Beachcombing on Parksville, Vancouver Island

Top 5 Places to Stop Between Victoria and Campbell River

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A road trip is one of the best ways to explore Vancouver Island. Highway 19A, the scenic oceanside route between Victoria and Campbell River, boasts miles of picturesque coastline, charming towns, and outdoor adventure along the way. Venture to mossy rainforests, provincial parks, or sandy beaches. Hop between Gulf Islands, savour local cuisine, or visit the many art galleries and studios en route.

We asked our Facebook fans for their top places to stop between Victoria and Campbell River, and here are their top five picks:

5. Nanaimo

A massive log and other driftwood on the shores of Piper Lagoon in Nanaimo, with a view of the lagoon to the right, trees in the foreground and blue skies above

Pipers Lagoon in Nanaimo. Photo: painter dude via Flickr

The harbour city of Nanaimo is located north of Victoria, and is accessible by ferry from Vancouver. Nanaimo’s island-sheltered harbour is right in the centre of town and its bustling waterfront is a popular spot to grab a bite or watch the seaplanes take off. Downtown, you’ll find a museum, art galleries, and waterfront cafes and restaurants. If you’re up for an adventure, Nanaimo offers great hiking, kayaking, and biking, as well as world-class scuba diving and snorkelling. Don’t miss Neck Point Park and Piper’s Lagoon—two must-see parks—and if you’re up for a quick getaway, take a passenger ferry from Nanaimo to two nearby island gems: Protection Island (home of Canada’s only floating pub) and picnic-perfect Newcastle Island. Nanaimo is also a jumping off point to explore the west side towns of Tofino and Ucluelet.

4. Fanny Bay

Two bikes leaning against a red railing on the Fanny Bay's wooden dock, with a big green sign for Fanny Bay on the left hand side of the dock.

Fanny Bay dock. Photo: smilygrl via Flickr

Fanny Bay is a quaint little community just south of Courtenay. Here you’ll find the famous Fanny Bay Oysters, the place to go for farm fresh oysters, clams, scallops, and other seafood. Fanny Bay is home to eclectic B&Bs, and it’s only a 15-minute drive to Kingfisher Oceanside Resort and Spa, a popular oceanside resort. Head to Rosewell Creek Provincial Park, a day-use park, for excellent hiking and picnicking. While in Fanny Bay, you’re likely to catch a glimpse of sea lions sunning themselves on offshore rocks. You’ll also find the Buckley Bay ferry terminal, the jumping off point to explore idyllic Hornby and Denman islands, two summer destinations known for their gorgeous beaches, warm water, camping, and vibrant arts communities.

3. Parksville

Looking out at Rathtrevor Beach from behind the trees, with people walking on the sand in teh background, fluffy clouds above and calm water.

Rathtrevor Beach in Parksville. Photo: Belindah-Thank You! via Flickr

This seaside community is located 30 minutes north of Nanaimo. With sandy beaches, quaint resorts, and tons of outdoor adventure, Parksville is a quintessential summer destination. Here you’ll find Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, one of the premier vacation destinations on Vancouver Island for camping and swimming. At low tide, the ocean at Rathtrevor Beach recedes almost a kilometre (0.6 mi), making it an ideal place for visitors of all ages to play in the sand and explore the shoreline. Parksville also boasts great golfing, hiking, and mountain biking, as well as fun family activities like mini golf and bumper boats.  Englishman River Falls and the estuary are natural sanctuaries just minutes from Parksville’s main road, and Cathederal Grove is home to one of the most accessible stands of giant Douglas fir trees on Vancouver Island. It’s only 20 minutes away.

2. Coombs

A goat standing on the roof of Coombs Country Market, looking down at the camera.

A goat on the roof of Coombs Country Market. Photo: JUSU via Flickr

Located just west of Parksville, Coombs is famous as the home of the Coombs Country Market, where goats live on a grassy roof. Coombs is a great place to stop for eclectic shopping, family activities such as Butterfly World, and some seriously delicious ice cream. Stop here to wander charming stores, say hello to the goats, or pick up snacks for the road. Rather get take-out? Head up the hill from the market for fabulous Italian food at Cuckoo’s Trattoria and Pizzeria, or Mexican food at Taqueria. Just eight minutes from Coombs is Errington, where you’ll find Tiger Lily Farm trail rides and petting zoo, and the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre.

1. Qualicum Beach

Dense trees, a cliff and a log crossing a creek at Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park.

Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. Photo: aarongunnar via Flickr

Our fans number one spot along the route is Qualicum Beach. This laidback community, along with the nearby town of Parksville, is home to artisans, gardens, and beautiful beaches. At night, the community comes alive with excellent restaurants, concerts, and theatre. Enjoy hiking in the area’s dozen parks, kayaking on the ocean, or golfing. Take a break from the road and browse the local shops, stop by the Qualicum Beach Museum, or explore the many gardens. The town is known as Vancouver Island’s “Garden Village.” Make a short detour to Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park to explore waterfalls and trails. One of the best oceanfront views is from the local Visitor Centre, so be sure to stop by and grab some information from their friendly staff.

Featured image: Parksville beachcombing. Photo: Graeme Owsianski

Updated from original publication May 20, 2015