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Canada is a vast and amazing country. Each province is different from the other, with unique languages and cultures making up each one. Our Vancouver Island vacation was full of exploration and natural beauty and we are excited to share our 6 day Vancouver Island road trip itinerary with you.
Getting Started with our Vancouver Island Road Trip
Located in the westernmost province in Canada, Vancouver Island is on the far western side of the North American continent. It is just north of the border of Washington state.
After arriving at Vancouver International Airport, which by the way has won Best North American airport for nine consecutive years in a row, we took the Vancouver to Victoria ferry, British Columbia Ferry (BC Ferries). This isn’t just any old ferry, though — the route from Vancouver to Victoria is scenic and even offers a glimpse of some incredible landscapes. If you need tips on getting the cheapest flight you can read our secret hacks for booking with Skyscanner.
Victoria is actually the capital of British Columbia and is on the southeastern tip of Vancouver Island. The architecture throughout Victoria is heavily reminiscent of its British colonial past, with Victorian structures abundant throughout the city.
4 Days in Victoria: Things to Do in Victoria, BC
We started our Vancouver Island road trip with a visit to Butchart Gardens. We had gorgeous weather with the sun shining all week, so we decided to take advantage of it and stroll through the gardens. The best time to visit Vancouver Island is March to May and September to November.
And boy, we were NOT disappointed. The gardens spread out over 55 acres attract over a million visitors per year, and it’s not hard to see why. As we walked through the gardens, we stumbled across various little ponds and waterfalls that were as serene as they were picturesque.
We were there during the fall season, and we couldn’t have picked a better time to go. The foliage was in the midst of changing colors which made this a truly colorful and whimsical stop on our trip. The gardens were a popular stop for others like us, so we recommend going after 3 pm in order to avoid some of the crowds.
You can also bring a little bit of the gardens back with you by purchasing seeds directly from the gardens. Just make sure you ask for the customs and agriculture sticker so you can legally bring them into the U.S.
Our next adventure on our Vancouver Island vacation was a whale watching tour with Five Star Whale Watching, in our opinion one of the best whale tours Vancouver. If you’ve never been whale watching before, this is truly an incredible experience. Not to mention whale watching in Victoria Canada is among the best places to see whales in the wild.
If you are in Victoria whale watching, you’ll either come across Orcas, Humpback, Gray or Minke whales (or all four if you’re lucky). The best time for whale watching in Vancouver Island is around April and November of every year.
We boarded the Salish Shadow vessel courtesy of Five Star Whale Watching. Which, by the way, made whale watching a much cozier experience than we imagined! They had a heated cabin, bow and stern viewing decks, and our guide even made us hot chocolate! Plus, it only held about 12 people, which made for a much more intimate experience. We didn’t have to fight for a good camera view once the whales showed up.
While the cabin offered some relief from the elements, we still suggest dressing in layers. It can get chilly out on the water, and the last thing you want is to be too cold to enjoy the experience. Don’t fret though — Five Star Whale Watching also provides passengers with a heavier coat that has a built-in life preserver.
On our Victoria whale watching tour, we were able to see a few pods of Orcas and a Humpback whale. Oh, and some seals made an unexpected guest appearance. The Humpback whale, by the way, is a HUGE animal – they can weigh as much as 66,000 lbs and grow up to 52 feet long. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see one up close.
Our guide with Five Star Whale Watching was so knowledgeable of the marine ecosystem off the coast of Victoria. He even had us try some bull kelp fresh from the ocean! And guess what… it didn’t taste that bad!
A food tour on Victoria Island
After spending the better part of a day out on the water, we wanted an opportunity to explore the city, as well. So one of the days of our Vancouver Island road trip was dedicated to a Victoria Island food tour. We wanted to be able to see as much as possible, while also getting an authentic Victoria experience. To do so, we participated in the Taste of Victoria food and drink tour.
The Taste of Victoria food and drink tour takes guests on a foodie tour throughout the city of Victoria, starting at the Victoria Public Market and ending at the Inner Harbor. It includes food options like pierogis, bread, meatballs, macaroons, and chocolate, along with some beer and matcha tastings.
The walking food tours in Victoria BC cover about 1.5 miles in total, and there are usually between six to eight tastings along the route. The two-hour tour consisted of several stops along with Victoria’s popular neighborhoods such as Chinatown, Olde Town, and the Inner Harbor.
The tour offers guests a wide taste of the culinary scene in Victoria. We ate pork and beef meatballs at Roast Meat and Sandwich Shop, macaroons at La Roux Patisserie in Chinatown, and biscuits at Shanzee Biscuit Cafe. We drank matcha tea, and walked under the left arch at the Gates of Harmonious Interest for good luck!
We suggest showing up hungry, wearing comfy shoes, and prepared to have some fun! Our tour took us all over the city, including Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in Canada! Its narrowest point is only .9 meters (35 inches) wide!
