Header Notice

Winter is here! Check out the winter wonderlands at these 5 amazing winter destinations in Montana

Vancouver Island Road Trip: Whales, Waterfalls, & First Nations Culture


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Sharona Whittington



Embarking on a road trip is an exhilarating way to explore the vast and picturesque landscapes that Canada has to offer. If you’re longing for breathtaking scenery, wildlife encounters, and a deep dive into rich indigenous culture, then a road trip around Vancouver Island is the perfect choice.


Vancouver Island is a haven for nature lovers, adventure seekers, and history enthusiasts alike. Located on the west coast of British Columbia, this island is renowned for its diverse ecosystem, stunning coastal views, towering mountains, and vibrant communities. From quaint coastal towns to ancient rainforests, Vancouver Island offers an experience like no other.


From the cosmopolitan city of Victoria to the rugged beauty of Tofino, this road trip will take you on a journey through some of the island’s most iconic destinations. You’ll have the opportunity to witness majestic whales, explore cascading waterfalls, and learn about the rich First Nations culture that has shaped this region for centuries.


So buckle up and get ready for an adventure of a lifetime! In this comprehensive road trip guide, we’ll outline the route and highlight must-see attractions along the way. Whether you have a week or more to spare, this road trip can be tailored to fit your timeline, ensuring you make the most of your time on Vancouver Island.


Route Overview

This road trip around Vancouver Island will take you on a scenic journey spanning approximately 600 kilometers (370 miles) along the island’s stunning coastline. The recommended starting point is Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, which can be easily reached by ferry from Vancouver or Seattle. From Victoria, the route heads west to the Cowichan Valley, then continues northwest toward the Pacific Rim National Park, before turning east to Tofino and Ucluelet. The journey then takes you south through Port Alberni and Cathedral Grove, before heading north to Nanaimo, Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Campbell River, and finally, the Comox Valley.


Throughout the journey, you’ll be mesmerized by awe-inspiring vistas, pristine beaches, rugged mountains, and lush rainforests. Along the way, there are ample opportunities to explore hiking trails, spot wildlife, immerse yourself in indigenous culture, indulge in local cuisine, and simply relax in the peaceful surroundings.


It is recommended to allocate at least 10 days for this road trip to fully experience the beauty and wonders of Vancouver Island. However, if you’re short on time, the itinerary can be adjusted to fit your schedule. Each day’s drive is relatively short, allowing for plenty of time to explore the attractions and activities along the way.


Note that road conditions and services on Vancouver Island are generally excellent, with well-maintained highways and plenty of gas stations, accommodations, and dining options available throughout the journey.


Now, let’s delve into the day-by-day itinerary, highlighting the must-see attractions and experiences that await you on this unforgettable road trip around Vancouver Island.


Day 1: Exploring Victoria

Your road trip begins in Victoria, a charming city known for its historic architecture, vibrant gardens, and lively waterfront. Start your day by exploring the iconic Inner Harbour, where you can admire the Parliament Buildings, the Empress Hotel, and the Royal BC Museum. Take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront and soak in the scenic views.


Head to the famous Butchart Gardens, located just outside the city. These stunning gardens feature meticulously manicured flower beds, tranquil water features, and enchanting pathways. Take your time to explore the various themed gardens and be captivated by the fragrant blooms.


Afterward, drive to the picturesque Fisherman’s Wharf, a vibrant floating community with colorful houseboats, waterfront eateries, and local artisans. Enjoy a delicious meal of freshly caught seafood or grab a snack from one of the food stalls.


In the afternoon, immerse yourself in the rich indigenous culture of the region by visiting the Royal BC Museum. Learn about the history and traditions of the First Nations peoples through engaging exhibits and artifacts.


As the day comes to a close, venture to Beacon Hill Park, a tranquil oasis in the heart of the city. Take a leisurely stroll through the park’s pathways, visit the petting zoo, and enjoy the panoramic views from the scenic lookout points. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some peacocks wandering freely.


Finish off your day by indulging in the vibrant culinary scene of Victoria. The city boasts a wide range of restaurants, from casual eateries to fine dining establishments, offering delectable dishes that showcase local and international flavors.


After a day filled with exploration and culture, rest up for the adventures that await you on the next leg of your Vancouver Island road trip.


Day 2: Cowichan Valley

On day 2 of your Vancouver Island road trip, venture into the picturesque Cowichan Valley, known for its rolling vineyards, charming towns, and rich agricultural heritage. Start your day with a scenic drive through the countryside, taking in the breathtaking views of the valley and surrounding mountains.


