Vancouver Island Bucket List - What to do on Vancouver Island
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Top 10 things to do traveling between Victoria to Nanaimo BC

written bySteven Eckert

Last ModifiedMarch 30, 2024

Two people, an adult and a child, excitedly raise their hands while standing in a giant tree stump in a Goldstream Park, with the text 'VICTORIA to NANAIMO Top 10 Stops Between Victoria and Nanaimo' overlaid on the image, inviting travelers to explore the scenic route.

Whether you're a local seeking a day trip or a visitor exploring the island's charm, this route promises an unforgettable journey. 

Table of Contents:

Victoria to Nanaimo
Victoria’s Inner Harbour
Hately Castle Gardens
Goldstream Provincial Park
Malahat Skywalk
Cowichan Bay
Hand of Man Museum
Duncan Totems
Chemainus
Neck Point Park
Pipers Lagoon
Helpful links

The road trip between Vancouver Island’s two largest cities offers stunning views, small towns, and interesting stops along the way. As you drive from Victoria to Nanaimo along the Trans Canada Highway, there are many options for stops and experiences that you will want to add to your Vancouver Island Bucket List. 

In this post, we’ve curated a list of our favourite things to do between Victoria and Nanaimo. Pick and choose from the options below to make your trip truly special and ensure your visit is filled with the best experiences possible.

A map illustrating a tourist route from Victoria to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, with key attractions like the Victoria Inner Harbour, Hatley Castle, Goldstream Park, Malahat Skywalk, Cowichan Bay, Hand of Man Museum, Totem Walk in Duncan, Murals of Chemainus, and Neck Point and Pipers Lagoon in Nanaimo marked with red pins. The map also features the Vancouver Island Bucket List logo and a decorative outline of the island's coast.

 

Victoria to Nanaimo Stats:

Nanaimo is located 111 km away from Victoria and it can be reached by taking the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy1). Driving direct will take you about an hour and a half when the traffic is good. But you will want to make some stops and enjoy South Vancouver Island as you travel between Vancouver Islands’ two biggest cities.

Greater Victoria Population (2021) – 397,237
Greater Nanaimo Population (2021) – 115,459

Both Cities have access to airport and ferry terminals.

Victoria has the larger airport YYJ.
The Swartz Bay BC Ferries Terminal connects to Tsawwassen (Vancouver) and The Southern Gulf Islands
Nanaimo airport YCD.
There are three ferry terminals: Duke Point to Tsawwassen (Vancouver), Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay (Vancouver) and a smaller terminal at Nanaimo Harbour to Descanso Bay on Gabriola Island 

Okay, let’s get started. In this post, we’ll begin in Victoria, listing some detours and the best stops on our drive towards Nanaimo.


A serene walking trail along David Foster Way with a waterfront view, lined by a stone wall and autumn-touched trees

#1 Victoria’s Inner Harbour – Victoria BC

Time: 1.5 hrs +   Difficulty: Easy

Begin your morning with a leisurely stroll around Victoria’s Inner Harbour, a picturesque setting that captures the city’s famous charm. With early sunlight and calm water, this vibrant area comes alive with a gentle hum of activity. Walk along the scenic pathway, taking in the historic buildings, floating homes, and majestic boats nestled in the harbour. 

If you stroll around the inner harbour towards Fisherman’s Wharf or head into Old Town towards Chinatown, you’ll enjoy one of the world’s best walking cities as you take in Victoria’s natural beauty. I couldn’t think of a better way to start your day. 

Whether you’re watching the seaplanes take off, enjoying the lush flowers, or simply basking in history, a morning walk around the Inner Harbour sets a delightful tone for the rest of your journey.

Victoria Treasure Checklist:

Chinatown
Water Taxi’s
Royal BC Museum
Thunderbird Park
Fishermans Wharf
Victoria city walking loop

 

Hatley Castle Gardens Vancouver Island

#2 Hatley Castle and Gardens – Colwood

Time: 1.5 hrs +   Difficulty: Easy

Parking Lot: Directions – Google From the parking lot, walk across the field up towards the castle. Be sure to walk around the entire castle. The garden entrance can be found on the west side.
Learn more: Discover Hatley Castle & Gardens —  find maps to the trails and learn about the history and why the castle exists.

A 20-minute drive from Victoria, Hatley Castle and Gardens is like stepping into a page from a fairy tale. It is the only place in Canada where you will find an early 20th-century castle surrounded by an extravagant free garden overlooking a large tidal lagoon, making it a must-visit landmark on Vancouver Island

The castle exterior has been made famous by being featured as the mansion in the X-Men and Deadpool movies. Although the interior of the castle is not open to the public, the gardens are a must to experience. The meticulously curated traditional Japanese, Italian, and Rose gardens are not only one of the finest gardens on Vancouver Island but also the cheapest; you can’t beat free! 

Whether a nature lover or simply searching for a picturesque escape, Hatley Castle and Gardens provides an enchanting backdrop for leisurely strolls and photographic opportunities.

