Western Washington Vacation Guide - Southwest British Columbia

Northwesterners know the real beauty of southwest British Columbia. Travelers in this area often pop across the border for short sojourns to Vancouver, or slip aboard ferries to Victoria. But the southwest corner of B.C. encompasses more than just grand metropolitan areas, it also has sun-toasted island beaches, vast tracks of forestland, and fierce but picturesque snowcapped mountains. Beauty of every kind meshes here and creates a year-round scenic playground. Bring a loved one. Bring the kids. Call your best friend and plan a road trip. Come taste the wine, ski the mountains, and visit some of the world’s most famous landmarks, but bring this guide with you and discover that there truly is something for everyone.

Before you begin
This recreational paradise is so close that sometimes we forget Canada is a different country. Some things may look foreign to you. For instance, Canadians use the metric system. You’ll need to remember the difference in terms of distances on maps, speed limits, and buying gas. An easy conversion to remember is that 10 kilometers equal 6 miles, and 10 liters equal 2.6 gallons.

Watch for Visitor Info Centres. Centers provide information and town guides that come in handy while you travel in the area.

Very important to note, citizens or permanent  residents of the United States usually can cross the border into Canada without difficulty; however, carry proof of citizenship, such as a passport or birth or naturalization certificate. Starting in 2007, travelers may be required to carry a passport to enter and exit Canada. Check with the U.S. Department of State for requirements (877-487-2778; http://travel.state.gov/travel). For more information on traveling in B.C., contact Super Natural British Columbia (800-HELLO-BC; www.HelloBC.com).

Ferries in Western Washington
THE TWO MAN-MADE symbols that represent Western Washington in most people’s minds are the Space Needle rising over Seattle and the ferries plying the waters of Puget Sound.

adToday’s ferry system, the largest in the United States, represents a vital network for the local economy and is a major tourist attraction.

There are four non-stop crossings of Puget Sound. From Colman Dock in Seattle, ferries cross to Bremerton and Bainbridge Island. The more northerly routes are Edmonds to Kingston and Whidbey Island to Port Townsend. You can either leave Whidbey Island by car over the Deception Pass bridge or by another ferry from Clinton to Mukilteo. Vashon Island is the most populated place entirely dependent on the ferries. The north end of the island is linked to Southworth, east of Port Orchard, and to Fauntleroy, a neighborhood of southwest Seattle. The south end connects to Tacoma via the shortest route (1.7miles) in the system.

The ferry system only collects passenger fares westbound on most routes. Exceptions are the Port Townsend to Keystone run and the international route from Anacortes, Washington to Sidney, B.C.

The San Juan Island routes are extremely scenic and usage rises sharply in the summer. Arrive early at the terminals and avoid the peak periods if possible. The ferry system provides up-to-date information on delays.

The only route offered by Washington State Ferries to Canada is from Anacortes through the San Juans to Sidney on Vancouver Island. There are other privately run options. Black Ball Transport operates the Coho, a large passenger and vehicle ferry, between Port Angeles and Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Victoria Express offers passage for passengers only on the same route between late May and late September. Passenger service from Seattle to Victoria is provided by the Victoria Clipper, which also serves the San Juans from Seattle. Victoria Clipper (800-888-2535) provides the terminal for several ferry companies. San Juan Island Commuter (888-734-8180) serves Bellingham and the San Juan Islands from May through Labor Day. Victoria San Juan Cruises connects Bellingham and Victoria from May through October. The Bellingham ferries are passenger-only.

Southwest British Columbia

For more information, contact Washington State Ferries (206-464-6400; www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries). In the state of Washington only, there is a toll-free number for Washington State Ferries (888-808-7977) and the organization takes reservations for vehicles for the run from Anacortes to Sidney, B.C.

A half-dozen other ferries also operate among the islands in Western Washington. Check the Washington State Ferries Web site for information.

Vancouver Island
Victoria is a popular starting point for visitors to this immense island. A network of ferries take you beyond the roads here to smaller neighboring islands. The low-lying eastern coast is home to most of the island’s major cities. The west coast is the wild side of the island, ruggedly outlined with ocean inlets.ad

As the capital of B.C., Victoria is a blend of regal grace and contemporary charm. It began as a trading post for the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1843 and was named for Britain’s Queen Victoria. Today it is a premier vacation destination.

1 The Inner Harbour is crowned by the B.C. Parliament Buildings. Two walks begin from here: One follows the waterway to Fisherman’s Wharf and the other begins at the Johnson Street Bridge and continues along the water.

Beacon Hill Park is about a 10-minute walk from the Inner Harbour. The park dates back to the 1890s with its formal gardens, wildflower meadows, and Children’s Farm.