Visit the Merridale Ciderworks, a local cidery nestled amidst orchards. Take a guided tour to learn about the cider-making process, sample a variety of ciders, and enjoy a delicious lunch at their onsite bistro.


Continue your journey to the city of Duncan, often referred to as the “City of Totems.” Explore the vibrant downtown area, known for its collection of over 40 totem poles. Take a stroll along Totem Tour Walk and learn about the rich indigenous history and culture represented by these impressive carved artworks.


For history enthusiasts, a visit to the Cowichan Valley Museum is a must. Discover the stories of the early settlers and the contributions they made to the region’s development.


Next, explore the charming town of Chemainus, famous for its stunning outdoor murals. Take a leisurely walk through the streets and admire the larger-than-life paintings that depict the town’s history and culture. Don’t forget to visit the Chemainus Theatre, known for its captivating live performances.


As you continue your journey through the Cowichan Valley, make a stop at one of the local wineries or craft breweries. Sample award-winning wines or artisanal beers while taking in the beautiful vineyard or brewery surroundings.


End your day by enjoying a delicious farm-to-table dinner at one of the region’s renowned restaurants, where the ingredients are sourced locally and showcase the flavors of the Cowichan Valley. Indulge in a culinary adventure that reflects the region’s commitment to sustainability and taste.


After a day of immersing yourself in the beauty and gastronomy of the Cowichan Valley, find a cozy accommodation to rest up for the adventures that await you on the next leg of your Vancouver Island road trip.


Day 3: Pacific Rim National Park

Day 3 of your Vancouver Island road trip takes you to the breathtaking Pacific Rim National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its pristine sandy beaches, rugged coastline, and lush rainforests. Prepare to be awe-inspired as you immerse yourself in the raw beauty of this natural wonder.


Start your day by exploring the scenic Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet. This well-maintained trail offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, dramatic cliffs, and ancient forests. Keep an eye out for wildlife, including eagles, whales, and sea lions.


Afterward, head to Long Beach, a stretch of sandy coastline that seems to go on forever. Take a leisurely walk along the beach, breathe in the fresh ocean air, and listen to the crashing waves. If you’re feeling adventurous, try surfing or paddleboarding in the cool Pacific waters.


Continue your exploration of the Pacific Rim National Park with a visit to the Rainforest Trail. Wander along the boardwalks, surrounded by towering trees, moss-covered ground, and the sounds of nature. This tranquil setting offers a glimpse into the ancient rainforests that have thrived in this region for centuries.


If you’re interested in learning about the region’s indigenous culture, make a stop at the Kwisitis Visitor Centre. Here, you can explore exhibits that highlight the significance of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations and their deep connection to the land and sea.


In the bustling town of Tofino, indulge in a delicious seafood lunch at one of the waterfront restaurants. Try fresh Pacific oysters, local Dungeness crab, or succulent salmon, all sourced from the surrounding waters.


After lunch, why not take a boat tour to explore the nearby islands and search for wildlife? Keep your eyes peeled for orcas, seals, and bald eagles as you cruise through the stunning coastal scenery.


As the day comes to a close, head back to your accommodations in Tofino or Ucluelet and relax while watching the sun set over the ocean. Reflect on the natural wonders you’ve witnessed and the memories you’ve made in the Pacific Rim National Park.


Prepare for another exciting day of adventure and exploration on your Vancouver Island road trip.


Day 4: Tofino and Ucluelet

Day 4 of your Vancouver Island road trip is dedicated to exploring the charming towns of Tofino and Ucluelet, located on the west coast of the island. These coastal gems offer a unique blend of natural beauty, outdoor activities, and a laid-back beach town vibe.


Start your day by experiencing the thrill of surfing in Tofino, known as one of the best surf spots in Canada. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced surfer, there are surf schools and rental shops that cater to all skill levels. Ride the waves and feel the exhilaration of being in harmony with the ocean.


If surfing isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other activities to enjoy. Take a leisurely beach walk along Chesterman Beach, renowned for its long stretches of white sand and stunning sunsets. Explore the tidal pools at Tonquin Park or hike the scenic trails at the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.


For a unique culinary experience, embark on a guided boat tour to harvest your own fresh seafood. Learn about sustainable fishing practices and catch Dungeness crab, spot prawns, and even fresh sea urchins. After your adventure, enjoy a beachfront picnic by the ocean, savoring the fruits of your labor.


