Vancouver Island is stunning. Sand beaches. Coastal rainforests. All sorts of wildlife. Artisan, small batch food and drink producers. It has all of our favorite things. Ever since our own road trip on Vancouver Island, we’ve been dying to get back and do more exploring. However, vacation time isn’t unlimited, so it will have to wait for now. If you’re planning a trip to Vancouver Island, you’re in the right place. In this SUPER detailed Vancouver Island road trip itinerary, I’m going to give you all the detailed, nitty-gritty details you’ll need to plan an unforgettable trip to this gem of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest.
Update 2021: Turns out, when you quit your corporate jobs to travel the world, vacation time IS unlimited! However, 2020 had other plans, and we’re still waiting for a return trip to Vancouver Island.
By the end of this guide, you’ll know how to get to Vancouver Island, how to get around, how to see the highlights over the course of a week, where to find the best coffee, wine, food, and cider, and where to stay.
Pssst! Don’t miss our guide to the best Airbnbs on Vancouver Island, with 16 places that we’ve added to our own list for that return trip.
So basically, everything you need to know to plan an incredible trip.
This is almost the exact Vancouver Island itinerary we followed on our trip, altered a bit based on our experiences and discoveries along the way.
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, we make a little bit of money if you click through and book. That being said, we would never recommend something to you that I don’t stand behind 100%.
The Complete Guide to Planning a Vancouver Island Road Trip
I remember telling people “I’m going to Vancouver Island!” and people saying things like “Oh, I love Vancouver! Great city!”
Let’s get this out of the way early – Vancouver Island is different from Vancouver the city. It is the island off the west coast of mainland Canada, where you’ll find famous places like Victoria, Tofino, and plenty of unheralded places that you’re going to fall in love with. It’s a part of British Columbia, and is home to coastal rainforests, grizzly bears, orca whales, and some of the best hiking, backpacking, and water sports around.
I’ve written this itinerary for seven days, but a week is nowhere near enough time to see the entire island. You’d need several months, and you don’t have that much vacation time.
Think of this as a curated guide to the highlights of Vancouver Island in 7 days, not a complete guide to EVERYTHING to see on Vancouver Island. At the bottom, you’ll find sample itineraries for 10 days and 14 days if you’ve got more time.
It’s also worth noting that there are a ton of cool places to explore on Vancouver Island north of Nanaimo – Campbell River, Courtenay, and Port Hardy, to name a few – but a week isn’t nearly enough time to include them on this itinerary. If you’ve got a few more days, it’s worth looking into adding some time up there.
Here is the overview of this road trip (don’t worry, PLENTY of details below):
Day 1: Arrive in Victoria and head to Salt Spring Island
Day 2: Road trip to Tofino
Day 3: Exploring the Tofino highlights
Day 4: Day trip to beautiful Ucluelet
Day 5: More Tofino, featuring wildlife, water taxis, and hikes
Day 6: Tofino to Victoria road trip
Day 7: Victoria and tears at the airport
Here’s a visual for you.
You’ll be starting your road trip from Victoria – more specifically, Salt Spring Island, which is a short ferry ride from Victoria. If you’re coming from Seattle, Vancouver, or anywhere else, I’ve got a complete guide to how to get there down below.
Getting Around on Vancouver Island
This may sound dumb, but in order to do this road trip, you’re going to need… a car.
You can either bring your own if you’re coming from the surrounding areas, like Seattle or Vancouver, or you can rent one in Victoria.
I recommend using RentalCars.com to rent cars around the world because they allow you to compare prices and reviews across all the available companies at locations worldwide. PLUS, you can see reviews of the exact location you’ll be picking up your car from, which I know from experience varies wildly.
Getting To Vancouver Island
This road trip starts with a day on Salt Spring Island, which is where you’ll need to get yourself to. It’s an easy journey from Victoria or Vancouver, but it can be a little bit tricky to do from Seattle since it will involve multiple forms of transportation.
Have no fear, I’ve got you covered with detailed instructions on how to get to Vancouver Island from Seattle, Vancouver, and beyond.
If you’re coming from somewhere other than Seattle or Vancouver and you’re trying to decide where to fly into, you should fly into Victoria if you can. If you’re not planning on doing any exploring in Vancouver, this is the best option, and is exactly what we did coming from San Francisco.
