Vancouver Island highway journey: Victoria, British Columbia, and the Gulf Islands

A wonderland of azure bays, rippling lakes, old-growth forests and lofty mountain peaks, Vancouver Island lies simply off the coast of mainland British Columbia, however in lots of respects it seems like its personal distinct province.

Though British Columbia’s capital metropolis, Victoria, lies at its southeastern tip, most of Vancouver Island is virgin wilderness. At 12,079 sq. miles, it is practically six occasions bigger than Canada’s solely island province, Prince Edward Island.

But, as immense as it’s, you will get to know the highest locations on the extra populous but nonetheless ruggedly beautiful southern third of the island in lower than per week. The highlights embrace Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula, the far southwestern shoreline out to Port Renfrew, and the Gulf Islands archipelago. And when you’ve got slightly further time, you’ll be able to tack on a aspect journey to idyllic and idiosyncratic Tofino, on the island’s wild west coast.

An journey on this a part of Canada appeals to recreation fanatics, foodies, artists and tradition seekers. Hikers and beachcombers will uncover infinite alternatives to commune with nature and consider dramatic wildlife, from formidable orcas (killer whales) to myriad migratory birds.

Vacationers watch killer whales from an inflatable boat. JURGAR/GETTY IMAGES

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Victoria, together with even the island’s smaller cities, abounds with farm-to-table eating places and third-wave cafes, together with laid-back but generally fairly prestigious artwork galleries and crafts boutiques.

Ferries ply the area’s spectacular Salish Sea, making it simple to journey by automobile from the mainland to Vancouver Island after which among the many Gulf Islands, which lie simply off of Vancouver Island’s southeastern coast. From Victoria, it is a scenic 90-minute ferry trip throughout the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Port Angeles, Washington, making it simple to mix this journey with an extra highway journey across the Olympic Peninsula and San Juan Islands.

Planning recommendation

Ferry to Nanaimo approaching the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal. KARIN SLADE/GETTY IMAGES

Timing and border crossings

Though you will get round Victoria’s Interior Harbour and several other of the cities within the space on foot, a automobile is required to get across the extra rural elements of the island. Factoring within the time you would possibly spend in Vancouver if that is your gateway metropolis, give your self a minimum of eight days to expertise this itinerary. That provides you sufficient time to spend two or three nights in Victoria, an evening in Sooke or Port Renfrew, and three to 5 nights within the Gulf Islands.

Tack on two or three nights for those who’re additionally going to Tofino. In case you’re planning to ferry or drive into neighboring Washington, keep in mind to journey along with your passport and be sure that for those who’re renting a automobile, the company lets you take it over the border (most British Columbia and Washington rental companies do permit this).

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Charges and reservations

Ferry charges, particularly when touring with a automobile, can add some expense to your journey. In excessive season, for instance, it prices round 160 Canadian {dollars} (about $118) to take the ferry (together with a standard-size automobile, driver and passenger) to Salt Spring Island by way of Swartz Bay after which to proceed on to Tsawwassen on the British Columbia mainland. If taking the Black Ball Ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, plan to spend about CA$135 ($100).

Though ferry reservations aren’t required, they’re a good suggestion for those who’re bringing a automobile, particularly on weekends and in the course of the busy mid-spring to mid-fall excessive season.

Finest begin and finish factors

Together with time spent on the ferry, it is only some hours’ drive from Vancouver on the British Columbia mainland to get to Victoria. If renting a automobile, do not forget that you will must return your automobile in the identical nation that you simply picked it up, and that returning it at a unique location inside Canada can lead to steep one-way charges.

This journey begins in Victoria; nonetheless, the area’s largest airport with the best variety of direct flights is Vancouver Worldwide Airport (YVR), so it could take advantage of sense to begin and finish your travels there, after which catch a ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay, a brief drive from Victoria.

Though there are fewer direct flights to Victoria Worldwide Airport (YYJ) than to Vancouver, it will possibly nonetheless make sense to begin and finish your journey there, particularly for those who’re brief on time or touring solely a portion of this itinerary.

