Vancouver To Tofino Road Trip: 12 Best Stops

Vancouver To Tofino Road Trip: 12 Best Stops

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The drive from Vancouver to Tofino is among the best road trips in British Columbia, but it’s not a one-day adventure, like the Vancouver to Whistler road trip could be. In this post I won’t only convince you to put this trip on your bucket list (if it’s not there already), but will give you all the information to make it the most enjoyable.

The destination is worthwhile, but the road that takes you there is just as amazing. So let’s see all the best places along the way from Vancouver to Tofino.

Where is Tofino? What makes it special?

There is something about Tofino. Something that draws you in. It’s just a tiny surf town on the west coast of Vancouver Island, with long sandy beaches, spectacular scenery and abundant wildlife. It has a laid-back vibe, a decent number of great restaurants and breweries, and it offers countless things to do for nature lovers, from surfing through hiking, canoeing or watching bears, whales, sea otters or bald eagles.

Tonquin Trail, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

It’s quite a remote place though, at the tip of a small peninsula on Vancouver Island’s well-indented western coastline. The main road runs on the eastern side of the island, because the west is cut through by a bunch of scenic fjords, one of them being Clayoquot Sound, the one Tofino is facing.

How to get from Vancouver to Tofino?

Tofino is a 3-hour drive from Nanaimo, the closest large city. The distance from Tofino to Vancouver is 282 km, including a 2-hour ferry ride, and the journey takes about 5.5 hours overall. There’s only one highway in and out of Tofino and its peninsula – and it’s quite a scenic one.

Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Yes, we think the best way to get from Vancouver to Tofino is driving and taking the ferry. It allows you to enjoy the beauties both on the way and at your final destination. It requires at least a few days though, and if you have less time, or you don’t want to rent a car, we’ll show you other options to visit Tofino in this section. But let’s start with the road trip.


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Drive to Tofino – and take the ferry to Nanaimo

A road trip gives you more freedom and flexibility than any other way of traveling. It allows you to take your time and experience both Vancouver Island and Tofino the local way.

First you need to take the ferry from Vancouver to Nanaimo. There are two ferry terminals in Vancouver: Tsawwassen and Horseshoe Bay, one is south and the other is north of the city. Both of them have connections to Nanaimo Duke Point ferry terminal, but Tsawwassen is closer to the airport.

Neck Point Park, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

I recommend booking your BC Ferries ferry ticket in advance, especially in the summer. If the ferry is fully booked, you have to wait at the terminal for the next sailing, and this can happen in the summer and on popular long weekends.

But once you’re on the ferry: enjoy the ride, it’s a highlight in itself! You’ll ride through the Strait of Georgia, passing several small islands, maybe catching a glimpse of whales, orcas or porpoises. Stay on the outer deck if the weather is nice, and enjoy the views.

After arriving in Nanaimo, there’s a 3-hour drive ahead – but it’ll likely be more. The rest of this post is about all the wonderful stops on the way.

What if you start from Victoria? From Victoria to Tofino it’s a ~5 hours drive, and the shortest route is via Nanaimo.

Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Visit on an organized 2-day trip

If you don’t want to rent a car and drive, your next best option to visit Tofino from Vancouver is an organized tour. We recommend at least 2 days, which makes this tour the best candidate. You’ll tour the sights of Vancouver and Vancouver Island in a private vehicle. No planning and driving needed, just sit back and enjoy the 17 sights you’ll be taken to.

We haven’t personally done this tour, because we drove to Tofino in our own car, but the itinerary looks amazing. Also, because it’s a private tour, you have the chance to customize it.

Get to Tofino by bus

There’s a public bus that can take you to Tofino: the VI Connector & Tofino Bus. It has several pick-up locations in Vancouver, including the Vancouver International Airport. But it’s a seasonal shuttle service operating between May and October (as of 2023). See the schedule here.

Get to Tofino by seaplane

Vancouver, BC, Canada

seaplane landing in Vancouver

The quickest and most scenic way to get to Tofino from Vancouver is by seaplane. You can take either the Vancouver to Tofino seaplane, or the Tofino to Vancouver seaplane (or both, but it’s quite a luxurious experience). The flight takes about an hour, and you’ll be impressed in every single moment. You’ll fly across the Strait of Georgia and can enjoy views of both the east and west coast of Vancouver Island. Finally, you’ll land in the heart of Tofino.

Best stops on the way from Nanaimo to Tofino

The highway from Nanaimo through Port Alberni to Tofino (Highway 4) is the only way in or out of the area. It’s a long, scenic drive, and it’s worth allocating a day or two for this drive alone so that you can stop at the wonderful attractions on the way to Tofino.

Ideally, spending a night in Nanaimo and a night in Port Alberni allows for more in-depth explorations on your road trip to Tofino.


