Sue North

From one adventure to the next ...

Canada’s West Coast by Car: Vancouver Island (Part 1)

As we patiently await the arrival of summer in Canada, I thought I’d write a throwback post about the first big road trip Antoine and I took together.  Essentially this is where it all began! The trip confirmed our shared love of long drives, camping, and outdoor adventures. After this vacation, I truly knew I’d found my perfect travel partner! I’m so excited to finally share some of the many photos we took on this trip. It turns out there are so many stories to tell that I’ve had to split the post into two. Part 1 covers the planning phase of the trip including our handy itinerary and budget as well as our first week in BC where we adventured the coasts of Vancouver Island. Read on to find out how the trip came together and what we got up to on our first week in BC!


In 2016, Antoine was working full-time for the government and I was in between contracts as I patiently waited for an official offer from the same department (oh the life of a newly graduated librarian!). Our employer allows us to book chunks of time unpaid through a program called leave-with-income (LIA) averaging. They allow you to take anywhere from three to twelve weeks off, and the total number of weeks is subtracted from your pay over the course of a year, allowing you to continue to be paid while away from the office. As it was his first time taking advantage of the program, he booked the minimum three weeks in late May and early June 2016. He initially began planning a trip to Canada’s East Coast that would go something like this: New Brunswick (his home province) –> Cape Breton, Nova Scotia –ferry-> Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland –ferry->  Labrador –> Labrador Hwy –> Quebec City. It sounded amazing, but with further research he realized that many of the best hiking trails in Gros Morne were not open until late June / July, and his vacation was scheduled for early June. It just wasn’t the ideal time of year for that trip, and so he set his sights upon the West Coast. (Don’t worry – we definitely plan to pick that plan back up in the future… Summer 2019 perhaps?)


By this time, it was confirmed that my new position wouldn’t start until sometime in July so I fully committed to joining him on the trip. I have family on Vancouver Island and Pemberton BC, so this defined some key stops for our road trip. My family helped to advise us when planning our route, and we also relied heavily on online research, with blogs such as Banff and Beyond and Icefields Parkway informing our list of potential stops. We were careful not to over plan our trip though, and this was something that contributed to the success of the trip. No destination was considered a “must-see”; we planned our driving route and most of our campground stops, but when it came to what to do each day we left room to see how we felt, how the weather was, etc. – planning our hikes and stops on a whim. A lot of the “must-see” stops on the West Coast are very busy – with busloads of tourists visiting these main attractions. Antoine and I discovered that we both love getting off the beaten track, and most of the highlights of our trip were not the places we read about online.


Our road trip route


For those planning trips to Canada’s West Coast, here’s the route we took over two weeks. We kept track of our driving itinerary, expenses, and accommodations in this Google Sheet which you’re welcome to draw on when planning your own trips. The longest drive we scheduled was 7 hours, and most of our travel times were quite short to maximize time at our destinations.


We landed late in Vancouver on May 28th, and spent our first night at the Cambie Lodge Bed and Breakfast. We booked through Expedia, and found the price to be reasonable with a nice breakfast offered in the morning. It was centrally located for our purposes and we were able to walk to our car rental pickup downtown. We rented our car with Hertz, as they waive the fee for extra drivers under 25 for CAA members. We were given our choice of car upon arrival, and we chose a silver Toyota Corolla as we knew she’d be reliable and easy to drive. After circling back to pickup our bags from the bed and breakfast, we hopped on the Sea to Sky highway to catch the ferry to Nanaimo.


Telegraph Cove and Cape Scott – North Vancouver Island
Our first official stop of the trip was Telegraph Cove, a hideaway on the Northeast coast of Vancouver Island. We were visiting my cousin Derek who worked for many years as a grizzly bear naturalist for Tide Rip Grizzly Bear Tours. We spent three nights visiting with him, and he graciously hosted us in one of the staff trailers in the campground. This was my second visit to Telegraph Cove, and I was excited for Antoine to see the beauty of north Vancouver Island. We enjoyed fresh caught seafood and grilled vegetables for dinner the first evening, and afterwards Derek took us on a sunset hike with a couple of ciders to keep us company. The next day was set aside for more rugged adventures, so we parked the Corolla and set off in Derek’s newly acquired Toyota Forerunner. The 4×4 was helpful as we tackled a road used mainly by logging trucks to reach Cape Scott Provincial Park. A short 2.5km hike led us to San Josef Bay where we picnicked and searched the tidal pools while Derek took a quick afternoon siesta. We were completely charmed by the Vancouver Island coastline, and would love to go back one day to tackle the North Coast Trail.


