Nanaimo to Tofino Drive Itinerary – All The Best Stops!
The Nanaimo to Tofino drive is one of the best road trips you can experience in British Columbia. With a vast array of scenery, you’ll never get bored on this road trip. This trip can be done as a standalone, or as part of a bigger trip throughout Vancouver Island or BC. The drive from Nanaimo to Tofino can be done in 3 hours if you make no stops, but trust me, you will want to stop!
As far as road trips go, you will experience a change of scenery throughout this drive. Everything from mountains and lakes, to wildlife and quirky country stores.
I first did this trip way back in 2017 and again in 2022 and both times was experience I won’t forget. The first time we did this route we were blessed with many wildlife sightings including a bear, and a Bald Eagle that was flying right beside our truck as we passed by Sproat Lake.
Read on to discover all the best stops on your Nanaimo to Tofino drive!
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How long is the drive from Nanaimo to Tofino?
Although the drive from Nanaimo to Tofino is 3-hours one way if you make no stops, you should set aside a whole day for this drive if you really want the full experience. If you are low on time, you can stop by some of the places you missed on the return journey back to Nanaimo.
Getting to Nanaimo
Unless you are coming from Vancouver Island or are already on the island, getting to Nanaimo will require taking a ferry.
There are two direct ferry routes to Nanaimo; Tsawwassen (Vancouver) to Swartz Bay (Victoria), or Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay (Nanaimo). The second route (from Horseshoe Bay) will take you directly to Nanaimo, otherwise you’ll need to drive from Victoria to Nanaimo.
Ferries can be booked through the BC Ferries website.
If you already on Vancouver Island, getting to Nanaimo from Victoria is approximately a 1 hour & 40 minute drive.
Nanaimo to Tofino Map
Where to Stay in Tofino
Every year Tofino grows in popularity. As a result, the accommodation options are starting to sell out months, sometimes a year in advance. The busiest months ten to be late June to mid September. Although there is ample accommodation in Tofino, it is recommended to book well in advance.
Accommodation in Tofino ranges from luxury suites on the beach to basic campgrounds. There are options for every budget in Tofino.
- Pacific Sands Beach Resort – If you are looking for the best luxury hotel in Tofino, Pacific Sands Beach Resort ticks all the boxes. Their beachfront suites are incredibly popular.
- The Maq Hotel – The Maq Hotel is great mid-range hotel option and is situated right in the heart of Tofino town. This is a great location for accessing all the local restaurants and Tofino Marina.
- Surf Grove Campground – For camping, Surf Grove is one of the top campgrounds in Tofino. This campground provides easy access to Cox Bay with the beach being just a short 5-minute walk away. There are 135 full-serviced RV sites and 64 semi-serviced sites.
Top Places to Stop on the Nanaimo to Tofino Drive
1) Coombs Country Store – Goats on the Roof
The first stop on this Nanaimo to Tofino road trip is the Coombs Country Store. This place is famous for having goats that live on the roof and is a quick detour from the highway. On a sunny day many of the goats can be seen on the roof but they tend to stay inside on rainy days.
The actual store is huge and sells a wide variety of products. You can find souvenirs, artisan goods, fresh produce, ceramic wares and really good ice cream!
The Coombs Country Market is incredibly popular, so if you do wish to stop here you may have to wait for a parking space. The store is open March through to October and closes in the winter months.
2) Little Qualicum Falls
One of my favourite stops on the drive to Tofino is Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. A short 10-minute drive from Coombs Country Market, Little Qualicum Falls is an easy hiking trail suitable all types of fitness levels. This whole park is incredibly scenic with views of the stunning Qualicum River all along the trail.
There are two waterfalls in the park, the upper falls and lower falls. To reach the falls in an easy hiking trail that loops past both falls. This can be done clockwise or counter-clockwise. The upper falls is the more impressive of the two waterfalls, and cascades beautifully down the rocks and cliffs.
The whole loop will take approximately an hour to complete. If you are short on time I’d recommend going counter-clockwise and just stopping at the lower falls. If you want to spend more time here, there is a beautiful area with a few picnic tables that are great for a picnic.
3) Cameron Lake
A little after Little Qualicum Falls, you’ll pass by the jaw-dropping Cameron Lake, also situated in Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. Cameron Lake is beautiful year-round and well worth a stop whatever the season.
