Vancouver Island in British Columbia has everything – from rocky cliffs and misty rainforest to sandy beaches, wild hot springs, and charming surf towns.
If you luck out, you might even spot orca whales!
It’s no surprise that it’s a popular destination for locals and travelers alike.
To ensure you don’t miss any good spots along Victoria to Tofino drive, I’ve put together an easy-to-follow list of the highlights.
Exploring the island by car or campervan is a smart choice because it allows you to see as much as possible and will always be an experience you’ll remember.
You’ll also blend in with the local crowd as Vancouver Island is known for its van life culture!
Road tripping the island is exactly what my partner and I did when we first visited Tofino. We brought along our old classic Chevy G-20 van, otherwise known as the ‘spaceship.’
For more of our vetted tips for van life and road tripping in Canada, we’ve got you covered in this post.
Basic Info Plus Driving Directions
There are a few ferries that transport you across to Vancouver Island:
- Black Ball Ferry Line (runs only in the summer months)
- Port Angeles to Victoria
- Anacortes to Victoria
- Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay (just north of Victoria)
- Tsawwassen to Duke Point (1.5 hrs north of Swartz Bay)
- Horseshoe to Nanaimo
- Powell River to Comox
Ferry reservations are not necessary. However, booking a ferry ride in advance might be a good idea if you don’t want to get stuck on stand-by due to limited capacity on board.
Make sure to arrive at your port at least half an hour before your scheduled departure.
The drive from Victoria to Tofino is 317 km (more or less 199 miles), and the driving time is only around 4 hours without any stops.
But of course, with so many cool spots along the way, you will want to take your time and stretch it into a multi-day road trip.
Driving Directions from Victoria to Tofino by car:
- Hit Highway 1 (Trans Canada Highway)
- Merge onto Highway 19
- Take Exit 60 and follow onto Highway 4
- Port Alberni has a well-marked junction leading south to Ucluelet via Pacific Rim highway or north to Tofino.
Other ways to get from Victoria, BC to Tofino, BC
The cheapest way to get from Victoria to Tofino is by using bus services. You can take the Tofino bus with transfer at Nanaimo BC Bus Depot or the Vancouver Island connector bus. It’s a convenient island express that takes approximately 6h 50m.
Alternatively, the fastest way from Victoria to Tofino is by plane with Harbour Air Seaplanes or Pacific Coastal Airlines.
The Best Time to Visit Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island is a year-round destination, but outside the summer season, it can get quite rainy.
The weather is warm and dry in the summer months (June to August).
If you’re interested in surfing, the best time to visit Vancouver Island is between April and October. Conditions are ideal during this time, especially in the fall.
Besides that, many surf events occur in the fall, such as Queen of the Peak – the Women’s Canadian Surf Championships in Cox Bay.
You’ll want to visit Vancouver Island from May through October for whale watching.
If you want to avoid crowds, the low season is spring (March to May) and Fall (September to November). The weather is still pleasant during the spring and fall, plus there aren’t as many tourists around.
Where to Rent a Vehicle in BC, Canada
These companies operate mostly in North America and connect private van owners with people who want to rent a van.
They also take care of car insurance for a small extra fee, so you don’t have to worry about any mishaps on the road.
For car rentals from private owners, you can also check Turo. Sometimes, you can find much better deals than from regular rental companies.
It’s important that you sort your rental early on because good deals get snatched up quickly, especially during the busy summer season.
If you prefer traditional car rentals, renting a car from a local Enterprise is also available.
Main Highlights of Victoria to Tofino Drive
- Niagara Falls in Goldstream Park
- Wineries in Cowichan Valley
- Kinsol Trestle
- Drumroaster coffee
- Duncan’s farmers market
- Old town bakery in Ladysmith
- Englishman River Falls
- Coombs Goats on the roof
- Qualicum Falls
- Cameron Lake
- Cathedral Grove
- The Hole in the Wall
- Long Beach
- Cove Hot Springs
Victoria to Nanaimo via Cowichan Valley
Start your Vancouver Island road trip in Victoria by having a hearty breakfast at Ruby. If you have time, I highly recommend exploring this charming city before hitting the road.
My favorite spot in Victoria is the funky Fisherman’s Wharf.
You can also visit:
- Butchart Gardens – From the Sunken Garden to the Japanese Garden, you’ll be amazed at the variety of flowers and plants on display.
- Chinatown – Victoria’s Chinatown is one of the oldest in Canada, and it’s worth a visit. Stroll through Fan Tan Alley, browse the shops, and try some authentic Chinese cuisine. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported to another world!
- Craigdarroch Castle – Craigdarroch Castle is a Victorian-era mansion once home to Scottish baron Robert Dunsmuir, one of Canada’s wealthy industrialists. Today, the castle has been converted into a museum.
For more things to do in Victoria, check: 10 Wonderful Things to Do in Victoria
Niagara Falls in Goldstream Park
You can find Niagara Falls in Goldstream Park, just a short drive outside of Victoria.
Who would have known that there is more than one Niagara Falls in Canada?
To get to the falls, you need to walk through a tunnel. One thing to keep in mind is that the tunnel isn’t accessible during winter as the river overflows through it.
