Updated: Oct 31
The Wild Pacific Route takes travellers from the east coast of Vancouver Island, over the mountains to the Pacific Ocean along the Wild Pacific Coast to Tofino, the 'Storm Capital of the World'. This 4-day road trip itinerary will make sure you hit all the highlights.
Welcome, fellow wanderers and road trip enthusiasts! This post is part of a series of BC Road Trip itineraries created to welcome you to the breathtaking landscapes and lesser-known gems of my beloved home province, British Columbia.
For those of you who are new here, I am a proud owner of a lovely converted campervan named Wanda. Wanda and I spend 2-3 months each year travelling around the province. I'm a firm believer that there's no better way to embrace the spirit of exploration than hitting the open road. With my four-wheeled companion, I've had the privilege of uncovering the beauty that BC has to offer, particularly during the splendid summer months.
Few travellers have the luxury of unlimited time and will only be able to see a small sample of what this province has to offer, so this series of itineraries and road trip advice is intended to inspire you to get out of the metro areas and into the stunning nature that is British Columbia. Today's itinerary will take you to the breathtaking Pacific Coast with stops in charming towns, opportunities to walk amongst towering trees scraping the sky, and the rugged coasts, cliffs, and broad golden beaches.
Getting to Vancouver Island
Most visitors to British Columbia will arrive in Vancouver and will need to take a ferry or small plane across the Salish Sea to the cities of Victoria or Nanaimo. If arriving in Victoria, check out the Marine Route (linked here). If you follow the Pacific Marine Route, you will join this Wild Pacific Route at Duncan. If coming from Nanaimo, you might want to skip the first section and jump ahead the the first stop after Nanaimo, Rathtrevor Provincial Park.
Vancouver Island Road Trip Wild Pacific Route to Tofino
It is possible to drive this route year-round but snow may be encountered in higher elevations during the winter months. Summers tend to be dry and sunny but rarely hot due to the moderating force of the ocean. Winters in lower elevations are rainy but mild. Outdoor adventures are available year-round. The west coast of Vancouver Island experiences incredible storms during the winter months which provide spectacular shows.
Day 1: Exploring Vancouver Island's Pacific Marine Route
Overnight: Parksville, BC
For those starting their Vancouver Island road trip in Victoria, you can choose to follow the Pacific Marine route which will take you around the southern end of Vancouver Island. You will join this route in the town of Duncan. For those with less time, a straight drive from the ferry terminal in Swartz Bay to Duncan is 84km (approx 1.25 hours of driving).
For those arriving on Vancouver Island in Nanaimo, you can choose to drive the 50km south to Duncan or head 30 km north for your first stop at Rathtrevor Provincial Park. (skip ahead now)
Places to Stop
The list of stops along the way includes only a few of the many places you can choose to stop on this road trip. As you drive, keep an eye out for viewpoints and rest stops along the way. Every viewpoint is worth at least a few minutes and a couple of photos.
Duncan Totem Walk Nestled on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, the Duncan Totem Walk is a captivating journey into Indigenous culture and artistry featuring more than 40 towering totems, each a piece of living history telling its own story. Follow the yellow footprints painted on the sidewalk.
Malahat Skywalk Prepare to be spellbound as you embark on a scenic drive along the Malahat Skywalk. This highway offers a thrilling blend of awe-inspiring vistas, winding roads, and lush forested landscapes. With each curve you navigate, the panorama becomes more breathtaking, revealing sweeping views of the Saanich Peninsula and the Gulf Islands.
Chemainus Murals Imagine strolling through a town where every corner reveals a vibrant tapestry of art that seems to come alive. That's what the Chemainus Murals promise to every visitor. This quaint coastal community is a true outdoor gallery, with over 40 captivating murals adorning its buildings, each one narrating a different piece of local history or folklore. Walking through the charming streets of Chemainus is like taking a delightful journey through time, and the vivid colours and artistic talent on display make it impossible not to fall in love with this creative town. It's an absolute gem for art enthusiasts and those in search of a dose of cultural inspiration.
