Updated: Oct 23
British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada, is known for its incredible scenery and amazing natural experiences. The best way to enjoy all that this province has to offer is a road trip. Today's post suggests a 5-day Vancouver Island road trip exploring the Pacific Loop from Victoria that includes wild beaches, old-growth forests, wineries, adventures, and a wide choice of tasty culinary choices sure to please even the most discerning palate. Time for a road trip! The absolute best way to explore the "West Coast's west coast" is a leisurely journey that includes plenty of time to wander, explore, and linger. While this itinerary is designed for 5 days and includes way more options than it is possible to visit, the entire route is just over 300 kilometres and can be easily adjusted to fit your timeline and budget.
Southern Vancouver Island is a treasure with more activities than can possibly be experienced in a single trip. The spectacular views of the Salish Sea/Gulf of Georgia demand contemplation. Local wineries, breweries, and distillers provide craft beverages and tasty treats. There is a cornucopia of bakeries, restaurants, cafés, markets and food trucks that will please every traveller's tummy. Incredible eco-tourism companies offer tours specializing in wildlife viewing, whale-watching, fishing, diving, or flights over the area, Whether you are looking for luxurious, cozy, humble, or rustic camp-style lodgings, Vancouver Island has the perfect place for you to rest and rejuvenate.
Interactive map linked here
BC Road Trip: Getting to Vancouver Island
Most visitors to BC will arrive in Vancouver and use the BC Ferry system to travel to Vancouver Island from Tsawassen, Travellers can choose to rent a vehicle in Vancouver or Victoria. Fares are based on number of passengers, vehicle size, and routes. There is public transportation between the ferry terminals and the cities. Another option is to fly over via regular airlines or to take a seaplane or helicopter service. Seaplane routes (and aerial tours) are available through Harbour Air. Harbour Air flies from Vancouver Harbour or Airport South (Richmond) to Victoria Harbour. Helijet offers helicopter flights from Airport South to downtown Victoria. When researching vehicle rentals, check prices in both Vancouver and Victoria, including ferry costs. It is often less expensive to rent vehicles on Vancouver Island. For those looking for a more immersive camping experience, check out my post on renting an RV or campervan.
Day One: Sidney to Victoria (27 km)
Enjoy your trip across the Salish Sea to Vancouver Island. Whether you are flying over or taking the ferry, you'll be treated to spectacular views of the picturesque islands between mainland BC and the Island. Helpful hint: if you are taking a vehicle on the ferry, disengage the alarm. You can then act like a local while you smugly count the number of announcements about car alarms during the voyage -- my record was 6!
The first community after getting off the ferry is Sidney, a small waterfront town set amidst the natural beauty and unspoiled charm of the Saanich Peninsula. This is a charming town well worth exploring. You can enjoy a waterfront sculpture walk, take a whale-watching tour, or explore Sidney's Booktown area. If you are looking for a spa experience, one of the highest-rated spas on the island in located in Sidney. After exploring Sidney, plan to spend some time at the world-famous Butchart Gardens before making your way to the capital city of Victoria.
Victoria is a beautiful city that really deserves at least 3 days of exploration. For those with more time, I would suggest lingering in Victoria before exploring the rest of the sights on this itinerary. Check out Trish's Guide to Victoria for some ideas.
THINGS TO DO
Sidney Whale watching whale watching trips and culinary tours on the Gulf Islands.
Salish Sea Aquarium: an aquarium dedicated to the marine life in the Salish Sea.
Sidney Booktown For the bibliophiles, Sidney has a cluster of unique bookstores including Beacon Books, Galeon Books and Antiques, Tanners Books, the Military & History Bookshop, the Children’s Bookshop and the Haunted Bookshop.
Haven Spa Sidney Day Spa with a wide range of services offered
Butchart Gardens a group of world-famous floral display gardens
Explore Victoria using Trish's Guide to Victoria
WHERE TO EAT
Tourism Victoria has created five self-guided "Flavour Trails" that will encourage visitors to discover the local specialties and tastes. I haven't done all five but I did follow their bicycle route around the Saanich peninsula and thoroughly enjoyed every stop along the way but my favourite was Country Bee Honey Farm.
WHERE TO STAY
There are many B&Bs and 3-star motels and budget hotels in Victoria that can be booked directly or through your favourite booking site. Empress Hotel: The most famous hotel in Victoria, a grand Victorian-era hotel located across from the Provincial Legislature Buildings overlooking Victoria Harbour. Afternoon tea service is a treat.
Fairmont Empress Hotel
Oak Bay Beach Resort An elegant beach resort with incredible views, attentive service, and luxurious amenities.
