Often referred to as one of the best Canadian road trips Vancouver to Tofino takes around 6 hours of driving. But driving out of Vancouver may not be the best use of your time. We opted in taking the BC Ferry to Nanaimo and driving the distance (now only 3 hours) from there. This route is filled with various memorable stops and scenic points so it would be safe to add a couple of hours to the bare driving distance.
This blog post uses affiliate links denoted by ( * ).
Read the disclaimer about affiliate links & PR gifting here.
The ferry leaves from Horseshoe Bay where you can get to by bus from Downtown Vancouver (about an hour). The ferry ride takes around 1 hour and 40 minutes and is one of the most scenic ferry rides on that side of BC.
Tip: bring food with you, though there is a restaurant on the ferry the food is not the best and the line is outrageous. It also gets quite windy on the ferry if you are on the top floor enjoying the open view so a windbreaker comes in handy.
Nanaimo is a small and charming town and the birthplace of you guessed it – Nanaimo Bar. It is also a great place to spend the night and get breakfast in the morning before heading out. Being a small town it does not offer much when it comes to dining out past 8 pm so we opted in dining at our hotel, Coast Bastion Hotel*. Recently renovated and home to award-winning Nanaimo cheesecake the hotel and its restaurant ended up being a wonderful place to spend the night. I would also strongly recommend taking a walk around town before taking off, Nanaimo center offers a nice selection of small shops, chocolatiers, restaurants, and a lovely walk along the pier.
Tip: 2 Chefs Affair is a great place for brunch. The cafe itself is quite small but has a wonderful sidewalk patio and a great, tasty menu.
The journey from Nanaimo to Tofino is down the Pacific Rim Highway (BC Highway 4), along the way, you’ll come across a variety of scenic lookouts but the first big stop is the Coombs Country Market where you can pick up local souvenirs, grab some food, see Goats on the Roof and buy just about anything and more than likely lose track of time.
On the trip, you will drive by Cameron Lake, the giant trees at Cathedral Grove, and closer to your final destination Clayoquot Plateau Provincial Park where you can hike across the rocks and take a peak at the crystal clear waterfall below.
Tofino is a very popular destination and all reservations need to be made well ahead of time. The weather there is very finicky and hard to predict so with those advance reservations you gamble on the weather and might very likely have to enjoy the ocean beaches during some level of a rainstorm. The surfing tourism crowd does not seem to be too concerned about the cold and neither should you. Driving around the area you will be able to visit plenty of beaches and an Ocean Village and witness some spectacular views no matter the weather. There is also a great Rainforest Trail near so a raincoat* and rain boots* are a necessity. I was not prepared for this and ended up purchasing quick fixes at a local gift shop, which was not ideal.
This small town is also home to some amazing chefs. While there are a lot of local staples on the dining scene we opted for the trendy restaurants during our two-night stay: Kuma Japanese and Wolf in the Fog (requires ahead-of-time reservations) both of which were absolutely fantastic. Nightlife as such is nearly non-existent in Tofino. There is one pub that stays open past 10 pm where you can find live music and pretty much everyone who is looking for a nightcap. The name of it escapes me but ask anyone, they’ll know.
The drive back is an adventure just as much giving you an opportunity to drop into Ucluelet and explore scenic points you may have missed on the way there. All in all a memorable few days to spend on the road!
Side note: I went on this trip with only an iPhone so apologies for the grainy photos, more of those however can be found on Instagram under the #XOTofino hashtag.