Ladysmith Ladysmith's 1st Avenue, crowned "Canada's Great Street" in 2017, is the quintessential embodiment of small-town charm. As you step onto the historic streets, you'll find yourself immersed in a welcoming community with an ambiance that feels like a warm hug from the past. The town's heritage buildings and quaint boutiques are perfect for a leisurely stroll and shopping.
Rathtrevor Provincial Park Rathtrevor Provincial Park is a stunning wonderland attracting those seeking outdoor adventures or peaceful serene settings. The park's expansive, sandy beaches stretch for miles when the tide is out, revealing tide pools teeming with marine life. When the tide comes in, the shallow depth warms to a pleasant temperature for swimming and water sports.
Places to Eat in Parksville
Cedar Dining Room at Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort is an exquisite fine dining option at the luxurious Tigh-Na-Mara resort in Parksville. This restaurant features an up-scale menu of sophisticated West Coast cuisine and an extensive wine list. Foodies and those looking for a special experience will enjoy the Cedar Room
Lefty's Fresh Food is a popular mid-range dining choice in Parksville and one of my favourite stops in Parksville. This casual family-style restaurant includes classic Canadian comfort foods including burgers and sandwiches. It's nothing fancy but it is good hearty food in a welcoming atmosphere.
Serious Coffee is my go-to coffee shop in Parksville. Whether you are looking for a good cup of coffee with a pastry or a hearty meal, you will find something to tickle your tastebuds without causing harm to your wallet.
Places to Stay in Parksville
Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort is a luxurious option with stunning oceanfront accommodations and a renowned spa. Enjoy comfortable, well-appointed cabins and suites, and access to the beautiful Rathtrevor Beach. The resort offers an exceptional spa experience and fine dining at the Cedar Dining Room. I stayed here last year on a splurge getaway and recommend the experience for those who can fit it into their road trip budget.
Beach Acres Resort is a more affordable option with beachfront cottages and townhouses. The resort also has a pool and hot tubs. This is a great option for families or those needing more space at a mid-range cost.
Ocean Trails Resort provides budget-friendly accommodations with spacious suites and easy access to the beach. The resort features fully-equipped kitchens, BBQ areas, and a fitness center. It's an excellent choice for travellers looking for affordability and comfort.
Rathtrevor Provincial Park Campground is one of my favourite year-round Provincial Campgrounds. This is a large park with many campsites and a huge sandy beach (when the tide is out) and excellent swimming (when the tide is in) offers a camping option amidst the natural beauty of the park. First-come First-serve sites are only available during the off-season, so make sure to reserve if you want to stay here in the summer.
Interactive map linked here
Day 2: Parksville to Tofino Adventure (172 km/2.5 hrs)
Today's journey will follow Highway 4 from the east coast to the west coast. You will be travelling over the mountains. In the winter months, you are likely to encounter snow for at least part of your drive. All vehicles driving this road from October to May must have M&S-rated tires and carry snow chains. During the summer months, it is very likely that you will encounter construction delays. In 2023, major road reconstruction and repair reduced the road to an alternating single lane. Download the DriveBC app for current information.
Most of today's route will not have cell connectivity. Download all route maps and information needed before hitting the road.
Places to Stop
Coombs A visit to Coombs is like stepping into a storybook. Nestled on Vancouver Island, This quirky village is renowned for its famous "Goats on the Roof" market. As you arrive, you'll be greeted by charming buildings, unique shops, and a bustling marketplace. What makes Coombs truly special is its herd of goats living on the sod roof of the market, creating a whimsical scene that's both photogenic and heartwarming. The goats aren't on the roof during the winter but the market is still open. Take your time to explore the eclectic shops, sample local treats, and perhaps even catch a live musical performance. Coombs is the perfect place to embrace the laid-back, island lifestyle and enjoy a dose of charming eccentricity on your road trip. Pick up some picnic goodies or a box of delicious doughnuts to enjoy as you continue your drive.
Little Qualicum Falls For a refreshing break amidst nature's wonders, the Little Qualicum Falls is one of my favourite stops along this route for a good leg stretch. Located within Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, this enchanting destination offers a series of cascading waterfalls and hiking trails that wind through lush forests. As you follow the sound of rushing water, you'll discover viewpoints that allow you to appreciate the natural beauty of the falls.