Follow Fort Street to Craigdarroch Castle, the Victorian mansion built by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir. The 4-1/2 story, 39-room castle is being restored to its original splendor.

2 It started as a beautification project at a quarry in 1904. It is now the 55-acre (22-hectare) world-famous Butchart Gardens. Fireworks light up the skies in July and August.

Visit the Royal British Columbia Museum for a hands on lesson about the region. You’ll discover the history of the First Nations people and before, when this was the land of the mammoth.

Located 23 miles (37 km) from Victoria on picturesque Hwy 14, Sooke is the gateway to the new Pacific Marine Route. Sooke is also known for Sooke Harbour House.

At the Sooke Region Museum, tour Moss Cottage, one of the oldest standing buildings on Vancouver Island, or see the restored lighthouse.

At the tip of the Saanich Peninsula, about 16 miles (26 km) north of Victoria, is the town of Sidney. This town is known for its Sidney Marine Museum, and its marinas, oceanside walkways, and unique shops.

Roads lead to a number of popular attractions, including Butchart Gardens, Butterfly Gardens, the B.C. Aviation Museum, Island View Beach, and Brentwood Bay.

At Mineral World & Scratch Patch along the waterfront learn about gemstones, jewelry, crystals, and fossils.

Sidney Spit, with its fields, forests, and beaches, is a perfect spot for swimming and birding. It is accessible by catching the foot-passenger ferry.


Duncan is in a region popular for its vineyards and agritourism. This “city of totems” is home to more than 80 crafted poles.

The Duncan Railway Station houses the Cowichan Valley Museum, hard to miss with its 5-foot reproduction of the 925 D1O steam locomotive weather vane on its roof. The 1912 station serves as a time capsule for the area’s history.

The Quw’utsun’ Cultural and Conference Centre shares with visitors the culture of the local First Nations through live native singing, drumming, and dancing exhibitions, salmon barbecues, and cultural interpretation.

At the BC Forest Discovery Centre you can experience B.C.’s logging history and ride a train.

3 Somenos Marsh Wildlife Refuge, designated a  “globally significant important bird area” is home to trumpeter swans and great blue herons.

Pacific Northwest Raptors give visitors the opportunity to observe and handle birds of prey in their natural habitat.

Gulf Islands
The Gulf Islands are located throughout the inside passage between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia. The entire inside passage has over 6000 islands—some remote and rugged while others are inhabited. The islands, especially those to the south, experience mild Mediterranean-like temperatures, creating conditions ideal for outdoor activities. Ferries provide access to many of the major islands. Other islands are reachable by small boat, kayak, or float plane.

4 Ruckle Provincial Park is on Salt Spring Island, about 6 miles (10 km) from the Fulford Harbour ferry terminal. The park is located at Beaver Point, known for its miles of shorelines, rocky headlands, and coves.

5 Rotary Maritime Park in downtown Ganges on Salt Spring Island overlooks the harbor. It has a dock for kayak launching.

Once a mill town thriving on a timber-based economy, Chemainus was home to the largest covered mill in North America. Now it is an ideal base from which to explore the surrounding valleys.

Downtown, the Chemainus Mural Tour takes visitors through Canada’s largest outdoor art gallery.

Enjoy dinner and then live theater at the Chemainus Festival Theatre, where top-notch productions can be experienced year-round.

Nestled on the eastern slopes of Vancouver Island and overlooking the harbor is the picturesque town of Ladysmith. Stroll down historic First Avenue, take a tour of the harbor, or catch a performance at Lady Smith’s Little Theatre.

At Transfer Beach Park, visitors can comb the shoreline for marine life, rent a kayak, or enjoy a summer afternoon concert in the Amphitheatre.

Take a walk along the 3.6-mile (5.8 km) Holland Creek Trail, part of the world famous Trans Canada Trail. Locals and visitors alike make use of the trails.

Vancouver Island’s second largest city, also known as Harbour City, has ferry connections to the north and south of the metro area. From Nanaimo, you might also consider a ferry trip to Newcastle or Gabriola Islands.

The Harbourside Walkway begins at the central waterfront’s busy boat basin and meanders for almost 2.5 miles (4 km).A stroll along this walkway leads to Pioneer Plaza, the Nanaimo Yacht Club, and Maffeo–Sutton Waterfront Park.

The Nanaimo District Museum includes the historic Bastion, the oldest freestanding Hudson’s Bay Company fort in North America.

Sugar Loaf Mountain is great for a short hike. It has a 100-foot winding staircase to climb, but its awesome views of the adjacent islands are hard to rival.