One of the best time to go to Vancouver Island

Climbing path close to Tofino, British Columbia. KYMBERLINE DOZOIS PHOTOGRAPHY/GETTY IMAGES

The most well-liked season for exploring this area is mid-Might via mid-October. That is when you’ll be able to depend on the driest and sunniest climate. That stated, Victoria and the Gulf Islands are within the Olympic rain shadow and thus usually obtain much less rain and cloud cowl than a lot of the remainder of western British Columbia.

So even when visiting within the coronary heart of winter, it is attainable to expertise a minimum of some partly sunny days. As you would possibly anticipate, lodge charges are significantly greater in the course of the excessive season, and you will additionally expertise extra crowds presently. Attempt to reserve lodge rooms nicely prematurely in the course of the busy interval, and put together for doubtlessly lengthy waits to board the ferry.

If visiting in the course of the quieter months, from mid-autumn via mid-spring, you will have far more of the island and its scenic roads to your self, and you will additionally doubtlessly save fairly some huge cash.

Moreover, the dramatic squalls that usually blow via the coastal Pacific Northwest from mid-November via March have created a extremely standard phenomenon often called storm-watching, which usually entails some mixture of braving the weather to stroll on or close to the seaside (however safely away from the possibly harmful surf) after which holing up afterward in a comfy room adorned with tall home windows and perhaps — hopefully — a fuel fire, with a superb ebook, a favourite companion and/or a bottle of wine.

Victoria, British Columbia

Seaplane taxis for takeoff within the Interior Harbour, Victoria, British Columbia. SILENTFOTO/GETTY IMAGES

From Port Angeles, it is a 90-minute ferry trip throughout the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria, the dignified and — by Canadian requirements — balmy capital of British Columbia. With a inhabitants of about 92,000, it is also the second-largest metropolis (after Nanaimo, which is barely barely bigger) on Vancouver Island, an enormous (it is practically half as massive as Eire) however minimally developed tract of sculpted inlets, jagged mountain peaks and temperate rainforest.

Because it approaches downtown’s compact skyline of midrise towers, the ferry chugs slowly via the sheltered, picturesque Interior Harbour, which is dwelling to the fixed hum of seaplanes, pleasure boats and water taxis.

From the terminal, you’ll be able to stroll to a lot of this leafy metropolis’s high sights, together with the ornately neo-baroque provincial parliament buildings, the partaking Royal BC Museum and the Fairmont Empress lodge. Afternoon excessive tea on this venerable 1908 lodge is a treasured ceremony in addition to a testomony to Victoria’s conventional — some would possibly say fusty —British popularity.

In actuality, Victoria has grow to be quickly youthful, extra various and dynamic in recent times, and hip craft breweries, third-wave coffeehouses, stylish worldwide bistros and sceney (however pleasant) cocktail lounges now proliferate. Most of the finest eating and consuming spots are set alongside downtown’s Fisgard Road, which varieties the guts of town’s historic Chinatown.

Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia. CONSTANTGARDENER/GETTY IMAGES

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It is a brief stroll from the waterfront to town’s most celebrated inexperienced area, Beacon Hill Park, with its pine-shaded trails that lead south to Spiral Seashore and Finlayson Level — these are two fabulous spots for watching the sundown throughout the water, again towards Washington’s snowcapped Olympic Mountains. A favourite a part of the park is Beacon Hill Youngsters’s Farm, the place you’ll be able to see and generally pet pot-bellied pigs, miniature donkeys, goats and different cute critters. Attempt to time your go to to look at the ridiculously cute each day goat stampedes at round 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Go away the park by driving east alongside scenic Dallas Highway and Seashore Drive, following the curving shoreline and admiring genteel Oak Bay, after which take Freeway 17 north to the lovable port city of Sidney, which is dwelling to the terrific Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea aquarium.

On the best way to Sidney, put aside a minimum of a few hours to detour a number of miles west on Keating Cross Highway to the famend Butchart Gardens, a 55-acre former limestone quarry on Brentwood Bay that in 1921 was reworked right into a sequence of rigorously deliberate and curated gardens.

The place to remain


Take pleasure in views of the ferries, yachts and seaplanes that ply Victoria’s Interior Harbour from the balcony of your room on the fashionably glossy Inn at Laurel Level (charges begin at CA$289 per night time), with a Japanese backyard, a pool and a very good Pacific Rim-inspired restaurant, Aura.