Goldstream Park Campground is one of many provincial parks that include basic camping sites with water, toilets/showers, picnic tables, fire pits and a sani dump from April to the end of October. During the winter season, pit toilets are available but water and washhouses are closed. The park has wonderful trails, interpretive programs, swimming, and many opportunities for wildlife viewing.
Day Two: Victoria to Duncan (61 km)
A trip to Vancouver Island would not be complete without hiking in our coastal rainforests. Today's journey will include several options as you travel to Duncan from Victoria. Start the day by enjoying one of the beautiful trails in Goldstream Park before heading north on the Malahat stretch of Highway 1 to Mill Bay. This will be an incredible drive and you will want to take advantage of every viewpoint and pull out. Stop to climb the Malahat Skywalk for breathtaking views across the Salish Sea.
Image credit: Malahat Skywalk
From the Skywalk, you'll follow Shawnigan Lake Road to enjoy an easy trail walk along a former railbed where you'll be amazed at the sight of an incredible wooden trestle bridge. or to sample the adult beverages at local wineries and craft brewers. Plan to spend the night in Duncan where you can follow yellow footprints on the ground to discover the history of more than 40 beautiful totem poles.
THINGS TO DO
Goldstream Provincial Park: There are several trails to choose from including short 15 minute trails to a strenuous summit hike up Mount Findlayson. I enjoy the Upper Goldstream trail that leads to a pretty waterfall. Check out this map for more details.
Malahat Skywalk: a unique and new attraction, this incredible spiral tower allows visitors to enjoy panoramic views across the Salish Sea and Gulf Islands. It is constructed with a gentle incline so it is accessible for all. Kinsol Trestle: Enjoy an easy 3km in and out trail walk along to a former logging company trestle bridge. A popular hike with locals, don't be put off by a busy parking lot. People are well spread out on the trail and it never feels crowded.
Cowichan Valley Wineries: BC's second-largest wine area hosts multiple small establishments with beautiful sampling rooms and patios. Check out this map of the locations of wineries in the Cowichan Valley to see your options.
Duncan Totem Tour a self-guided walk leading past more than 40 totem poles which tell the indigenous stories and history of the area. Each totem is accompanied by signage which explains the story and gives a biography of the carver.
WHERE TO EAT
Alderlea Farm and Cafe offers the freshest ingredients from their own farm and welcomes guests for meals and overnight stays. It is not open during the winter season.
Kahuna Burger has a Hawaiian inspired menu and some of the best burgers I've ever tasted. Arbutus Café has generous servings of hearty home-made fare including all the diner specials you would expect and also includes some Asian curries.
WHERE TO STAY
Most accoommodations in Duncan are mid-level hotels and B&Bs. Those looking for more luxurious lodgings will need to book accommodations in Cowichan Bay. Oceanfront Suites at Cowichan Bay includes a spa and fitneess center that pampers guests with excellent service, amenities, and stunning views. Eaglenest Manor is a lovely guesthouse in Duncan with spacious comfortable rooms and a ccontinental breakfast.
Best Western Duncan is a highly-reviewed 3-star hotel that is centrally located in Duncan.
Day Three: Duncan to Port Renfrew (91 km)
Day three includes a visit to the birds of prey, a leisurely float down the Cowichan River, exploring intertidal marine life and visiting Canada's "Gnarliest Tree" while following the Pacific Marine Road to the west coast town of Port Renfrew.
THINGS TO DO
Pacific Northwest Raptors introduces and educates visitors to the birds of prey local to the area.
Cowichan River Float: the absolute best way to spend a lazy summer afternoon. Rent a tube and float along with the Cowichan River currents.
Avatar Grove is an old growth forest that includes "Canada's Gnarliest Tree". Currently closed (October 2023) due to trail instability, it is expected to reopen for the 2024 summer season.
Harris Creek Sitka Spruce: Look for signage for the Harris Creek Spruce to find Vancouver Island oldest old-growth forest and one of the largest trees in the area.
Fairy Lake Bonsai: a tiny Douglas fir tree growing on a submerged log in the lake that is the subject of many Instagram photos.
WHERE TO EAT
Jake’s on the Lake in Cowichan Bay and the perfect place to stop after a float down the Cowichan River.
Coastal Kitchen Café is my favourite Port Renfrew place for fresh coffee, sandwiches and other tasty to-go items.
The Renfrew Pub is a pub with a fabulous menu of locally sourced dishes and a patio with beautiful views.