6 The HMCS Saskatchewan is a 366-foot navy destroyer that was sunk in the waters off Nanaimo to create an artificial reef, providing excellent diving. In 2001, the 441-foot HMCS Cape Breton was sunk near the Saskatchewan, making it the largest upright artificial reef in the world. A third vessel, RivTow Lion, was sunk in 2005.

This coastal community is located 23 miles (37 km) north of Nanaimo, on the old Island Hwy 19A. In addition to being known for its beautiful beaches, Parksville is also central to some of the best golfing on Vancouver Island.

7 Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park is just south of Parksville’s city center. Here, almost a mile of sandy beach is often exposed at low tide.

Qualicum Beach
North of Parksville is the village of Qualicum Beach with its unique beachfront boardwalk. If you visit between June and September, you can enjoy theater staged in an outdoor tent for the annual Bard to Broadway.

8 If you have ever wanted to try spelunking, visit the Horne Lake Caves north of Qualicum Beach. Guided tours are available throughout the year.

Milner Gardens and Woodlands sits on a bluff overlooking the Strait of Georgia. The gardens are open April through October, with special events scheduled throughout the year, including the winter holiday season.

adPort Alberni
At the head of Alberni Inlet, deep-water Port Alberni is home to a charming town. Its waterfront area has restaurants and shops at the Alberni Harbour Quay. The inlet rivals the fjords of Norway with its stream crossed mountains. Salmon fishing is the primary pastime for locals and visitors.

The Alberni Valley Heritage Network is the perfect way to experience the heritage of the region. The network includes the Alberni Valley Museum, the Alberni Pacific Railway, McLean Mill National Historic Site, and the Maritime Discovery Centre.

Visitor Information
  Campbell River Visitor Centre - 1235 Shoppers Row, PO Box 400 Campbell River, BC V9W 5B6 - 250-287-4636 ext.1 - visitorinfo.incampbellriver.com
  Chemainus & District Chamber of Commerce - 9796 Willow Street, PO Box 575, Chemainus, BC V0R 1K0 - 250-246-3944 - chemainus.bc.ca
  Comox Valley Tourism - 2040 Cliffe Avenue,  Courtenay, BC, V9N 2L3 - 888-357-4471 - tourism-comox-valley.bc.ca
  Duncan–Cowichan Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Info Centre
381 Trans Canada Hwy, Duncan, BC V9L 3R5 - 888-303-3337 -
  Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce - 132–C Roberts Street, PO Box 598, Ladysmith, BC V9G 1A4 - 250-245-2112 - ladysmithcofc.com
  Oceanside Tourism Association 125 McCarter Street, PO Box 239, Parksville, BC V9P 2G4 - 888-799-3222 - oceansidetourism.com
  Parksville & District Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Centre - 1275 East Island Hwy, PO Box 99, Parksville, BC V9P 2G3 - 250-248-3613 - chamber.parksville.bc.ca
  Port Alberni Visitor Info Centre - 2533 Port Alberni Hwy, Port Alberni, BC V9Y 8P2 - 250-724-6535 • avcoc.com

9 West of Qualicum Beach, you’ll pass MacMillan Provincial Park Cathedral Grove. Many of the trees here at the north end of Cameron Lake are 800 years old. The largest tree in the park has a 30-foot circumference.

This fishing village is on the west coast of the island. Ucluelet (pronounced you-clue-let) can be translated as “safe harbor” in the Nuu-Chah-Nulth language. Ucluelet is the gateway to the Broken Islands, accessed by boat or kayak.

Enjoy coastal sites in the MV Lady Rose, a vintage 1937 ship that travels the Alberni Inlet and Barkley Sound, carrying cargo, mail, and up to 100 passengers.

10 For an unusual place to stay, consider the Canadian Princess, a historic vessel permanently moored in Ucluelet Harbour. You can have an onboard dining experience, followed by a stay in one of the staterooms.ad

Tofino marks the end of the Pacific Rim Highway, Hwy 4.

Together the three parts of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve—Long Beach, the West Coast Trail, and the Broken Group Islands—preserve scenic beaches, coastal rain forests, marine life, and cultural history of the area.

The Rain Forest Interpretive Centre features a mural depicting the communities and the nearly 100 species found in the coastal forests, and has displays and artifacts.

Cumberland is the oldest community in the Comox Valley and was a coal mining town from the 1880s through the 1960s.Cumberland retains its historic charm with its heritage buildings.

The Cumberland Museum and Archives provides a glimpse into the rich history of the area.

The seaside town of Comox is situated on a peninsula that shapes the Comox Harbour. Dockside seafood, art shows, and marinas round out the experience.

Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park was established in 1929. The estate’s gardens are open to the public all year, and the historic house is open daily in July and August and on weekends during the shoulder months.