You’ve got a couple of approaches here, but all require a car. You can either bring your own or rent one in Victoria – I’ve got options for each.
If you bring your own car, grab the ferry from Anacortes (~2 hours north of Seattle) to Sidney, BC, and drive up to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal to catch the ferry to Salt Spring Island (your first stop on this road trip itinerary).
You could also drive from Seattle to Vancouver’s Tsawwassen ferry terminal (about 2.5 hours) and catch one of the three daily ferries to Salt Spring Island (current schedule here) which will take you another two and a half hours. It’s a long trip. It’s recommended to make reservations for your ferry trip on this route.
The car-less option is to head to Victoria by taking a flight with Alaska Airlines (more affordable) or Kenmore Air (seaplane – more scenic!), or the Victoria Clipper, then renting a car in Victoria and heading up to the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal for the ferry to Salt Spring Island.
If you’re flying into Vancouver (or just leaving from Vancouver), pick up your rental car in Vancouver and head to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal to catch one of the three daily ferries to Salt Spring Island (current schedule here) which will take you about two and a half hours. If you can, catch the 7am ferry to get a nice early start, otherwise the 11am will do. It’s recommended to make reservations for your ferry trip on this route.
Flying into Victoria? PERFECT. That’s exactly what we did, and I think this is the easiest route. Grab your rental car at the airport, and make the short drive to the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal to catch the ferry to Salt Spring Island. If you’ve got time to kill, head to Sidney, BC for lunch at Fish on Fifth (gluten free fryer!) and a walk down Beacon Avenue to the waterfront before heading out to catch the ferry.
The Best Time to Visit Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island is best explored in the summer, when long days and beautiful weather will make your trip one to remember. Plus, it’s whale season, which means you can hop on a whale watching tour to see the elusive orcas off the coast of Vancouver Island, or a kayaking trip to see the bounty of wildlife that calls the straits and sounds of the area home.
Shoulder season in late spring and early fall (through mid-September) are also a great time to explore the island with less people. We were on Vancouver Island the week after Labor Day, and the weather was great except for up in Tofino, where it was essentially a torrential downpour.
We were told it was the first storm of “storm season,” which is a draw in the winter to see impressive ocean swells and waves crashing on the rocky cliffs. Storm season in Tofino starts in mid-to-late September and runs through the winter.
The Complete Vancouver Island Itinerary (1 Week)
Now that you know how to get to Victoria, the best time to visit Vancouver Island, and how to get around, let’s get into the day-by-day detailed itinerary.
Day 1: Arrive in Victoria, Head to Salt Spring Island
Salt Spring Island was the unanimous (between Alysha and I, to be clear) most surprising part of our road trip. It’s a small island community of around 10,000 people in the Gulf Islands just off of the coast of Vancouver Island. To get there, you’ll need to take a short ferry ride from Victoria (or a longer one from Vancouver).
If you like slow living and handmade local art, food, and drink products, you’re going to love Salt Spring Island. It’s simultaneously a great place to relax, and it also has plenty of things to explore if you want to be on the go. Unlike my experience in some smaller communities, the locals were super friendly and happy that we were there.
Needless to say, one day is not nearly enough time to truly explore the island, but it’s enough time to give you a taste of what makes it a special place, and leave you craving your next trip to the Gulf Islands.
Here is a great map of all the local artisans on Salt Spring Island – from food to art and design. Download it as a PDF to have it with you on the trip.
How to Get to Salt Spring Island
To get to Salt Spring Island, you’ll need to take a ferry, but it’s relatively simple to get to thanks to BC Ferries.
From Vancouver, head to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal and catch one of the three daily ferries to Salt Spring Island (current schedule here) which will take you about two and a half hours. If you can, catch the 7am ferry to get a nice early start. It’s recommended to make reservations for your ferry trip on this route.
From Victoria, you’ll want to take the ferry from Swartz Bay terminal (which is up near Victoria’s airport) to Fulford Harbor – this route has more daily departures than the route from Vancouver, and only takes just over a half hour. Current schedule here. Arrive 15 minutes before departure to make sure you get a spot.
