West Coast Canada Travel Guide – Our Best Tips for a Transformational Trip
My Five Acres My Five Acres - Making Travel Truly Transformational
Some of our best and most memorable travel experiences have been on Canada’s West Coast. Read this post for all the West Coast Canada travel advice we’ve learned through our many years of living in and exploring this little slice of heaven!
- West Coast Canada Quick Facts
- Best Places to Visit on Canada’s West Coast
- How Long Do You Need on the West Coast?
- Best Time to Visit
- Cost of Travel in BC
- Food & Drink
- Responsible Travel on the West Coast
- Packing List for BC’s West Coast
- Is It Safe to Travel in Canada?
- How to Get Around on the West Coast
- A Final Note About Visiting Canada’s West Coast
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Is there any place more beautiful than Canada’s West Coast?
If there is, I’ve never seen it.
I may be (slightly) biased, having spent my teens and 20s in Victoria and Vancouver before leaving for a life of global travel. Each time I return, my eyes hungrily gobble up the white peaks of the Coast Mountains, the haunting blue of the wild ocean, and the dense forests of evergreen trees.
Canada’s West Coast is the ideal destination for immersing in nature and getting active in the great outdoors. But it’s also great for history and culture, with much to absorb about the distinct cultures of the Indigenous people of the region, who have inhabited the area for thousands of years.
If it’s an exploration of local food and drink you’re after, West Coast cuisine won’t disappoint. It tends towards the fresh and light, drawing from a wide variety of local organic ingredients.
The food pairs perfectly with a craft beer or cider from one of the West Coast’s hundreds of breweries, or a bottle of crisp white wine from one of the regions many fine wineries.
Stephen and I have had so many transformational travel moments on the West Coast of Canada, we can’t wait to share them with you.
So if you’re planning a trip to BC’s West Coast, let’s jump in… you’re going to love it.
West Coast Canada Quick Facts
|Average Temperature Summer||18–24°C / 65–75°F|
|Average Temperature Winter||7–13 °C / 44–55°F|
|Best Time to Visit||June–September|
|How Long to Stay||7–14 days|
|Currency & Exchange Rate||Canadian Dollar
$1 USD = $1.35 CAD
|Thrifty Travel Budget||$50–75 per day|
|Mid-Range Travel Budget||$150–250 per day|
Best Places to Visit on Canada’s West Coast
It’s no secret that Vancouver is one of our favourite cities in the world!
On a sunny day, it is also one of the most beautiful. Wherever you go in the city, you’ll almost surely have a view of the snow-capped Coast Mountains or the inlets and harbours that make up Vancouver’s coastline. More often than not, you can see both at once.
Though Vancouver has plenty to offer for all kinds of travellers, our favourite activities here usually happen in the great outdoors.
While in Vancouver you can:
- Cycle the city’s many safe and accessible bike paths
- Kayak the Burrard Inlet
- Take a half-day bike tour
- People-watch and shop for local goods on Granville Island
- Hike or snowshoe in the spectacular provincial parks
- Go on a craft beer crawl in Vancouver’s East End
- Try nude sunbathing at Wreck Beach
- Catch a Shakespeare play at Bard on the Beach
Our Vancouver posts will give you more ideas and help you plan your Vancouver itinerary.
- Things to do in Vancouver BC – Our 17 Favourite Summer Activities
- 3 Vancouver Bike Routes for an Amazing Day
- 7 Fun & Free Things to do in Vancouver, BC
For skiers from around the world, a visit to Whistler Blackcomb during the ski season is at the top of many bucket lists. But even if you’re not into skiing, or are visiting in summer, the resort, just a few hour’s drive from Vancouver, is like an outdoor playground.
Summer visitors have hundreds of hiking trails to choose from and there’s also mountain biking, zip lining, bear viewing, lakes and beaches, and plenty more. Whistler also has a wide range of spas and resorts, so if what you really need is some deep relaxation, you’ll find it there.
The Gulf Islands
A smattering of tiny islands that lie between BC’s West Coast and Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands have their own unique vibe.
Island life is a laid-back affair. Many Gulf Islanders earn their living creating art, writing books, or producing artisanal products. Others spend their days tending to small organic farms and orchards, or tending to the tourists who come to find their own sense of peace.