The Renfrew Pub
WHERE TO STAY
From well-appointed hotels and dozens of delightful B&B’s, to yurts and campgrounds, there is something for everyone and every budget.
Wild Renfrew Seaside Cottages is a pampered experience in a serene and gorgeous setting. Wild Coast Wilderness Resort celebrates local First Nations and outstanding sports fishing. Soule Creek Lodge offers rooms, cabins or yurts for rent, fine dining experiences, and is close to all Port Renfrew activities Handsome Dan's has cozy cottages with ocean views.
Pacheedaht Campground a campground with amazing ocean views and a sandy beach close to the West Coast Trail
Day Four: Port Renfrew to Sooke (71KM)
Day Four is a drive along the rugged, unspoiled and unsheltered West Coast. Here you'll be treated to rugged beaches, pristine lakes, secret waterfalls, and wimming holes. Some of the best surfing spots can be found along this route. Today's must-see activities include exploring some cool geeological rock formations, touring an award-winning distillery and taking a seaweed tour as we travel south along Highway 14 to Sooke.
THINGS TO DO
Botanical Beach, Juan de Fuca Provincial Park this park has spectacular scenic beauty, great hiking, marine and wildlife viewing, and roaring surf. Botanical Beach is a must-see along this route. Check the tide table to ensure you arrive during low tide so you can fully appreciate the marine life and tidal pools.
Sooke Potholes Provincial Park a popular spot for locals and visitors alike, the park includes a series of deep, naturally carved and polished rock pools perfect for a refreshing swim in the summer.
Dakini Tidal Wilds offers one of the most unique and interesting tours I have ever experienced where I learned all about seaweed and was able to sample tasty treats made from this ocean vegetable. Olympic View Golf Club I don't golf so I can't confirm but my golfing friends are quite enthusiastic about this highly-rated course in Sooke.
WHERE TO EAT
Stick in the Mud Coffee, a local favourite serving in-house roasted coffee and treats. Serious Coffee is a Vancouver Island favourite amongst serious coffee fans with delicious coffee and tasty treats.
17 Mile House Pub a cozy English-style pub with local sourced ingredients and seafood with an ever-changing selection of weekly specials.
Copper Room is a more upscale yet rustic establishment featuring fine dining service and elegant dishes createed from fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
WHERE TO STAY
SookePoint Ocean Cottage Resort has beautifully appointed self-catered cottages perched cliffside with stunning ocean views.
Prestige Oceanfront Resort, equipped with an on-site spa and fitness centre this resort offers luxurious rooms with exceptional dining choices.
Arbutus Cove B&B is a charming guesthouse located beside the Galloping Goose Trail Sooke Potholes Regional Park operates a summer season campground with excellent trail access in a wilderness setting.
Day Five: Sooke to Swartz Bay Ferry (64 km)
It's the final day and the drive is short but the possibilities for adventure, nature, culture, and history are plentiful. Adrenaline junkies will love ziplining through the trees while history buffs can wander through a National Historic Site. Everyone will enjoy a stop at a coal baron's castle.
THINGS TO DO
AdrenaLINE Adventures will have you zipping through the rainforest canopy and also offer summer packages that combine ziplining with a whale-watching or kayaking tour.
tour a west coast castle.
Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse, a National Historic Site, is a well-presented artillery fortress built in the late 1800s. The site also includes the oldest lighthouse on the Canadian west coast.
Hatley Castle built by coal baron James Dunsmuir as a private home, it has also been a military college and is currently a private university but is best known for its appearances in the Deadpool and X-Men movies.
WHERE TO EAT
B.C. Ale Trail The Greater Victoria Ale Trail winds through this area following a self-guided route.
Six Mile Pub located along Island Highway just before you return to Hwy #1 back to the ferry terminal. Serving craft beer and tasty treats, this historic pub is a popular spot with locals and travellers.
Extending Your Road Trip
Although you've reached the end of this itinerary, there is so much more of British Columbia to explore! If your schedule allows, I encourage you to extend your time on Vancouver Island. The Wild Pacific Coast to Tofino and Ucluelet is wildly rugged. Each of the over 200 Gulf Islands has its own unique charm and appeal. Vancouver Island North will take your breath away.
Be sure to check out previous posts in this series and bookmark this blog to return for more BC road trip adventures and suggested itineraries. If you are enjoying the content and would like to be kept up to date with new posts become a member/subscribe (it's free!) and follow along on the Ramblyn Jazz Facebook page, Facebook Group, Twitter, and Instagram. You can help the blog to grow by sharing the link with a travelling friend or through social media. I truly appreciate your comments and encourage you to share your thoughts below.
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