Abigail’s Lodge (charges begin at CA$429 per night time) is an expensive old-world Tudor Revival inn constructed within the Nineteen Thirties. It stands out for its attentive service and connoisseur breakfasts, and it is near each Beacon Hill Park and historic downtown.

A scenic 10-minute drive east of the Interior Harbour by way of famously lovely Dallas Highway, the Oak Bay Seashore Lodge (charges begin at CA$277 per night time) options gorgeously appointed, up to date rooms in addition to three curvaceous heated mineral swimming pools overlooking the ocean and San Juan Island within the distance. This boutique resort’s Boathouse Spa gives a full slate of ultrarelaxing therapeutic massage companies and physique therapies, and since 1954, the Cosy Pub has been a beloved spot for waterfront cocktails and informal eating.

With a full-service spa and an excellent location steps from Glass Seashore and the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea aquarium, the up to date Sidney Pier Lodge & Spa (charges begin at CA$249 per night time) is only a brief drive from the ferries to the Gulf Islands.

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Sooke and Port Renfrew, British Columbia

Sooke, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. EDB3_16/GETTY IMAGES

For a splendid drive alongside Vancouver Island’s verdant and unhurried southern coast, make the two-hour trek to Port Renfrew, which lies actually on the finish of the highway.

From Victoria, take gently rolling and lushly forested Freeway 14 — stopping in Sooke, with its farm-to-table eating places and posh nation inns — and proceed because the highway hugs the pristine shoreline.

Magnificent vistas of Washington’s Olympic Mountains await, and you will uncover a number of lovely parks and seashores alongside the route, together with French Seashore, Jordan River Regional Park (the place you would possibly cease contained in the quirky Chilly Shoulder Cafe for an Earl Gray latte or a bowl of chanterelle mushroom soup), and Sombrio Seashore. On the finish of Freeway 14, you will lastly come to tiny Port Renfrew, a hub of First Nations tradition that lies the place the San Juan and Gordon rivers empty into the ocean.

Great spots for a stroll embrace the tide swimming pools and dramatic rock formations of Botanical Seashore Provincial Park and Avatar Grove, with its hulking, gnarled old-growth cedars.

You may return to Victoria the best way you got here, or you can also make a half-hour-longer scenic loop via dense evergreen forests to Lake Cowichan after which alongside the west aspect of Saanich Inlet.

The place to remain

Probably the most acclaimed nation inns in British Columbia, the Sooke Harbour Home (charges begin at CA$429 per night time) closed in 2020 in an effort to endure a serious renovation. As of this writing, the 28-room inn was planning to reopen someday in early 2024, and the vaunted locavore-minded restaurant — which has drawn foodies because it opened within the late Nineteen Seventies — shall be helmed by celebrated chef Melissa Craig.

A shocking up to date compound of log-style bungalows perched over the ocean or overlooking aromatic gardens, Wild Renfrew Seaside Cottages (charges begin at CA$249 per night time) sits amid the traditional forests lining Port San Juan Inlet. Rooms have floor-to-ceiling home windows, and lots of have personal decks, fireplaces and sizzling tubs.

Extra reasonably priced lodgings are discovered within the close by motel-style West Coast Path Lodge (charges begin at CA$139 per night time), which is owned and operated by the identical staff. It is only a brief stroll from both property to the pleasant Renfrew Pub, an off-the-cuff eatery with elevated Canadian fare and expansive water views.

The Gulf Islands, British Columbia

Ganges, Salt Spring Island, Vancouver Island. WIRESTOCK/GETTY IMAGES

From Swartz Bay, only a 30-minute drive north of Sidney, you’ll be able to catch frequent ferries to discover the easygoing and extremely picturesque southern Gulf Islands, that are geologically a part of the identical archipelago because the San Juan Islands, simply throughout the maritime border with the USA.

Just like the San Juans, these emerald isles are sparsely populated and minimally developed, making them very best for a peaceable getaway amid breathtaking pure surroundings. Biking, mountain climbing, fishing and kayaking are prime actions in these elements.