Where to Stay Overnight on Salt Spring Island
On Salt Spring Island, Airbnb is going to be your best bet for finding an amazing place to stay at an affordable price.
If you’re a couple, stay at this Hidden Retreat near Fulford Harbor on the quiet side of the island. You’ll be able to wake up and walk to the beach!
Want a super unique stay on Salt Spring Island? Another option for couples is this Oceanfront Treehouse, which looks spectacular.
For groups, take a look at The Sanctuary, a treetop lodge just outside of the town of Ganges. It sleeps six with three bedrooms, two baths, and stunning views from the outdoor deck.
What to Do on Salt Spring Island
Alysha’s favorite thing to do in the whole wide world is visit lavender farms and frolic amongst the beautiful purple blooms. Unfortunately, they were closed on the day we were on the island, or we might not have actually made it to any of the other stops we made. Visit the farm to do a self-guided tour of their lavender fields, which bloom during the summer time, and shop for all sorts of lavender-infused goods like honey and tea.
Drink cider at Salt Spring Island Wild Cider
For us, two cider lovers, this was the standout of the trip to Salt Spring Island. They make amazing ciders from local fruits, and they fall on the dry side of the spectrum – just how we like it!
You can get a flight to try some (or all) of the different varieties they make – basics like Pear, all the way to more adventurous flavors like Pineapple Amaro and Hopped Apricot – or buy a bottle and share it with lunch.
The staff was super helpful in not only helping me figure out if all the cider is gluten free (yes, but I’d avoid any bourbon barrel aged ciders), but also helping us craft an amazing tasting flight.
Oh yeah, did I mention lunch?
They make “farm style tapas” (their words, not mine) which are 100% gluten free (when we were there, double check if you’re heading there), and 100% delicious. We were hungry when we arrived, so we decided to order a few different things to try and it was phenomenal food. The cider-braised sausage was the standout dish.
This is a fantastic place to go for lunch, and I’d head straight here from the ferry. They’ve got relatively limited opening hours – 12-5pm daily – so grab a bottle to enjoy at home tonight.
Drink all the drinks!
It’s not just cider that’s made on Salt Spring Island, though that’s my favorite stop since I have Celiac Disease and can’t have gluten, including most beer.
There are all sorts of craft beverages to enjoy on Salt Spring Island.
If you’re into craft beer, head over to Salt Spring Island Ales to try some island-made brews.
Garry Oaks Winery is the spot to be for wine lovers, with a beautiful vineyard and a lovely tasting room. There’s also Salt Spring Vineyards, where you can get 4 pours for $5 (waived with purchase) and a wide range of island-made artisan food products.
Last, but not least, is the local distillery – Salt Spring Shine – which is crafted exclusively from British Columbia honey. Their tasting room is open 11am – 5pm spring to fall, and you can also find them at the local market – more on that in a second.
Try some local cheese at Salt Spring Island Cheese
The other thing Alysha loves (and I do too)? Cheese. Salt Spring Island Cheese is a couple of minutes from where the Victoria ferry drops off, and is worth a stop as you roll off the ferry. Inside their small shop, you can try all sorts of different cheeses – like garlic chevre and spicy feta – and of course, buy them. It’s also a working farm, and the animals are behind the shop. Walk by and say hi!
Hike to spectacular views of the surrounding islands
There are plenty of amazing hiking trails to choose from on Salt Spring Island, but the two that I’d recommend would be the Mount Erskine Loop – which takes you 3.9km (that’s round trip) up through the forest to a lookout with views across the Gulf Islands, and back down – and Baynes Peak, which takes you to the top of Mount Maxwell.
Kayak the coast
After our amazing sunrise kayaking adventure on our New Zealand south island itinerary, which was my first time in a kayak, I’m all about the kayaking.
On Salt Spring Island, you can take a day trip or a multi-day kayaking adventure with Salt Spring Adventures to explore the harbor, the coastline, or the surrounding islands. They now have night tours, too! We didn’t do this on our first trip, but it’s at the top of my list for our next trip to Salt Spring Island.
Visit the Saturday Market
I’m a sucker for a good farmers market, and I was bummed when our midweek visit meant we wouldn’t be able to check out the Saturday Market on Salt Spring Island. If you do find yourself in town on Saturday, definitely check it out. Many of the vendors mentioned above have a stall at the market. The draw is their “homespun guarantee” – “Vendors must ‘make it, bake it, or grow it’ themselves, and all products must be ‘vendor produced and sold’.