 

5 star whale tour
Go whale watching in Victoria on a 12-passenger boat that’s designed for seeking out whales and marine wildlife on Vancouver ...
Malahat Skywalk Tickets
One look at the Malahat SkyWalk’s sweeping views and visitors are instantly in awe. The striking 10-story spiral tower brings...
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Explore quaint Victoria on this guided walking tour with a local historian. Along the way, take in picturesque views of the c...
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Niagara Falls Victoria

 

#3 Goldstream Provincial Park’s – Malahat

Time: 1 hrs +     Difficulty: Easy

Parking Lot: Directions – Google
Learn more: What to expect when Visiting Goldstream Park —  find maps to the trails and learn more about the park.

As you leave South Vancouver Island and head up the Trans-Canada highway, the open road soon closes in as you drive into a valley of lush green giants. Entering the Malahat, the trees seem to swallow the road, and you are now in Goldstream Provincial Park.

Only 20 minutes from downtown Victoria, Goldstream Park has a network of trails to explore. The paths are wide, accessible, and easy to navigate, taking you through ancient Douglas firs, big leaf maple and western red cedars, along with access to picnic areas and the nature house. Winding along the river where salmon make their awe-inspiring run each autumn. 

The tunnel: Don’t miss the waterfall! At first glance, it looks intimidating, as you have to walk through the graffiti-ridden storm tunnel, but after you make your way under the highway, you will find a short walk leading up the river to Goldstream’s famous falls.

Whether you’re setting out on a search for waterfalls, enjoying a family picnic by the river, or simply revelling in the quiet beauty of the rainforest, Goldstream Provincial Park provides a peaceful retreat and an example of coastal British Columbia’s Rainforests.

 

#4 Malahat Skywalk – Malahat

Time: 1.5 hrs +     Difficulty: Easy

Parking Lot: Directions – Google
Learn more: Photos and info of experience,  slide and the view at Malahat SkyWalk

The Malahat Skywalk is an opportunity to experience Vancouver Island’s natural beauty from an unforgettable perspective. This awe-inspiring Vancouver Island attraction, gracefully perched atop the Malahat Summit, allows visitors to travel on a raised boardwalk through the treetops, leading to a 360-degree panoramic landscape view. 

Along the 600-meter walk to the lookout, you will experience the views from the tall boardwalk, looking into the forest canopy and passing by locally created driftwood art hidden in the trees.

As you reach the famous spiral, it’s hard not to appreciate the architecture and design work that make this spot so special and unique to Vancouver Island. 

The views from the top are breathtaking as you take in the Saanich Peninsula, the Gulf Islands, and distant Mount Baker. 

But that’s not all; at the top, you can take in the fresh air by relaxing on a bench or walking along the rope net while looking down into the centre of the spiral. 

On your way back down, you will find two ways to reach the bottom of the Malahat Skywalk. Take the easy stroll back the same way, or for the brave, take the exhilarating slide back to the forest floor. Either way, at the bottom, enjoy the park-like setting where food trucks and gift shops await. 

It’s a must-visit destination, and it doesn’t matter the age, health, or skill level; anyone can connect with nature, seek adventure, and capture memories against the backdrop of Vancouver Island’s stunning scenery.

Other lookouts:

If time or funds are an issue and you want to take in the views of the Saanich Inlet, there are two stops worth making along the Malahat. They don’t compare to the experience at the Malahat Skywalk, but the views are still breathtaking.

Malahat Summit View PointDirections (google)
Split Rock just after Malaht  – Directions (google)

 

Interior view from a waterfront restaurant at Cowichan Bay with large windows offering a picturesque view of the marina. Two diners are seated at a table enjoying the scenic backdrop of boats moored in calm waters, framed by distant mountains and clear skies.

#5 Lunch at Cowichan Bay – Cowichan Valley Region

Time: 1 hr +     Difficulty: Easy

Parking Lot: Directions – Google

Nestled along the picturesque coastline, Cowichan Bay is a charming seaside village that offers a local one-street experience with shops and delightful dining experiences for those looking to enjoy lunch with a view. 

Known for its vibrant community of artisanal food producers, local wineries, and fresh seafood, Cowichan Bay provides a palette of flavours that reflect the bounty of the region. 

Spending your afternoon here will give you a sense of the laid-back atmosphere of the bay. The stunning views of the marina create a perfect setting for a leisurely lunch. 

Parking is an issue as this area gets busy. There is street parking, but good luck on a summer day. You have a better chance of finding parking near the boat launch, and you can walk back through town to experience the shops. You will find local eateries along the road and all the way down to the restaurant above Oceanfront Suites.

Outside the Hand of Man Museum on Vancouver Island, an exposed engine hot rod with a 'Oldsmobile Rocket' label is parked under a towering dinosaur skeleton exhibit. The image juxtaposes modern mechanical engineering with ancient natural history, capturing a unique outdoor display.

#6 Hand of Man Museum – Maple Bay

Time: 1.5 hrs +   Difficulty: Easy

Museum Parking Lot: Directions: – Google

Located not too far from Duncan in Maple Bay, the Hand of Man Museum is an experience that blends the natural world and human creativity. This unique museum showcases an extensive collection of artifacts, art, and animals, highlighting a personal collection of world cultures, ancient civilizations and natural history.

