Vancouver Island itinerary
The feeling that you feel when stepping on Vancouver Island is freedom and harmony. This piece of land less explored than it should be is a green paradise that can be easily traveled. It has its own microclimate, a one that many like: kind of warm and rainy (it rains a lot!). While it varies a lot from south to north (the north is not warm at all). It is not surprising that the inhabitants of the island are very proud of where they live. The majority of the population lives in what is called Great Victoria, this is the capital (Victoria) and surrounding populations. In the rest of the island there are only small towns and communities... Immersed in the most beautiful places. In fact, the west coast is practically unpopulated and without roads. To be highlighted the rainy and leafy forests, with some of the tallest tree species in the world, and the wild beaches, which penetrate the forests and where seals and other marine fauna come to rest. Other animals that inhabit the island are black bears, killer whales, whales, hummingbirds, eagles... And others more difficult to spot such as jaguars or wolves.
Touring the island is easy, because, unlike the rest of Canada, it has a manageable size and everything is relatively close. And most importantly: everything there is beautiful. Just from the road you will see stunning scenery. Although you will surely want to stop in many places these are some of the coolest things to see and do in your adventure around this fabulous island:
Juan de Fuca Provincial Park: Juan de Fuca Trail
Pacific Rim National Park: West Coast Trail
Cowichan Lake Region
Alberni and Pacific Rim Highways
Tofino and Ucluelet
Road 19 (North Section)
Ferry Port Hardy – Prince Rupert
Welcome to the capital of British Columbia - surprise, it's not Vancouver! It is one of the coolest cities in the country for many reasons. One of the main attractions is that it is scattered in front of the sea, on a sort of bay in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The result: opposing neighborhoods connected by water taxis and incredible views. In the days without fog you get to see on the horizon American land, with the Olympic mountains saying "hi". The entire coastal area offers wonderful views, especially the port area and the downtown area, where there is a lot of activity. To be highlighted the Fisherman's Wharf Park, a neighborhood that literally grows on the sea itself. Here comes many people (tourists more than anything) to eat fish & chips, among other things, and watch seals. A wonder to see them swim and poke their heads above water.
Another very popular activity is to hire a tour to see killer whales and whales, who really like these waters. The architecture of the center is a plus, with a good handful of buildings of historical importance. And of course, the stately Parliament of Victoria. Other things to do include walking around Beacon Hill Park, visiting some museum such as the Royal BC Museum (or a temporary exhibition), strolling through China town (the oldest one in Canada), partying (Victoria has a lively night)... Since it is a small city, you can do most things on foot.
Victoria is connected by sea to Vancouver city and Port Angeles (Washington, USA). By land you can go to the north (Nanaimo) or to the west. This is what we did. Next stop: Sooke.
This beautiful town is on an arm of the sea that penetrates the earth. The sea looks like a lake, because of the color of its waters, its tranquility and because it is surrounded by land on all sides. The town does not have much, with just a couple of main streets, but it's lovely. It feels calmer, with fewer people, in contact with a nature that combines water, cliffs and forests. Actually from Sooke to the west is already much wilder (the road to Port Renfrew is beautiful). There are many beautiful places to visit nearby. For example:
East Sooke, on the other side of the marine arm, from where you can get extra sensational views.
Whiffin spit, a long narrow spit that penetrates the sea and makes you feel like Moses, walking between two waters.
Sooke Potholes Provincial Park, a green area a few kilometers inland where you can enjoy its cliffs, rivers, lakes and forests. Ideal for hiking and camping.
Galloping Goose Trail, a wide trail for bikes and pedestrians that goes from Victoria to Sooke (and even to Sooke Potholes Park), passing through amazing places.
JUAN DE FUCA PROVINCIAL PARK: JUAN DE FUCA TRAIL
This Park runs parallel to the Juan de Fuca Strait and is a real wonder. It begins (or ends) near Sooke, about 30 km to the west, and extends to Botanical Beach, on the edge of Port Renfrew. You can visit some of its beaches or forests by access roads, but if what you like is to walk here you have one of the coolest routes that I have done. The Juan de Fuca Trail is a 47 km hike parallel to the ocean - and across from the Washington coast - going through lost and wild coves, cliffs that offer magical views, waterfalls and powerful rivers, fairytale rainforests and more muddy areas (get ready to get muddy!). The possibilities of seeing fauna are very high, having seals, sea lions and a lot of intertidal life (mussels, anemones, stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, etc.)... Not to mention what you can find among the trees (beware of the bears... and even the jaguars!). Some of the beaches you will pass through are: China Beach, Chin Beach, Bear Beach, Botanical Beach.