A Perfect 24 Hours on Salt Spring Island
Starting off your trip on Salt Spring Island is a treat! Arrive on the island from Victoria or Vancouver at about noon, and head over to Salt Spring Island Cheese, which you’ll find a few minutes away from where the ferry from Victoria drops off (Fulford Harbor), and grab some cheese and crackers for later. Then head over to Sacred Mountain Lavender Farm and take a stroll through the purple blooms (at least in summertime), and visit their shop to pick up some locally made gifts.
For lunch, head to Salt Spring Island Wild Cider and get a flight of their incredible dry ciders alongside some farm-style tapas (the whole menu was gluten free when we were there). Their outdoor seating area is a great spot to hang out in the sun and sip on some amazing ciders. Grab a bottle or two of your favorites to enjoy later in the road trip.
Next, head over to do some wine, beer, or spirit tasting at one of the places mentioned above, depending on what you’re into.
For sunset, head up to either Mount Erskine or Baynes Peak to enjoy the incredible sunset over Vancouver Island. Bring the cheese and crackers for a lovely picnic, then head to wherever you’re staying for the night.
In the morning, get up and head over to the Switchboard Cafe in Ganges, which has the best coffee on the island. Grab breakfast in town and head over to the Vesuvius ferry terminal for the short ferry back to the mainland to start your journey to Tofino.
Day 2: The Road Trip to Tofino
This is a little bit of a long day of driving, but the good news is that there are plenty of great stops along the way to break it up.
Grab the Vesuvius Ferry in the morning back to the Vancouver Island mainland, and head north.
Here are some stops to make along the way.
Wild Poppy Bistro in Ladysmith
A 100% gluten free bakery and cafe with amazing sandwiches, burgers, and of course, baked sweet treats.
Regard Coffee Co, Country Grocer, and Greenrock Liquor are all in the same vicinity.
Regard has some of the best coffee on Vancouver Island and is worth the stop for coffee lovers. Or to send you into a caffeine-induced road trip dance party for the rest of the drive. Either way.
Country Grocer is my favorite grocery store on Vancouver Island, and is a good place to stock up on snacks, drinks, and groceries if you’re planning on cooking for yourself – there isn’t one in Tofino.
And Greenrock Liquor was one of my favorite liquor stores on the trip, with a huge selection of cider, wine, and beer (though I can’t drink that).
Pirate Chips serves up all sorts of fried goodies, like fish and chips, that can be made gluten free in a dedicated fryer. It’s worth a stop if you skipped Wild Poppy, and it’s in the middle of the downtown area along the water. Also a good stop if you’re arriving on the ferry from Vancouver.
The Vault is a good spot in downtown Nanaimo for coffee.
Coombs and the Old Country Market
The famous goats on the roof! Yes, literal goats on the roof. It’s a small market off the highway with a parking lot that’s too small, and inside you’ll find a range of basic to specialty grocery items, with a few gluten free items hidden on the shelves. Stop for the good cheese selection, and the decidedly NOT gluten free baked goods from the in-house bakery. There’s a produce market out back that is worth stopping at to pick up some farm-fresh fruit for the Tofino leg of the trip.
By now, your legs are getting a little stiff, and Cathedral Grove is the perfect place to get out and stretch your legs. There are two relatively short walks (I can’t even call them hikes) on either side of the road. You’ll be able to walk amongst the moss-covered 800 year old Douglas Fir trees that call Cathedral Grove home.
It’s a stunning walk full of green – the moss hanging from the tree branches, the ferns sprouting between trees, and the trees themselves, which you’ll have to crane your neck to see. You might have to park along the road as there are shockingly few parking spots available at the entrance to the park.
Walk the Rainforest Trail near Tofino
Located in Pacific Rim National Park, the Rainforest trail is a short stroll through a forest of ancient trees. It’s a unique spot – there aren’t many coastal temperate rainforests around, but this is one of the best places to see one (along with Olympic National Park in Washington).