The entire islands lined on this itinerary are served by BC Ferries, however understand that ferry schedules can change typically, so at all times affirm on-line when boats are working and to the place.

A superb technique is to spend a few nights on the biggest and most populous of the group, Salt Spring Island, after which put aside one other day or two to go to as much as three extra islands set alongside the principle ferry route between Swartz Bay and the mainland city of Tsawwassen: Pender, Mayne and Galiano.

Salt Spring Island

It is a simple 35-minute ferry trip from Swartz Bay to Fulford Harbour, on the south aspect of Salt Spring Island. The biggest of the Gulf Islands, Salt Spring has about 11,600 year-round residents, together with a large variety of artists, makers and different inventive spirits. The energetic harborside village of Ganges anchors this hilly, agrarian island and incorporates a wealth of galleries, recreation outfitters, cafes and outlets.

For a stunning view of the harbor, seize a seat on the waterfront deck at Moby’s Pub, which serves up tasty burgers and native beer. Scenic roads lace the island and entry the coastal trails of Ruckle Provincial Park, a superb place for viewing whales and sea lions in Captain Passage, and Mount Maxwell Provincial Park, the place you’ll be able to drive a gravel highway or hike well-maintained trails to 1,175-foot-high Baynes Peak for panoramic island vistas.

Pender Island

The opposite stops you will encounter for those who select the multi-island ferry route from Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen every have their very own distinct personalities.

Easygoing Pender Island (technically North Pender and South Pender islands, that are separated by a brief bridge) attracts guests for hikes via the Roesland and Beaumont sections of Gulf Islands Nationwide Park Protect — the 1.6-mile climb to Mount Norman is particularly standard.

Reward your self after a day of outside adventures by visiting the sun-filled, up to date tasting room at Sea Star Winery and Vineyard or sampling the scrumptious sips at Twin Island Cider.

Mayne Island

With round 1,300 residents, compact Mayne Island is thought for the beautiful flower beds and punctiliously tended specimen timber and shrubs at Japanese Memorial Gardens.

On the island’s northern tip, spend a while strolling across the 45-foot-tall Lively Cross Lighthouse — the tree-shaded grounds overlooking the cross between Mayne and Galiano islands are a memorable spot for a picnic.

Galiano Island

About 17 miles lengthy, slender and undulating Galiano Island is a high draw amongst followers of wildlife viewing — you’ll be able to spy every thing from bald eagles and cormorants to seals and orca whales from the shores of this serene isle that abounds with mountain climbing preserves and quiet pebbly seashores.

Bellhouse Provincial Park and Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park are among the many finest locations to soak up the sumptuous pure surroundings. The island additionally boasts a top-notch golf course, and you will find a handful of endearing outlets and eateries inside strolling distance of the ferry terminal at Sturdies Bay.

The place to remain

Providing country-chic sophistication and a peaceable setting amid 22 acres of gardens and woodlands on the sting of Salt Spring Island’s important village, the Relais & Chateaux-branded Hastings Home Nation Home Lodge (charges begin at CA$525 per night time) gives the final word Gulf Islands splurge. The 18 bungalows and suites include luxurious touches like recent floral bouquets, fireplaces and full connoisseur breakfasts. Facials and massages within the warmly appointed Wellspring Spa incorporate native herbs, and the excellent restaurant serves seafood, lamb and produce sourced domestically.

Set on the quiet north finish of Salt Spring Island, the intimate and romantic Quarrystone Home B&B (charges begin at CA$290 per night time) has 4 spacious, light-filled rooms with Jacuzzi tubs, fireplaces, and patios or decks with sweeping westerly panoramas throughout the water. The three-course breakfasts characteristic house-made jams and native cheeses, eggs and meats.

On South Pender Island, take into account overnighting at Poets Cove Resort & Spa (charges begin at CA$220 per night time), a wood-frame Arts and Crafts-style property nestled beneath a pine-dotted hillside overlooking Bedwell Harbour Marina. With a mixture of villas, cottages and traditional lodge rooms, Poets Cove is thought for its stress-free spa, full with a eucalyptus steam cave and sizzling tub. There are three eating places, too.

