Leave the mainland behind and drop into Island time.

This trip begins in Nanaimo, a mid-island gateway town on Vancouver Island’s central east coast.

WINDING AND UNWINDING

Unwind as you wind from Nanaimo in the Traditional Territory of the Snuneymuxw (pronounced “snue-ney-mowck”) First Nation through mossy forests and over misty mountains. Travel along Pacific Rim Highway 4 toward Tofino — a legendary surf, storm, and sunset locale situated within the ḥahuułi (pronounced “ha-houlthee”) Traditional Territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht (pronounced “klay-o-kwee-at”) First Nation of the nuučaanułatḥ (pronounced “new-chaw-nulth”) Peoples.

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Leave the mainland behind and drop into Island time. This trip begins in Nanaimo, a mid-island gateway town on Vancouver Island’s central east coast.

Daily flights are available from Vancouver or you can travel by ferry across the Georgia Strait, an arm of the Salish Sea. This ride often delights visitors with chance encounters with orcas and other marine wildlife.

Travel north on Highway 19 from Nanaimo toward Parksville and Qualicum Beach. The Pacific Rim Highway winds through the Vancouver Island Mountains just west of here. Begin your pursuit of the setting sun as you venture from Nanaimo and traditional Coast Salish lands to Tofino in the Nuu-chah-nulth Territory.

Before you go...

Remember to review road conditions on this legendary highway. Here is a selection of some of our favourite stops and Indigenous experiences along this route:

Nanaimo

ETCHED IN STONE

Nanaimo | BC Bird Trail/The Number Creative
Bird Watching in Nanaimo | BC Bird Trail/The Number Creative

Nanaimo

Start your drive to the west coast of Vancouver Island in the traditional territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation, who have inhabited present-day Nanaimo since time immemorial. Surrounded by water on three sides, it is a place where the direct connection between daily life and the surrounding waters prevails.

What to Explore in Nanaimo

Visit Petroglyph Provincial Park, located near the Nanaimo River Estuary at the south end of town. Easily accessible from the Trans-Canada Highway, this collection of carvings etched into stone by stone depicts Coast Salish people, animals, and mythological sea creatures and dates back to at least the 10th century.

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Petroglyph Park | Credit/ Hideaway Creative BC Parks

Saysutshun | Destination BC/@glamouraspirit_

Experience Saysutshun (pronounced “SAY-sut-shun”; formerly Newcastle Island) off the coast of downtown Nanaimo, and the traditional territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation. Hear sacred stories directly from Knowledge Keepers. Saysutshun is a spiritual place for the Snuneymuxw People that held village sites(?) and provided rich natural resources for countless generations. Managed by Snuneymuxw First Nation in partnership with BC Parks and the City of Nanaimo, Saysutshun is only accessible via passenger ferry or boat and has an 18 walk-in sites and five group sites that can accommodate up to 50 people

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Ay Lelum, (pronounced similar to “aigh(t) lay-lum”) translates to “Good House” in Hul’qumi’num (pronounced “hull-kuh-mee-num”), is the studio of a multi-generational family of collaborative Coast Salish artists. Located in Snuneymuxw Territory, this Indigenous family arts collective also makes music and hosts workshops and fashion shows. Shop for ready-to-wear pieces and other artwork by the family at their new facility in Nanaimo.

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Ay Lelum

Off the Hook | Credit/ @offthehooknanaimo

Where to Eat in Nanaimo

Off the Hook specialises in contemporary seafood and offers an all gluten-free menu with smokery food and family-friendly options. Dine in and enjoy their chef-curated fully prepared meals in outdoor seating or takeaways. Large groups are welcome; digital and in-restaurant gift cards are available.

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Enjoy harbour views at Trollers Fish and Chips, a floating restaurant located in the heart of Nanaimo. Committed to sustainability and environmental consciousness, Trollers serves halibut, cod, and salmon from the surrounding waters. Part of the Off the Hook Surf Turf and Smokery Family, the seaside restaurant offers a carefully curated selection of fish dishes, premium house-smoked meats, salads, and hamburgers.

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Trollers Fish & Chips | Credit/ Trollers Fish & Chips

Where to Stay in Nanaimo

Stay at the new Courtyard Nanaimo, an environmentally sustainable Marriott hotel, where Snuneymuxw culture is celebrated by visitors worldwide. Your stay supports the economic growth of the majority owners Snuneymuxw First Nation and the local community.

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Courtyard Nanaimo
Courtyard Nanaimo Guest Room

Nanaimo to Parksville and Qualicum Beach

MAKE AN INWARD TURN

Qualicum Beach | BC Bird Trail/The Number Creative

Approximate Distance from Nanaimo to Parksville 38 km
Nanaimo to Qualicum Beach 43 km

Cruise the Coastline

It’s all laid back on the drive north from Nanaimo to nearby Parksville and Qualicum Beach, home to Qualicum First Nation. Following the eastern coastline of Vancouver Island, the route offers endless glimpses of the ocean, bays for beachcombing, and quaint cafes and shops that can easily turn this relaxing 30-minute drive into an all-day excursion.

Spend a few hours exploring or immediately continue west from Parksville, home to the Snaw-Naw-As First Nation. Make your way toward Qualicum Beach on the lands of Qualicum First Nation, its beautiful shoreline and your exit to Tofino.

BC Map 200 km 124 mi Nanaimo Nanaimo Parksville Parksville Qualicum Beach Qualicum Beach

Where to Stay

Qualicum First Nation Campground, RV & Cabins is centrally located with a short drive from Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island. Bordered by the temperate waters of the Strait of Georgia, the campground is divided by the Big Qualicum River and provides beach access to all guests. Seasonal campsites, basic camping, serviced and non-serviced waterfront and off-water recreational vehicle sites, and full RV hook-up sites are available.