The alley was originally a gambling district with restaurants, shops, and opium dens, and is named after the Chinese gambling game Fan-Tan. Now, it’s a popular tourist destination in Chinatown with many small shops, cafes, apartments, and offices. Just one of the many eclectic stops on our food and drink tour.
As you can tell from this interesting fact, our guide Andy shared his vast knowledge of Victoria’s interesting past! He was quite knowledgeable and kept us entertained with cool facts the whole tour! What better way to get a local’s perspective on the cuisine and learn a little bit about the history of the city?
We ended our Taste of Victoria food and drink tour at the Inner Harbor, and it was the perfect place to hang out! You can watch some of the seaplanes take off and land from there or visit the local tourism office. Feel free to stop in and get some information on where to go and things to see during your Vancouver Island road trip.
A Night in Nanaimo, BC
After enjoying the Taste of Victoria food and drink tour, some whale watching, and the Butchart Gardens in Victoria, we rented a car and really started our Vancouver Island road trip. We decided our first stop would be Nanaimo BC. Along our hour and a half drive from Victoria to Nanaimo, we saw classic pacific northwest scenery. There were deciduous trees everywhere, miles and miles of mountains, a little fog, and beautiful fall foliage.
Wild Pacific Trail
Upon arriving in Nanaimo, we decided to spend a day hiking the Wild Pacific Trail which is a must when you visit Vancouver Island. However, before heading out on our hike, we were educated about fending off bears and wolves, which are common throughout the area. Unfortunately, we never saw any (I wanted to so bad, argh)! We did, however, find so many beautiful trees and rocky beach areas! The best time to visit Vancouver Island and be able to hike in great temperatures and climate is March to May and September to November.
Two Days in Tofino, BC
The next day, we took a more scenic route on our Vancouver Island road trip. This route was so scenic we literally wanted to stop every few minutes. This is the reason we really love driving through countries. Not only do you get to see so much more but you can stop whenever you want to take pictures or just take a break. For reference, it is about a three-hour drive from Nanaimo to Tofino.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
On our Vancouver Island road trip from Nanaimo to Tofino, we passed this amazing surf beach in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Complete with dark sand beaches, marine volcanic rock, and perfect waves for surfing, we had no choice but to stop to admire its beauty and take a photo or two!
The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve offers beauty like no other! Everything is picturesque and breathtaking, and we think it was worth every added second on the scenic route!
During one of our hikes, we came across the Amphitrite Point Lighthouse. The Amphitrite Point Lighthouse is an active lighthouse near Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island and is named after Amphitrite, the sea goddess, and wife of Poseidon. The rock and the scenery vastly reminded us of our time in Iceland.
Because the lighthouse is exposed to frequent gale-force winds, tidal waves, and is also in a tsunami zone, the unusual design makes it able to withstand strong forces of nature!
Hot Spring Cove
Arriving in Tofino the last stop on our Vancouver Island road trip before heading back to Victoria BC. We settled into our Airbnb for the night in order to prepare for our next adventure. The following day, we linked up with Ocean Outfitters, who took us on an amazing journey through an enchanted rain forest to get to Hot Springs Cove.
The six-hour tour follows a historic cedar boardwalk through a rain forest and ends with a succession of natural geothermal hot spring pools, waterfalls, and a view of the Pacific Ocean. Depending on the season, there are possible sightings of whales, black bears (again no sightings), seals, sea lions, puffins, sea otters, and bald eagles. On our tour, we saw sea otters, sea lions, and a seaplane!
Ocean Outfitters recommends wearing good walking shoes and bringing a bathing suit and a towel! Once you arrive at the hot springs, you’re welcome to take a dip, but not for too long! They average at a temperature of 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), and spending too long in the springs can make you dehydrated (but it felt oh-so-good).
Onward to Seattle
At the end of our Vancouver Island road trip, we drove back to Victoria from Tofino (a four and a half-hour drive). Once in Victoria, we bid farewell and caught a Victoria to Seattle ferry on Clipper Ferry. During this ferry ride, we were graced with a beautiful view of Mount Rainier and more whale sightings. And if you were thinking of continuing your vacation from the west coast Southeast Asia is also a great place to visit.
In case you’re wondering, Mount Rainier, is the highest mountain of the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest, and the highest mountain in the U.S. state of Washington, with a summit elevation of 14.411 feet. It’s also the second-highest mountain in the lower 48. Rainier is a large active stratovolcano and it is the most topographically prominent mountain in the contiguous United States.
For us, it was the perfect ending to our Vancouver Island vacation. A truly incredibly adventurous and outdoors-oriented trip! If you are looking for more information about visiting Canada check out explore Vancouver Island!
We hope you have enjoyed our post and that it has inspired you to take a Vancouver Island road trip for your next vacation. It is indeed a vacation to remember. If you have already been or have questions about planning a Vancouver Island vacation please let us know in the comments or on social media @chrisandregtravel.
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