- Written by Dan
Places to Visit in Vancouver
By Hostelling International / Ceri Jones Chong
From Tofino to Prince Rupert and More: An Amazing Road Trip Across Vancouver Island
I was testing out Hostelling International’s new Trip Planner resource to see how well the itineraries worked out. I found it was easy to get around by car and I think it would be as easy by public transit, just be sure to check routes and plan ahead. I stayed at HI hostels along the way. They are ideally placed and naturally create excellent travel routes for exploring Western Canada. The great thing about HI’s suggested itineraries is that you can tailor them to suit your timeline and interests; I found them a really great starting point. Here are some notes from the Orca trip I did including a list of places to visit in Vancouver.
The Orca - B.C.’s Pacific Coast
This suggested travel itinerary takes you along B.C.’s coastline from Vancouver to Victoria, Nanaimo, Tofino, Cumberland and then north to Prince Rupert. If you are to take in all suggested stops the minimum length of time required is seven nights; that, however, would be a whistle-stop tour—the longer you have the better. You could also leave out or add a couple of places along the way.
We all know Vancouver is a beautiful city; here you can get your shopping fix, food fix and nightlife fix before heading to the more relaxed pace of Vancouver Island.
Vancouver to Victoria
Hop on the ferry at Tsawwassen, and take the scenic one-anda- half hour ride over to the Island. Look out for orcas–pods are often seen on this crossing, I was not lucky enough to see any! When you arrive on Vancouver Island, don’t head straight to Victoria; stop by the cute seaside town of Sidney-by-Sea, it’s just five minutes from the ferry terminal at Swartz Bay and the perfect place to stop for a coffee or a bite to eat.
B.C.’s capital is full of old world charm. Some of my favourite Victoria spots are Chinatown, the neighbourhood of Oak Bay and also Fisherman’s Wharf for fish and chips. Depending on your schedule, I recommend at least two nights here so you can have a good look around the city.
Victoria to Nanaimo
The drive from Victoria to Nanaimo is around one and half hours, so not far at all. There are some places to stop at along the way. If you have time on your hands, take a side trip to Sooke Potholes Provincial Park and have a quick dip in the river or walk around the forest trails.
Goldstream Provincial Park is located just 17 kilometres from Victoria and is a nice en-route stop. At the park you’ll find numerous trails, the majestic Niagara Falls–which at 47.5 metres is almost as spectacular as its cousin in Ontario–and fantastic salmon viewing during the yearly salmon run.
Stop at the town of Chemainus before you arrive in Nanaimo and check out their world-famous outdoor gallery of murals.
There are many things to do in the harbour city of Nanaimo. The downtown area is small and easy to walk around. While in Nanaimo, I recommend heading over to Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park, there are sandy beaches and it’s easy to explore the island on its network of trails. Back in Nanaimo, if you love sweet things, take the Nanaimo Bar Trail. Pick up a map at the hostel and head out to try the city’s famous Nanaimo Bars in all different shapes and size, like Nanaimo Bar milkshake, Nanaimo Bar coffee, Nanaimo Bar cheesecake and the Nanaimo Bar-tini!
Nanaimo to Tofino
The drive is around three hours, and there are a few places worth stopping at along the way. You will be driving back from Tofino along the same stretch of road so stops can be done in either direction. Take a detour to Coombs and see the famous goats on the roof at the country market. After that, the next places worth seeing are Little Qualicum Falls and Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park. The town of Port Alberni is a good place to stop for a refuel and also stock up on groceries. The next part of the drive is very picturesque; the road is bendy and you should take your time driving. There are a couple of lakes you can stop at before you arrive at the coast.
What a beautiful part of Canada this is, my favourite part, as a matter of fact! I suggest you spend at least two nights in Tofino, so you can have one full day in the area–if you have more time, even better! This area offers amazing wildlife viewing opportunities. I embarked on a Zodiac wildlife tour which took us around the coastline–on my tour I saw a wolf, a bear, some sea otters, a bald eagle and its eaglet, and numerous other bird species. There are also whale watching tours you can take, I am saving that for next time! Sea kayaking is also a great way to see the local wildlife, and kayaks can be hired from the numerous suppliers in the town.
A trip to Hot Springs Cove is well worth a visit. Meares Island is another must see–the main attraction here is the Big Tree Trail that features some of the tallest trees in British Columbia. Then there are the beaches and the hikes within Pacific Rim National Park; if you want to get wet, take a surfing lesson–this is something I did not do, I stuck to dry land and watched!
Tofino to Cumberland
The drive back to the east and to Cumberland is about three hours. You will follow the same road back to HWY 19 and then head north. Parksville and Qualicum beach are worth pulling into; they’re a summer hotspot because of the beaches. Parksville Beach Festival runs during July and August, the main attraction is the sand sculpting competition–sand sculptors from around the world come here to compete.
The small town of Cumberland is an old mining town and steeped in history and character. The area around Cumberland is home to some of B.C.’s best mountain biking trails, which is the one of the main draws in summer. In winter, Mount Washington is the place to go on the Island for snow sports.
Cumberland to Port Hardy
The Orca itinerary now continues up the coast to Port Hardy and then on to Prince Rupert. On the drive up, you’ll notice increasingly greater distances between towns and settlements. This part of the coastline offers access to the many islands of Vancouver Island’s Inside Passage. You could explore this area for days. I took a side trip to Alert Bay–catch the ferry from Port McNeill, you can travel as a foot passenger because the village is easy to walk around. Alert Bay is a remarkable aboriginal cultural destination, which is steeped in history as well as living culture. In the village visit U’mista Cultural Centre, the roadside First Nations’ graveyard, which is filled with totem and memorial poles, and the Big House, which boasts the world’s tallest totem pole.
Port Hardy to Prince Rupert
Unfortunately, my trip ended here, so this is still on my todo list. To get to Prince Rupert from Vancouver Island, you take the Inside Passage ferry from Port Hardy. The sailings vary throughout the year, so check details when you are planning your trip. During the summer B.C. Ferries run a daytime trip, which is a 15-hour journey full of spectacular scenery. You’ll pass glacier-fed waterfalls, snowcapped peaks, fiords and sheltered inlets on your voyage. Prince Rupert The first thing you need to do when you get to Prince Rupert is put on your hiking boots–there are some pretty amazing hikes in the area. Hike Mount Hays and get awesome views of Haida Gwaii and Alaska on a clear day. Butze Rapids Trail takes you through old growth rainforest to a viewing platform that overlooks the reversing tidal rapids. Hop on a local ferry, and head over to the Metlakatla Wilderness Trail–the 20-km hike offers stunning trails, hanging suspension bridges and plenty of viewing platforms. Take a boat trip to the Khutzeymateen Inlet–a globally-unique wilderness treasure and Canada’s only grizzly bear sanctuary. Observe and photograph grizzly bears playing with their cubs and peacefully feeding off the shore. In town you’ll find museums, galleries and an eclectic mix of independent owned stores, plus a good choice of restaurants and cafés. From Prince Rupert you can head further afield and explore Haida Gwaii, or head north to Alaska, west to the Rockies by car or train, or fly back home.
Hostelling International has hostels located across Vancouver Island in Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Tofino, Cumberland and Prince Rupert, and the HI page contains a whole collection of places to visit in Vancouver. For more information on HI hostels visit hihostels.ca. HI’s network of suggested itineraries showcase places to visit in Vancouver and the best of Western Canada. They can be done individually, or joined together to create longer trips. Check out the full HI Trip Planner for more information.