Wineries in Cowichan Valley
Next up, you can head north towards the Cowichan Valley. This region is famous for its vineyards and wineries. You can make a one-day stop to sip some of the local wines.
If you don’t fancy wine, you can boost your energy with coffee at Drumroaster in Cobble Hill.
Along your way to Cowichan Valley, you can also explore the old-growth forests and hiking trails in this area.
If you don’t mind a short detour, Kinsol Trestle is an interesting wooden railway. It’s one of the tallest and most spectacular trestles in the world.
Quick note: If you happen to be driving through Cowichan valley on Saturday, there is Duncan’s farmers market in the historic downtown of Duncan.
Old town bakery in Ladysmith
To refuel with more delicious snacks along your journey, a bakery in Ladysmith is definitely worth the visit.
Nanaimo to Port Alberni
Englishman River Falls
After you’re done exploring Ladysmith and Nanaimo, another must-see place is Englishman River Falls. Englishman River Falls is one of Vancouver Island’s most popular and spectacular waterfalls.
Coombs Goats on the roof
If you love goats as much as I do, make sure to stop at the Coombs Country Market.
The market has a whole section of the roof covered with grass, and there are always a few goats grazing on it. So it’s quite a unique sight and experience.
The market is full of fresh produce, homemade treats, and all sorts of goat products.
Coombs Country Market is a great place to take a break and stretch your legs while driving from Victoria to Tofino.
Little Qualicum River Provincial Park is another great spot for a short hike or picnic.
To get to the falls, follow the 3 km loop walk, which is a fairly easy and short hike. There’s also a swimming hole at the bottom of the falls if you want to cool off on a hot day.
Cameron Lake is a starting point for the short trail to Cathedral Grove in Macmillan Provincial Park. It’s a nice place for a quick swim or fishing.
From there, continue your drive towards Cathedral Grove.
Cathedral Grove is part of Macmillan Provincial Park, where you can find some of the oldest and tallest trees on Vancouver Island.
I mean, not just any trees but enormous Douglas fir and Western red cedar trees over 800 years old!
It felt like stepping into one of Lord of the Rings’ scenes. It’s truly an amazing sight to see.
Port Alberni to Tofino
Port Alberni is known as the ‘Gateway to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.’
The Hole in the Wall
Just as you enter Port Alberni, there is a quick 15 min trail with a unique rock wall with a circular opening where a waterfall flows through it.
If you’re traveling with kids or crave some ice cream, visit Coombs Country Candy shop nearby from the Hole in the Wall.
The shop is full of handmade chocolates, ice creams, and other treats.
After Port Alberni, you can either go straight to Tofino or, for a more off-the-beaten-path experience, you can first visit Ucluelet.
Ucluelet is a small fishing village on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It’s a bit less of a touristy spot than Tofino.
It’s known for its wild Pacific coastline, rainforest, whale watching, and surfing.
The most popular spot in Ucluelet is Long Beach, part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
It’s the longest beach on Vancouver island, which makes it an excellent place to go for a walk or just relax and watch the waves crash against the rocks.
Campgrounds in Ucluelet:
And finally, you’ve made it all the way from Victoria to Tofino!
There are many things to do in this cute little town famous for its surfing beaches. It’s important to pack properly for your time in Tofino, so check out this packing list to make sure you are fully prepared!
But first, let’s talk about food.
My favorite spot for breakfast in Tofino is Tofitian cafe. Their avo croissant was to die for. The food scene in Tofino is fantastic, and there are a number of restaurants in Tofino that you must visit. Make sure to make reservations during the summer months, as a table can be difficult to get without one.
Campgrounds in Tofino
For more info on camping in Tofino, check these 8 Best Tofino Camping Options.
You might also like:
Tofino Surfing Rentals and Schools
The most popular beaches in Tofino are Cox Bay, North Chesterman, and MacKenzie beach.
Cox Bay is the best beach for surfing in Tofino.
The waves here are not as big as at some other beaches, but they are still fairly consistent.
If you’re new to surfing and want to learn or need a refresher, you can check local surf schools and sign up for lessons or rent gear.
Pacific Surf School has super high ratings and is a reliable option for surf lessons or rentals.
Things to Do in Tofino
If you’re not into catching waves, you can go hiking on the nearby Wild Pacific trail, sea kayaking, whale watching, or simply explore the town’s shops and restaurants.
There is no better way to end your road trip from Victoria to Tofino than by soaking up and relaxing in the wild hot springs.
You can get to Cove Hot Spring by boat ride or seaplane.
Many tour companies offer day trips to Cove hot springs from Tofino combined with whale watching.
The spring is in a cove, hence its name, and is surrounded by lush rainforest.
On the way back from Vancouver island, you can use the ferry service and go straight from Nanaimo Departure Bay to Vancouver Horseshoe bay.
Looking for more fun things to do on Vancouver Island?
Check out this post:
Kamila is a freelance writer for hire and a blogger. On her blog, Expat in Canada, she and her partner share useful information about life in Canada. When she’s not writing, you can find her on a yoga mat, coaching, or drinking a cup of tea.