It can be easy to forget that Vancouver actually isn’t on the ocean. Many Vancouverites, myself included, refer to the beaches in Vancouver as on the ocean, but it really isn’t. There’s a whole island in the way!
The drive from Vancouver to Tofino is a long one and I can understand why many don’t make the trek across from Vancouver or up the island when visiting Victoria. It starts with a ferry ride. 90 minutes of gentle sway and rocking of a ferry boat.
Being a long weekend, C and I were up before the sun to line up for the ferry. We had debated whether or not we should have booked a reservation. In the end, we didn’t have one and had to wait one sailing. The nearby town of Horseshoe Bay has a number of coffee shops and restaurants that you can explore while you wait.
It’s hard to think that I would regularly make this journey across from Vancouver to Vancouver Island every month or so when I was going to school. For most, riding a ferry is a novelty, but all its appeal has been lost on me after one too many journeys.
Once on the other side, you arrive in the charming city of Nanaimo, home of the famous Nanaimo Bar. There’s even a Nanaimo Bar trail, but that will just have to wait for another trip to the island. Instead, we hit the road and start on the 3 hour journey to Tofino.
A part of what makes a road trip so fun are the stops along the way and the random things you can stop and check out. Here are some highlights of things to do on the way to Tofino from Vancouver:
The Old Country Market, Coombs
Start and end the journey on a sweet note by stopping at the Old Country Market in Coombs for a scoop or two of ice cream. I remember spotting this the first time I went to Tofino from the road and seeing goats on the roof. Since then the highway has been diverted and you don’t actually drive by the market unless you make a point to go and it’s definitely worth it. There were no goats on the roof either, only spotting one in the back in their huge yard.
There’s a huge selection of ice cream and I had a tough time picking what I wanted. In the end, C and I grabbed a scoop of salted caramel and red velvet. I’ve never had red velvet ice cream before which is why I picked it. It was surprisingly yummy and tasted exactly like the cake.
A market and a few other shops round out the area making it a great place to stop and stretch your legs. There’s also a restaurant if you’re after a more substantial meal.
MacMillian Provincial Park
Did you know British Columbia is home to old growth trees? MacMillian Provincial Park is home to a section of ancient Douglas fir trees, affectionately known as Cathedral Grove. The driving route takes your right to the trees. Just off the highway are trails that lead visitors through giant Douglas fir trees. To the south is the largest tree in the area, stretching more than 9 metres in circumference. To the north, you can spot groves of Western red cedar.
The best part of stopping here is getting to take in all the giants around you. Trees that have been there long before us and likely will be here long after us. Many of them are over 800 years old and attempting to wrap your arms around one is a very stark reminder of its age.
While there are trails, I found them to be extremely muddy so be prepared with proper footwear. Granted it was spring and it had been raining on and off, but I can’t imagine the trails getting all that more clearer during the summer months under the thick cover of trees.
Much to our surprise and amusement, midway through our drive we started encountering snow. There was a thin layer on the ground and more was falling from the sky. It was the start of April and while we were at a higher elevation, it still seemed baffling. On the way back, it was a snow free journey and if it weren’t for these photos I snapped I would think that I had imagined it.
A lot of the drive hugs various lakes. My favourite of them all was Lake Kennedy which seemed to stretch on endlessly. There are plenty of pullouts and picnic areas that you’re able to stop for a rest or food break.
Pacific Rim National Park
You know you’re getting close to Tofino when you start the drive through Pacific Rim National Park. The visitor’s centre marks the fork where if you head south you go to Ucluelet and north brings you to Tofino. Throughout the park are trails of varying difficulties and the park runs along the water making for stunning beaches! I’ll have more photos and stories about the park later.
Before long you’re coming up on the outskirts of Tofino. The drive itself is very straight forward with little to confuse you. Stopping along the way to take in the stunning beauty definitely makes the trip a lot more enjoyable.