The Southern Gulf Islands are easily accessible by ferry from Victoria or Vancouver. The northern islands are a little harder to reach but deliver ample rewards to those of us who enjoy windswept beaches seemingly on the edge of the world.
In summer, the Gulf Islands offer up amazing opportunities for camping, kayaking, hiking, swimming, boating, and just enjoying the great outdoors.
If you go in spring, fall, or even winter, there’s still plenty to do, like shopping for local goods, relaxing in the spa, sampling the islands’ locally crafted beer and wine, or sitting fireside and sipping a cocktail!
Don’t miss our guide to transformational things to do on the Gulf Islands for more ideas. You can use our Gulf Islands accommodation guide to find the best places to stay.
The Sunshine Coast
Another groovy laid-back region just an hour from Vancouver, The Sunshine Coast is BC’s secret hideaway. Though it’s technically on the mainland, the only access to The Sunshine Coast is by ferry from Horseshoe Bay, on the edge of West Vancouver.
Whether you’re visiting in winter, summer, or somewhere in between, the Sunshine Coast gives you easy access to a slice of all the best things about BC — incredible nature, great food, tremendous craft beer, and the famous friendly Canadian culture!
We spent two weeks cycling The Sunshine Coast last year and wrote extensively about it. These posts will help you plan a transformational trip:
- 11 Transformational Things to do on the Sunshine Coast
- 9 Transformational Things to Do In Sechelt
- 9 Transformational Things to do in Gibsons
- 9 Transformational Things to do in Lund
Last summer, as part of our big BC bike trip, Stephen and I spent 6 weeks cycling Vancouver Island. We also lived there for a whole year in 2015 and I went to university in Victoria, on the southern tip of the island.
Suffice it to say, I have spent a lot of time exploring the West Coast’s big island. (Just for reference, Vancouver Island is about the same size as Taiwan or Belgium, but far less populous).
The most popular stop on Vancouver Island is the city of Victoria, BC’s capital. That’s why so many people mistakenly call it Victoria Island. There are week’s worth of attractions to explore in and around Victoria.
But we recommend saving some time to head north, or you’ll miss out on so much!
Make a stop in the fertile Cowichan Valley, where all of Vancouver Island’s wine and much of its food is produced. A little further north, you’ll get to the small cities of Chemainus, Ladysmith, Nanaimo, and Parksville, each offering their own unique flavours.
While in Nanaimo, make time for a whale watching tour!
Heading further north still, stop off to sample the craft beer scene in Courtney and Comox or, in winter, head to Mount Washington to ski.
Tofino is a tourist hotspot on Vancouver Island, attracting surfers from around the world. The north island is less visited but perfect for those who want to get away from people and spend some time alone in nature. The north island offers plenty of opportunities for boating, hiking, and wildlife viewing.
To help plan your trip, check out these posts:
- 11 of the Best Things to Do on Your Vancouver Island Holiday
- Camping on Vancouver Island – Everything You Need to Know Before You Go
- Best Campgrounds on Vancouver Island – The Ultimate Places to Sleep Under the Stars
From Port Hardy on the north part of the island, you can take an overnight ferry to the remote archipelago of Haida Gwaii. This small string of islands is remote enough that we’ve not yet had a chance to visit!
Haida Gwaii is home to the Haida people and here you’ll find true wilderness – towering forests, isolated beaches, and abundant wildlife. It’s also the ideal place to learn about the history and modern struggles of the first people to inhabit these lands.
How Long Do You Need on the West Coast?
If you read the previous section, you’ll know that Canada’s West Coast is such a diverse region that it would take months and months to explore it properly. Unless you have all the time in the world, our suggested itineraries below will help you plan your BC trip.
4 or 5 days
With only a handful of days to explore, choose one of these options:
- Stay in Vancouver and spend at least one day in the nearby mountains.
- Stay in Victoria and plan for day trips from there.
- Stay in Whistler and ski or explore summertime activities.
7 to 10 days
With a week to 10 days, choose one of these options:
- Visit Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast.
- Visit Victoria and the Gulf Islands.
- Do a Vancouver Island and Sunshine Coast loop, starting and ending in Vancouver.