Pipers Lagoon, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Nanaimo is a lovely coastal city with scenic parks, local craft beer and a lively harbourfront. You have to try the famous Nanaimo bar the city is known for! It’s a chocolate dessert with several layers: a base of crumbed wafer, coconut, and nuts, custard icing, then chocolate ganache on top.

Walk around in the historical downtown of Nanaimo, also called Old City Quarter. Some buildings date back to the 1800s here. Okay, coming from Europe, a sentence like this didn’t impress us at all. Nevertheless, we adored the coastal cities of Vancouver Island, because of their scenery. We liked taking a walk in Neck Point Park and Pipers Lagoon Park, taking in the views over the Pacific Ocean. They are the best at sunset!

Ammonite Falls, Benson Creek Falls Regional Park, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Are you into waterfalls? British Columbia will treat you well then. Hike to Ammonite Falls, just outside of Nanaimo. It’s a 6 km loop trail in a lush rainforest. A great start of your nature focused road trip to Tofino.

Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park

As you head north of Nanaimo, just before turning onto Highway 4 towards the west coast of Vancouver Island, make another stop on the east coast. Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park will impress with huge old-growth trees and a large, flat, sandy beach, ideal for peaceful strolls. Cool yourself down in the water, or just have a picnic on the beach. The tide pools are cool to explore at low tide.

Englishman River Falls

Englishman River Falls, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

As you reach Parksville, you’ll turn onto Highway 4, but there’s a short detour very soon which is very much worth your time: Englishman River Falls Provincial Park and its roaring waterfalls.

There’s a short (1.3 km long) loop trail that runs along the river, crosses two bridges and has great views of the upper and lower waterfall. They are not very large waterfalls, but the sheer power of the water is impressive enough. If you’re tight on time, walk to the upper waterfall only, as it’s the mightier one, and also the one that’s closer to the parking area.

Englishman River Falls Provincial Park, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

In summer you can dip into the swimming hole below the lower waterfall. Don’t expect the water to be pleasant though, it’s ice cold!

Little Qualicum Falls

Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park is among our favorites on Vancouver Island. It’s about a 30 minute drive from Port Alberni, your (possible) overnight stop.

Little Qualicum Falls, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Unlike its name suggests, Little Qualicum Falls is quite big and very powerful, tumbling down into  a dramatic canyon. It’s the mightiest if you visit it in the rainy season – which is any time except July or August. You can reach the waterfall on a 1.5 km loop trail from the day use area. 

The trail is obvious and easy, and there are security fences all around the waterfall area. I recommend hiking further down the river, to another waterfall and a second bridge. You can return to the Little Qualicum Falls day use area on a loop trail on the other side of the rushing river.

Little Qualicum Provincial Park, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park also happens to be one of our favorite places to camp on Vancouver Island. It has a secluded campground shaded by the lush green forest and right by Little Qualicum river.

Cameron Lake

Cameron Lake, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Cameron Lake is right by the road, so it’s worth a quick stop in one of the pullouts at least. It’s one of those typical deep blue lakes, surrounded by pine forests, which look like a postcard of Canada.

If you have the time, the 5.8 km return hike to Wesley Ridge is one of the lesser-known trails and has fabulous views of Cameron Lake. We did this hike, and it was a nice surprise. You have to keep your eyes open for the viewpoints through, as trees block the views on the trail, and you have to find those openings where you can really enjoy the scenery.

Wesley Ridge Trail, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

The parking is just off Highway 4 before Cameron Lake, and the trail starts on the old train tracks.

Wesley Ridge Trail hiking info: 

Cathedral Grove and the Big Tree

Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

You barely start driving when there’s the next stop: Cathedral Grove, just as you left Cameron Lake. Located in MacMillan Provincial Park, the Cathedral Grove features majestic old-growth forest filled with towering Douglas-firs. They are among the oldest trees on Vancouver Island, some of them are 800 years old! Fun fact: scenes for Star Wars VI. Return of the Jedi were filmed here.

The Cathedral Grove has two easy loops on the two sides of Highway 4. They’re obvious to follow and well-maintained, mostly even stroller-friendly (it’s not boardwalk all the way, so better with a sports stroller)

Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

We recommend walking both loops, but if you have to choose one, the path on the south side of the road leads to the Big Tree. This giant has a 30-foot (9-meter) circumference and is the largest tree in Cathedral Grove.


We are almost in Port Alberni, and as you enter, keep your eyes open for the trailhead for the Hole-In-The-Wall. Technically it’s not a waterfall, so let’s call it a unique water feature. It was once an opening for a water pipeline, so a hole was drilled through the rock wall. No pipe is there any more, but the water flows through the hole and into the clear pool below.

If you like quirky attractions, don’t miss the 1.5 km round-trip hike to the Hole-In-The-Wall. It’s a downhill path from Highway 4, with a small, unmarked parking bay on the eastbound side of the highway.

