Embarking on a road trip across Vancouver Island is an adventure filled with endless opportunities for exploration and discovery. And if there's one journey that encapsulates the island's diverse beauty, it's the drive from Victoria to Nanaimo.

While the distance between these two cities may be relatively short, clocking in at around 2 hours, rushing through means missing out on many spectacular sights along the way. That's why I've crafted an itinerary for an extensive road trip experience from Victoria to Nanaimo.

Whether you're a first-time visitor eager to soak in the island's wonders or a seasoned local seeking new adventures, I urge you to embrace the journey and take your time to savour each moment. After all, it's the unexpected discoveries that often leave the most lasting impressions.

So buckle up and prepare to be captivated as we delve into the delights of this unforgettable route from Victoria to Nanaimo.

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Cowichan Bay fishing shacks. Vancouver Island View
Cowichan Bay

7 Must-See Stops Between Victoria and Nanaimo

1. Goldstream Provincial Park: Nature's Majesty

As you depart from Victoria, make sure to stop at Goldstream Provincial Park, a natural oasis just outside of the city. This park is renowned for its majestic old-growth forest, cascading waterfalls, and diverse wildlife. Take a leisurely stroll along the network of trails, keeping an eye out for bald eagles, black bears, and spawning salmon during the fall season. Be sure to visit the iconic Goldstream Trestle, a historic railway bridge that offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.

2. Cowichan Valley: Culinary Delights and Natural Wonders

As you journey further north, indulge in the culinary delights of the Cowichan Valley. This fertile region, often dubbed “The Napa of the North,” boasts thriving vineyards, artisanal breweries, and farm-to-table restaurants. Stop by a local winery for a wine-tasting experience or sample handcrafted cheeses at a nearby farm.

But the Cowichan Valley offers more than just gastronomic delights. Make a stop at the Malahat Skywalk, Vancouver Island's newest attraction, offering incredible ocean views from its elevated walkway. Marvel at the engineering marvel of the Kinsol Trestle, one of the tallest free-standing timber rail trestle structures globally.

3. Charming Cowichan Bay: A Sweet Treat

No visit to the Cowichan Valley is complete without a stop in Cowichan Bay for a sweet treat at the Udder Guys. Indulge in delicious artisanal ice cream while soaking in the picturesque views of the bay.

4. Cultural and Natural Attractions in Duncan

Continue your journey to Duncan, where you'll find the BC Forest Discovery Centre, chronicling the history of logging in BC. And don't miss the Raptor Centre, which hosts fantastic flying demonstrations featuring majestic birds of prey. Head to the Hand of Man Museum for a unique look at the world's natural history and cultural arts.

5. Cowichan Lake & River: Summer Tubing Adventures

If you're travelling during the summer months, don't miss the opportunity to tube down the Cowichan River, surrounded by the pristine beauty of Cowichan Lake and River.

6. Enchanting Chemainus: A Must-See Seaside Town

Before reaching Nanaimo, immerse yourself in the charm of Chemainus, a quaint seaside town renowned for its outdoor murals depicting the town's history and culture. Take a self-guided walking tour of the murals, browse local galleries and boutiques, or enjoy a meal at one of the cozy cafes or restaurants lining the streets.

7. Ladysmith's Delight: Transfer Beach and Old Town Bakery

From Chemainus, continue north towards Nanaimo. If time allows, take a few hours to stop at Transfer Beach in Ladysmith for tide pools and an adventure playground and spray park. And don’t pass through the charming town of Ladysmith without stopping at the Old Town Bakery! Their cinnamon buns are so delicious and popular that your best bet is to order ahead of time.

Nanaimo Attractions: Where Adventure Awaits

Once you arrive in Nanaimo, the adventure continues with a plethora of attractions to explore. Visit the Yellow Point area and stop for a bite to eat and drink at the famous Crow & Gate Pub. Thrill-seekers can head to WildPlay, while nature lovers can unwind at one of Nanaimo's best parks. For a unique experience, have lunch at the Dinghy Dock Pub and Restaurant, Canada's only registered floating pub. And for a day trip adventure, take the ferry across to Gabriola Island, one of the Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia.

If you have more time to spend in Nanaimo, read 48 Hours in Nanaimo for even more ideas.

Best Nanaimo Vacation Rentals

Conclusion: Unveiling the Wonders of Vancouver Island from Victoria to Nanaimo

Travelling from Victoria to Nanaimo is more than just a road trip; it's a journey of discovery filled with unforgettable experiences and hidden treasures waiting to be explored. So pack your bags, hit the road, and let the adventure begin! Whether you're marvelling at scenic vistas, indulging in culinary delights, or seeking thrills, Vancouver Island offers something for every traveller to enjoy.

To conclude your trip, BC Ferries has two ports in Nanaimo. The Duke Point terminal will take you back to Tsawwassen (the same port you would have travelled from to Victoria) or the Departure Bay ferry, which takes you to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver.

Have I missed one of your favourite spots?

Please leave a comment below if you feel I should have included another must-see attraction or destination for this extensive road trip from Victoria to Nanaimo.

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Are you heading to Victoria, BC and looking for things to do? Why not make the trek to Nanaimo for a great Vancouver Island road trip. Travel this scenic highway and find unique locations along the way.

Other Vancouver Island Road Trips Worth Exploring

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  1. Great suggestions!

    But hey , don’t bypass Ladysmith. Funky downtown with Island renown bakery, vegan restaurants and one of a kind boutiques. Winter time Ladysmith lights up the town like no other – Festival of Lights a must see.

    Also, one of the warmest waters for swimming, easy access kayaking, SUP – rentals at Transfer Beach. Kid friendly. 3 Marinas including working Fisherman’s where you can sometimes buy fresh catch of the day.

    And hiking; Holland Creek Trail, Heart Lake, Christie Falls, Thistle Mine for starters.

    Yellow Point is also technically Ladysmith and there are so many attractions there!

  2. If going further north I recommend Qualicum Beach, the falls on the Little Qualicum River are a must see, especially in the spring. Milner Gardens are lovely and a nice comparison to Butchart Gardens. The beaches of Parksville are the best on the island.
    In Nanaimo, public access to the ocean for nature walks are available at Neck Pt. and Pipers Lagoon. Morrell Sanctuary is a hikers delight and easy enough to walk with children. Buttertubs is a great place to take little ones and you can see many birds. No dogs allowed there, however.

    1. All excellent suggestions, Jim. Thank you. For anyone reading this comment, all of these wonderful suggestions have been written about in various articles. To find information about each one, just enter the name in the search bar.

  3. Jenny Buzek says:

    In Victoria, I really enjoyed the Robert Bateman Gallery.

  4. Joan Fenner says:

    We were just in that area and attended a play in Chamainus. Delightful! There are also a variety of hikes out of Ladysmith if time permits.

    1. Aren’t the plays at the Chemainus Theatre spectacular? We’ve attended quite a few, and I am always so impressed. Yes, there are some great hiking trails around Ladysmith. Many of which I have still yet to explore! Thanks for the great suggestions.

  5. Charles McDonald says:

    We like to stop in Ladysmith to kayak

    1. That’s a great idea! Do you rent them from Sealegs Kayak Adventures at Transfer Beach?

  6. Mysty Beal says:

    Whoa! Consider departure point from Port Angeles, WA via the Blackball (Coho) ferry! That’s our planned ferry to Victoria.

    1. Yes, indeed! When travelling to Victoria from Washington, the Black Ball ferry is great! The ferries mentioned were for travellers leaving Nanaimo. 🙂

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