Close your eyes and daydream of a summer road trip through the Pacific Northwest. Do you see the vibrant green forests, massive waterfalls, cascading mountains, and of course, the plethora of wildlife? Now add some whales, rainbow rivers, and all the manners of Canada… The place you’re imagining is Vancouver Island, and this guide has everything you need to know to help you plan the ultimate Vancouver Island road trip itinerary!
For quick reference, this Vancouver Island road trip guide has been broken down into different regions based on driving routes. I have also included all my favorite photography locations in each region.
If you are visiting from the US, your cell phone is unlikely to work once you cross the border. Even if it does, it is unlikely to work in most places outside the cities. I recommend you download offline maps prior to visiting, and keep your notes offline in some way. I missed the secret waterfall at Sombrio Beach because I couldn’t access my notes and was kicking myself!
The weather tends to be moderate, and rain is common. If you are planning to road trip in a camper van, make sure you bring some quick-drying layers! Beer can only be purchased in liquor stores, and craft beer lovers will rejoice at the variety of local British Columbia beers they will discover. Amenities can be limited outside of the towns and cities. I will try to indicate in each region where amenities may be available.
Freedom camping out of your van is not exactly allowed, but it also isn’t really a monitored problem outside of the Tofino area. Be smart with where you park and, as always, leave no trace.
Whether arriving by ferry from Port Angeles in Washington or flying direct, visitors traveling from the US will begin their Vancouver Island getaway in the city of Victoria. Those coming from Canada by ferry will most likely begin near Vancouver, British Columbia, and may find themselves in either Nanaimo or Victoria. If you have the time then you should spend a couple of days in Vancouver prior to arriving on Vancouver Island!
The other option is to begin your Vancouver Island road trip in the remote Northern region, though services will be more limited.
The more popular ferry from Vancouver to Victoria or Nanaimo runs approximately every two hours but will fill up days or even weeks prior during the peak summer season. If you are planning a two-week getaway, or even shorter than that, it is imperative you book your ticket ahead of time or risk being stranded on the mainland.
There is no absolute best time to visit Vancouver Island, as every season presents unique opportunities. The casual tourist may prefer the clear skies and warmer summer climate. However, those visiting with photography in mind may prefer the spring wildflowers and waterfalls, or the colours of fall, or even the snow-capped mountains in the winter. Below are the pros and cons of each season.