It is not a simple walk on the beach, as there are many hills (so you know what you are going to face). Most people do it in three days. There are areas for overnight (camping), with bear boxes to store food and not attract the bears. Dogs welcome to this route!
Welcome to the purest "West Pacific". I only have nice words for this isolated location, in the southwest corner of the island where I lived for three months. This community sits on an arm of the ocean that penetrates the island, surrounded by green nature. There is a single road on which are located the houses, the only store, a small restaurant...And the pub, at the end of the village, which has lots going on at night. There is nothing else, but that is precisely its magic. A place where the few inhabitants will welcome you to lands of unparalleled nature, and where the sun will offer you majestic sunsets.
There are many places to enjoy. On the left hand side of the map there is a road that takes you to the fantastic Botanical Beach, already in the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, which is so named because the forest literally gets on the beach. And probably also because some giant Martian algae populate it. It is not far on foot, a half hour. On the way to Botanical Beach there is a path that deviates to the right to give us a walk through the forest to a beautiful beach called Mystic Beach. An excellent corner to meditate, because there is usually no one.
On the right hand side, on the other side of the bridge, is the wild main beach of Port Renfrew, full of trunks, branches and seaweed that have been washed away by the sea. At the end of it there is a river, after which the West Coast Trail begins, which we will describe in the following section (you can cross the river in free boats). There are also many small lagoons where you can have picnics on its banks. And amazing forests, among which stands out the Avatar Grove, an agglomeration of old giant red cedars and Douglas firs in the Gordon River Valley. Unlike Cathedral Grove, the most famous forest on the island (see below), the terrain presents a lot of unevenness, so the trees are at different altitudes and this is simply magical.
PACIFIC RIM NATIONAL PARK: THE WEST COAST TRAIL
This route that goes from Port Renfrew to Bamfiel (75 km), meanders through forests of old trees, swamps (or mudflats rather), rivers and waterfalls, beaches... A natural spectacle, isolated from any type of population. There are also designated campsites as in the Juan de Fuca trail, with anti-bear boxes. However, it is one of the most famous in Canada, so reservations are needed and it is only open between May 1 and September 30. There are many storms in the area that knock down trees, so it is dangerous at other times of the year. Dogs are NOT allowed, unfortunately, but at least we will always have the Juan de Fuca Trail (described above).
COWICHAN LAKE REGION
There is a whole area called Cowichan Valley, but it is very extensive. Here we are just going to focus on the road that connects Port Renfrew with Lake Cowichan and the surroundings of the lake. This road is a delight: all the time immersed in dense forests, you will want to stop in each river, in each mirror of water. As you leave the coast, an unexpected ascent begins through gentle mountains, appreciating a striking change of vegetation and obtaining fantastic views. Until the small town of Lake Cowichan. The homonymous lake is very beautiful, obviously a wealthy area judging by the houses that rise above it. In these wooded lands you are likely to see wildlife (maybe some bear?).
Beautiful city, the most beautiful on the island along with Victoria. It is known as the Harbor City, probably because of its importance as a port. Goods and people, because it is connected via ferry to Vancouver City, only separated by the Georgia Strait. This strait precisely provides you with extraordinary views of the city, which is surrounded by some small islands that float on the water (some of which you can visit).
Its modern and elegant airs make it very interesting, with an interesting architecture in the "downtown", parks and green areas everywhere (to highlight Bowen Park), a pleasant sea promenade (waterfront) to walk, very fancy restaurants where to eat good seafood and very nice inhabitants. The surroundings are well worth it too. To sleep cheaper you can camp in the Living Forest Oceanside Campground, located on an incredible beach and forest.
ALBERNI AND PACIFIC RIM HIGHWAYS
These two roads cover places of unusual beauty in the interior of the island. The first goes from Qualicum Beach to Port Alberni. The most interesting part of this trip is CATHEDRAL GROVE, a popular forest of Douglas firs (and other species), which is the protected remnant of a fire that took place some 350 years ago. A series of walkways with explanatory panels have been installed so that everyone can enjoy these beautiful giants.