Cameron Lake Cameron Lake is within MacMillan Provincial Park. The clear emerald lake water reflect the surrounding mountains, making it an ideal spot to stop for a picnic, go kayaking, or swimming. There are several picnic areas surrounding the lake, which makes a great place to enjoy the lunch you picked up at the Coombs Market.
Cathedral Grove Prepare to be humbled and amazed as you venture into Cathedral Grove, a place where ancient giants loom overhead. This enchanting stop within MacMillan Provincial Park is home to colossal Douglas fir and red cedar trees, some of which are more than 800 years old. On the north side of the highway is a boardwalk that makes this walk amongst the giants accessible to all. On the south side is a dirt trail with the largest and most awe-inspiring trees.
K’ak’awin (Sproat Lake Petroglyphs) Stepping back in time and into the realm of Indigenous art and history, the K’ak’awin (kah-ack-a-win) Petroglyphs at Sproat Lake offer a unique cultural encounter. These ancient carvings, etched into the rock faces by the Nuu-chah-nulth (new-chaw-nulth) First Nations people, are a treat to see.
Westcoast Wild Zipline For those travellers looking for a more adrenaline-producing activity, the Westcoast Wild Zipline is an exciting and memorable experience where you'll find yourself soaring high above the forest floor while enjoying the panoramic views of the wilderness. The expert guides ensure safety while making your experience unforgettable.
Places to Eat in Tofino
Wolf in the Fog is a well-known and popular fine-dining restaurant in Tofino that focuses on fresh, locally sourced ingredients. The menu includes West Coast flavours and features local seafood. It's an excellent choice for a special dining experience.
Shelter Restaurant is a mid-range cozy restaurant that features local foods and a surprisingly large wine list. My favourites here are the mussels and their burgers.
Tacofino Tofino is a fantastic budget-friendly option in Tofino with a loyal following. This food truck is known for its incredible tacos and range of affordable Mexican-inspired dishes.
Places to Stay in Tofino
Accommodations in Tofino are on the expensive side as this is a popular destination year-round. In the last 10 years or so, the community has focussed on attracting tourists with deeper pockets and discouraging the more casual traveller. All camping must be in proper campgrounds.
Wickaninnish Inn is a world-class luxury accommodation perched on the rugged coastline of Tofino. This upscale retreat offers stunning oceanfront views and elegant rooms, some with hot tubs and fireplaces. The on-site Ancient Cedars Spa provides a range of pampering services, and the Pointe Restaurant offers award-winning cuisine with a focus on local ingredients.
Pacific Sands Beach Resort is a mid-level option providing comfortable beachfront accommodations in Tofino. The resort offers a variety of suites and beach houses with well-equipped kitchens and stunning views of Cox Bay Beach. Guests can enjoy direct beach access, making it a great choice for those seeking a mix of comfort and seaside adventure.
Tofino Motel Harbourview offers budget-friendly basic lodging options, with kitchenettes. The central location in Tofino makes it an ideal choice for travellers on a budget.
Surf Grove Campground is an excellent camping option for those who prefer to immerse themselves in nature. Situated on Cox Beach, this campground offers a serene environment with tent and RV campsites, picnic areas, and access to Cox Bay Beach. The sunsets here are magnificent. Open year-round, it's an ideal choice for campers looking to experience the beauty of Tofino's outdoors up close.
Day 3: Exploring Tofino
You have a full day to leisurely explore the town or enjoy an adventure.
EcoTours: When visiting Tofino, you'll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the area's breathtaking natural beauty through a range of eco-tour options. Consider exploring the diverse wildlife and marine ecosystems on a guided boat tour with local experts, such as Jamies Whaling Station or Remote Passages Marine Excursions. Alternatively, if you prefer to stay on land, join a wildlife and rainforest tour with Tofino Nature Kids to experience the coastal rainforest's unique flora and fauna up close.
Surfing: Tofino is blessed with incredible surf breaks and attracts surfers and wanna-be surfers from around the world. Don't worry if you've never surfed, there are several surf schools available. Surf Sisters Surf School and Tofino Surf Adventures offer lessons and equipment rentals for all skill levels. For those already skilled in the art of riding waves, Tofino's numerous surf spots provide ample opportunities for catching the perfect wave. Whether you're a beginner looking to stand up on a board or an experienced surfer seeking that exhilarating ride, Tofino's surf culture is sure to deliver a memorable experience.
