Horne Lake - Qualicum Beach, BC
There’s a good reason why the Sunshine Coast bears its name: it receives approximately 2,400 hours of sunlight annually, making it drier and sunnier than other destinations in the region. Sun-warmed beaches, marine adventures, and picturesque coastal scenery are all part of this three-to-five-day circle tour. Drive and ferry your way up the 180 kilometre (110 miles) Sunshine Coast, over to Vancouver Island, and down to the provincial capital of Victoria. This 359 kilometre (222 mile) circle tour stays close to the water and explores the island’s cozy seaside villages, beaches, and marinas.
From Vancouver, take Highway 1 west to the quaint and charming harbour community of Horseshoe Bay. While waiting to board the ferry to Langdale, be sure to explore the scenic marine village, one of Vancouver’s best stops for fish’ n’ chips! Paddlers and scuba divers will feel right at home in the waters of this small town nestled under the mountains bordering Howe Sound. While on land, the rocky hiking trails provide challenging terrain for trekkers. Enjoy the scenic sailing through Howe Sound.
You will arrive in Langdale 45 minutes later. Drive 8 kilometres (5 miles) into the scenic seaside village of Gibsons, a fishing community less than 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Vancouver, but well-removed from the big-city hustle and bustle. Nestled amongst Mount Elphinstone, Howe Sound and the Strait of Georgia, this picturesque seaside village offers a relaxing lifestyle surrounded by wildlife and natural beauty. Residents are welcoming, and visitors easily get lost in the hospitable ambience of the alluring community.
Head north 26km (16mi) on Highway 101 to the historic town of Sechelt. Rich in arts, culture and old-fashioned pubs and marinas, Sechelt and the surrounding villages are destinations for artisans, writers, and musicians. All along the coast, rocky beaches and gentle surf make kayaking and wildlife-viewing enjoyable activities.
Earl’s Cove is the furthest you can drive on Highway 101 before ferrying across Jervis Inlet. The 16 kilometre (10 miles), 50-minute ferry trip sails up Agamemnon Channel and around Nelson Island into Jervis Inlet. Along the way, you will see spectacular coastal scenery against the backdrop of the Coast Mountain range and beautiful fjords that adorn British Columbia’s coast.
From Saltery Bay on the other side of the inlet, take some time to explore Saltery Bay Provincial Park. This park is among the most beautiful waterfronts in the British Columbia parks system. From its shores you can see killer whales, seals and sea lions, and it is also a popular destination for scuba divers.
Continue north on Highway 101 31km (18mi) up the coast to Powell River. Situated along the magnificent Malaspina Strait, Powell River is surrounded by some of the most spectacular natural beauty in the world. Powell River‘s rich First Nations heritage, and the creativity of its residents, are clearly visible in many of the local shops. The original homes and businesses are Victorian-styled and have become western Canada’s only National Historic Townsite. Powell River‘s history as a prosperous forestry community is honoured each year at the Powell River Loggers’ Sports Competition.
BC Ferries will then take you from Powell River across the Strait of Georgia to Comox, an incredible urban centre surrounded by recreational getaways. The snow-capped mountains, plunging valleys, and salty sea embody limitless recreational opportunities for adventurers. Hiking and fishing are the most popular activities, but visitors can also relax and take in the unique shops, art shows, and theatrical performances. The city has access to nearby Strathcona Provincial Park. Through recent additions, the park almost stretches across the whole of Vancouver Island. Within its boundaries are Mt. Golden Hinde, home of the island’s tallest peak, and Della Falls – Canada’s highest waterfall.
As you travel down the island on Highway 19A, you’ll find the community of Qualicum Beach. Overlooking the magnificent coastline and beaches along the Strait of Georgia, Qualicum Beach is a place with legendary hospitality and magnificent coastal landscape. Just 11 kilometres (7 miles) down the road is the community of Parksville. Parksville has been a tourist hotspot for decades, drawing hoards of visitors with spectacular scenery and the warmest saltwater on Vancouver Island. Collectively, Qualicum Beach and Parksville have grown to become a major tourist destination jointly referred to as Oceanside. Here you’ll find a world-renowned beach that stretches an incredible 70 kilometres (43 miles). Visitors are quick to try sea kayaking or sailing in these pristine waters, but locals will tell you that the real attractions are salmon fishing and scuba diving – Jacques Cousteau has called Oceanside the second best cold-water-diving destination in the world. At low tide the ocean retreats, leaving behind hundreds of tidal pools and smooth sand. Armed with pails and shovels, children and parents alike can spend hours digging and exploring the seafloor.
If you’re looking for freshwater activities, then head 14 kilometres (9 miles) southwest to Englishman River Falls Provincial Park. The park features two breathtaking waterfalls that empty into narrow rock canyons. At the base of the lower falls is a deep pool perfect for swimming. With large day-use areas, families and nature lovers are in pure paradise amongst the park’s river-skirting trails and old-growth forests.
Follow Highway 19A south along the awe-inspiring coast of Vancouver Island to Nanaimo. With more than 200 parks, exceptional shopping, cultural scenery, fine dining, and of course, a mild climate, there’s no questioning why Nanaimo is a travelers’ hot-spot. Surprisingly, this active city has the atmosphere of a relaxing seaside getaway. An entire afternoon can be spent on the harbour front watching the flurry of tugs, ferries, floatplanes, and freighters go about their business. Add the fact that Nanaimo is ideally situated as a base for tours to the other parts of Vancouver Island, and you get a destination that’s the perfect choice for any kind of vacation.
The small but spirited town of Ladysmith is 23 kilometres (14 miles) down the coast and is often referred to as one of the prettiest small towns in Canada. Take a walking tour of Main Street to see the masterfully restored Edwardian buildings that house art galleries, antiques shops, and other collectibles.
Chemainus, 10 kilometres (6 miles) south of Ladysmith, is known for its world famous murals. Artists from around the world come to Chemainus to paint giant murals and turn the streets into an outdoor art gallery. Stroll through the charming downtown and find over two dozen murals that changed not only the face, but also the livelihood of the little community. Sculptors, potters, and painters continually congregate to this seaside town to take in the flavours and creative energy of other artists.
Continue south on Highway 19 until you reach Victoria, British Columbia’s idyllic provincial capital. Named in honour of Queen Victoria, the city is fittingly decorated and steeped in Victorian decadence. With double-decker buses, formal gardens, and the tradition of afternoon tea, visitors get to experience a little bit of Britain on BC’s West Coast. However, Victoria is fast becoming a mecca for outdoor adventurers. With a mild climate suited for kayaking, cycling, hiking, fishing, golfing, windsurfing, and diving, outdoor enthusiasts here are active year-round. The city is also steeped in rich history that is put on show throughout the many museums, heritage buildings, and Chinatown. Victoria’s Inner Harbour is always bustling with kayaks, whale watching boats, ferries, and float planes. Explore native totems and artwork in the local parks, tour the legislative buildings and don’t miss afternoon tea at the extravagant Empress Hotel as you end this circle tour.
Returning to Vancouver, board BC Ferries at Swartz Bay just north of Victoria and enjoy the 1.5-hour sailing to Tsawwassen as the ferry passes through the pastoral southern Gulf Islands on its way to the mainland.