Epic Things to Do on Vancouver Island

By discovercanada | September 29, 2023
For most travellers visiting Western Canada, a trip to Vancouver Island will often just include sightseeing in the city of Victoria and the surrounding southern island. But while this area undoubtedly has charms worth seeing, Vancouver Island has so much more to offer! Here's an itinerary full of hidden gems!

With stunning scenery, epic wildlife, and plenty of fun activities to be found in the middle and northern parts of the island too, Vancouver Island is the perfect road trip destination.

To save you the hassle of planning your own road trip itinerary, we’ve planned one for you below! Or, if you’d rather have the whole trip taken care of for you (including all transport and accommodation), you can discover the best of what the island has to offer on our new Vancouver Island Premium Tour.


7-Day Vancouver Island Road Trip

Here’s a quick overview of how to spend 7 days on Vancouver Island. More details to follow!

Day 1: Vancouver to Victoria

Day 2: Victoria to Tofino

Days 3 and 4: Tofino and Pacific Rim National Park

Day 5: Tofino to Campbell River

Day 6: Campbell River and Strathcona Provincial Park (Northern Vancouver Island)

Day 7: Campbell River to Nanaimo and Vancouver


Day 1: Vancouver to Victoria

Starting in Vancouver, your road trip kicks off with an early ride with BC Ferries through the beautiful Gulf Islands. Arriving at your first destination of Victoria, you’ll want to stop off at the famous Butchart Gardens (a must-see!).

Despite being the capital of British Columbia, Victoria is a much smaller city than Vancouver. But no less vibrant! You can easily take in the main attractions on foot, and a great place to start is with a stroll along the inner harbour. Here you can watch the boats and seaplanes, as well as take in iconic sights such as the Empress Hotel and Parliament Buildings.

Other areas worth exploring include Government Street, where you can visit the Royal BC Museum. This is well worth doing to learn about the many First Nations Cultures in BC, as well as to uncover the region’s natural history. A 15-minute walk further from the harbour, you’ll also discover Chinatown, where Fan Tan Alley holds the record for the narrowest commercial street in North America.

If you have time, you can also book a whale watching tour and enjoy the chance to see orcas, humpback, and grey whales along Vancouver Island’s beautiful coastline!©LisanneSmeele-Whalewatching-39-scaled.jpg

Day 2: Victoria to Tofino

It may be over a four-hour drive from Victoria to Tofino, but this route is just as much about the journey as it is the destination. Once you start crossing the island from east to west on Highway 4, you’ll enter a landscape of stunning mountains, crystal-clear rivers and enormous lakes.

A great mid-way stop is Cathedral Grove, located in Macmillan Provincial Park. This area is unique on Vancouver Island as it protects a section of old-growth forest, with some trees nearly 800 years old. The widest tree in Cathedral Grove also measures a huge 9-meters in circumference, which is definitely worth checking out!

Other stops along the way from Victoria include the Malahat Skywalk, for 360 degree views of Vancouver Island, and Duncan, known for the beautiful carved totem poles found across the city.

On arrival to Tofino, you may want to keep on a botanical theme with a visit to the Naa’Waya’Sum Coastal Indigenous Gardens (formerly known as the Tofino Botanical Gardens). This 10-acre site takes you on trails through beautiful coastal rainforest and also features art exhibitions, a welcome centre and café.


Days 3 and 4: Tofino and Pacific Rim National Park

Tofino holds a special place in many visitors’ hearts. And with two days to spend here, you’ll soon see why! Famous for its surf culture, this charming village is set close to the Pacific Rim National Park and has no shortage of vast, sandy beaches nearby. Chesterman Beach and Cox Bay are popular favourites, with the incredible Long Beach offering a whopping 16 kilometres of sand to walk or bike along.

Tofino’s wild coastline also features ancient rainforest, secluded inlets and stunning look outs, all best explored along the area’s trail system. The Rainforest Trail in the Pacific Rim National Park is a great starting point, with two routes taking you along a wooden boardwalk to marvel at giant cedar and hemlock trees draped with moss.

