Here is a list of things to do on Vancouver Island. I recommend you hire a car in Victoria and explore these points of interest independently at your own pace. What’s more, you’ll have the freedom to visit the several top Instagram spots I share below. For car hire on your trip I recommend you organize it in advance for the best deal. However, to give you the full freedom on your road trip, book the hotels as you go, simply perform the closest hotels to your location search.
First and foremost, you must spend a couple of days in Victoria. Whether you arrive by plane or boat from Vancouver, Victoria will be your first port of call. The iconic Victoria landmark is the Parliament Building. However, when you explore Victoria you’ll discovery many stunning buildings including the Instagram worthy Craigdarroch Castle. Fan Tan Alley is another must see Victoria destination.
Hire a Car to Explore Vancouver Island
Beacon Hill Park
A short walk from downtown Victoria is Beacon Hill Park. On a clear day Beacon Hill Park offers stunning views over the water to the USA and Olympic National Park.
Simply put, Butchart Gardens are some of the best kept gardens you’ll ever see. As a matter of fact, these gardens have influences from all over the world including, Japan, Italy and the Mediterranean. What’s more, there’s a well kept Rose Garden. If a visit to Butchart Gardens doesn’t fill your Instagram feed then consider the nearby Butterfly Gardens.
Sooke Potholes Provincial Park
One of the first stops when you leave Victoria is the town of Sooke as well as the Sooke Potholes Provincial Park. If you like wild swimming in quiet locations with waterfalls then you must not miss this beauty spot. However, as you head further north on Vancouver Island you’ll discover much more beautiful waterfalls.
Pacific Marine Road
When you have your own hire car you have the freedom to enjoy the beautiful scenery along the Pacific Marine Road. You can join it by taking the Highway 14 west from Victoria. Alternatively, take highway 1 and 18 west to Mesachie Lake and join it there. Even before you arrive at the Pacific Marine Road you’ll be tempted to stop at many beauty spots. Relax, take you time and enjoy Vancouver Island.
There are several stunning locations to stop at as you drive around the Pacific Marine Road. For me, the most beautiful stop is Fairy Lake. More specifically, the Fairy Lake Bonsai Tree. Photographers will be in awe at this little tree in the middle of the lake. Unfortunately, it was a little windy when above therefore the lake was not reflecting the tree. Visit on a calm day and you’ll have a perfect reflection of this tree. Visit early morning and there may be a moody mist surrounding it.
Hire a Car to Explore Vancouver Island
Nanaimo is the most visited city on Vancouver Island outside of Victoria. Moreover, it’s a good place to stay over a few nights as you explore the many beauty spots which surround it. It’s easy to get to and connected to Victoria by Highway 1.
Stocking Creek Waterfall
I mentioned you can take Highway 1 from Victoria to Nanaimo. However, you must stop on route at Stocking Creek Park. Not only can you take one of the nature trails through this area of natural beauty but you can also visit the top Instagram spot, Stocking Creek Waterfall.
Westwood Lake is located on the outskirts of Nanaimo. Park up and walk the 6 km Westwood Lake Trail which circumnavigates the water. The combination of water, woodland and hillside makes this a wildlife hotspot.
Climb Mount Benson for panoramic views of Nanaimo, Westwood Lake, Gabriola Island and the Strait of Georgia. You can start the Mount Benson walk from Westwood Lake. However, if you drive a little further to Witchcraft Lake it’s a little shorter from there. Just an 8 km round trip hike to the summit and back. How high is Mount Benson? Just over 1000 meters therefore not so tough but choose a clear day to visit.
Benson Creek Falls Regional Park is a must visit. Not only will you walk through stunning woodland areas but you’ll visit one of the most beautiful waterfalls on the island, Ammonite Falls. If you are into Instagram photography, you can jump into the water and you can pose in front of the falls. I recommend you visit early if you want to do this when there are no other tourists.
Englishman River Falls
Englishman River Falls are some of the the most active falls on Vancouver Island. There’s a popular swimming area at the bottom. What’s more, it’s not uncommon to see people cliff diving! Lastly, Englishman River Falls Provincial Park is a 40 minute drive north from Nanaimo.
Little Qualicum Falls
The star of Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park is of course the stunning waterfalls. Additionally, there are a lot of woodland areas to explore. Do you like swimming in crystal clear waters? As you explore this area you may find a nice piece of paradise all for yourself. Not far from Englishman River Falls, Little Qualicum Falls are a 40 minute drive north of Nanaimo.
Cathedral Grove is home to woodland which surrounds Cameron Lake. Here you’ll find Douglas fir trees which are over 800 years old. These photogenic trees are often over 70 meters tall with a 9 meter circumference.
Why visit Port Alberni? Firstly, it’s a friendly town with a picturesque harbor and mountain backdrop. Secondly, there are several beauty spots a short drive away. Port Alberni is just over an hours drive from Nanaimo.
Hole in the Wall
For me, Hole in the Wall is perhaps the most beautiful location on Vancouver Island. It’s certainly a top Instagram spot. Nature has created a wonder here with turquoise water, a waterfall as well as the unique hole in the wall. Here is the exact location.
Stamp River Fish Ladder
Have you ever seen salmon jumping up a river, even up waterfalls? It’s an amazing sight to see these huge fish defy gravity and jump up waterfalls. One place which guarantees salmon sightings is the Stamp River Provincial Park which is a 20 minute drive north from Port Alberni.
Sprout Lake is a stunning location which also features a beautiful beach. Because of its warm waters, swimming is a popular activity here. On a calm day photographers will be in awe at the views reflecting in the water, especially at sunset. Finally, on a windy day you’ll see lots of windsurfers out here.
Pacific Rim Highway
Continue from Port Alberni to Tofino and you’ll be traveling on the Pacific Rim Highway. Just the name of the road itself entices you to drive it! Mountains, woodland and sea views surrounding the road make this one of the most beautiful road trips in Canada.
Tofino is the town at the end of the Pacific Rim Highway. I can’t think of a better place to enjoy a sunset than over the Pacific Ocean after a lovely drive. The next day you can explore the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve which is full of beautiful nature and history.
Enjoy your Vancouver Island Road Trip
There’s a lot of beauty to explore on Vancouver Island therefore allow yourself as much time as possible and take your time. I’ve only covered a small part of the Island therefore if you have time explore more options further north. Most importantly, enjoy and a reminder that hiring your own car gives you freedom to see everything you want at your own pace.
Read about the Vancouver Landmarks and how to take an Alaska Cruise from there.