On the low-key east aspect of the isle, Mayne Island Resort (charges begin at CA$139 per night time) has each posh up to date villas and cottages and reasonably priced customary rooms within the authentic 1912 important lodge constructing. The resort is dwelling to the convivial Bennett Bay Bistro, a memorable spot to sup on native salmon, prawns and scallops.

On Galiano Island, you’ll be able to watch ferries and pleasure boats come and go from an ethereal glass-walled room on the Galiano Oceanfront Inn and Spa (charges begin at CA$234 per night time) overlooking scenic Sturdies Bay. Madrona del Mar Spa gives an array of natural skincare therapies, and e-bike leases can be found if you would like to offer the automobile a relaxation.

Nanaimo and Tofino aspect journey


In case you’re up for seeing extra of Vancouver Island, one possibility is to depart Salt Spring Island by ferry from the Vesuvius Bay terminal after which drive from Crofton to the laid-back coastal metropolis of Nanaimo, which is dwelling to a handful of notable sights, together with the partaking Nanaimo Museum, which touches on the area’s wealthy First Nations heritage and coal-mining heritage, and the bustling Harbourfront Walkway, a scenic pathway that fringes town’s colourful waterfront and gives easy accessibility to numerous close by eating places and outlets.

Make sure to deal with your self to a Nanaimo bar, the native chocolate layered confection that is adored all through British Columbia. You’ll find these throughout city, with Mon Petit Choux Bakery — close to each the Nanaimo Museum and the Harbourfront Walkway — serving a number of the finest.

It is a three-hour drive from Nanaimo, by way of highways 19 and 4, via prolific logging cities and throughout the Pacific Coast mountains to secluded Tofino, a nature lovers utopia that fringes Pacific Rim Nationwide Park Reserve and enjoys a magical, windswept setting the place Clayoquot Sound meets the ocean.

That is certainly one of Canada’s most enchanting small cities, an exquisite place to embark on dramatic hikes via misty temperate rainforests and to set out on sea-kayaking, whale-watching and fishing excursions.

Though inhabited by solely round 2,500 residents, Tofino has a thriving artwork and culinary scene, together with a number of the province’s most acclaimed eating places — Wolf within the Frog and Shelter are a few standouts.

The place to remain


Though it is a 15-minute drive northwest of Nanaimo’s colourful harbor, the 62-room Inn on Lengthy Lake (charges begin at 239 Canadian {dollars} per night time) enjoys a calming setting on a beautiful lake with kayak and paddleboard leases. Most of the spacious, fashionable rooms face the water.

In case you’d desire spending the night time proper within the coronary heart of town, the 15-story Coast Bastion Lodge (charges begin at CA$215 per night time) gives sweeping views of the neighboring Port of Nanaimo and the encircling Salish Sea and mountains — attempt to ebook a room on a excessive flooring for the most effective vistas. Facilities embrace a well-liked seasonally centered restaurant with harbor views and a well-equipped health heart.

A part of the unique Relais & Chateaux affiliation, the casually elegant Wickaninnish Inn (charges begin at CA$620 per night time) has one of the crucial alluring settings on the islands — in the course of the winter months, the 75 comfortable rooms are perfect for storm-watching, but it surely’s spectacular right here year-round. The resort’s Pointe Restaurant serves artfully ready fresh-caught seafood in an ethereal eating room with grand vistas of the ocean. Deal with your self to some pampering within the full-service spa, and assist your self to the complimentary bike leases.

A few miles south on a driftwood-strewn seaside overlooking pristine Cox Bay, the Pacific Sands Seashore Resort (charges begin at CA$307 per night time) options a mixture of suites and seaside homes with excessive ceilings, tall home windows, fuel fireplaces and top-of-the-line bedding and bathtub merchandise. Soothe your soul in one of many beachfront wood-fired saunas, and savor scrumptious farm-to-table fare within the three eating places.

Steps from downtown Tofino’s inviting outlets and eating places, the glossy and up to date Duffin Cove Oceanfront Lodging (charges begin at CA$299 per night time) gives each two-person studios with waterfront balconies and roomier A-frame cabins with pitched roofs and absolutely outfitted condos.

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