There are two loops – A & B – that each focus on a different aspect of the forest’s ecosystem, and it’s worth doing both. It’s an easy flat walk along the boardwalk, for the most part. Trail A starts across the road from the parking lot, Trail B starts from the parking lot.
Day 3: Tofino
For days 3-5 of this road trip itinerary, you’re going to base yourself in Tofino.
The coastal town of Tofino is paradise for all sorts of people – surfers and outdoor adventure enthusiasts to name a couple. The combination of lush greenery, sandy beaches, and sometimes stormy weather make it one of the most unique places I’ve ever visited.
Tofino itself is a small, walkable town that is at the northern tip of a peninsula jutting into Clayoquot Sound and the vast Pacific Ocean. Along the coast on the west side, you’ll find incredible sandy beaches, along with the best surfing in Canada.
Whether it’s Cox Bay, Chesterman Beach, or Long Beach, those beaches should be a focal point of your time up in Tofino. It’s easy to appreciate the spectacular oasis that Tofino has become when you’re watching the surfers and taking in an epic sunset on the beach. Which, let me tell you, Tofino has plenty of.
In the winter, Tofino turns into the premier destination for storm watchers, and while we were there in mid-September, we got to see exactly what that means for one of our days. Picture sideways rain, huge waves crashing onto the beach, and wind whipping the hood of your jacket off your head. It was quite something – not ideal hiking weather, to say the least.
Where to Stay in Tofino?
We stayed in this Airbnb along the waterfront, which was a fantastic choice. It’s small – perfect for a couple – but it has everything you might need in a home base for exploring Tofino, and it’s walkable to the entire downtown area.
Here is another incredible waterfront Airbnb choice in Tofino.
At the Shoreline Tofino, you’ll find Instagram-ready A-frame cabins tucked away from the hustle and bustle (not that there is much to begin with) of Tofino. I’m only half joking about the Insta-ready part. It’s a little bit removed from the downtown Tofino “main drag,” but it’s walkable (about 1km to Rhino Coffee, door to door).
Tofino Resort & Marina is a solid option if you’re after a more traditional hotel – they’ve got 63 newly renovated and budget-friendly rooms, which are words that you don’t always see together, and the helpful staff can help you put together the perfect adventure in Tofino. Their tagline is “inspired by adventure” after all. It’s totally walkable to downtown.
Last, but certainly not least, are the beachfront resorts and lodges along the coast to the south of downtown Tofino. You’ll trade proximity to downtown for incredible beachfront properties, which is a worthy trade off for some people. Check out Middle Beach Lodge (most rustic, Long Beach Lodge and Pacific Sands (my top pick of the three), which are all just outside of town.
What to Do in Tofino?
The list of things to do and see in Tofino are nearly endless, but here are a few ideas to get started. Don’t worry, you’ll get a detailed day-by-day itinerary down below to help you plan an amazing couple of days!
Explore the Beaches: Short hikes to Chesterman Beach and Cox Bay, and all the beach walks.
Learn to Surf! What better place to learn to surf than Tofino, Canada’s capital of surfing? Here’s a highly-rated surfing lesson on Airbnb experiences.
Hike Lone Cone: Unfortunately, we skipped this because the weather was pretty terrible on our last day, which was when we had planned on doing it. It’s a hike up one of the tallest mountains in the Clayoquot Sound, and waiting for you at the top of the 3.5km climb are stunning views across the sound and beyond. It was super foggy and raining sideways, so we skipped it, but I wish we’d had a chance to do it. It’s short, but it’s straight up. You’ll need to take a water taxi from Tofino to get there. Here are some helpful details about the hike.
Wildlife Watching: There are countless whale watching tours and bear watching tours that operate out of Tofino. The whale watching tours take you out of the Clayoquot Sound into the Pacific in search of gray whales, humpback whales, and ORCA WHALES, depending on the season. June to September is the best time of year to see whales. Bear watching tours, which is what we opted for, take you out at dawn or dusk into the fingers of Clayoquot Sound. We wanted to explore the picturesque islands and inlets of the sound, so we opted to go out in search of bears. We used Ocean Outfitters, and liked them. We saw a couple of bears, some seals posing for pictures (see below), and a bald eagle.
Drink some local beer: In a cool warehouse space just outside of town, you’ll find Tofino Brewing Co. They had exactly zero gluten free options for me, so we didn’t spend much time here, but it’s a cool space and is a must-stop for beer lovers in Tofino.