Hole-In-The-Wall, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

However, if you’re looking for stunning waterfalls, we think Englishman River Falls and Little Qaulicum Falls are much more impressive. Hole-In-The-Wall is nice, and it has the potential to be an Insta-star (is it already?), but a professional picture taken from a good angle in the right conditions might make you disappointed when you see the real thing.

Hole-In-The-Wall hiking info: 

Port Alberni

Port Alberni is the last town before Tofino. Spend a night here, or simply stock up on food and gas. Look around in this cute fishing town (yes, it’s a harbour, check the map, it’s located at the end of a very narrow, long bay), and eat in one of the waterfront restaurants of Harbor Quay. Since Port Alberni is proudly holding the title “salmon capital of the world”, maybe choose a dish that includes salmon.

Sproat Lake

Just as you leave Port Alberni, right by the road and surrounded by pristine forests, there’s the crystal clear Sproat Lake. The water here gets warm enough in the summer so that you can enjoy swimming. Or just stop for a lakeshore picnic.

Taylor Arm Provincial Park has undeveloped beaches and two day-use areas by the lakeshore. The shoreline is 320 km long, so you have choices where to stop. The highway runs parallel to the northern lakeshore.

Kennedy Lake

Another stunning roadside lake is Kennedy Lake. It’s the largest body of freshwater on Vancouver Island, and Highway 4 runs alongside the lake for 52 miles. Kennedy Lake Provincial Park is only a short detour from the highway. It has no hiking trails, but you can enjoy the sandy shores and day-use picnic areas. There’s even a boat launch, and you can go canoeing or paddle boarding on the serene lake.

Pacific Rim Nature Reserve

Long Beach, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is just south of Tofino, and it’s one of the most popular stops on a Vancouver to Tofino road trip – for a good reason. It’s a park that amazed us with old-growth giants and endless beaches.

Stop at the Rainforest Trail first. It’s home to some of the oldest forests in Canada: ancient Douglas fir, Sitka spruce and Western red cedar trees. There are two loop trails to explore the area on the two sides of the road (loop A and loop B), partly on raised boardwalks. Each of them is a little over one kilometer in length, and they’re easy enough. But it’s not a flat walk and not stroller-friendly either, because there are stairs and some elevation gain on the way.

Long Beach is only a few minutes drive from the Rainforest Trail. It lives up to its name: this 16 km long sandy beach never gets crowded. Take a walk, climb to one of the rocks for an elevated view, watch the surfers.

You need a national park pass or pay the daily entrance fee to visit Pacific Rim Nature Reserve.

Cox Bay

Cox Bay Lookout, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Our favorite beach near Tofino? Cox Bay. Sign up for a beginner surfing lesson or rent a surfboard, then climb up to the Cox Bay Lookout for the best coastal panorama on Vancouver Island.

The trail up to Cox Bay Lookout  is short, but very steep and slippery, and it also requires some scrambling and navigation skills. Wear proper hiking boots, because the trail is likely extremely muddy, no matter when you visit. But you get a jaw-dropping reward at the end. Here’s our detailed hiking guide to find and complete this trail.

National park pass is not required for Cox Bay, parking is paid.

Arriving to Tofino

Tofino, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Tofino is one of the cutest coastal towns we’ve ever seen, sitting on the shore of a fjord and surrounded by pristine forests. We’ve written a detailed post about all the best things to see and do in Tofino – read it here.

Tofino to Ucluelet road trip

Tofino and Ucluelet are two small coastal towns on the opposite side of the same peninsula, about 40 minutes drive from each other. Once you’re in Tofino, it’s worth visiting Ucluelet, as well.

The highlight in Ucluelet is the Wild Pacific Trail. It runs along the rugged coastline, offering breathtaking views from several rocky viewpoints. The most scenic section of the Wild Pacific Trail is the 2.6 km Lighthouse Loop

If you have more time, another portion of the Wild Pacific Trail goes between Brown’s Beach and Rocky Bluff. It’s 8 km there and back, with coastal views and dense coastal rainforest. See a detailed trail map of the Wild Pacific Trail here.

Don’t get lost on the backroads of Vancouver Island!

As we learned from our own mistakes, relying on Google Maps and other online maps in British Columbia is risky, especially when driving on the back roads. They don’t have accurate information. What to use then not to get lost?

The Backroad Mapbooks has a great outdoor recreation guidebook series about Canada, with waterproof maps, GPS maps and a smartphone app. Their Vancouver Island edition comes very handy for traveling extensively on this large island.

How many days do you need for a Vancouver to Tofino road trip?

Cameron Lake, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

First of all, nature lovers can spend limitless time on Vancouver Island and will never get bored of Tofino. But most of you don’t have limitless time, so let’s see the minimum. I think you need at least 3-4 days to drive to Tofino from Vancouver, including most stops mentioned in this post and also spending a day or two exploring the Tofino area. If you’d like to spend longer time hiking, kayaking or surfing, add a few more days.

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