Our guide to winter road trips around Vancouver Island

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Imagine what you love most about B.C.

whale-watching-vancouver-island
Photo: Jeremy Koreski

So, what do you see? Forests and beaches? Cresting waves and twinkling constellations? Maybe fresh seafood and hand painted signage? If you’re looking for an adventure that can bring you closer to all the wild and wonderful things that make B.C. awesome, then it’s time to pack the car and head to the ferry.

Winter on Vancouver Island is when our province blooms into its authentic self. With fewer crowds, more affordable accommodations and peak whale and storm watching, it’s truly the perfect time to experience B.C. at its best.

If you’re new to the Island, or simply don’t know where to explore first, check out our Vancouver Island winter road trip guide below. Happy wandering!

Nanaimo, B.C. – 2hr 41min from Vancouver (82km)

Nanaimo
Photo: Mike Anderson

Your journey begins just across the Strait of Georgia in Nanaimo, a community centrally located along the east coast of Vancouver Island.

With something to do in every direction – from harbour walks to waterfall hikes, mountain climbs to ocean swims, and from the richness of their homegrown beer, Nanaimo is an exciting and convenient homebase for your island adventure.

Top Nanaimo activities include:

– Snorkeling with the Seals from Snake Island
– Searching for hidden dinosaurs along Cable Bay Trail
– Meeting a cultural guide on Saysutshun, Newcastle Island, to learn about our first people and the historical significance of this traditional land
– Dining at Canada’s only floating Pub – the Dinghy Dock Pub on Protection Island

Ferry service is how most people choose to arrive in Nanaimo, but flying through the Nanaimo airport offers faster service and the convenience of picking up and dropping off a rental vehicle at your leisure. Air Canada and WestJet now offer service to Nanaimo throughout Western Canada.

Parksville Qualicum Beach, B.C. – 30min from Nanaimo (38km)

Parksville
Qualicum Beach B.C.

Parksville Qualicum Beach is the perfect place for Vancouverites to unwind. A winter visit includes oceanfront accommodations, world-class spas and incredible natural attractions that can be enjoyed without any crowds.

Top Parksville Qualicum Beach activities include:

– Walking through the UNESCO Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region’s Amazing Places sites
– Going underground in Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park
– The top-rated spa in Canada, Grotto Spa at Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort & Conference Centre
– Finding handcrafted glass art hidden on the beach with Tidal Treasures

Ucluelet, B.C. – 2hr 11min from Parksville (147km)

storm-watching-vancouver island
Photo: Jeremy Koreski

Known for its serene beaches and powerful Pacific storms, frequent visitors know Ucluelet as a friendly, laid back fishing village with stunning trails that weave right through rainforests, coastlines and first-rate amenities.

Top Ucluelet activities include:

– Traversing ancient forests along the Wild Pacific Trail
– Exploring coves with Majestic Ocean Kayaking
– Enjoying harbour views at Waters Edge Shoreside Suites
– Fresh Island oysters and seafood at Raven Lady Sculpture food truck

Tofino, B.C. – 38min from Ucluelet (40km)

hot-springs, tofino
Photo: Jeremy Koreski

Dramatic skies, vast, sandy beaches, a range of accommodations, and natural beauty so awe-inspiring, your heart might skip a beat. With smaller crowds and extraordinary activities, including the early start of the whale watching season, winter in Tofino is truly an experience worth daydreaming about.

Top Tofino activities include:

– Storm watching at the Wickaninnish Inn
– Spotting grey whales, orcas and other marine wildlife
– Oceanside walk (or run) on Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
Day trip to Hot Springs Cove at Maquinna Provincial Park
– Enjoy farm-to-table cuisine at SHELTER Restaurant

Hop in the car, get on the ferry or fly-in through the Nanaimo airport and see just what you’ve been missing. Whether you’re seeking adventure or are simply looking to unwind, winter on Vancouver Island is simply the best way to experience what we love most about B.C.