It’s an alluring destination, yet for some reason, the thirty-odd nautical miles of water separating mainland BC from Vancouver Island poses a perceived logistical nightmare for travelers. The keyword here is perceived. Although it can be a bit of a headache on busy summer days, with just a bit of planning, or at least a good book, the trip can be painless and worth the price. Here’s your inside scoop on exploring Vancouver Island, BC road trip style.

Vancouver Island is diverse. Millions flock to the West Coast of the Island every summer to experience Tofino, Ucluelet & the Pacific Rim National Park. While prime for experiencing PNW surf culture there is so much more to the Island to experience in a single weekend that will keep you out of the masses. Before you even set sail, be sure to set yourself up for success by reserving a ferry ahead of time. Another sure way to enjoy your trip? Pack your Après Lager in a cool place so it’s ready for you when you’ve earned your first proper après. Show up 30 minutes before departure, and then kick back on the big boat as it takes you to a place that offers amazing variety and adventure too.

Nothing beats a beach bonfire after a big day exploring Vancouver Island. photo by Abby Cooper

Port Renfrew & Jordan River

There’s a whole lot of the West Coast to explore. While much of it is wild and untouched, the southern reaches of the Coast are a quick drive from Victoria or accessed via backroads from the mid-Island. The scenic route is recommended, by driving the Pacific Marine Road towards Port Renfrew and Jordan River. An adventurous diversion on the way there is a float of the San Juan River, an incredible way to quickly lose any reference to the outside world and get a taste of the wildness Vancouver Island has to offer.

Sombrio Beach, the quiet surf was on. Photo by Abby Cooper

Another highlight of this area is the incredible stretch of coastline running from Port Renfrew to Jordan River. This coast is connected via the Juan de Fuca trail, a 47km long hike that rambles along desolate beaches and through tangled forest. There are also access points along the trail that serve as ways to experience this coastline without the hassle of lugging a heavy multi-day backpacking set-up. Sombrio Beach is one of these locations, serving up some of the best surfing Vancouver Island has to offer, in a spectacular setting.

Westcoast Cottage, serious glamping! Photo by Joe Schwartz

Balancing out this wildness are more civilized attractions, including cozy accommodations, quality restaurants, and places like the Sheringham Distillery, which offers tours and tastings on the weekends. The modern, clean, minimalistic design of the West Coast Cottage in Jordan River feels at odds with the towering trees surrounding the cabin, but it all comes together perfectly when cozy in bed listening to the wind in the forest, or sipping a warm coffee on the patio as the morning sun filters through the branches above. Just minutes from the cabin are a few options to eat, including amazing breakfast and lunch sandwiches at the Cold Shoulder Café, woodfired pizza at Stoked Pizzeria, and one of the most incredible dining room ocean views, complete with a tasty alcoholic drink or two and classy cuisine at the Point No Point Resort (including binoculars on each table for dinner time whale watching).

Cowichan Valley

Exploring the East side of the Island offers the chance to experience a very different vibe, albeit one that’s still close to sea level. The Cowichan Valley is one of those spots, don’t miss experiencing its flavor on your island road trip! A broad, fertile valley guarded by forested hills, this area is more BC Interior farmland than Coastal destination. A quick detour onto the backroads will have one passing by vineyards, cows grazing, and lush farmland. It’s pretty easy to forget that the ocean is mere kilometers away. These farms can be experienced first-hand at the weekly Duncan Farmer’s Market. Freshly picked produce, art, baked goods and more, all served up by the quirky characters that make this valley home.

Cowichan Valley, off the grid livin’ Photo by Joe Schwartz

The rural approach to life around here is exemplified by the Stoltz Bluff Eco Retreat. An off the grid, solar powered vacation property, this environmentally-conscious home features sustainable architecture and a warm, welcoming vibe. Equal parts castle in the sky and hippy hideaway, the luxurious home is perched on the namesake Stoltz Bluffs, overlooking Cowichan River Provincial Park.

Rock roll on Maple Syrup, Maple Mountain. Photo by Joe Schwartz

In the surrounding hills, a world-class mountain bike scene is quietly taking form. Maple Mountain, Mount Tzouhalem, and Mount Provost all boast incredible riding, from World Cup DH level jump-filled gnar on Provost to exceptionally crafted climbing trails on Maple. The near sea level altitudes make the riding available year-round, for those that have had enough of the snow at higher elevations.

Tofino and Ucluelet

Probably the most frequented spot on Vancouver Island by adventurous loving folks like you and me, this Vancouver Island BC road trip destination is a household name for a reason. More than a handful of beaches ripe for surfing line the Pacific Rim National Park that spans the distance between Ucluelet and Tofino. Adventurous hikes lie in the thick west coast jungle that usually ends with a beach reward such as Schooners Cove, Schooner Cove, Radar Hill, and Willowbrae Trail. Local artisans and one of a kind restaurants make up each surf community and are well worth the stroll. Don’t miss an afternoon at Kennedy Lake Provincial Park while driving to or from this destination on your Vancouver Island BC road trip.

Après Surf Sauna. Photo Abby Cooper

In “normal” Après Lager fashion, the media crew took a sauna to Tofino on a Vancouver Island road trip of there own. The video will give you a taste of what Tofino is like and probably a little bit of fomo too. Watch the Après Surf Sauna video here. 

Island Life

Only a sample of the variety Vancouver Island has to offer, these worthwhile destinations are just a few hours from the mainland. After exploring these areas, the real issue with the ferry isn’t the lineup or the cost, but rather that you won’t want to get back onto it to return to your “real life” and have your Vancouver Island road trip officially come to an end. From ocean activities to exploring lesser-known routes in the remote mountains, there are a plethora of ways on the Island to “Earn Your Apres,” so don’t forget to pack that Après Lager.

For more info on glamping in BC, check out this article. If you’re planning an adventure anywhere in the world, and want to inject a bit of “glamp-life” into your trip, look no further than, if not just for some amazing treehouse and other alternative accommodation inspo. Or if you’re keeping it to Whistler – message us, our team has you covered!

Brittia Thompson