- Visit Victoria and then head north on Vancouver Island to Tofino, stopping in some of the smaller communities along the way.
2 weeks or more
With 2 weeks or more, you can take a little more time with one of the suggested itineraries above. Or do one of these:
- Visit Vancouver, Victoria, and The Gulf Islands.
- Visit Vancouver, Whistler, and The Sunshine Coast.
- Explore Vancouver Island from bottom to top.
- Visit Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii.
Best Time to Visit
Unlike much of Canada, the West Coast of BC has a temperate climate, so you won’t have much bitter cold to contend with, even mid-winter. However, it’s no secret that BC gets a lot of rain. So, no matter what time of year you’re travelling, pack a good raincoat, an umbrella and some waterproof shoes.
And if you plan on camping, then yes, you do need that extra tarp!
For outdoor enthusiasts, there’s no doubt that you’ll find the best adventuring weather during July and August.
June and September can also be dry and warm.
During Spring (April and May) and Fall (September to October) the weather gets a little cooler, mist creeps in, and the rain starts to fall. Prices fall as well, so if you like your nature to deliver a bit of drama, this can be the ideal time for your West Coast trip.
Skiers and snowshoers will want to visit from November to February. The best skiing is usually had in January and February – but Mother Nature doesn’t follow a set schedule.
Winter can also be a great time to enjoy the varied culture, food, and wine the West Coast has to offer, without feeling pressure to go hiking or kayaking every day!
Cost of Travel in BC
When it comes to travel budgets, Canada is a mid-range destination. It’s not as cheap as Southeast Asia and not as expensive as Western Europe or the US.
Vancouver, Victoria, Whistler, and Tofino are more expensive than other areas of BC, so the more time you spend in these popular destinations, the more money you will need.
Here are some sample costs so you know what to expect.
Mid-range budget for BC’s West Coast
Prices are in Canadian dollars!
For a mid-range budget expect to spend around $150–250 per person per day.
- $100–200/room/night – clean accommodation in a hotel or B&B
- $40/person/day – meals in cafes or inexpensive restaurants
- $6–10 – glass of craft beer
- $8–12 – craft cocktail
- $17 – one-way ferry ticket, Victoria to Vancouver, walk on
- $60 – one-way ferry ticket, Vancouver to Victoria, car plus driver
- $70/day – car rental
- $150 – half day whale watching
- $85 – half day kayak tour
Shoestring budget for BC’s West Coast
Prices are in Canadian dollars!
If you’re on a smaller budget, you’ll be able to enjoy the West Coast on around $50–75 per person per day.
- $60/hostel bed/night – hostels in BC range widely from cute and comfy to quite dingy
- $0/campsite/night – camping in a forestry campground
- $20/campsite/night – tent camping in BC Parks campground
- $30/person/day – meals at cafes and grocery stores
- $4 – can of lager
- $3 – bus or transit ticket
- $17 – one-way ferry ticket, Vancouver to Victoria, walk on
- $85 – half day kayak tour
Don’t forget to also include your plane ticket and travel insurance costs when working out your budget!
There is a wide range of accommodation in BC, from free campsites with pit toilets to 5-star luxury resorts nestled in the wilderness. Standard hotels tend to be quite expensive, so we prefer to stay in B&Bs, which are a friendly alternative. Airbnb is also a great source for less pricey accommodation in BC.
Prices for accommodation can vary depending on the season — summer is most expensive on the coast, winter is most expensive in the mountains. Cost also varies dramatically by location — you’ll pay more for hotels in Vancouver, Victoria, Whistler, and Tofino than in other destinations.
Some of the best camping in the world can be had in BC, so if you’re a fan of the great outdoors and not afraid of a little rain, plan to camp!
There is plenty of RV-friendly camping around but to get off the beaten track, pack your tent instead. That way you can take advantage of the free forestry campgrounds (especially plentiful on Vancouver Island) which tend to be at the end of dirt or gravel roads.
Of course, there are lots of fully serviced provincial campgrounds right off the highway, if your vehicle can’t take the back roads.
Be aware that in summer, especially on weekends, campgrounds tend to fill up, so make a reservation if you plan to camp during busy times.
