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Drive Nanaimo to Tofino | Road Trip Tips & Essential Stops

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Vancouver Island’s rugged west coast and pristine beaches are part of what draw visitors to road trip from Nanaimo to Tofino. What awaits is one of Canada’s best road trips, a drive past lakes, over mountains, and through old-growth forests, not seen in much of the rest of British Columbia.

But Tofino is still a hidden gem for even many Canadians, and now is the perfect time to explore this natural paradise on Canada’s west coast. While first timer’s to British Columbia visit Vancouver, Whistler and Victoria, Tofino is another of the top places in BC to visit.

There is only one main road that takes visitors from Nanaimo to Tofino, and a road trip is the most popular way to get to Tofino. While summer is traditionally Tofino’s high season, this rugged part of Canada see’s storm watchers venture to the coast to watch the full power of the Pacific Ocean hitting land.

2020 and 2021 has brought an extended high season to many tourist destinations in British Columbia. Tofino has been no exception and is currently experiencing summer-like conditions on its shoulder season.

With that being said, when planning your Tofino road trip, whether you are departing from Vancouver, or Victoria, or Nanaimo, you will want to plan your departure, arrival and stops along the way.

You will also want to book your hotel or Tofino AirBNB in advance. While there are hundreds of properties, they actually ALL sell out in high season.

There are other ways to get to Tofino, you can fly into the airport and also arrive by floatplane, but due to the marine fog that rolls in and off the coast, flights can often be canceled, leaving disappointed vacationers. Because of this, taking the ferry to Nanaimo and then road-tripping the three-hour drive to Tofino is a much more popular option.

Tofino - Cox Bay Beach

From Nanaimo to Tofino: Vancouver Island’s Best Road Trip

Since you are searching for information on getting from Nanaimo to Tofino, I am going to skip the lengthy BC ferries information and assume you already have plans to get to Vancouver Island.

If you are coming from Vancouver to Tofino, you are going to want to have a read of my post about getting from Vancouver to Tofino, as you have the ferries to contend with. Do not make the mistake of going to the wrong Vancouver ferry terminal (it happens more than people want to admit)

So you are in Nanaimo, or getting to Nanaimo or are comfortable getting there! Great, now onto the roadtrip to Tofino.

How to Get from Nanaimo to Tofino

As I alluded to above, there is only one main road that goes to Tofino. It involves climbing mountains, passing through old growth forests and curving around lakes. It is a beautiful drive in good weather, but it can be treaturous in snowy conditions.

If you are visiting from Fall to Spring, ensure you have snow tires or all season tires into order to be prepared for Sutton Pass on Vancouver Island.

From Nanaimo, you are going to take the Island Highway (Hwy 19) Northbound towards Campbell River. You will go past Parksville and almost to Qualicum Beach.

Take EXIT 60 towards Port Alberni and you are now on HWY BC-4

Follow HWY 4 past Coombs, MacMillan Provincial Park (home to 800 year old trees), Sutton Pass (your chance for snow in winter conditions), through Port Alberni, and when you almost reach the other side of the Island, the highway will make a right to continue to Tofino. (Left will take you to Ucluelet, another great place to stay, and a bit more low key than Tofino. Check out places to stay)

After you have turned right on HWY4 you will travel through Pacific Rim National Park for about 30 minutes to Tofino!

Tofino - Sunset at the beach.

Where to Stop on your Nanaimo to Tofino Road Trip

Little Qualicum Falls

Often overlooked because it is a bit out of the way, Little Qualicum falls is the perfect stop for those who are not in a rush. The path to the falls is well maintained and family-friendly. It offers spectacular scenery and one of the best waterfalls on Vancouver Island

Coombs and Goats on the Roof

This little gem is less than an hour from Nanaimo and the Old Country Market is known for its “goats on the roof.” If you ask anyone from British Columbia, they know about the goats on the roof in Coombs.

Make sure you try some Ice Cream and get yourself some locally made treats

Cathedral Grove

In MacMillan Provincial Park you will literally drive through amazing old growth forest right on the highway. If you stop at Cathedral grove, you will find a small parking area and a trail that takes about 30 minutes to see some of the oldest trees in British Columbia.

Port Alberni

Port Alberni is known as a pit stop when crossing the Island, but it is underrated for sure. For budget conscous travelers, this is a great base to visit both the West Coast and the East Coast of Vancouver Island on day trips.

For photo enthusiasts, a stop and visit to Port Alberni’s “Hole in the Wall” is a must do! It offers a waterfall with a unique backdrop that you will not find anywhere else!

Sprout Lake

Pull over at Sprout lake, if only for a chance to take a good look and a few photos.

Ucluelet

As I mentioned above, once you are across the island, HWY 4 will come to a T. Left will bring you into Ucluelet and Right will take you into Tofino. Both are great places to visit.

