Discover the East Coast of Vancouver Island

5 to 7 Days, 500 km (310.69 mi)

Relax and rejuvenate along this coastal road trip from Victoria to Port Hardy.

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The beaches, forests, and waterfalls along the east side of Vancouver Island will help you let go of your everyday stressors and embrace Island time. The longer you stay, the more noticeable the transformation. As you make your way along the journey, explore Indigenous culture, a thriving art scene, and an abundance of local eateries, craft breweries, and vineyards. Follow the route along Vancouver Island’s eastern coast to discover this colour mosaic of nature, culture, and cuisine—this is one summer trip you’ll never forget.

Part 1

Tsawwassen

 

Spirit of BC vessel, from Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen | FlyBoy Productions/BC Ferries

Sail from Tsawwassen, south of Vancouver, with BC Ferries and take in the beautiful ocean vistas as you weave among the Southern Gulf Islands en route to Swartz Bay, at the south end of  Vancouver Island.

 

Part 2

Victoria

Victoria | Reuben Krabbe

If you want to start your journey with cultural experiences, attractions, and an exciting dining scene, take time out to visit BC’s capital city, Victoria. No trip to Victoria is complete without a walk by the seashore, whether that’s in the bustling Inner Harbour or on the quiet stretch of Dallas Road across from pretty Beacon Hill Park.

See the Greater Victoria area from an entirely new perspective with a visit to the quiet waterfront village of Mill Bay, where you can spend time at the beach, enjoy expansive views of the Southern Gulf Islands, or hike and picnic in one of the parks in the area. Take the 25-minute ferry crossing from Brentwood Bay to access this hidden gem. Time permitting, tour renowned Butchart Gardens before you board the ferry, or drive to the spectacular Kinsol Trestle, the largest trestle bridge along the Cowichan Valley Trail. Ride your bike across, or walk across the bridge and marvel at its beauty and structure.

Staying a little longer in Victoria? Read about how you can taste the town, savour the Saanich Peninsula, and explore the neighbourhoods on your next getaway.

Once you’re ready to continue the adventure, continue north along Highway 1 toward Duncan.

Part 3

Duncan

Chemainus | Ben Giesbrecht

Duncan is known as the “City of Totems,” and a highlight to your time here is a self-guided Totem Tour Walk past dozens of poles, each of which tells a story. This is the traditional territories of the Cowichan First Nation, who have called the area home for thousands of years. Their relationship with the natural environment is one of respect and gratitude. This relationship is represented in many of the lovingly carved totems you’ll see along the route.

As you leave town heading north along Highway 1, pull into the Somenos Marsh Conservation Area, home to more than 200 different bird species. In the fall, keep your eyes peeled for the huge trumpeter swans that feed here.

After making friends with the birds, check out the arts scene in the city of Chemainus, best known for its collection of murals depicting the community’s history from its Indigenous population to early European pioneers. Stop by the Chemainus Visitor Centre and pick up a map of the mural route, and follow the yellow footprints past more than 40 works of art.

Continue north on Highway 1 toward Nanaimo.

Part 4

Nanaimo

Walking to Ammonite Falls

The walk to Ammonite Falls | @mr_wilson3

Also accessible via BC Ferries from the mainland, Nanaimo is a jumping-off point for adventure both on land and on the water. Take a car ferry to Gabriola Island to check out the unique Malaspina Galleries, an area on the shoreline where the sandstone cliff has been eroded over time by the ocean to resemble a cresting wave. Saysutshun (formerly known as Newcastle Island) is a quick 10-minute passenger ferry ride from the Nanaimo harbour, and it is a popular year-round camping destination.

Before you leave the city, you must try a local delicacy—the Nanaimo Bar. A graham/coconut/cocoa crust is topped with a creamy custard and finished off with a layer of chocolate. Yum! The Nanaimo Bar Trail is a collection of eateries and bakeries in the city that offer the delicacy.

While in Nanaimo, get your nature fix by visiting one of the seaside parks (like Neck Point Park) or hike to Ammonite Falls.

Leave Nanaimo on Highway 19, and you will have a couple of choices. May we suggest the scenic route, Highway 19A?

Part 5

Parksville

Parksville beach stroll | Graeme Owsianski

Highway 19A takes you along the coast to Parksville, a popular summer destination with long stretches of beach and small-town charm. When the tide is out, it goes out so far that you can barely see the ocean with the naked eye, and it leaves behind a series of tidepools perfect for family fun. Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park is one of the most popular places in the province to camp, and Parksville Community Park has a lovely beach as well as a huge playground and waterpark for the little ones. Make a day of it and enjoy the fresh sea air and the sounds of the ocean as the tide comes in.

This is another fantastic place for a detour. Highway 4 takes you west from Parksville to a series of natural treasures. See the waterfalls at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park or Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. Take a short detour along Highway 4A to Coombs, where you can visit the Old Country Market for artisan snacks and a glimpse of the famous goats on the roof.

Back on Highway 19A, head north toward the community of Qualicum Beach. Feel the power of an old-growth forest as you walk through the Qualicum Beach Heritage Forest, located just five minutes from downtown. You can also visit Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park, where you can take a guided tour of the caves that are home to fossils, underground waterfalls, and crystal formations. Reserve a spot as space is limited. Garden lovers who prefer a more natural look to a highly manicured formal garden will love Milner Gardens and Woodland (July 2020: temporarily closed).

Continue north along Highway 19A toward the Comox Valley.