We wrote a complete guide to camping on Vancouver Island and a guide to our favourite campgrounds on Vancouver Island. Make sure to read those before you go!
If you’ve done any hosteling in Europe or Southeast Asia, you may be used to a better quality of hostel than you’ll find in BC. While I’ll happily hostel when travelling solo on other continents, in the Pacific Northwest, I tend to skip hostels and look for a B&B instead.
Hostels on the Pacific coast tend to be cheap and cheerful. Welcoming, for sure, but the buildings and the beds are often of the old and creaky variety.
Most hostels are aimed at the very young backpacker crowd, or the Jack Kerouac types, so if you are a little beyond that stage in life, they may not be your best option.
One of the most prevalent forms of accommodation in BC are B&Bs. In small towns and on islands, homeowners make their living or add to their incomes by opening their homes to tourists.
The B&Bs I’ve stayed in on the West Coast have been homey, cozy, and tremendously welcoming. In the best ones, it really is like staying with an old friend. Breakfasts are often sumptuous affairs that include local produce and baking.
If you’re travelling in BC on a mid-range budget and want to experience the warmth of a Canadian home, I highly recommend you look for a B&B.
For a slightly cheaper option, search Airbnb, where you’ll find nice rooms in friendly homes but breakfast is not usually included.
Most hotels in BC’s cities are run by the big hotel chains and range from basic accommodation to luxury indulgence. Hotels in the province, especially in the south, don’t come cheap — $100/night is at the low end.
In smaller centres, boutique and family run hotels are more common. You’ll even find a few motels if you want the convenience of parking right outside your room!
Coastal BC has a good selection of unique accommodations that defy categorization altogether.
Take, for example, Tzoonie Wilderness Resort outside Sechelt, where we stayed last summer. This rustic resort is only accessible by boat and is a magical, mystical place that we will never forget.
We also did some geodesic glamping on the Sunshine Coast at Backeddy Resort & Marina and a yurt in Pender Harbor. On the Gulf Islands, stay in a luxe airstream or cabin at Woods on Pender.
There are some astonishingly beautiful resorts and eco lodges in equally beautiful settings on BC’s West Coast.
Nimmo Bay Resort is tucked away in the Great Bear Rainforest and accessible only by helicopter or float plane. Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, on the wild west coast of Vancouver Island, is not far from Tofino. In and around Whistler, you’ll find plenty of chi chi resorts to choose from.
Of course, this eco-luxury in the wilderness is only accessible to those who have a hefty travel budget. So if you’re looking to splash out, BC’s unique resorts will deliver a unique experience with lots of opportunity for transformation.
Food & Drink
Canadian West Coasters tend to be a laid back bunch, not standing on ceremony or putting on airs. West Coast cuisine matches this attitude perfectly.
The best meals are often found in casual restaurants or cafes, where the quality of the food takes precedence over the table settings. It is usually food designed to fill a belly that has worked up an appetite in the great outdoors.
In keeping with the Canadian stereotype, service is usually friendly and efficient. Dining in West Coast restaurants often feels like you’re a part of the family and that nobody would blink twice if you grabbed a glass of wine and headed into the kitchen for a chat with the chef.
The food is usually casual too, with organic salads made from local produce, stacked sandwiches on artisanal bread, and hearty homemade soups making an appearance on most menus. Fish and seafood is a big draw too — salmon and oysters have been a staple of the West Coast diet for thousands of years.
The West Coast even offers a uniquely Canadian twist on fast food. For lunch, do like the locals and stop in a Tim Hortons for soup, sandwiches, and a sampling of their famous donuts.
For vegans and vegetarians
As vegans, we have witnessed a huge leap forward in the last couple of years when it comes to animal-friendly food on the West Coast. There are tons of great vegan restaurants in Vancouver and omni restaurants usually have a few vegan option available. Victoria has a pretty decent vegan scene, too.
Outside of the cities, it’s harder to find dedicated vegan eateries, but most restaurants have animal-friendly options. If not, staff usually have a good understand of what vegan means and are happy to make something suitable.
Thanks to Beyond Meat, there are even fast food options for vegans travelling on Canada’s West Coast. Tim Hortons, A&W, and White Spot (all local chains) serve various Beyond Meat items. Boston Pizza has recently introduced a vegan menu, too.