In the afternoon, take a scenic drive to Ucluelet and visit the Amphitrite Point Lighthouse. This picturesque lighthouse offers panoramic views of the rugged coastline and surrounding islands. Walk along the coastal trails and watch for whales, sea lions, and bald eagles.


Continue your exploration of Ucluelet by venturing into the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve’s Broken Group Islands. Join a guided kayaking tour and paddle through the tranquil waters, surrounded by lush forests and hidden coves. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife sightings, such as otters, seals, and seabirds.


End your day by enjoying a leisurely dinner at one of the many seafood restaurants in Tofino or Ucluelet. Indulge in fresh, locally sourced ingredients, including succulent seafood dishes and creative culinary delights.


As the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean, relax and reflect on the beauty and adventure you’ve experienced in Tofino and Ucluelet. Tomorrow, your road trip will continue to new destinations, allowing you to discover more of Vancouver Island’s wonders.


Day 5: Port Alberni and Cathedral Grove

On day 5 of your Vancouver Island road trip, venture east towards Port Alberni, a vibrant city nestled in the Alberni Valley. This area is known for its rich logging history, scenic landscapes, and close proximity to the awe-inspiring Cathedral Grove.


Start your day with a visit to the Port Alberni Maritime Discovery Centre. Explore the exhibits and learn about the maritime heritage of the region, including its connection to the logging industry and the importance of the Alberni Inlet.


Next, take a leisurely drive along the Pacific Rim Highway towards Cathedral Grove, located in MacMillan Provincial Park. This ancient forest is home to towering Douglas fir and ancient cedar trees, some of which are over 800 years old. Take a stroll on the well-maintained trails, marvel at the impressive canopy above, and feel the tranquility of the forest envelop you.


After immersing yourself in the beauty of Cathedral Grove, head back to Port Alberni and indulge in a delicious lunch at one of the local eateries. Sample fresh seafood, delectable burgers, or hearty comfort food to satisfy your appetite.


In the afternoon, explore more of Port Alberni’s natural wonders. Visit the Sproat Lake Provincial Park, known for its crystal-clear waters and sandy beaches. Enjoy a swim, rent a kayak, or simply relax by the lake and soak in the serene surroundings.


For history buffs, a visit to the Alberni Valley Museum is a must. Learn about the region’s logging industry, indigenous history, and the impact of the local First Nations peoples. Discover artifacts and stories that showcase the resilience and rich cultural heritage of the area.


To end the day, take a scenic drive along the Alberni Valley, appreciating the picturesque landscapes and panoramic views. Consider stopping at one of the local wineries or breweries on the way, where you can sample unique craft beverages and enjoy the peaceful countryside.


As the day draws to a close, find a comfortable accommodation in Port Alberni or the surrounding area. Rest up and recharge for the adventures that await you on the next leg of your Vancouver Island road trip.


Day 6: Nanaimo

On day 6 of your Vancouver Island road trip, make your way to the vibrant city of Nanaimo, located on the eastern coast of the island. Known for its scenic beauty, historical landmarks, and vibrant arts scene, Nanaimo offers a delightful blend of urban charm and natural wonders.


Start your day by exploring the historic downtown area of Nanaimo. Stroll along the picturesque Harbourfront Walkway, lined with shops, galleries, and restaurants. Take in the views of the bustling Nanaimo Harbour and admire the colorful storefronts that showcase local artisans.


Visit the Nanaimo Museum to learn about the city’s fascinating history, from its origins as a coal mining town to its current status as a thriving cultural hub. Discover the stories of the First Nations peoples, early settlers, and the thriving marine industry that has shaped Nanaimo’s identity.


Next, it’s time to experience the famous Nanaimo Bar. Head to a local bakery or café and indulge in this sweet treat that features layers of chocolate, custard, and coconut. Take a moment to savor the flavors and appreciate this iconic Canadian dessert.


For outdoor enthusiasts, a visit to Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park is a must. Take a short ferry ride from downtown Nanaimo to this serene island oasis. Explore the park’s hiking trails, relax on the sandy beaches, and enjoy a picnic surrounded by stunning coastal scenery.


In the afternoon, visit the Nanaimo Art Gallery and immerse yourself in the city’s vibrant arts and culture scene. Marvel at the diverse exhibits featuring local and international artists and gain a deeper understanding of the creative spirit that thrives in Nanaimo.