Where to Eat & Drink in Tofino?
Here are some of the best places to eat and drink in Tofino:
- Bravocados: 100% vegan, and 100% delicious. Eating here, I turned to Alysha and actually said the words “do we even need meat?” with a mouthful of their cauliflower wings, which is something I legitimately never thought would come out of my mouth until recently. Gluten free options aplenty, and a dedicated fryer.
- Wolf in the Fog: If you’re eating gluten free, I’d go elsewhere as the menu is VERY limited. But for everyone else, this is the place to be for a nice night on the town. Great ambiance, great cider selection, and the food is pretty good. Again, hard to tell when I could order only one or two things, but that’s my issue, not theirs. Make reservations – it was packed on a Tuesday night.
- Shed: Don’t bother if you need to eat gluten free, but this place was recommended to us by a couple of different people, including our Airbnb hosts. Burgers, pizzas, etc in a casual atmosphere with a good beer selection, if that’s your thing.
- Rhino Coffee House and the Tofitian Cafe are where to go for the best coffee in Tofino, but the latter is a ways out of town. Rhino is your best bet in town, but it will be packed. On a nice day, grab your coffee to go and take it to the waterfront.
- SoBo: The Chowder! Get the smoked salmon chowder! It’s gluten free, and I had to order a third bowl because it was so incredible. They’re a highly regarded restaurant, and were super helpful answering my gluten-related questions both before I showed up, and when I sat down.
- Tacofino: The original! Unfortunately, I chose not to eat here. Lots of fried stuff and flour tortillas, which is a cross-contamination nightmare for me and my fellow Celiacs. But, if you don’t have an issue with gluten, this should be high on your list. They’ve now got outposts around British Columbia, but this is the original.
- Chocolate Tofino: Most of their chocolate is gluten free! And it’s delicious. You’ll find everything from truffles to caramels, and they have ice cream which we regrettably passed on because it was stormy outside.
How to Spend Your First Day in Tofino
On your first day in Tofino, wake up and take it slow. Walk to Rhino Coffee for your morning caffeine boost, and grab breakfast before walking from town down to Tonquin Beach, a nice easy 1.5km walk through the forest. Add on a side trip to Third Beach too, while you’re at it.
Head back into town for a quick and easy lunch, either at home or at Shelter, and hop in the car for the drive out to Cox Bay. Take a surfing lesson here, or just relax at the beach. Park and walk along the beach to the south end, then back up the beach to Sunset Point for the sunset.
Day 4: Half Day Trip to Ucluelet
Today, you’re going to head down to the southern end of the peninsula (not sure if that’s the right word for it, but close enough) to check out the town of Ucluelet.
A Morning in Ucluelet
Head south out of Tofino along highway 4 and stop at the Tofitian for some of the best coffee in the Tofino area. It’s a good spot for a quick breakfast too – they have a good pastry selection – but not if you need to eat gluten free.
Drive all the way to the south end of Ucluelet to the trailhead for the Wild Pacific Trail, which was the highlight of Ucluelet for us. There are a couple of great hikes in the area that make up the Wild Pacific Trail, and you should do your best to do a couple of them.
Start with the Lighthouse trail, which is the trailhead I just directed you to, and then hop back in the car to head to the other section of the trail, which starts from Big Beach Park and heads north along the coast. Supposedly, there’s a way to connect the two trails on foot (according to this map), but we couldn’t figure it out, and decided this way was the best solution.
Here’s a super useful map of the hiking trails in Ucluelet. I’d recommend doing the hike from Big Beach all the way to the Rocky Bluffs if you’re up for it.
There are a bunch of places to eat along Peninsula Road, but none of them were safe for Celiacs, so we packed sandwiches for lunch. If you’re not worried about gluten, then look at Zoe’s Bakery & Cafe and the Blue Room are highly rated, though I’ve never eaten at either.
For ice cream, the perfect post-hike recovery food, head to Ukee Scoops.
The Ucluelet Aquarium is worth a stop if you have kids, otherwise skip it.
Back to Tofino You Go!
On the way back up to Tofino, there are a couple of stops worth making.