Cool tip: You can also find vegan Magnum bars in most Shopper’s Drug Marts. Just sayin’.
Responsible Travel on the West Coast
It’s pretty hard to get on the bad side of a British Columbian. For the most part, we are a live-and-let-live people. If you need any help, just ask the closest local and you’ll have more than you need in minutes.
But there are a few tips we can offer to avoid offending the locals.
Culture and Customs
For the most part, friendly, straightforward, and welcoming is the name of the game in BC.
However, we BCers also like our rules, especially as they apply to preserving nature or keeping things rolling along smoothly. So when you’re in a Provincial Park and the sign says “No Smoking” or “Stay on the Trails” it actually means it.
Disobey at your peril. West Coasters are not afraid to take you to task if they perceive that you’re doing something to disrupt the social or environmental order!
First Nations Culture
Thousands of years before Europeans moved into the West Coast, First Nations people were living in harmony with the land. White settlers destroyed this culture, inhabited their land, and created policies that put First Nations concerns last. It is a black mark on our history.
As a visitor to these shores, you can get a glimpse into the culture that once was, while supporting a culture that is currently struggling.
It’s easy to find top-rated tours, accommodations, and other businesses run by First Nations people. There are also lots of museums and other historical attractions dedicated to the culture – so plan some time in your itinerary to expand your perspective.
If you’re going to visit Canada’s West Coast, please be aware of the environmental impact your trip will have. Yes, you will see plenty of locals in outsized RVs cruising the highways of the province — but that doesn’t mean you have to join them.
Think about your choices of accommodation, eating, and activities, and decide if there’s a more eco-friendly approach you could take.
Do you really need that enormous RV or would a tent be a better choice? Are you aware of how the seafood you order impacts the entire ecosystem, including the whales you so desperately want to see? Are you really in such a rush that you need to hit the drive through lane? Could you eat in instead and avoid a lot of paper garbage?
Bringing your own containers to the store, not using disposable shopping bags, and using your own coffee cup are normal in BC, so come prepared to be part of the eco revolution.
We don’t ask you to be perfect, just think a little more carefully about the choices you make when you travel!
Charities and Non-Profits to Support
It’s our big audacious goal to start a movement of travellers who commit 1–10% of their travel budgets to support local people and environmental causes.
If you can afford to travel to BC, you can afford to put part of your travel budget into giving back to local communities and the environment. We encourage you to check out these charities and pick one to support.
I Love First Peoples
Empowers Indigenous children and youth to succeed through education and the motivation to stay in school. We bridge communities through practical projects that promote reconciliation and education.
David Suzuki Foundation
This Vancouver-based organization uses evidence-based research, education, and policy analysis, to conserve and protect the natural environment and to help create a sustainable Canada. Stephen and I personally support this foundation with a monthly donation
Committed to the recovery of the Southern Resident killer whale population in BC and protecting the wild places on which it depends.
Take a Hike Foundation
Empowers vulnerable youth to believe in their potential and discover their own path to success through full-time programs of intensive and continuous clinical counselling, outdoor adventure, academics, and community.
Packing List for BC’s West Coast
What you’ll need to pack for your trip to BC really depends on the time of year and the type of travel you’re planning to do. You’ll want very different items if you’re planning 5 days in Vancouver than you’ll need if you’re going to spend 2 weeks in Haida Gwaii.
Here we recommend some items that most travellers to BC’s coastal region will need, plus a few extra items for specific circumstances.
- Comfortable, casual clothing – You won’t need much in the way of dressy clothes on a typical BC holiday. Bring comfortable outfits that work as well on the hiking trail as in a casual cafe and you’ll be set for most occasions. If you plan to splash out on evenings out in Vancouver or Victoria, you might want to bring slightly dressier travel clothes.
- Sunscreen – Despite its rainy reputation, the sun does shine in BC. If you’re planning any beach time, kayaking, or outdoor adventures, you’ll need a good sunscreen.
- Sun hat – Extra important if you plan to do any boating in BC.
- Sunglasses – A necessity for boating, skiing, hiking, or days at the beach.
- Rain jacket – Canada’s West Coast is nicknamed the Raincoast. Need I say more?