Tofino’s offerings don’t stop there, with the option to take a surf lesson yourself and test out your skills on the waves or take a tour to see some of the area’s iconic wildlife. A whale watching tour offers the chance not only to see orca and grey whales, but adorable sea otters, seals, and eagles! If that wasn’t enough, you could also join a bear watching tour to see black bears forage along the coast in search of fish and crabs to feed on.©Destination-BC-Yuri-Choufour_72.jpg

Day 5: Tofino to Campbell River

After saying goodbye to Tofino, it’s time to continue the road trip back across Vancouver Island and head north, stopping on the way at Coombs Old Country Market. Famous for the goats that reside on its grass-topped roof, this market has evolved from a roadside stand to one of the island’s landmarks. Pop inside for gifts, groceries and more!

Another stop to stretch your legs at is Englishman River Falls Provincial Park. Featuring two beautiful waterfalls that cascade into a deep canyon, this picturesque spot is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic lunch.

From Englishman River Falls, it’s less than an hour and a half to Campbell River. Surrounded by not one, but five, provincial parks, this city is the perfect base to explore the north east of Vancouver Island. With plenty of local seafood, fine dining and trendy eateries to choose from, Campbell River’s cuisine scene is also well worth investigating this evening!


Day 6: Campbell River and Strathcona Provincial Park (Northern Vancouver Island)

Day 6 of your Vancouver Island Road Trip itinerary is an action packed one! Start off your morning exploring Elk Falls Provincial Park and witness the power of the Elk Falls from the height of the suspension bridge. Following the waterfall, there’s a further six kilometres of trails to wander and soak up the park’s natural beauty.

This afternoon, we recommend heading to Strathcona Provincial Park, which is not only the largest provincial park on Vancouver Island, but the oldest in British Columbia. Covering a vast 250,000 hectares, the park’s rugged beauty encompasses snow-capped mountain peaks, waterfalls, lakes and rivers, with a variety of hikes to choose from.

For an easy option, check out the lower Myra Falls and maybe even brave a swim in its crystal-clear pools. Or, if you’re up for more of a challenge, check out the different trails at the Forbidden Plateau. The Helen Mackenzie-Battleship Loop trail takes you to experience the beautiful Paradise Meadows and two tranquil lakes.

If hiking isn’t your thing, Campbell River is also famous for its salmon fishing – which can be done year-round! Rent a rod on Discovery Pier and see what you can catch.©Narick-Hyne-unsplash.jpg_72.jpg

Day 7: Campbell River to Nanaimo and Vancouver

The last day of your Vancouver Island road trip! Before leaving Campbell River today, allow time for just one more stop – the Museum. Here you can explore exhibits of First Nations Cultures to give you further understanding of the human history of this special place. 

Next, head south to Chemainus and take yourself on a tour of this village’s amazing murals. With over 60 art installations located throughout Chemainus, you’ll find murals and sculptures lining the streets and hidden down the sides of buildings.

It’s then just a short drive to Nanaimo, your final destination on Vancouver Island. Here you can head to the Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park, accessible only by foot, passenger ferry or boat. Explore by hiking, biking, swimming, or kayaking – the choice is yours! Then back on mainland, visit Nanaimo Museum and the Bastion which used to defend Nanaimo’s inner harbour.

Taking the ferry from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay to get to Vancouver, don’t forget there’s still a chance to spot some wildlife! Orcas and other whales have been seen from the comfort of the ferry, so keep your eyes peeled on the windows as you finally make your return journey.


Final advice…

Covering ancient rainforest and iconic wildlife, picturesque towns and fascinating museums, this 7 Day Vancouver Island itinerary is sure to provide you with an unforgettable adventure.

To make the most out of your trip, be sure to book in advance when it comes to accommodation and ferries, and always prepare for all weather! Although no matter whether it’s rain or shine, Vancouver Island never disappoints.


Written by Hannah Lane.