The Land of Big Trees, Big Bears, and Big Whales

Vancouver Island, located off of the Pacific coast of Canada, is a land of rugged coastlines, ancient trees, and a plethora of wildlife. We opted to visit this island in the fall for cooler hiking temperatures, a chance to spot bears during the salmon run, and still have the possibility of seeing whales. Past mid October, Vancouver Island enters storm season where spectacular sea swells can be seen off the western coast.

There are several possibilities to get to Vancouver Island. Certainly, you could fly directly to the island as daily flights from Calgary and Edmonton bring tourists directly to Victoria, the capital. However, many visitors opt to take the ferry. There are three ferries that connect visitors from Washington state to Vancouver Island as well as ferries from the Canadian mainland to Victoria via BC Ferries. We opted for the Coho ferry, which provides a daily service between downtown Victoria and Port Angeles in Washington. We chose this as it was less expensive to fly to Seattle and rent a car versus renting a car once arriving on Vancouver Island. The Coho Ferry allows you to bring your vehicle; however, be aware that there not every ferry allows vehicles. I would highly recommend having a vehicle to explore the island. It would really be a shame to only see Victoria as there is so much more to explore. From tip to tip the drive from Victoria in the south to Port Hardy on the northern shore takes a bit over 5 hours. Given that we only had a week, we made more of a circle up to the midway point of the island from Victoria north to Campbell River, east to Tofino and back south to Victoria.

Ferry or Plane?

Because we flew into Seattle, the ferry times didn’t perfectly align with our flight, and we thought it a bit risky to plan on the ferry the day we arrived in Seattle. Therefore, we had a bonus day to explore Olympic National Park in the northwest corner of Washington State. Read about it here!The Coho Ferry departs from Port Angeles and arrives in Victoria taking approximately 1.5 hours. The cost is $73 for a vehicle and a driver and passengers are $22. We were fortunate to have stunning weather but not as fortunate as we didn’t spy any whales which are supposedly frequent.

One Week on Vancouver Island

Pre Vancouver Island: Olympic National Park

Days 1 + 2: Victoria

Day 3 + 4: Campbell River 

Day 5 + 6 + 7: Tofino and Ucluelet

One Big Week of Outdoor Adventures

Vancouver Island was spectacular. Brown and black bears, miles of scenic hiking, and boat trips to see the marine wildlife make this quite a fall week that we can wholeheartedly recommend!

Minor Indulgence

The brown bear tour with Homalco tours was our most costly excursion. At 500 CAD per person it’s expensive. All tours up here are similarly priced however, and it’s almost guaranteed to see brown bears. 

Major Buzz

Storm season here is rumored to be amazing. A waterfront accommodation to watch the Pacific crash into the sandy shores with a warm cocoa in hand sounds like a perfect fall weekend witnessing the ocean’s power!

Open Rhode Insider Tips

  1. Look into all your travel options for arriving to Vancouver Island. You can fly directly there, but it might be less expensive and more of an adventure to take your car over on the ferry.
  2. The majority of the wildlife is best viewed with binoculars and/or a telephoto lens so pack these to avoid disappointment. 
  3. Bear tours can sell out so plan ahead if you need a specific date. 
  4. We can’t recommend the cabins at Brown’s Bay Resort for an off the beaten path more highly. It’s simply blissful there. 
  5. Choose between Tofino and Ucluelet based on your preferences. You might have a better chance at a waterfront property that is more reasonably priced in Ucluelet, but if you know you’ll want to dine out every night, you are going to do a lot of back and forth driving. 
  6. Cold water surfing is major here and lessons abound, so if you are feeling adventurous, grab your wetsuit and go. 
  7. The Tofino Brewing Company makes a great beer and a sunset on a sandy beach watching the sun dip over the Pacific after a day of hiking really epitomizes the vibe of Vancouver Island. 

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