The Ultimate British Columbia and Canadian Rockies Road Trip (Part 1 of 3)

Road trips - my favourite road trips! I love them for many reasons. Sitting behind a steering wheel and enjoying the surrounding beauty tha...

Road trips - my favourite road trips! I love them for many reasons. Sitting behind a steering wheel and enjoying the surrounding beauty that slowly unfolds before my eyes seem like a meditation. Road trips are also perfect to bond as a family. Though long driving may seem pretty monotonous and boring for rookies, you’ll be surprised how much you can learn from your travel companions under no time pressure if only you are able to patiently listen. I invite you to virtually join me on a 9-day road trip across most of southern British Columbia as well as Banff and Jasper National Parks. For a flatlander like me, the allure of snow-covered peaks, emerald lakes, mighty glaciers, immense ocean and a damp smell of old-growth rainforests was a such a delight.

My trip involved flying to and from Vancouver International Airport (YVR), but it can easily be adjusted if your flight is bound to Edmonton, Calgary, Kelowna or Victoria. Add a day or two to explore the City of Vancouver (Here and Here) if you haven't been there before. Make sure you check my previous article about traveling during COVID to know what to expect and what to be ready for.

Day 1: Victoria, BC. 
Catch an early flight from your originating airport and take advantage of a time difference. It'll still likely be a morning in Vancouver. After renting a car and having a breakfast (no food is served on domestic flights during COVID-19), take a short drive - 40-60 minutes depending on traffic - to the Tsawwassen BC Ferries terminal where you will catch a ferry to Vancouver Island. 
Remember I mentioned about booking your spot at BC Ferries in advance? Those without reservations can well spend half a day waiting in a stand-by line on a busy summer long weekend.
I would consider a 1.5 h ferry ride from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay (Victoria) an attraction on its own.
Scenic passages between gulf islands, snow-covered peaks of the Olympic Mountains in Washington, multi-million dollar waterfront houses, a plenty of wildlife including birds, seals and even whales!
Once in Swartz Bayconsider taking an alternative route to Victoria: a slower but very charming byway 17A. You will pass by a little known Gowlland Tod Provincial Park where you can bath in warm salt waters of Saanich Inlet. 
There is no better place to make acquaintance with Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, than starting your walking tour at Beacon Hill's Park. Besides recreational and sport facilities, it features extremely beautiful botanic gardens, perfect for late afternoon pictures. 
Victoria has such a pleasant weather and such a laid-back vibe, so most Canadians dream to retire there.
I can even compare Victoria with my favourite part of California - the coastal area between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The air is surprisingly dry despite the fact that the city is sitting by the Pacific Ocean. 
Definitely does not look like the rest of Canada.
Mile 0 of the Trans-Canada Highway - the mother roads of all roads in Canada. It stretches for 7,821 km / 4,860 mi across all 10 provinces. 
When you get hungry, make sure you check out Fisherman's Wharf, famous for its seafood. Whether you go with traditional fish and chips or more exotic Hawaiian poke, you won't be disappointed. 
Spend the rest of your day at Victoria's beautiful Inner Harbour - very nice place for strolling, people watching or just relaxing on the lawn in front of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia.  
At a golden hour, get ready to drive to Port Alberni, BC (2 hours). Why Port Alberni? It's halfway between Victoria and Tofino which makes it a convenient 2-night base to explore Vancouver Island.

Day 2: Tofino, BC. 
Tofino, properly dubbed as the “wet coast” of British Columbia, would surely win the prize of the most dreary place in the whole province if not for its outstanding surf, wildlife watching and, of course, the rarest type of a rainforest on Earth - the temperate rainforest.
Tofino attracts people from all over the world. Before the place became mainstream, hippies took a fancy to its long sandy beaches and cautiously kept the place’s lure in a secret...
...until Parks Canada took over most of the land and created the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. That’s how most of the coastal land between Tofino and Ucluelet is known today.
Take your time and make as many photo stops as you wish on your way to Tofino. Be careful while driving though - many animals may unexpectedly cross the road. We saw a baby black bear! 
Once you reach the junction where the road splits between Tofino and Ucluelet, grab a map with local trails and beaches at the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve's visitor centre. It might be cheaper to buy a day pass at the visitor centre than paying at each parking lot depending on how many stops you are planning to take at the park. Did I mention about bringing a rain jacket?
If you're into surfing, you already know what you are doing in Tofino. If surfing in cold waters of the  Pacific Ocean is not your cup of tea, you can spend the rest of your day on a whale watching tour or exploring bays and islands near Tofino on a sea kayak.
There is another attraction well worth your time, but unfortunately it was closed due to COVID-19 this year. I'm talking about Hot Springs Cove at Maquinna Provincial Park only accessible by water taxi from Tofino. Drive back to Port Alberni in the evening.