First, stop at the Willowbrae trail to do a short hike out to the coast to see Florencia Bay and Halfmoon Bay. It’s an easy hike through the dense green forest out to a set of wooden stairs that will take you down to the waterfront. Admire the sandy beach that extends out to your left, with steep, rocky cliffs jutting out over the ocean. On the way back, take the short side trail to Halfmoon Bay.
Third, stop at Chocolate Tofino for essential recovery food – handcrafted truffles and gelato. It’s next door to the Tofitian, where you stopped this morning on the way out to Ucluelet. Almost everything, except the cones, was gluten free, and they even offered to change gloves and wipe down the scale for me as they were weighing out my chocolate. WITHOUT ME ASKING.
Last, but certainly not least, round out the recovery food trio (that’s ice cream, chocolate, beer) with local craft beer at Tofino Brewing Co. They didn’t have any gluten free options for me, otherwise we would’ve spent more time there in the industrial, warehouse-feeling space.
Head back to your place and relax before dinner out in Tofino. If you want something casual, head to Bravocados for awesome vegan food (plenty of gluten free options) that made me question my need to eat meat. If you’re looking for something a bit more upscale, make a reservation for Wolf in the Fog, or head to SoBo (AND ORDER THE CHOWDER).
Day 5: Tofino
Today, your last day in Tofino, I’d choose between two great adventures. If you’re stuck, you could do them both, but it will be a long day.
Your first option is whale watching or bear watching. We opted for a bear watching tour with Ocean Outfitters, which took us out on a Zodiac boat into the fingers of the Clayoquot Sound.
Exploring deeper in the sound was the main draw for us, and we were rewarded with gorgeous foggy treescapes, photogenic seals, and a couple of bears. It was a cool experience, and they offer tours in the early morning and late afternoon, which are the best time to catch the bears close to the water.
Whale watching is also a great option, and we only skipped it because I’ve done several whale watching tours (having grown up in Seattle), and wanted to check out the inner part of the Sound. If you’ve never seen an orca whale in the wild, this is one of your best shots if you’re in Tofino over the summer.
The second option is hiking Lone Cone, the mountain that towers over the Clayoquot Sound and offers spectacular views on a clear day. If it’s not a clear day (it was pouring rain and super foggy for us), I’d probably skip it. Here’s a great guide on how to do it.
You could, theoretically, do both in one day if you wanted. I’d do wildlife watching in the morning, and Lone Cone in the afternoon.
Day 6: Road Trip from Tofino to Victoria
Your time in Tofino has come to an end, and it’s time to complete the loop back to Victoria. I’d get an early start so that you have time this afternoon to explore Victoria a little bit.
Stop along the way to stretch your legs at any of the stops you missed on the way from Victoria to Tofino.
Once you get past where the ferry dropped you off from Salt Spring Island, there are a couple of stops worth making on your way from Tofino to Victoria.
First is Westholme Tea Farm, which is, you guessed it, a tea farm. It’s a little ways off the highway, and Alysha loved it. You can either buy their loose leaf teas that they source from around the world, try their tea of the day for free, or sit down in their little tea garden and enjoy a tea of your choice.
Next is Merridale Cider, which is a cidery and distillery (complete with an apple orchard) in Cobble Hill near Cowichan. They have a cool tasting room where you can try some of their ciders overlooking their orchard. They’ve also got a full food menu if you’re hungry. Their cider isn’t my favorite – especially in a place with such a great selection of amazing ciders, but it’s certainly worth a stop. We actually spent an evening in one of their yurts on the orchard, and it was fantastic! It was our honeymoon, so it felt like the right time to splurge. Highly recommend it – you get to walk around the orchard at sunset after everyone else has gone home, and we saw a bear!
Last is the Goldstream Trestle, a picturesque railway through the forest and over a bridge, which is a quick 3km hike off the highway. It’s sketchy to walk out onto the bridge, especially if you’re afraid of heights and are somewhat accident prone… like me.
Head into Victoria to drop the car off at your accommodations, and head to Be Love for dinner. It’s a 100% gluten free and plant-based spot, and it was fantastic. I’d eat there again in a heartbeat.
Where to Stay in Victoria
In Victoria, your best bet is to stay somewhere with parking, since you’ll still have the car at this point. Unfortunately, you’ll have to pay for parking at hotels, so I’d recommend finding an Airbnb that includes parking.