As the day winds down, make your way to Departure Bay Beach, where you can unwind and take in the beautiful sunset over the Strait of Georgia. Enjoy a peaceful walk along the shoreline or simply find a comfortable spot to sit and reflect on the adventures of your road trip.


End your day by indulging in a delicious dinner at one of Nanaimo’s many fantastic restaurants. Sample local seafood specialties, global culinary delights, or classic comfort foods. Raise a glass to toast the memories made during your time in Nanaimo.


Rest and prepare for the next leg of your Vancouver Island road trip, as there are still more amazing destinations to discover on this breathtaking island.


Day 7: Parksville and Qualicum Beach

On day 7 of your Vancouver Island road trip, explore the charming seaside towns of Parksville and Qualicum Beach, located on the eastern coast of the island. These idyllic communities are known for their stunning beaches, natural beauty, and relaxed atmosphere.


Start your day by visiting Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, a picturesque park with a vast sandy beach and tidal flats. Take a leisurely walk along the shoreline, breathe in the fresh ocean air, and admire the panoramic views of the Strait of Georgia. If the tide is out, explore the tidal pools and discover fascinating marine life.


Next, head to Coombs, a small community known for its quirky Old Country Market. Browse through the market’s unique stalls, showcasing artisanal crafts, local products, and specialty foods. Don’t forget to look up at the grass-covered roof, where goats can often be spotted grazing.


Continue your journey to Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, where you can marvel at the cascading waterfalls and lush forest scenery. Take a hike along the well-maintained trails and enjoy the serenity of this natural oasis.


In the afternoon, venture to Qualicum Beach and explore the town’s quaint shops, galleries, and eateries. Discover local artisans, browse through boutique stores, or simply relax in one of the charming cafés. If you’re a golfer, consider playing a round at one of the championship golf courses in the area.


For nature enthusiasts, a visit to Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park is a must. Take a guided tour and venture into the fascinating underground world of limestone caves. Marvel at the intricate formations and learn about the geological history of the area.


As the day comes to a close, enjoy a beachfront dinner at one of the restaurants in Parksville or Qualicum Beach. Savor fresh seafood, farm-to-table cuisine, or international flavors while watching the sunset paint the sky with vibrant colors.


Find a comfortable accommodation for the night and reflect on the beauty and tranquility you’ve experienced in Parksville and Qualicum Beach. Tomorrow, your road trip will continue to new destinations, allowing you to discover more of Vancouver Island’s gems.


Day 8: Campbell River

On day 8 of your Vancouver Island road trip, make your way to the scenic city of Campbell River, located on the northeastern coast of the island. Known as the “Salmon Capital of the World,” Campbell River offers a perfect blend of breathtaking natural beauty and outdoor adventures.


Start your day by exploring the Discovery Fishing Pier, where you can watch fishermen reel in their catch or try your hand at fishing yourself. Breathe in the salty ocean air and take in the panoramic views of Discovery Passage and Quadra Island.


Take a drive to Elk Falls Provincial Park, just outside of Campbell River. Embark on a hike through lush forests, and be rewarded with the breathtaking sight of Elk Falls, cascading down the rocky cliffs. Cross the suspension bridge for an even more thrilling perspective of the powerful waterfall.


For an up-close wildlife experience, book a guided wildlife tour to Quadra Island or Desolation Sound. Keep your eyes peeled for orcas, humpback whales, sea lions, and bald eagles as you cruise through the scenic waters. Learn about the rich marine ecosystems and the fascinating history of the region.


Visit the Museum at Campbell River to delve into the area’s cultural heritage and natural history. Learn about Indigenous culture, early pioneers, and the importance of the fishing industry in shaping the identity of Campbell River.


In the evening, head to the vibrant downtown area and indulge in a gourmet dinner at one of the waterfront restaurants. Sample fresh seafood dishes, succulent steaks, or international cuisine while taking in the views of the marina and passing boats.


If you’re interested in the local craft beer scene, make a stop at one of Campbell River’s breweries. Enjoy a refreshing pint of locally brewed beer while chatting with the friendly locals and soaking in the laid-back ambiance.


As the day winds down, find a cozy accommodation in Campbell River or the surrounding area. Reflect on the beauty and adventure you’ve experienced in this captivating coastal city and prepare for the next leg of your Vancouver Island road trip.


Day 9: Comox Valley

On day 9 of your Vancouver Island road trip, explore the scenic and vibrant Comox Valley, located on the east coast of the island. With its stunning natural landscapes, charming towns, and abundant outdoor activities, the Comox Valley offers a perfect blend of adventure and relaxation.