Day 3: Sea to Sky Highway. 
A drive from Port Alberni to Nanaimo where you'll catch a ferry to Horseshoe Bay (West Vancouver) takes about one hour. If not for COVID-19, you would definitely stop at Cathedral Grove to take a leisurely stroll along 800-year old giant Douglas fir trees. Maybe next year?
Once on the mainland, you'll be driving one of the most spectacular roads in all Canada - the Sea to Sky Highway. Unfortunately, my camera died after a pretty soaked zodiac boat ride in Tofino the day before, so the pictures from Day 3 and 4 will be from my cell phone.
You can drive a stretch from Horseshoe Bay to Whistler in less 1.5 hours, but that would be a huge mistake. Ideally, you need two days to fully appreciate the beauty of all major attractions along the way, but try to visit at least a couple of them. I'll list those attractions that I would personally check out: Britannia Mine Museum, Shannon Falls, Sea to Sky Gondola, Stawamus Chief in Squamish, and Brandywine Falls (pictured below). Squamish, nicknamed as the "Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada", offers world-class hiking, climbing (think El Captain in Yosemite), mountain biking, boating and much more. I would not even mind living there!
Just north of Squamish, you'll be ascending "into the sky" when driving through a narrow gorge between the Tantalus Mountain Range and Garibaldi Provincial Park. Pay attention to the road as those snow-covered sharp peaks on both sides of the highway have a real power to mesmerize! A word of advice: for the best views and more scenic lookouts you should drive in the opposite direction - from north (Whistler) to south (Vancouver).

Day 4: Whistler, BC. 
There is never a shortage of activities in Whistler, no matter the season. Leave your car in a parking garage and explore this famous Olympic village on foot. You will find all sorts of places you are familiar with - restaurants, cafes, bakeries, ice crémeries, clothing stores, and so forth. Pretty similar to other resort villages, but more variety, I would say. Local people actually complain that ever since the Whistler resort got bought by Vale, Colorado, the prices went up and the authenticity went down. 
You don't want to miss the Peak to Peak Gondola ride that offers breathtaking 360-Degrees views of the surrounding mountains, lakes, glaciers and Whistler Village! 
Some fun facts about the Peak 2 Peak Gondola (information is from
  • World’s longest unsupported span for a lift of this kind at 3.024 km / 1.88 miles
  • World’s highest lift of its kind at 436 m / 1,427 ft above the valley floor
  • World’s longest continuous lift system connecting 3 high speed gondolas

Pretty impressive, eh? I agree. Don't miss out this attraction while in Whistler.
My other advice is don't rush and take enough time to enjoy the beauty of alpine meadows, towering peaks, and pristine mountain lakes once you’ve taken one of the gondolas up from the village.
Both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains offer many scenic hiking trails for different skill levels. I would particularly recommend the Harmony Lake trail on the Whistler side of the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. 
By the way, if you are into mountain biking, there is no better place in Canada to unleash your inner adventurer.

Day 5: Trans-Canada Highway. 
Day 5 marks a midpoint of the trip and requires a fair amount of stamina due to a tiring 9-hour drive from Whistler to Lake Louise in Alberta. 
The road is lovely, but requires lots of concentration and patience. Especially with slow-moving RVs at no passing zones.
If you hit the road early enough, you'll have a better chance to stretch your legs a couple of times and even take a swim in one of the sparkling blue lakes around Kamloops, BC and Salmon Arm, BC. Both towns are on top of the list of the best places to live in Canada.
If you're looking for a recommendation of a quick and easy hiking trail, look no further than Mount Revelstoke National Park and its Giant Cedars Boardwalk just off the Trans-Canada Highway. The trail features a unique temperate inland rainforest, located almost 1,000 km / 621 miles from the ocean. 
Two minutes drive east from the boardwalk, you'll find another point of interest - Canyon Hot Springs - perfectly nestled in the mountain valley. I, honestly, could not smell any sulfur, so can't really confirm if the water in the pool is heated naturally (by a volcano) or artificially. The place is nevertheless lovely and relaxing.

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