On our second full day in Telegraph Cove we were fortunate enough to join Derek on a grizzly bear tour to Knight Inlet. Tour guests travel by boat  to view grizzly bears in their natural habitat in the Glendale Cove estuary. May to early July is”low season” for Tide Rip, but it is mating season for the bears so there are often fascinating sightings to be had at this time. We were fortunate to see a number of grizzly bears and their yearly cubs during our visit. We also saw whales, porpoises and black bears when boating to and from Glendale Cove, making this an unforgettable experience. Derek lent me his telephoto camera lens, and this allowed me to capture far better photos than the last time I’d visited Knight Inlet. Full disclosure: Derek set everything up for me so this is not a testament to my photography skills. We returned to Telegraph Cove that night for a final bonfire and farewell. This was an incredible start to our trip, and we could have happily spent our entire trip adventuring in this area.



Tofino – Pacific Rim National Park 
After three days in Telegraph Cove, we set off for Tofino on Vancouver Island’s west coast. We booked a campsite at Pacific Rim National Park in advance of our stay, and were looking forward to touring the surfer town of Tofino. We stopped for lunch at Coombs Old Country Market en route, where we ate lunch with a couple of goats on the roof (no joke!). This is a fun little stop in Coombs, B.C. and we enjoyed sun on the patio during lunch. Little did we know that it would be the last of the sun we would see that day… The drive across the remainder of the island was full of twists and turns, and Antoine was left dreaming of a repeat trip on his motorcycle.  A rain suit and waterproof boots would be a must have for that trip, as it seems that the rain never ends in Tofino. We arrived to Pacific Rim National Park amid a torrential downpour. We decided not to unpack the tent upon check in and continued on to Tofino, hoping the rain would dissipate soon.


We stopped in to sample some local craft beer at Tofino Brewing Co., enjoying them so much that we grabbed a few growlers to go. We did a quick tour around Tofino, but the rain persisted and made adventuring on foot less than appealing. Despite the weather we stopped to witness some brave souls surfing at the aptly named Long Beach. This is the largest and longest beach in the Pacific Rim National Park preserve; its dependable surf makes it one of the most popular surfing destinations in B.C. Unfortunately the rain continued. We arrived back at our campsite campsite around 7pm and set up our tent in the rain, deeply regretting our lack of tarp. Antoine used his rain poncho to set up a small vestibule for the tent, and I hovered underneath to cook us a quick dinner of KD and hotdogs. There was no time for fancy in this weather! Antoine kept busy digging ditches around the tent, with our now empty growler doubling as a shovel as we attempted to stave off flooding. This technique worked to keep the puddles away, but alas it was not a restful sleep. The thick, lush rainforest surrounding the campsites makes this campground an excellent stop – but please be prepared for rain, unlike us!


Those travelling in RVs and camper vans slept much more comfortably that evening. We loaded our sopping tent into the back of the car, happy to know we would soon be with family and able to dry our gear. Our only planned stop for the day was Cathedral Grove, which is not to be missed if you’re travelling to Tofino. I first visited the park in 2007 when travelling with my family. My Dad is a forester so this stop was no surprise, but my haughty teenage self could not believe we were getting out of the car, in the rain, to visit a bunch of old trees. With a few more years under my belt, I now walked again amongst the ancient Douglas firs and truly appreciated their beauty. Some of these trees are over 800 years old! After our leisurely stroll through the old growth forest, we spent a final evening on the Island in Victoria, where we met up with former work friends for dinner by the quay. I had spent a full week in Victoria for a workshop / conference in 2014, and really love the charm of this city! We could have spent more time here, but we wanted to maximize our time in the great outdoors and so we hit the road early the next morning to catch the ferry back to the mainland.


Ok folks, that’s it for Part 1! Thanks for reading along. The post was getting quite lengthy, so it had to become a two part series. The second post will cover the final leg of our trip through the Rockies, including stops in Whistler and Pemberton, Mount Robson and the Berg Lake trail, Jasper and the Icefields Parkway, Banff, Lake Louise and Kelowna. Here’s a couple more photos to tide you over until the next post! 😉 As always, we’d love to hear your feedback, questions or comments.



Liz & Antoine

1 Comment

  1. Great photos!

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