The Cathedral Grove forest is located in the McMillan Provincial Park, where you can also find the Cameron River delta, lakes and scenic roads. Roads that continue for about two hours to Tofino with the Pacific Rim Hwy. There are many beautiful lake and river beaches, so make a stop in the ones you like the most. The whole way is really amazing. If you travel by hitchhiking, get off wherever you like and enjoy (ideal for overnight with your tent)! For example here:
TOFINO Y UCLUELET
Tofino, the famous cousin of Port Renfrew, enjoys a similar location on the shores of the wild West Pacific, in a series of cahannels that soften the force of the waters. It is an amazing place, but, in my opinion, very touristy. It has grown a lot in a few years, with dozens of restaurants, hotels and tourist agencies scattered among its sand streets. This attracts thousands of tourists every summer. These agencies organize from multi-adventure trips in zip lines or rafting to whale whatching and other marine wildlife tours by boat... and by helicopter (sorry, this sucks). You can also visit some islands. Whoever likes that will have their paradise in Tofino. To get away from the crowds, just drive a few kilometers to the beaches and lakes in the vicinity. The most popular beach is Long Beach, with big waves for surfers to enjoy. But there are many more, you just have to explore a little.
The neighboring Ucluelet is a more authentic destination, much less oriented to tourism. And cheaper. If you plan to stay a few days in the area it is better to sleep here than in Tofino. Once again, the town does not stand out for its architecture, but for the nature that surrounds it. The views from almost any point are magnificent, it has very cool beaches and there are a couple of short trails to do, such as the Wild Pacific Trail or the Ucluelet Lighthouse loop.
Another town touched by the Pacha Mama, present in each beach, river and lake that surrounds it. Everything is beautiful around, being perhaps the most popular attraction the Elk Falls, a waterfall and canyon in the Provincial Park of the same name. If you follow that road for a while you can reach the remote and impressive Strathcona Provincial Park, which not only houses the highest waterfall in Canada (Della Falls, 440 m), but also offers many possibilities for hiking and camping (some routes of more than 30 km). You can also take a ferry to Quadra Island from Campbell River and lose yourself in its beauties.
ROAD 19 (NORTH SECTION)
The journey between Campbell River and Port Hardy is another route that is well worth doing. Once again, rivers, lakes, forests... And small mountains await you. The main difference is that this northern part of the island is much less populated and visited, so that contact with nature is even greater. It is best to do it quietly and slowly, stopping where you like to rest, eat or take a nap. And always willing to find wildlife.
Before arriving in Port Hardy (or if you are settled there and want to make a nice excursion) you can take the Port Alice Road, a road that goes to a very cute little town called Port Alice. It is not only worthwhile for the town itself, but also for the path that leads to it. A particularly beautiful area full of rivers and lakes. In the Marble River Provincial Park there is a fabulous campsite to spend the night or just come and sit for a while next to that crystalline river. Port Alice is a very well maintained and beautiful town that contrasts with its neighbor Port Hardy. If you do not see where it is placed on the map, you will believe that the town is set on a lake, but it is actually a sea inlet that penetrates inland tens of kilometers. Ideal to enjoy.
Small town with a ghostly air (it is usually cloudy and it rains a lot) where you can breathe a mixture of remote solitude and adventure. You are (almost) at the north end of the island, where everything is wild and rough. It does not look like any other town on the island, and it does not stand out for its beauty. It has a special charm, though. The most beautiful part of the city is its maritime zone. But for what really stands out is for its extraordinary surroundings, with possibilities of memorable hiking, kayaking, surfing, camping, fishing... And diving for the bravest ones. Or maybe you just want to enjoy a secluded beach facing the sea. It is also the getaway point to the Cape Scott Provincial Park, at the northwest end of the island. A logging road connects Port Hardy and Holberg, at the southern end of this remote park. The rest can only be covered on foot. Here begins the North Coast Trail, 45 km through forests and beaches that few have dared to visit. Dare to be next!
FERRY PORT HARDY – PRINCE RUPERT
Finally, several ferries leave from Port Hardy each week heading to the fantastic Prince Rupert. It is a wonderful journey of about 16 hours through wild fjords and canals that get narrower and narrower. A show that will leave you speechless. It's expensive (around 125 euros per person in summer of 2017), but it's worth it. DOGS CAN TRAVEL, but only in the "Pet Area", a specific room for them, being able to visit them every two or three hours. Also, if you travel with your car your buddy can stay in it. More details about this trip soon.
Northern British Columbia itinerary here.
Southern British Columbia and Rocky Mountains itineraries here.