to stopping at one of the world’s most beautiful gardens, there’s plenty to do there. Alternatively, you can also catch the last ferry back to Washington State for a long but satisfying day.
7 Day Vancouver Island Itinerary
A week will give you far more time to explore the island and experience everything it offers. You can fit in some great tours and Vancouver Island hikes and set a more relaxed driving speed.
Your starting point will be Victoria, so you’ll want to take a ferry to Victoria International. Once you reach the city, you’ll be ready to start your Vancouver Island road trip adventure. You can pick and choose from this list of the best places to stop on Vancouver Island to make your own trip or follow my suggested itinerary below.
- Day 1 – Victoria
- Day 2 – Victoria to Ladysmith
- Day 3 – Ladysmith to Parksville
- Day 4 – Parksville to Qualicum Beach to Port Alberni
- Day 5 – Port Alberni to Ucluelet
- Day 6 – Ucluelet to Tofino
- Day 7 – Tofino to Home
These sample Vancouver Island itineraries do not include all of the stops on the list. If you’re committed to visiting all the stops mentioned in this post, you can always plan several road trips to Vancouver Island to make sure you see them all!
No matter how many days you spend on a Vancouver Island road trip, you’ll love exploring this beautiful area!