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Qualicum First Nation Campground, RV & Cabins | Credit/ Qualicum First Nation

Qualicum Beach to Port Alberni

UP ONE SIDE AND DOWN THE OTHER

Alberni Valley | Tourism Vancouver Island/Alberni Valley Tourism,Matthew Littlewood

Approximate Distance from Qualicum Beach to Port Alberni 57 km

Like a Journey to the Edge of the World

From this strand of seaside stops, turn onto Pacific Rim Highway 4 at Qualicum Beach. This cross-island trip has been made much easier for visitors in recent years with upgrades to the highway, but the dramatic forces of nature that make travel to Tofino feel like a journey to the edge of the world are still at play.

Port Alberni is a well-known fishing town and the surrounding mountains provide endless opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, and wildlife viewing. After leaving Port Alberni, you’ll enter the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Be sure to check road conditions during the fall and winter months.

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BC Map 200 km 124 mi Qualicum Beach Qualicum Beach Port Alberni Port Alberni

What to Explore Around Port Alberni

Before you reach Port Alberni, situated within the traditional territory of the Tseshaht (pronounced “say-shot“) and Hupacasath (pronounced “ho-putch-eh-set”) First Nations, visit Cathedral Grove. Look for culturally modified trees among this stand of red cedar and Douglas fir trees, the largest of which is estimated to be over 800 years old. The area’s watershed is a significant wildlife corridor and links Clayoquot Sound (originally “tla-o-qui-aht”; pronounced “klaw-oh-kwee-awt”) and Mount Arrowsmith, both designated UNESCO biosphere reserves.

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Cathedral Grove | Destination BC/Sean Scott

Ahtsik Gallery in Port Alberni

Ahtsik Gallery & Gordon Dick Studio, open by appointment or chance, represents Indigenous artists who work in the traditional styles of their cultures. Located on the Tseshaht First Nation lands in the temperate coastal rainforest of west coast Vancouver Island, right next to the city of Port Alberni, the gallery and studio is owned by Tseshaht/Nuu-chah-nulth artist and Master Carver Gordon Dick, who works from his on-site carving shed. Purchase an existing piece or commission a custom piece.

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Located in Port Alberni, Slivers Charters Salmon Sport Fishing offers safely-guided salmon and halibut saltwater fishing charters in several areas around Vancouver Island, including Port Alberni, Barkley Sound and Bamfield, and Ucluelet (pronounced “you-clue-let”). Families, corporate groups, and groups of up to 30 and more are welcome. Accommodations are available.

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Slivers Charters Salmon Sports Fishing | Credit/ catchsalmon-ca.com

Where to Eat

Stop at Bare Bones Fish and Chips, a contemporary restaurant offering a gluten-free, innovative, and globally-inspired menu. With Ocean Wise seafood and in-house smoked meat, this Port Alberni restaurant showcases a diverse range of fish, quality meats, tacos, burgers, and bowls.

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Bare Bones Fish House & Smokery | Credit/ Bare Bones Fish House & Smokery
Port Alberni | Tourism Vancouver Island/Alberni Valley Tourism,Peter O'Hara

Where to Stay

Chim’s Guest House is located on the Pacific Rim Highway in Port Alberni and offers a selection of mobility-friendly guest houses for your accommodation. Online booking and corporate travel bookings are available at these mountain-view guest houses, all with full kitchens and wi-fi.

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Chims Guest House

Nitinaht Comfort Camping | Credit/ nitinahtcampground.com

Nitinaht Comfort Camping is ideally located next to famous walking trails and provides access to both Nitinaht Lake and the Caycuse River — a place renowned for its untouched beauty and thermal winds that draw kite surfers and windsurfers from all over the world. Sites fill up fast annually with nature lovers and hikers looking to complete a shorter trek by accessing the new third entrance to the West Coast Trail.

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Nitinat Wilderness Charters on Nitinaht Lake on the West Coast of Vancouver Island offers accommodations, sightseeing tours, and seasonal daily water taxi services to and from the West Coast Trail. Located in the middle of the trail, the longstanding business welcomes walkers and visitors from around the world to take rest in their cozy rooms and cabins. Talk to staff to arrange a custom bird watching, whale watching, or oral history tour on the waters.

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Nitinat Wilderness Charters | Credit/ nitinatwildernesscharters.com

Port Alberni to Ucluelet and Tofino

A STONE'S THROW TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD

Ucluelet Lighthouse | TIABC & TVI/Peter O'Hara

Approximate Distance from Port Alberni to Ucluelet 101 km
Port Alberni to Tofino 126 km

A Wistful, Windswept Ocean Adventure

From here, it’s on to Ucluelet and Tofino and a wistful, windswept ocean adventure. You’ll reach the coast and Ucluelet, located in the traditional Nuu-chah-nulth territory and home to the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ (formerly Ucluelet First Nation) First Nation. Hike the Wild Pacific Trail or access the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

In both Ucluelet and Tofino, you’ll find what you came for — secluded beaches along a rugged, pristine coastline and the west of the west. Nuu-chah-nulth lands also include present-day Tofino, the traditional territory of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. While some travellers come to surf or storm watch, Tofino is also the perfect place to experience a sense of romantic isolation while enjoying luxurious oceanside accommodations, art galleries, and culinary experiences. Huu-ay-aht First Nations, Ahousaht (pronounced “a-howz-at” First Nation, Toquaht Nation, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, and Tla’amin (pronounced “sly-am-mon”) Nation all have tourism and cultural experiences they wish to share with respectful travellers. If you want to feel like you’ve slipped out of ordinary reality and found yourself at the world’s edge, embark on an Indigenous-led tour of local Nuu-chah-nulth waters.

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BC Map