Driving around Vancouver Island

Roadtrips here, there and anywhere are a long-established favorite way to explore Vancouver Island. Bring your own vehicle via BC Ferries. Rent cars at airports and in urban centres. Or pre-book an RV or camper van for pick up upon your arrival.  The Island’s modern, fully paved highway system stretches from Swartz Bay and Victoria in the south to Port Hardy in the far north along the eastern coastline; it also cuts across the Island’s midsection out to Port Alberni, Tofino and Uclulet.

Follow the major, multi-lane routes or head off the beaten path. Specially designated scenic tours include the Oceanside Route (Hwy 19A), which follows the picturesque coastline from Parksville to Campbell River. The North Island Route extends from Campbell River to Port Hardy with exits to communities along a smooth fast track lined with lakes, dense forest, mountain vistas and the occasional black bear browsing roadside. Another sweet detour: Along the east coast of the Cowichan Valley between Cobble Hill and Ladysmith.

Excellent directional signage helps drivers locate featured tourist, heritage, agritourism and ecological attractions.

The blue-and-white signs featuring an “A” indicate a nearby artisan studio that welcomes visitors.

Agritourism signs showcase attractions, such as farms, which are open for tours and visits.

The white-and-burgundy wine route signs invite visits to local vineyards.

Three major, multi-day circle driving routes include the Vancouver Island region and allow visitors to systematically take in major stops and attractions along the way include;

  • The 255km Pacific Marine Circle Route traces the coastline from Victoria through Sooke and Port Renfrew, then turns east past Avatar Grove (supersize old-growth giants) and along former forestry roads (now paved) out to Lake Cowichan and onwards to the Cowichan Valley. From here the road winds back to Victoria. Do it in a busy day or linger over a multi-day itinerary.
  • The Coastal Circle Route is a 530-km (including ferry travel) ricochet around southern Vancouver Island as far north as Courtenay, then down the mainland’s Sunshine Coast to Vancouver. Beaches, parks, pinch-me scenery, art galleries and family fun.
  • The Heritage Discovery Circle Route, a multi-day 2,423-km route, takes in historic and First Nations sites on Vancouver Island’s eastern coast before crossing the Inside Passage and circling back to Vancouver via Prince George and the Gold Rush Trail.

Take your foot off the accelerator and explore Vancouver Island’s spectacular backcountry via secondary and active logging roads. Take care when driving these sometimes rugged and potholed routes; please check with local Visitor Centres for maps and information about logging road closures, conditions, and hazards. In the winter months, chains or winter tires might be necessary in higher altitudes.

Visitors should note that safety belts, vehicle child restraints, bicycle and motorcycle helmets are mandatory in BC. It is illegal to use hand-held devices such as cell phones while driving.  Speed restrictions are posted clearly on the sides of all roads. Note that in a school zone 30km/hr is mandatory.

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