Hikes: Tofino boasts a plethora of stunning hiking opportunities within its lush rainforests, along rugged coastlines, and around picturesque lakes. The Tonquin Trail is an easy trail that meanders through old-growth forests and leads to sandy beaches. Follow all the little trails off the main trail to enjoy the viewing platforms scattered along the way. Check with the local Tourist Information Center for excellent advice based upon your interests and fitness level.
Explore the Town: Tofino's charming town center is a hub of activity with numerous shops, art galleries, and eateries. Stroll down the main street and explore local boutiques, like Caravan Beach Shop for surf gear and stylish beachwear. Dive into the local art scene at Roy Henry Vickers Art Gallery, showcasing Indigenous art and carvings.
Tofino Craft Brewery and Distillery: For a taste of Tofino's local libations, be sure to visit either or both the Tofino Brewing Company and the Tofino Distillery. The brewery offers many beers on tap. There is also a Japanese food truck on site for those wanting something to nibble while enjoying their beer. Stop by the distillery for a tour and tasting to discover the unique flavours of locally-made gin and vodka (the espresso vodka is my favourite!). Both spots offer a genuine taste of Tofino's craft beverage scene
Day 4: Heading Back via Ucluelet
Enjoy the drive back to Nanaimo. Start the day with a hike along the Lighthouse Loop Section of the Wild Pacific Trail before following Hwy 4 back to Parksville. Stop at those places you missed on the way up.
Wild Pacific Trail The Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet is a coastal gem that beckons outdoor enthusiasts to explore the untamed beauty of Vancouver Island's west coast. This well-maintained trail system offers various options for hikers of all levels, with the most famous being the Lighthouse Loop. This section of the trail takes you on a mesmerizing journey through lush coastal rainforests and along rugged shorelines, offering some of the most spectacular ocean vistas you'll ever witness.
The Lighthouse Loop section of the Wild Pacific Trail provides a delightful walking experience that begins or ends at the trailhead near the Amphitrite Lighthouse. As you emerge from the forest, the trail opens up to dramatic coastal viewpoints, with waves pounding against the rocks below. The highlight of the Lighthouse Loop is undoubtedly the iconic Amphitrite Lighthouse, a historic structure that adds a touch of charm to the already stunning landscape. This section of the trail is perfect for a leisurely stroll, taking in the fresh ocean air and pausing to absorb the breathtaking scenery.
Extending Your Road Trip
For travellers with a bit more time who want to extend their road trip, here are a few options.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve: If you have more time, nature lovers and adventure seekers will find a visit to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is essential. This park is divided into three main areas including Long Beach, the Broken Group Islands, and the West Coast Trail. Whether you choose to explore one or all three areas, you'll be awed by the scenery and abundant wildlife.
Pacific Marine Route Back to Victoria: For a scenic return journey, consider following the Pacific Marine Route back to Victoria. This coastal route, known for its breathtaking views and charming communities, will allow you to experience more of Vancouver Island's coastal beauty. Along the way, you can stop at picturesque seaside towns, enjoy fresh seafood, and explore additional hidden gems.
The Sunshine Coast: Another option is to take a ferry from Comox over to Powell River on the stunning Sunshine Coast -- an area known for its delightful communities, outdoor activities, beautiful coastlines, and lush rainforests. From kayaking in Sechelt Inlet to hiking in Smuggler Cove Marine Provincial Park, the Sunshine Coast offers a wealth of natural beauty and recreational opportunities. Be sure to explore the local art scene and savour delicious seafood at waterfront restaurants. Check out this road trip itinerary.
Explore More Road Trip Itineraries: If you've got an insatiable wanderlust and are eager to embark on more road trip adventures, don't forget to check out my other road trip itineraries.
Interactive map linked here
This journey promises an abundance of remarkable experiences. From exploring the rich culture and Indigenous heritage of Duncan to witnessing the awe-inspiring beauty of Tofino's rugged coastlines and tranquil beaches, this road trip showcases the best of British Columbia's west coast.
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