The city of Courtenay is the commercial and cultural hub of the Comox Valley, offering visitors a public art gallery and the Sid Williams Civic  Theatre.

Courtenay and District Museum and Paleontology Centre features multiple exhibits. Among them is a model of a giant elasmosaur, one of many dinosaur fossils unearthed in the area. Fossil tours are available in the summer.

11 Mt. Washington is near Strathcona Provincial Park, the oldest provincial park in B.C. During winter Mt. Washington is a ski resort, and in summer it is a great starting point for exploration of Strathcona Park.

Campbell River
Campbell River marks its seasons by the cycles of its most famous residents, the salmon. Campbell River also offers whale watching, diving, kayaking, boat cruises, river rafting, flight tours, horseback trail rides, and hiking galore.

See the world from the salmon’s eye in a Campbell River Snorkel Tour. From July until October, guides take visitors to the underwater lairs of salmon.

Try your luck fishing from the world-famous Discovery Fishing Pier. It is Canada’s first saltwater fishing pier and has fishing equipment rentals May to October.


From downtown Campbell River, take a 10-minute ferry to Quadra Island, the hub of the rugged Discovery Islands. The islands offer plenty of outdoor adventure for hikers, boaters, and divers.

The modern Museum at Campbell River brings to life the people of northern Vancouver Island, from ancient cultures to recent history.

Sayward is about an hour north of Campbell River on Hwy 19, and is home to agriculture, arts and crafts, hiking trails, and the world’s largest yellow cedar.

12 Robson Bight is one of the world’s best places to observe the killer whale. It is an ecological reserve and not open to the public, but a number of charter boats offer eco-tours to view wildlife in Johnstone Strait.

Port McNeill
The moderate climate on the northeastern coast of Vancouver Island makes Port McNeill an outdoor recreational haven. Its location to the south of Queen Charlotte Strait also makes it a adgreat place for viewing whales. Catch a ferry to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island to visit the U’mista Cultural Centre.

The North Island Heritage Museum is housed in a log building. Residents all over the region have helped collect artifacts to tell the area’s logging history.

Port Hardy
A year-round adventure paradise, the rugged northern tip of Vancouver Island offers a wealth of recreation opportunities from sports fishing to boat cruises to wilderness hiking. Port Hardy is an excellent base for these adventures.

Observe bears in their natural habitat with Great Bear Nature Tours. From May until mid-October, visitors may see grizzlies, wolves, and eagles.

13 Cape Scott Provincial Park is known for its wilderness hiking trails and beautiful beaches. Marine recreation opportunities for visitors include freshwater and saltwater fishing, caving, diving, and ocean kayaking.

Visitor Information
  Port Hardy Chamber - 7250 Market Street, Port Hardy, BC V0N 2P0
250-949-7622 -
  Port McNeill Visitor Centre - 351 Shelley Crescent, Port McNeill, BC V0N 2R0 - 250-956-3131 • portmcneill.net
  Qualicum Visitor Centre - 2711 West Island Hwy, Qualicum Beach, BC V9K 2C4 - 866-887-7106 • qualicum.bc.ca
  Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce - 2480 Beacon Avenue,
PO Box 2014, Sidney, BC V8L 3S3 - 250-656-3616 •
  Salt Spring Island Visitor Info Centre - 121 Lower Ganges Road, Salt Spring Island, BC V8K 2T1 - 866-216-2936 - saltspringtoday.com
  Sooke Visitor Info Centre - 2070 Phillips Road, PO Box 774, Sooke, BC V0S 1N0 - 250-642-6351 - sooke.museum.bc.ca
  Tofino–Long Beach Chamber of Commerce - 1426 Pacific Rim Hwy, Tofino, BC V0R 2Z0 - 250-725-3414 - tourismtofino.com
  Tourism Nanaimo - 2290 Bowen Road, Nanaimo, BC V9T 3K7 - 800-663-7337 - tourismnanaimo.com
  Tourism Vancouver Island - Suite 203, 335 Wesley Street, Nanaimo, BC V9R 2T5 - 250-754-3500 - vancouverisland.travel
  Ucluelet Visitor Info Centre - 100 Main Street, Box 428, Ucluelet, BC V0R 3A0 - 250-726-4600 • uclueletinfo.com
  Victoria Visitor Info - 812 Wharf Street - Victoria, BC V8W 1T3 - 250-953-2033 - tourismvictoria.com
Where to Stay
  Campbell River - Painter’s Lodge - 800-663-7090 - obmg.com
  Quadra Island - April Point Resort & Spa - 800-663-7090 - obmg.com
  Tofino - Long Beach Lodge Resort - 877-844-7873 - longbeachtofino.com
  Victoria - Laurel Point Inn - 800-663-7667 - laurelpoint.com




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