The lake is great for cooling off in the summer or just stopping by to have lunch on one of the picnic benches, Whether you make a stop at Cameron Lake or are just passing by, the stunning views of this lake will certainly turn heads.
4) Cathedral Grove
Vancouver Island is known for its abundance of old growth forests, and one of the most impressive is Cathedral Grove. Located within MacMillan Provincial Park, Cathedral Grove encompasses some of the oldest trees in British Columbia.
It is hard to miss Cathedral Grove as you have no choice but to drive through it. You will know this section of the drive as you are immediately engrossed in stunning Old Growth. If you find yourself saying “Wow!” You have arrived!
There are a network of walking trails in Cathedral Grove that are surrounded by Giant Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar. The trees are so large here, they create a canopy.
While there is lots of parking here, Cathedral Grove is possibly the busiest spot on this list. If you really want to venture through the park I’d recommend getting here as early as you can.
5) Hole in the Wall
The Hole in The Wall has become a very popular hike in Port Alberni with the increase of visitors heading to Tofino and Ucluelet. Although not the hidden gem it used to be, the Hole in the Wall is definitely worth a stop if you have time.
This short family friendly hike leads you to a a literally hole in a wall. The actual hole in the wall is a man-made formation that was blasted to make way for a pipeline to bring a water supply from Rogers Creek to Port Alberni. The pipe is now gone and what remains is a large hole in the volcanic shale with a beautiful creek that flows through it.
The total trail length is 1.3 kilometres and is considered an easy hike.
6) Taylor River Rest Area
You would not think that these crystal emerald green waters can be accessed at a rest stop, but this one of Vancouver Island’s best kept secrets.
At first sight, the Taylor River rest stop looks like your standard rest stop with bathrooms and picnic benches. The rest stop also offers free WiFi and EV chagrinning stations.
If you venture to your right, past the bathrooms and picnic tables into the trees, a calm, clear and bright green river starts to appear. There is a tree swing and areas to venture down to this beautiful sparkling water, You can even bring a stand-up paddle board with you!
7) Kennedy Lake
Before the final leg of the drive to Tofino, you’ll pass by the magnificent Kennedy Lake Provincial Park. Adjacent to Pacific Rim National Park, Kennedy Lake is the largest lake on Vancouver Island and it’s impossible not to be wowed by its beauty.
Kennedy Lake is a popular day use area for locals and tourists. There are two day-use sites along the south shore of the lake that are perfect for swimming, kayaking, fishing and windsurfing. It’s also a great spot to stop for lunch.
8) Long Beach
Just before you come into the main town of Tofino, you will pass through Pacific Rim National Park. There is much to do in Pacific Rim National Park.
Long Beach is the first beach you will pass when coming into Tofino, it’s really hard to miss as just as the name suggests, it’s very long! This is a popular spot for surfers or people wanting to hang out and watch the surf. While Long Beach is the main attraction of Pacific Rim National Park, there is plenty to do here.
If you do intend to stop at Long Beach, you will need a Parks Pass as it is located within the National Park. If you do not already have a Parks Pass, there are kiosks located at every parking lot where you can purchase one.
9) Radar Hill
If you are looking for a short easy hike on your way into Tofino, Radar Hill is a great choice. This short trail is situated within Pacific Rim National Park and leads to viewpoints over the Tofino Inlet.
Radar Hill was once a radar station during World War II, it has now become a place for people to walk and enjoy the surrounding views. This trail is paved the whole way and only climbs a few metres. Along the way you’ll find a Totem Pole and an area to sit and relax.
You’ve arrived in Tofino! There is plenty to see and do in Tofino and it is really worthy of your time. 3 days in Tofino is the perfect amount of time to really get to know this surf town. Check out my 3 days in Tofino itinerary on how to get the most out of your time here.
Extend Your Trip To Ucluelet
Ucluelet is another beautiful rugged west coast town near Tofino. You will have to go in the opposite direction to Tofino to get to Ucluelet, so I haven’t included it in my must see stops on the way to Tofino, but this is another option if you have the time.
Personally I think Ucluelet is worthy of a whole day instead of a few hours. Must do activities in Ucluelet include the Wild Pacific Trail, which showcases the magnificent rugged coastline of this beautiful peninsula.
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