Ucluelet offers the Wild Pacific Trail. Consider the ancient cedars loop before you head to your final stop in Tofino. It is also a great spot to stop and spend the night. Then you can drive from Ucluelet to Tofino the next day (or even stay for two!)

What to Pack for Tofino

A waterproof jacket is always a good idea when visiting the west coast of Canada, and especially Tofino. The marine fog can roll in and Tofino is literally surrounded by water and rainforest, it is always quite damp in this part of Vancouver Island.

I have a whole packing list to make sure you do not forget anything when you are planning and packing for your trip. You can read it in my what to pack for Tofino post.

Where to Stay in Tofino

Tofino has fabulous resorts and small boutique hotels.

MIDRANGE: 

Duffin Cove Resort Duffin Cove is newly renovated and is right in Tofino. They have a few A frame cabins right on the water that you can book as well. The nice thing about staying here is that you can leave your car and walk into town. Parking can be busy in town in high season. 

Hotel Zed Tofino Hotel Zed is right off the highway and less than 500m from Chesterman Beach. It is 1.1 km from Mackenzie Beach. Your stay includes free parking and there is a restaurant on site. Hotel Zed is known for its eclectic styled accommodations. You cannot miss it! Pets are welcome at Hotel Zed.

Shoreline Tofino Shoreline Tofino offers a rustic feel with A Frame loft style cabins. it is close to the downtown core of Tofino and on the harbour side.

LUXURY:

Pacific Sands Beach Resort Pacific Sands is the epitome of luxury. Featuring townhouse style accommodations and jetted tubs with a view, few other properties can walk right out to Cox Bay beach! Depending on your accommodation type, you can have a full kitchen and multiple bedrooms. If storm watching or walking the sandy beaches are your thing, choose Pacific Sands! It is perfect for families and getaways with friends!

Long Beach Lodge Resort Long Beach lodge features oceanfront rooms as well as cabins with hot tubs. There are surfing rentals and lessons right on site. It is situated on Cox Bay beach

If you are looking for an AirBNB I have a post on the best AirBNB’s in Tofino for you to have a read.

Where to Eat In Tofino

Tacofino is a popular choice, and for good reason.

Wolf in the Fog is always busy. It is probably the most well known place in Tofino

Chocolate Tofino Do not miss this gem for ice cream and locally made chocolate. Try the lavander ice cream and chocolates for a unique and satisfying flavor.

Popular Things to do in Tofino

Surfing – If it is your first time on a surfboard, I highly suggest taking a lesson! It can make all the difference in your day!

Fishing – Want to experience salmon or halibut fishing? Consider a fishing daytrip in Tofino!

Boat Tours – If you are not a serious fisherman, how about a day on the water with some fishing, crabbing and sightseeing? choose a Tofino boat tour!

FAQ on Getting from Nanaimo to Tofino

Is there a bus from Nanaimo to Tofino

Yes. The Nanaimo to Tofino bus actually originates in Victoria and has 5 Nanaimo pickup points. There is one bus per day that picks up in Nanaimo to take guests to Tofino.
Pickup is as follows.
YCD Cassidy Airport 11:30
Port Place Mall 11:45
Departure Bay Bus Depot 12:30
Woodgrove 12:45
The bus arrives into Tofino as follows
Long Beach at AIrport Road 15:50
Tourism Tofino 16:00
Pacific Rim Hwy at Lynn Road 16:05
Otter Coop Parking Lot (in downtown Tofino) 16:20
Visit Vancouver Island Connector for more details

What is the distance from Parksville to Tofino

Parksville to Tofino is about 20 minutes shorter than driving from Nanaimo to Tofino. It is about 2.5 hours. It is 172 kilometers

 

Resources for Visiting Canada

Travel Insurance for Canada

There are a few other things to think about when it comes to international travel. The first thing is travel insurance. Whether it is an emergency room visit for something as simple as strep throat, or an emergency appendix surgery, or an unfortunate moped incident things do go wrong when people travel everyday. Canada is a very expensive country for medical care and a doctors visit in an Emergency Room is over $800 to just see the doctor. 

I highly suggest travel insurance and a good policy. I personally never travel without it, and I even checked into my policy about care for my children if I am ever in an accident or hospitalized. There are just too many things to think about. 

You can find out more information and buy your travel insurance here. 

Renting a Car in British Columbia

Renting a Car in British Columbia

Rental Cars are very popular in British Columbia. There is just so much to see and there is not a train or bus network outside of Metro Vancouver or Victoria. If you plan on leaving Vancouver and want to see even the local ski hills, I suggest a rental car. You can get a rental car before you arrive.

Nanaimo to Tofino Drive Guide.

Header Image Credit: Destination BC / Johan Lolos

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