Start your day by visiting the Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park in the town of Comox. Explore the beautiful gardens and heritage buildings while learning about the history and cultural significance of the Filberg Festival, an annual event celebrating the arts that takes place here.


Next, head to Goose Spit Park, a picturesque sandy beach and nature reserve. Take a leisurely walk along the shoreline, soak in the panoramic views of the Beaufort Mountain Range, and perhaps even catch a glimpse of marine wildlife. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a relaxing break surrounded by nature.


Continue your journey to Cumberland, a historic mining town nestled in the foothills of the mountains. Take a self-guided walking tour to admire the beautifully preserved heritage buildings, browse through eclectic shops, and stop for a bite to eat at one of the local cafes or restaurants.


For outdoor enthusiasts, a visit to Strathcona Provincial Park is a must. Explore the park’s numerous hiking trails, ranging from easy walks to challenging mountain hikes. Marvel at the pristine alpine lakes, towering peaks, and ancient forests that are abundant within the park.


Make a stop at the Comox Valley Farmers’ Market, where you can discover the region’s local produce, artisanal goods, and delicious treats. Sample fresh fruits, homemade jams, locally roasted coffee, or pick up some unique souvenirs to take home.


In the evening, head to the town of Courtenay and enjoy a delightful dinner at one of its many culinary hotspots. Whether you’re in the mood for farm-to-table cuisine, international flavors, or classic comfort food, you’ll find plenty of options to satisfy your appetite.


As the day comes to a close, find a comfortable accommodation in the Comox Valley region and reflect on the beauty and adventure you’ve experienced. Tomorrow, you’ll continue your road trip, uncovering even more of Vancouver Island’s treasures.


Day 10: Departure

On the final day of your Vancouver Island road trip, it’s time to bid farewell to this stunning island and embark on your journey home. Take this opportunity to reflect on the incredible experiences and memories you’ve created along the way.


If you have some time before your departure, consider exploring the city or town where you conclude your road trip. Visit local attractions, sample regional cuisine, or simply take a leisurely stroll through the streets to soak up the final moments of your island adventure.


Before leaving, make sure to stop by a souvenir shop to pick up some mementos to remind you of your time on Vancouver Island. Whether it’s a unique piece of artwork, a crafted item, or a jar of locally made jam, these small tokens will serve as reminders of the incredible journey you’ve had.


If you have a bit more time to spare, consider extending your stay on Vancouver Island. There are plenty of additional attractions and destinations to explore, such as the scenic Gulf Islands, the rugged North Island, or the charming communities of the Sunshine Coast.


When the time comes to depart, make your way to the airport, ferry terminal, or other transportation hub depending on your chosen mode of travel. Take one last look at the breathtaking vistas and bid farewell to the beauty and serenity of Vancouver Island.


As you journey home, carry with you the memories of the stunning landscapes, vibrant communities, and rich cultural experiences you encountered during your road trip. Vancouver Island will leave an indelible impression on your heart, calling you back to explore even more of its wonders in the future.


Safe travels and until we meet again, may your adventures continue to be filled with discovery, beauty, and the joys of the open road.



Your Vancouver Island road trip has come to an end, but the memories and experiences will last a lifetime. From the charming city of Victoria to the rugged beauty of Tofino, the vibrant communities of Nanaimo and Campbell River, and the idyllic beaches of Parksville and Qualicum Beach, you’ve explored the diverse landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and natural wonders that this island has to offer.


Throughout your journey, you’ve witnessed breathtaking coastal views, encountered majestic wildlife, immersed yourself in indigenous culture, and indulged in delicious local cuisine. You’ve explored ancient rainforests, relaxed on sandy beaches, hiked through stunning mountains, and soaked in the vibrant atmosphere of charming towns and cities.


But Vancouver Island is much more than just a destination. It’s a place that captures the imagination and leaves a lasting impression on all who visit. The island’s beauty and tranquility have a way of rejuvenating the soul, reminding us of the importance of connecting with nature and appreciating the simple pleasures in life.


As you return home, carry with you the fond memories of your road trip. Share your experiences with family and friends, inspire others to embark on their own adventures, and keep the spirit of exploration alive in your heart.


Remember, Vancouver Island will always welcome you back with open arms, ready to unveil new wonders and hidden gems for you to discover. So, until we meet again on this remarkable island, embrace the memories and may your future journeys be filled with the same sense of awe and wonder that you experienced during your Vancouver Island road trip.