- Umbrella – See above. Even in summer, rain can come out of nowhere. Be prepared.
- Waterproof walking shoes – There are thousands of stunning hiking trails in BC and it would be a shame not to experience at least a few on your BC trip. You’ll most likely be stepping over mountain creeks or splashing through puddles, so waterproof shoes are best.
- Refillable water bottle – Tap water in BC is clean and tasty. Bring a bottle that you can fill up before every BC activity.
- Small first aid kit – Adventures can bring minor injuries and blisters. Pack a small first aid kit to make the little things a little less painful.
For winter travel
- Toque/wooly hat and gloves – Though coastal BC is much warmer than the rest of the country, it does get chilly enough to need ear and hand warmers on occasion. Bring them along to help you stay toasty on the coldest days.
- Warm layers – The weather can really vary in BC during the winter, ranging from bright, sunny and temperate, to cold and a little miserable. Pack layers so you can bundle up and strip off as needed.
For camping trips
Aside from the normal equipment you need for camping, we also recommend the following items.
- Camping tarp – Have I mentioned that it rains in BC? Most BC campers bring extra ropes and tarps so that a little rain won’t get in the way of enjoying the outdoors.
- Tent mallet – The campgrounds in BC tend to have hard-packed tent sites. If you have space, bring a mallet to help pound in those tent stakes.
- Cook stove – Some campgrounds are pretty remote and the best option for meals is to cook your own. You’ll also welcome a hot cup of coffee or tea on those cool Canadian mornings.
Is It Safe to Travel in Canada?
For the most part, Canadians are honest, friendly, and helpful, so you don’t have to worry much about safety when travelling in BC. Just use your common sense and you’ll be fine.
Aside for the social distancing and hygiene measures that go along with coronavirus, you won’t have to take too many extra safety precautions.
Every year, Search and Rescue teams in BC are called into wilderness areas to rescue tourists who have strayed off the trail and become lost. British Columbia has an abundance of true wilderness, and it doesn’t take much to go from a fun day out to a terrifying or fatal experience.
When you’re heading out into nature in Canada:
- Always let someone know where you’re planning to go. You can use the AdventureSmart app to help you.
- Pack extra water, snacks, and warm layers in case of emergency.
- Stay on trails and obey posted signs. They are there for your safety.
- Carry a small first-aid kit for minor abrasions and bigger emergencies.
- Fire-making kit, including waterproof matches and a lighter (in case one fails).
- Signalling device, like a mirror or a whistle.
Before you go, read more about wilderness safety on the AdventureSmart website.
Safety in the City
Take the same precautions in Vancouver and Victoria as you would in other cities around the world. While both places are relatively safe, it’s still a good idea not to wander around unfamiliar neighbourhoods late at night. You also shouldn’t leave valuables unattended or dangle expensive cameras, purses etc off your arm.
During the pandemic, British Columbia has fared extremely well under the wise guidance of now-famous Dr. Bonnie Henry. The virus barely touched Vancouver Island and the communities surrounding Vancouver, and cases across the province are currently well under control.
Be aware that as you travel around BC, you will be expected to observe the same social distancing measures as the locals:
- Maintain a 2-metre physical distance from others
- Wear a mask in public spaces
- Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer regularly
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue or into your elbow
If you feel ill, do not travel. If you fall ill while travelling, self-isolate immediately and call 8-1-1.
For those coming to BC from outside of Canada, there is currently a mandatory 14-day quarantine in place.
How to Get Around on the West Coast
If you’re planning a city break in Vancouver or Victoria, driving is not really necessary. Both cities have compact downtown cores and reliable public transportation.
However, if you want to visit the rest of the coast, a car is almost a necessity.
Many locations for outdoor adventures are only accessible by car and some regions have limited public transportation. Driving in BC is very easy, with light traffic and well maintained roads — though you might encounter some dirt or gravel roads on more remote adventures.
Busses and BC Transit
It’s easy to get around Vancouver and Victoria by bus and Skytrain (Vancouver only). BC Transit networks are well planned, clean, comfortable and affordable. Smaller cities on the coast also have transit networks but they tend to be a little less comprehensive.
If you’re planning on visiting very small communities or islands, you may have a tough time getting around by bus, as services are very limited.
