10 Great Vancouver Island Road Trips
Compared to other places, driving on Vancouver Island is a relaxing experience for many. Whether our trips are for work or recreation, we appreciate Island driving because traffic is minimal, roads and routes are straightforward enough, and there isn’t a whole lot of treacherous terrain to contend with.
Plus, you can’t beat the lakes, mountains, farmland, artisan shops and vineyards along the way. While Vancouver Island is only 460 kilometres, give or take, from top to bottom, there is a lot to see in between.
Long weekends are the ideal time to explore the Island via a road trip excursion, so if you find yourself longing for just one more get-away before it’s back to school and cloudy weather, might we suggest taking a mini get-away this Labour Day weekend.
Here are 10 Vancouver Island Road Trips Recommended by the Searle’s Team:
Victoria to Tofino (320 km)
Get from Victoria’s downtown harbour to Long Beach in just over four hours. Once you’re there, this trip is definitely worthy of an overnighter. Break up the drive by stopping for food and supplies in Nanaimo or Port Alberni or take a pit stop in Coombs to check out the goats on the roof!
Once you’re in Tofino, you know what to do (surf, whale watch, hike, and pick up some lunch at the original Tacofino). Be on the lookout for hitchhikers, too. They’ve been known to roam this stretch of Vancouver Island.
Tofino to Campbell River (270 km)
Head back inland from Tofino to the Salmon Capital of the World. Pack some snacks and take the Old Island Highway (a.k.a. the Oceanside Route, a.k.a. Highway 19A) for the most scenic route possible. It’s a slower drive, but hey, it’s a road trip, not a race.
If time allows, check out Campbell River’s nearby sites like Quadra and the Discovery Islands, Gold River, Sayward and Zeballos.
Campbell River to Lake Cowichan (226 km)
Bid Campbell River farewell and shoot straight down the east coast to reach one of the Island’s most popular lakes. At the start of Cowichan River, Lake Cowichan is fresh and clean, with just enough locals around to welcome you.
To get there, keep on the Old Island Highway coastal route for ocean views and the small communities of Qualicum Beach (for great golfing), Parksville (for sandy beaches), and Chemainus (for lots of public art and local theatre).
Lake Cowichan to Port Renfrew (62 km)
As a pivotal point on the Pacific Marine Circle Route, Lake Cowichan is the ideal springboard for Island road trips. Leave Lake Cowichan via the Circle Route (289 km in total) by heading southwest to the remote town of Port Renfrew.
You’ve seen the signs for Port Renfrew on highway markers, but go check it out in person to see some of North America’s largest trees, the West Coast Trail, and breathtaking views. Stretches of the Circle Route are narrow, so leave yourself a lot of time and a good supply of gas in the tank and snacks and water for the road.
Port Renfrew to Victoria (110 km)
Once you’ve finished taking in Port Renfrew, carry on back down to Victoria, remaining on the Pacific Marine Circle. You’ll be home in no time! But before you rush out of there there, stop and see China Beach or the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park.
If you’re hungry (road trips always build up the appetite, don’t they?), Sooke has some good lunch and dinner options. We like the 17 Mile Pub.
Coastal Circle Route (563 km)
If you have time for this one, the Coastal Circle Route is an ideal way to explore picturesque west coast landscapes if you’re willing to add a little island hopping and BC Ferries into the mix.
Expect to see much of Vancouver Island’s east coast, along with the Sunshine Coast, as you venture off of Vancouver Island and onto smaller ones.
Heritage Discovery Circle Route (2,423 km)
If you have more than a long weekend, and we’re talking 10+ days here, give the Heritage Discovery Circle Route a try. This route takes you from Victoria to Port McNeil and then some, giving you a thorough introduction to the Gold Rush Trail.
This route will give you a new appreciation of Beautiful British Columbia, but it’s a long one, so be sure your car, truck, RV, motorcycle, or whatever you’re driving can rise to the occasion. Have an auto mechanic at Searle’s look things over before you go, if you’re feeling unsure.
No matter where you start your drive into Bamfield, a small pioneer village located in Barkley Sound on the west coast south of Ucluelet, is worth the trip. A one-way drive to Bamfield will take almost five hours from Victoria.
Be prepared for a few bumps along the way, as the drive requires 76 km of gravel logging roads. This isn’t a job for your low-rider or your classic collector car, but once you get to Bamfield, you’ll find yourself in the Heart of the Pacific Rim with just enough amenities.
Back to the east coast on the outskirts of Qualicum Beach is Horne Lake and the Horne Lake Caves, one of the province’s top attractions. The caves aren’t easy to find, but they are easy to get to, just follow the signs. You’ll find yourself on another gravel road for this one, so mind the potholes.
The Horne Lake Caves are probably not for you if you’re afraid of the dark and/or small spaces. If this is the case, we recommend choosing another option from this list.
Travel about one hour north of Horne Lake and you’ll reach Mt. Washington in Courtenay. Take a Mile-High Scenic Mountain Chairlift ride to see another side of Vancouver Island.
After the ride, there’s plenty more to enjoy around Mt. Washington during the summer, including the bungee trampoline, hiking, mini golf and good restaurants.
For more Island road trippin’ tips, check out the advice in the Vancouver Island Vacation Guide 2015 .
And before setting out on your road trip, even if you’re just heading over to Sydney and back, it’s always a good idea to ensure your vehicle is up to snuff.
If you’re smelling something funny under your hood, hearing suspect sounds every time you hit the brakes, or thinking your tires are looking a little deflated, come see us at Searle’s so we can give your vehicle a once-over before you get too far.