Vancouver Island is about 60 miles from the city of Vancouver so it can easily be visited with a combined trip to Vancouver and Vancouver Island. It is very easy to access the island as you can get there via seaplane, airplane, or ferry if you plan on hiring a car in Vancouver.
The best place to start your road trip is in Victoria, Vancouver Island’s capital, as it is a delightful small city but also is where the ferry port and airport are located! Victoria has a very European architecture feel to it and it is very walkable much like many other waterfront European cities. The Fairmont Empress is an excellent 5* hotel to stay at in Victoria as it has a fabulous waterfront location, on site spa and pool! The Fairmont Empress is Vancouver Islands’ most iconic hotel that serves a legendary Royal Afternoon Tea for all to enjoy.
To start your Vancouver Island adventure why not take a trip to Fisherman’s Wharf (no, not the San Francisco one, which is equally as exciting) that is full of fresh food stalls, unique shops, fishing charters and you can see a working harbour in action! Along the marina you will come across many local restaurants, one particularly great one being the Canoe Brewpub – a microbrewery and restaurant set in a 100-year-old power-plant that serves excellent food and home-brewed beer!
Victoria is also home to the Royal BC Museum, and it is here you can see the history of British Columbia including it’s modern, natural, and indigenous history! Before you leave Victoria, you absolutely should take a trip whale watching to spot Orcas, humpback and minke whales that all live in the coastal waters around the island. The best time to visit Vancouver Island for whale watching is between April and October.
Wine lovers will want to pay attention here – after leaving Victoria if you follow the Trans-Canada Highway north to the Cowichan Valley (about 45 minutes) or Vancouver Island’s wine region. Many of the wineries are fairly small and offer cellar door tastings for those looking to sample the local wine!
The next stop along the Highway was at Nanaimo – a small city/ town located on an island within Vancouver Island (you just take the ferry there). Nanaimo is the third oldest town in British Columbia filled with cute cafés, colourful boutique shops and a quaint house. The restaurants in town are equally lovely – I recommend trying the wood-fired pizza from La Stella Trattoria! For dessert, you must sample the legendary Nanaimo bars! Nanaimo bars are only made in this small town and are a delightful, sugary, chocolaty treat! There are also plenty of hiking trails on Nanaimo Island you can enjoy.
The next stop was unplanned – about 40 minutes after leaving Nanaimo (heading north) we spotted a building with goats munching grass atop the roof! It turned out to be Coombs Country Market where you can sample a variety of food and drinks!
The next stop on the road trip was to see the oldest and most amazing forest in all of Canada at MacMillan Provincial Park. Cathedral Grove is the most accessible and most famous areas of the park and is home to trees that are up to 800 years old! There are many trails to hike within the park and you can swim in the nearby Cameron Lake and visit the Little Qualicum Falls Park waterfall too.
Our stop for the night was about an hour and a half further north at the Campbell River – Painters Lodge. Painters Lodge was a quaint waterside hotel that served delicious fresh seafood and local cuisine and rented us bikes to explore the local area! Excursions like salmon fishing, wildlife spotting, hiking, kayaking etc were all possible from the hotel and made us really feel in touch with Mother Nature.
The next stop along the road trip was Elk Falls – a powerful waterfall that can be viewed from a 60m suspension bridge across the canyon in front of the falls. If you are visiting between August and November, be sure to look out for spawning salmon in the river below!
The towns began to get sparser and the forests thicker as we made our way beyond Elk Falls – we started to feel like we were being transported back in time to a rustic British Columbia. The drive was beautiful and part of the whole experience so driving for a couple of hours to the next stop did not feel long at all. Our next stop was at Telegraph Cove – a former fishing town that is full of nature and culture. There is stunning scenery no matter where you look, and it is from here you can go on a grizzly bear tour/ adventure to Knight Inlet and the Great Bear Rainforest. Kayaking, whale watching, fishing, hiking and SCUBA diving are all other activities you can enjoy here. We dined at Telegraph Cove Resort and enjoyed fabulous fresh seafood at The Killer Whale Cafe and Old Saltery Pub.
Finally, we then made our way to Port Hardy – the final stop on our Vancouver Island Road Trip. From Port Hardy we took a float plane to explore the more remote regions of the island in the Great Bear Rainforest. The Great Bear Rainforest covers 12,000 square miles that stretched to the Alaskan boarder and is home to grizzly bears and other wildlife! We stayed the night in Port Hardy at the 4* Kwa'lilas Hotel – an indigenous-owned hotel that celebrates local/ traditional culture, food, artwork, and community. The hotel was a 10-minute walk from the waterfront and is close to the ferry port back to the mainland.