Part 6

Comox Valley

A mountain biker at Mount Washington.| Boomer Jerritt

Yet another opportunity for a detour presents itself 30 minutes north of Qualicum Beach in the community of Buckley Bay. Take a ferry to Denman Island, and another from Denman to Hornby Island. Enjoy gorgeous beaches, and great camping and paddling opportunities. You can also experience some of the best cold water diving in the world here with its remarkable visibility and abundant marine life. Remember to travel responsibly to Denman and Hornby islands during Covid-19.

When you reach the Comox Valley and the communities of Courtenay, Comox, and Cumberland you will find excellent mountain biking, a vibrant food and drink scene, and four-season fun at Mount Washington Alpine Resort. This is also one of three Island access points to the rugged Strathcona Provincial Park, the oldest provincial park in BC. Just north of Comox Lake, you can gain access to the Paradise Meadows and Forbidden Plateau sections of the park.

Continue north along Highway 19A to its terminus in Campbell River.

Part 7

Campbell River

Elk Falls Provincial Park | Jordan Dyck

Life in Campbell River is all about the water. The community is known as the Salmon Fishing Capital of the World for good reason. Experienced guides can take you out in search of the area’s five species of Pacific salmon, or you can head out by boat in search of wildlife. Humpback whales and transient orcas are commonly seen in these waters, and Campbell River is close to prime grizzly viewing areas. Grizzly tours are offered seasonally between August and October—book well in advance to secure your spot. See the circle of life unfold among the salmon and the bears. The Elk Falls Suspension Bridge is another must-do. Look out over the thundering waterfall, and check out the nearby Quinsam River Hatchery (July 2020: temporarily closed).

Campbell River may mark the end of Highway 19A, but there is plenty more adventure to be had as you head into Northern Vancouver Island. Immerse yourself in the rugged nature, explore Indigenous culture, and view wildlife along the way. From Campbell River, there are some amazing natural experiences to be had as you drive along Highway 19 toward Telegraph Cove and Port Hardy.

Part 8

Telegraph Cove and Port Hardy

Cooking salmon on a beach in Port Hardy

Cooking salmon on a beach in Port Hardy, Nathan Martin

As a steppingstone to the famed Broughton Archipelago, the picturesque community of Telegraph Cove makes for a great summer hub from which to enjoy eco-adventures and incredible wildlife viewing tours. The village itself consists of colourful buildings and a boardwalk built over the water on stilts. It is a very popular whale watching destination as its location on the shores of Johnstone Strait mean almost as many whales as people.

This northern part of the Island is also rich in Indigenous culture. A short ferry ride to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island takes you to U’mista Cultural Centre and its renowned Potlatch Collection, a culturally rich collection of masks and other ceremonial objects that were restored to the Kwakwaka’wakw people after having been confiscated by the Canadian government and sent to museums around the world.

Highway 19 continues all the way to Port Hardy, the Island’s northernmost community. Spend quality time enjoying the remoteness and the solitude at peaceful Cape Scott Provincial Park at the northern tip of the Island, and then decide whether to head south again and revisit some of your favourite spots, or take a ferry to BC’s central coast and keep exploring.

Travelling this route? Share your experiences with #exploreBC.

Driving Directions

Part 1 - Vancouver
  • 6.25 km
  • 12 min
Show Map & Driving Directions

In the Area

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Hotel Zed

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Mount Washington Alpine Resort

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Phone: (250) 974-2324

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Coastal Wilderness Adventures

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Phone: (250) 205-0022

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Eagle Eye Adventures

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Tigh-Na-Mara Resort

Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort is located in 22 acres of forest beside the ocean. From our picturesque forested Oceanviews, to our comfortable...

Phone: (250) 248-2072

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Hotels

Hotel Zed

We're a ridiculously fun & eclectic hip hotel in Victoria BC that is so completely awesome your mind will be blown! Ok, slight exaggeration, but...

Phone: (250) 360-1511

View Listing

Biking, Hiking, Cross-Country Skiing, Skiing & Snowboarding, Snowshoeing

Mount Washington Alpine Resort

Mt. Washington Alpine Resort is a year-round recreation destination located on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. In the winter guests enjoy...

Phone: (888) 231-1499

View Listing

Campgrounds & RV Parks

Telegraph Cove Marina & RV Park

We have a 48 site RV Park. All sites are full service with water, sewer and 30A electricity. We also have a marina with 70 slips and wide stable...

Phone: (250) 928-3163

View Listing

Cabins & Cottages, Campgrounds & RV Parks

Port Hardy RV Resort & Log Cabins

While visiting Port Hardy, BC stay in our log cabins nestled between the Quaste River and 138 acres Estuary Wildlife Sanctuary. Come watch the...

Phone: (250) 956-4900

View Listing

Hotels

Nimpkish Hotel

Escape the noise of daily life. Settle into our historic boutique located in Alert Bay on the Pacific waterfront. Enter the peace of the Nimpkish...

Phone: (250) 974-2324

View Listing

Fishing, Accessibility

Coastal Wilderness Adventures

We are a full time, year-round fishing charter company striving to give you the best in the industry. We offer both Saltwater and Freshwater...

Phone: (250) 205-0022

View Listing

Bird Watching, Whale Watching, Wildlife Tours

Eagle Eye Adventures

Eagle Eye Adventures The First in the World Certified Responsible Whale Watching Company The Eagle Eye Adventures team welcomes you. Soft opening...

Phone: (250) 286-0809

View Listing

Spas & Wellness, Cabins & Cottages, Hotels, Resorts & Wilderness Lodges, Accessibility

Tigh-Na-Mara Resort

Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort is located in 22 acres of forest beside the ocean. From our picturesque forested Oceanviews, to our comfortable...

Phone: (250) 248-2072

View Listing

#explorebc

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