Deciding to move to Victoria this past summer was an easy decision – I was more than ready to adopt the relaxed, West Coast lifestyle.
With its magnificent mountains, windswept beaches and captivating forests, I couldn’t wait to get out and explore the sights waiting around virtually every corner.
While we’re currently advised to refrain from non-essential travel, it is the perfect opportunity to gather inspiration and ideas for future visits … so with that in mind, join me on this road trip across beautiful Vancouver Island.
As the region boasts abundant natural amenities, we planned for a nature-focused journey that allowed us to immerse ourselves in our surroundings. We decided on renting a car so we could road trip the Island’s wildest destinations – from cities to countrysides to coastlines!
Stop #1: Salt Spring Island
We began by taking the ferry from BC Ferries’ Swartz Bay Terminal to Fulford Harbour on Salt Spring Island. With no real destination in mind, we followed the road in front of us, winding through beautiful greenery and coastal views. Arriving at Salt Spring Vineyards, we enjoyed samplings of dessert wines, white wines and a delicious pinot noir rosé (two bottles of the light and drinkable wine came with us to sip on later!).
Making our way to Gagnes Harbour for a little local shopping, we browsed a handful of quaint shops before catching a whiff of the delicious food from BurgerBar537. Our noses led us to the restaurant patio for scrumptious burgers and fries all around, not to mention views of sailboats in the harbour.
After finishing our meals, we made our way to the Crofton BC-Vesuvius ferry to the Cowichan Valley, and settling in on the ferry’s top deck, we watched Salt Spring slowly disappear behind us … as the island we were now to explore appeared in front of us.
Stop #2: Parksville
From Crofton, we ventured north to the oceanside town of Parksville, and after a long day of driving, headed right to our accommodations at The Bayside Resort.
With our later arrival most of the local restaurants had closed for the night, so we went with a classic for dinner– pizza – and noted that as much as we loved taking our time touring Salt Spring, we likely should have been a little more mindful of the clock.
Waking up bright and early the next morning, we grabbed a cup of joe and planted ourselves on our hotel patio, watching waves lap the shore as the sun slowly rose higher in the sky.
After taking in the view from afar, it was time to get up close! Following a trail to the water, we strolled among the rocks and sand and tried to guess what animal was swimming along the shore – an otter or a seal was our final vote.
With the local wildlife capturing our attention, the advancing tides caught us off guard so we had to roll up our pants and get our feet wet (and cold) to make our way back!
After a quick stop at Serious Coffee for some caffeine and food, we headed west on the next leg of our journey – to Port Alberni. Cameron Lake, nestled between Mount Arrowsmith and Mount Wesley, made for a picturesque pitstop. We walked along the shoreline and attempted (keyword attempt) to skip some smooth rocks we found.
Stop #3: Port Alberni
Our first stop was at the Port Alberni Visitors Centre, where we gathered our bearings and determined where in town to stop. Making our way to the water, we spotted a picturesque hotel boat and a little tugboat (a real hit for our group from landlocked Ontario) and a tiny candy store with some unique offerings.
Stopping at Hole in the Wall, a Port Alberni destination popular with hikers and photographers, we noted it was challenging for anyone wanting to park for the short walk to the site; there’s no parking and the road can be quite busy.
During our walk in I spotted some of the largest banana slugs I’ve ever seen, with damp moss blanketing the forest floor and trees creating the perfect environment for the mollusks. After posing for the requisite photos, we crafted our own inukshuks to sit amongst the many others lining the rivers shore, built by explorers before us.
Stop #4: Ucluelet
From Port Alberni we continued west to the more remote areas of Vancouver Island, with the road stretching onwards through valleys and peaks.
With long stretches between stops, be sure to fuel up with gas, snacks and water before leaving. During our visit, road construction had us at a standstill for almost an hour, so to avoid a car full of hangry individuals, I strongly, strongly recommend being better equipped than we were! Cell service is also minimal, so it’s crucial to plan ahead in the event that you lose connection to your GPS.
By the time we made it to Ucluelet, or “Ukee” as the locals call it, we were famished, and drove directly to Black Rock Oceanfront Resort to take advantage of their happy hour. Reinvigorated with tasty appetizers and a beverage, we were soon ready to explore the fishing and tourist town, located on the Ucluelet Peninsula.
Later checking into the waterfront Canadian Princess Lodge and Marina, we made our own charcuterie board from items scored at the town’s grocery store, and enjoyed it from our balcony overlooking the marina.
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Stop #5: Tofino
The next morning we made our way to Canada’s surf capital – Tofino. Unfortunately, with pelting rain and massive swells, riding the waves would have to wait for another visit. Instead, we ducked in and out of the unique local shops and galleries, with a silver ring in a stylized wave design from a local artist making the perfect keepsake from our West Coast adventure. Making one last stop as we departed Tofino, we were coaxed out to the Mackenzie Beach shore to watch the mist slowly make its way from ocean to land. While overcast, it didn’t take away from the beauty that Tofino offers – the ocean, sandy beaches, inlets and ancient rainforests stunning no matter the weather.
While we’d left Victoria as city dwellers, we returned from our Island adventures feeling like locals!