Vancouver Island’s rugged west coast and pristine beaches are part of what draw visitors to road trip from Vancouver to Tofino. What awaits is one of Canada’s best road trips, starting with views aboard BC Ferries, a drive past lakes, over mountains, and through old-growth forests. This kind of trip is 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.
Planning this trip to Tofino in the Future? Pin this post for later!
From Vancouver to Tofino Essential Information
There is only one main road that takes visitors 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 from Vancouver, you will want to plan your departure, arrival and stops along the way.
You will also want to book your hotel or Tofino AirBNB well 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, Driving from Vancouver, taking the ferry to Nanaimo and then road-tripping the three-hour drive to Tofino is a much more popular option.
Where to Stay in Tofino
Tofino has fabulous resorts and small boutique hotels.
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 harbourside.
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.
From Vancouver to Tofino: Part 1 – BC Ferries
Tofino is on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and the most popular way is to drive from Vancouver to Tofino. It is a full day, taking into account arriving early for the ferry, taking the ferry, and then then drive across the Island.
The first thing you are going to want to know is that you have two ferry options. The first is Horseshoe Bay (in North Vancouver) to Departure Bay (more North in Nanaimo and will save you some driving time) or Tsawwassen to Duke Point (More southern terminal in Nanaimo and about 20 minutes longer driving time).
I highly suggest a reservation on the ferry. This will cut down on possible waits. When you have a ferry reservation, you need to arrive 30-60 minutes in advance.
Option 1: Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal
The Horseshoe Bay Terminal is about 25 minutes from downtown Vancouver. The ferry sailing is 1 hour and 40 minutes and on peak days, there can be 10 ferries per day!
Option 2: Tsawwassen to Duke Point
Tsawwassen ferry terminal operates about 8 ferries per day to Nanaimo on busy days. The ferry sailing is 2 hours.
It makes the most sense to take Option 1 and go from Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay, but you do also have the option to get to Nanaimo using Tsawassen to Duke Point Terminals.
From Vancouver to Tofino: Part 2 – Drive Across the Island
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 treacherous 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!
The total drive is a little under 3 hours without stopping.
If you want to know all of the best places to stop, check out this post on stops along the road from Nanaimo to Tofino.
What to Pack for Your Vancouver to Tofino Trip
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 so you do not forget anything when you are planning your trip. You can find it in this What to wear in Tofino post.
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!
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 doctor’s 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
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.
Lindsay Nieminen is the creator of UncoveringBC.com. She grew up and still lives in the suburbs of Vancouver with her family. She aims to inspire inform, and educate others about traveling in her home province of British Columbia. She is also the creator of carpediemourway.com which aims to show parents how to seek out adventure at home or abroad, with their children in tow!