We stayed at this apartment downtown, and it was perfect. Plus, free parking! It’s a corner spot, so it wasn’t the easiest to get into, but still. Free parking!
Here are some great choices in Victoria that caught my eye.
Stunning Views and Modern Luxury Overlooking the Empress (1 bedroom + sofa bed, 1 bathroom)
Beautiful Suite in the Heart of Victoria with Parking (1 bedroom / 1 bathroom)
Spotless 11th Floor with Gorgeous Mountain Views, Sleeps Six (2 bedrooms / 1 bathroom)
Day 7: Victoria, Fly Home in the Evening
Ah, Victoria! It’s a charming port town with a relatively small downtown area that quickly turns into residential areas, which are full of hidden gems – independent bookstores, coffee shops, and some underrated shopping.
All that being said, Victoria is a little too sterile for my liking. It’s not my favorite city in the world, which is why I’ve only given it a day on this itinerary. If you’ve got more than a week on Vancouver Island, I would spend an extra day in Victoria, but no more than that. There are some really cool things for outdoor lovers to explore just outside of Victoria – like Sooke to the west and the Tod Inlet to the north.
On your last day, explore downtown Victoria in the morning, and head to the airport in the afternoon for your flight home.
Start your day at Hey Happy, the best coffee shop in Victoria. You can get an incredible pour over from one of the amazing coffee roasters in the Pacific Northwest, or the usual espresso drinks.
Next, go on a self-guided walk of the inner harbor of Victoria.
Head back to check out of your accommodations, hop in the car, and head north to make a couple of stops on your way to the airport.
First is Butchart Gardens, which I actually have been to a couple of times now thanks to a few Victoria trips with my family while I lived in Seattle. It’s beautiful, and is worth a stop. I wouldn’t call it a MUST STOP though.
Second is Sea Cider, my favorite cider on Vancouver Island. And maybe in all of British Columbia. I’ve found a few of their ciders down in the United States, and every single one I’ve tried is outstanding. Their Bramble Bubbly is outstanding.
Anyway, they have a tasting room up in Saanichton (open 11am-4pm) where you can enjoy a flight of their craft ciders in a tasting room overlooking their apple orchard. It’s super cool, and is a good stop on the way to the airport to catch your flight home.
If they have the Witch’s Broom, a fall seasonal that is a little sweet, full of cinnamon and other spices, get it.
Now, sadly, it’s time to head to the airport and catch your flight home, bringing your trip to Vancouver Island to an end.
What to Add to with More Time
If you have 10 days on Vancouver Island, I’d add a day in Victoria, a day in Sooke, and a day in Port Renfrew. This is how that itinerary would look:
Day 1: Arrive in Victoria and head to Salt Spring Island
Day 2: Road trip to Tofino
Day 3: Exploring the Tofino highlights
Day 4: Day trip to beautiful Ucluelet
Day 5: More Tofino, featuring wildlife, water taxis, and hikes
Day 6: Tofino to Port Renfrew road trip
Day 7: Port Renfrew
Day 8: Sooke
Day 9: Victoria
Day 10: Victoria & Home
With a full 2 weeks on Vancouver Island, take the 10 day itinerary above and add three days North of Nanaimo, and an extra day on Salt Spring Island. Here’s a guide to the best things to do in Campbell River.
Day 1: Arrive in Victoria and head to Salt Spring Island
Day 2: Salt Spring Island
Day 3: Road trip to Campbell River
Day 4: Campbell River
Day 5: Campbell River
Day 6: Campbell River to Tofino
Day 7: Exploring the Tofino highlights
Day 8: Day trip to beautiful Ucluelet
Day 9: More Tofino, featuring wildlife, water taxis, and hikes
Day 10: Tofino to Port Renfrew road trip
Day 11: Port Renfrew
Day 12: Sooke
Day 13: Victoria
Day 14: Victoria & Home
At the airport, if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be planning your return to British Columbia. It’s such an amazing place to explore, especially if you love the outdoors. One week is enough to get a taste for it, but you’ll need a lifetime to fully explore it.
Don’t miss our other Canada posts to help you plan the perfect Canadian adventure.