There are a few coach services in BC that will help you get between various cities:
- The BC Ferries Connector allows you to board a bus in downtown Vancouver that will take you all the way to downtown Victoria (via BC Ferries).
- The Island Link shuttle runs passengers between Victoria and Campbell River, stopping off at all cities in between.
- Vancouver Island Connector offers summer services between Victoria, Tofino, and Uclulet.
Unfortunately, there are lots of attractions in BC that cannot be reached by public transport, so if you really want to explore off the beaten path, you will need your own transportation.
Most trips to coastal BC involve at least a couple of journeys on BC Ferries.
Ferries will take you between Vancouver and Victoria, to the Gulf Islands, to the Sunshine Coast, and between Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii. Though locals complain endlessly about BC Ferries (services, costs etc), to me, they are one of the great joys of travelling in BC.
If you’re walking, cycling, or driving a motorbike, BC Ferries are extremely convenient. Just show up 20–30 minutes before departure time, buy a ticket, and get straight on the ferry.
Taking BC Ferries with a car can add a lot to your travel budget and requires a bit more planning.
During summer and on holiday weekends, BC Ferries routinely get sold out. If you want to get on a specific ferry, you’ll need to make a reservation ahead of time. If you show up without a reservation, you sometimes end up waiting for several sailings (which can be hours apart) before you get onboard.
We spent two months last summer cycling Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. While we did love it, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for cycle touring newbies. There are a few reasons for this:
- Hilly terrain – the geography of the coast is made up of islands, inlets, fjords and mountains. While it is undeniably beautiful, all these hills make cycling hard work. One of the steepest hills we’ve ever ridden is in Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast.
- Highway riding – there are lots of places on the coast where there are no secondary roads to get you from point A to point B. That means cycle tourists often have to ride the highway. While BC’s highways usually have wide paved shoulders, it can still be uncomfortable cycling next to traffic going 100km/h, especially in the pouring rain.
- Dirt backroads – if you’re lucky enough to find a back route, it is often gravel or dirt, which provides its own kind of challenge, making cycling with a fully loaded bike slow and grinding.
- Spotty services – some areas of the West Coast have limited access to necessities like groceries. There were segments of our cycling trip where we had to carry 3 days of food and water with us. That makes for one heavy bike!
- Lots of rain – even in the middle of summer, you should be prepared to cycle drenched, or to hide in your tent for entire days. We have experienced both, and neither is ideal.
I don’t mean that to sound terribly negative about cycling in BC.
If you’re an experienced cycle tourist, cycling on the West Coast can be great. And if you’re into bike packing, you’ll find plenty of amazing off-road terrain for your adventures.
However, if you’re a newbie, BC might not be the best place for your first cycle tour.
Especially on the smaller islands and in more remote communities, hitch-hiking is fairly common. It usually works best for short rides. For example, from the campground to the ferry terminal, or from North Vancouver to the mountains. For longer journeys between cities, it’s probably easier and wiser to get the bus.
Cycling in Vancouver
Vancouver is a fantastic cycling city, and in the last decade, huge strides have been made in terms of infrastructure and public education. Most of Vancouver is accessible on bike paths or bike lanes. Plus, the city has reached critical mass, making cycling a normal and expected way to get around.
If you want to explore Vancouver by bike, check out our three favourite bike routes in the city and our guide to renting a bike in Vancouver.
A Final Note About Visiting Canada’s West Coast
Whether you’re visiting from inside Canada, from the US, or abroad, the BC Coast provides plenty of opportunities for transformational travel experiences. Plan to include some adventures in the great outdoors, spiritual experiences, or wellness activities into your itinerary.
No matter what kind of transformation you’re looking for, you’ll find it on Canada’s West Coast.
For a truly transformational trip, make sure to plan for activities that have the potential to change your perspective and help you learn and grow as a person. Grab our free Transformational Travel Bucket List to find out what kinds of experiences lead to true transformation through travel.
♥ Happy transformational travels, Jane & Stephen
I hope this travel guide for Canada’s West Coast helps you create your ideal BC travel itinerary. It’s our goal to help our readers make every trip truly transformational and I know your trip to BC has the potential to be utterly life-changing. Send me an email if you have any questions!
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