When you’re researching your trip to Vancouver Island, Canada you’ll likely find endless information about British Columbia’s capital city, Victoria and there’s always lots to read about Nanaimo, the second largest city on Vancouver Island. You’ll find a plethora of articles all about the incredible restaurants, attractions, heritage sites in these areas – we know, we wrote a lot of them! But if you’re looking for a real Canadian adventure, there’s one road trip that is relatively unknown to anyone but locals that offers breathtaking pacific northwest coast landscapes, hidden natural swimming spots, wild surfing, quaint towns to explore, heritage sites, wineries and more: The Pacific Marine Circle Route. This 255 km road trip loops around southern Vancouver Island and takes you to parts of this Island that you would never normally get to experience. So, buckle up because we’ve got an adventure in 5 parts that will make you never want to leave Vancouver Island.
Victoria to Sooke
(40 km ~45 minutes)
Beginning in Victoria, you’ll want to head west on Highway 14. While this is technically a highway, Highway 14 is more of a country road than a major thoroughfare as it meanders through the city of Langford and the small town of Metchosin on the way to Sooke. Along this route, there are many stops you can make to stretch your legs. While you’re going through Langford, you can stop by Goldstream Provincial Park where you can find forested hiking trails, rushing rivers and gorgeous waterfalls. Pop into My-Chosen Cafe for a taste of country living and just outside of Sooke, be sure to visit Sheringham Distillery and try some truly unique pacific northwest coast flavoured spirits. When you get to Sooke, you’ll want to take a break and experience where the forest meets the ocean at East Sooke Park or take the short drive to see the incredible Sooke Potholes. You can take a seaside walk along Whiffin Spit, enjoy the spectacular ocean views and stop in at the nearby West Coast Grill for dinner.
Sooke to Port Renfrew
(71 km ~1.5 hours)
When you leave Sooke, you’ll be leaving a lot of familiar comforts behind and beginning your journey into the wild west coast. Many sections of this route are former logging roads that have been paved to make this trek easier and safer, but it is important to note that there is no cell service on this leg of the journey so use caution. Following this road that twists around enormous trees and past rushing waterfalls, between the open Pacific Ocean and dense west coast rainforest, you’ll find yourself in the most beautiful places in the world. On this part of your journey you’ll want to stop at the historical Sheringham Point Lighthouse, grab a bite at Shirley Delicious, one of the best rated cafés in Canada and stretch your legs at Jordan River, the southernmost beach of the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park where surfers from all over the island come to find incredible waves and battle the elements. As you continue your journey north into the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, be sure to stop at some of the beaches that dot this incredible park. You’ll find Sombrio, China, Mystic and Botanical beach along this route, each more beautiful than the next, perfect for stretching your legs and getting some fresh sea air. Perched at the top of Juan de Fuca Provincial Park you’ll find Port Renfrew. Here, the land juts out into the ocean, making it feel distinctly wild and where you’ll find incredible open ocean seascapes, old growth forests, hiking trails like the trailhead to the famous West Coast Trail and a quaint little town. It’s the perfect place to stop for supplies, have a delicious dinner or book a whale watching tour or go on a fishing expedition from Wild Renfrew Resort!
Port Renfrew to Duncan
(91km ~1.5 hours)
Heading back out onto the road from Port Renfrew, your route is going to start heading east to the Cowichan Valley where you will stop in the lovely little city of Duncan. As you leave Port Renfrew, you can make a quick detour to visit Avatar Grove – a magical grove of old growth Western Red Cedar and Douglas Firs and home to Canada’s Gnarliest Tree known to locals as “Big Lonely Doug” (note: this detour is best made with a four wheel drive vehicle.) As you’re leaving Port Renfrew, you can also visit Fairy Lake where you can see the mysterious “bonsai” – a tiny Douglas Fir growing out of a submerged log in the lake. The twisting road will eventually take you to Lake Cowichan, a large, fresh water lake and popular swimming spot for locals! Take a dip in the lake or take the time to experience tubing down the Cowichan River before heading back out on the road towards Duncan, home of the Cowichan Tribes First Nation and known for the incredible totems throughout the city centre.
Duncan to Sidney
(45km ~1.25 hours)
Once you’re finished exploring the beautiful heritage city of Duncan, it’s time to head south toward your next stop: Cowichan Bay. The people of this tiny little maritime village on the east coast of southern Vancouver Island really know how to slow down and appreciate life. With a bustling houseboat community on the water, an artisanal bakery, ocean-side dining, handmade ice cream and gift shops filled with handmade, local items, Cowichan Bay is a great place to take a break. From here, you’ll head south on Highway 1 towards Mill Bay passing through Vancouver Island’s wine country, home to incredible wineries. On this leg of the journey, there is also the Kinsol Trestle on the Cowichan Valley Trail that you can stop to see. As one of the largest free-standing wooden trestles in the world, views from here are remarkable! From there, you can go straight to the Mill Bay BC ferry terminal and wait for the ferry to take you across the Saanich Inlet to Brentwood Bay on the Saanich Peninsula, just south of Sidney. While the crossing doesn’t take long, the ferry itself is small and can only accommodate a certain number of vehicles each crossing so when you’re planning this leg of your journey, check the website to ensure there are no delays! When you’re landed in Brentwood Bay, head north to Sidney to explore this pedestrian friendly town centre, the lively marina and incredible restaurants!
Sidney to Victoria | Duncan to Victoria
(27km ~25 minutes) | (61km ~50 minutes)
If you’ve made it to Sidney from Duncan on the ferry, you’ll want to head down the Peninsula to the capital city of Victoria where your journey began! On your journey south, you’ll find many incredible sites where you can stop! In Sidney you can visit the Shaw Center for the Salish Sea, the local aquarium and educational centre, head to Butchart Gardens and explore the incredible blooms, wander through the orchard at Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse and stop into one of the many breweries in Saanich to try some local beer!
If you’re heading to Victoria from Duncan and have decided to save a trip to the Peninsula for another day, you’ll want to head south on the Malahat, the swooping, cliffside section of Highway 1 that connects the Cowichan Valley to Greater Victoria. As you travel south from Duncan, you can stop in at one of the many incredible wineries in the Cowichan Valley to taste the wine or to stop for a wonderful lunch. You’ll have to take the short hike to see the Kinsol Trestle on the Cowichan Valley Trail and if you’re ready to relax after such a long journey, be sure to book a treatment or two at the spa at the Villa Eyrie! As you approach Victoria, this is a great opportunity to stop by Goldstream Provincial Park if you weren’t able to on your way out of town or take a small detour to visit Hatley Castle and tour the incredible home and grounds of one of Victoria’s founding families in Colwood. If you’re ready to kick back after your journey, we get it! Grab an appointment at Willow Stream Spa and take yourself and your travel companion out for an incredible dinner downtown Victoria and pat yourselves on the back for completing the Pacific Marine Circle Route!