The museum is a private collection from local Jim Shockey, who has purchased a 17,000-square-foot decommissioned elementary school to house his collection. Jim is well known in the hunting world and has had multiple shows on the Outdoor Network and other channels worldwide, all related to travel and hunting.

The museum entrance fee is by donation and it’s worth the slight detour off the main road to visit.

 

Colourful totem poles stand prominently in Duncan, with intricate indigenous art and symbols, under a cloudy sky. A sign on the ground reads 'TOTEM TOUR,' inviting visitors to explore the cultural heritage, with a historic red CN railcar in the background.

#7 Duncan Totems – Duncan

Time: 1 hr   Difficulty: Easy

Cowichan Valley Museum parking lot: Directions – Google

Duncan lives up to its name as the City of Totems. The downtown Duncan Totem Walk takes you through the heart of town on a cultural journey through the local shops and museums. This outdoor gallery showcases over 40 totem poles, each telling a unique story of the local Cowichan Tribes and the broader First Nations communities of Vancouver Island. 

Follow the yellow footprints as you meander through the city. You’ll be captivated by these towering figures’ intricate artistry and deep spiritual significance. Each pole is a masterpiece of Indigenous craftsmanship, representing centuries-old traditions and a vibrant cultural heritage. 

This self-guided tour not only enriches your understanding of First Nations culture but also transforms the city’s streets into a living museum, celebrating the enduring connection between the people, their art, and the land.

A triptych view of Chemainus: On the left, a historical mural depicting early settlers, the centre shows a sidewalk with yellow footprints leading towards a park, and the right offers a view down a rain-wet path through Waterwheel Park flanked by tall trees and lamp posts, embodying the town's rich heritage and quaint charm.

#8 Chemainus Walk 

Time: 1 hr+   Difficulty: Easy

Waterwheel Park parking lot: Directions-Google

Chemainus is a charming village that showcases community spirit, art, and boutiques. It is another great place to enjoy spending the afternoon strolling through adorable streets lined with shops and restaurants. 

During our first visit to Chemainus, we knew about the famous collection of over 50 outdoor murals. However, we were pleasantly surprised by the quaint town feel, the numerous shops, the historical architecture, and the beautiful treed park.

Our afternoon began at the Waterwheel Park parking lot, where we found the tourism information center and museum. From there, we walked through the park and emerged on the other side, following the yellow footprints along the sidewalk, which led us down an alley into a section of old town filled with large murals, boutiques, and restaurants.

After enjoying some baked treats, we walked back up through the park and followed the yellow footsteps in the opposite direction. The painted trail guiding us to the main street in Chemainu, which has even more murals, stores, and dining options.

Chemainus has a unique blend of art, history, and charm and would be an excellent destination for anyone looking to experience the essence of Vancouver Island’s small-town charm.

 

Looking out at Neck Point rock formation and land bridge during low tide

#9 Neck Point Park – Nanaimo

Time: 1 hr+   Difficulty: Easy

Neck Point Park parking lot: Directions – Google
Learn More: Neck Point Park – Maps, views and spots not to miss.

You have reached your destination and are now in the City of Nanaimo. Neck Point Park is a picturesque location spanning a scenic waterfront area with breathtaking ocean views, rugged shorelines, and pebbled beaches, making it a paradise for families, photographers, nature enthusiasts, and those seeking a peaceful retreat. 

Trails wind through the park, offering leisurely walks under the canopy of towering trees or along the shoreline, revealing panoramic vistas of the Georgia Strait and distant mountains. 

The park’s unique features include its namesake neck point—a striking land formation jutting into the sea that disappears during high tide, leaving only a rocky island. Neck Point Park offers many ways to enjoy the day and evening, whether you’re there to enjoy a sunset, a swim, a picnic with family, or simply soak in the serene beauty of Vancouver Island.

cliff side view of Piper's Lagoon in Nanaimo, with a heart shape formed by rocks placed by someone during low tide. Visible in the shallow blue waters. People can be seen walking along the curving sandy shore, with a backdrop of dense trees and residential houses under a clear sky.

#10 Pipers Lagoon – Nanaimo

Time: 1 hr+   Difficulty: Easy

Pipers Lagoon parking lot: Directions – Google

Pipers Lagoon Park offers a different experience for every visit, depending on the tide. At high tide, the park features a unique lagoon protected by a narrow spit of land, creating a calm, shallow sanctuary perfect for bird watching and wading through. During low tide the shallow lagoon becomes a large sandy flat to play in.

The network of trails leads around the lagoon and up to scenic lookout points that boast stunning views of the Georgia Strait, the coastal mountains, and nearby islands with fishing shacks. 

The diverse habitats within the park include rocky shores, coastal bluffs, and a Garry oak forest.

Whether exploring the tidal pools, photographing the landscape, or watching the vibrant sunset paint the sky, Pipers Lagoon Park is a fun destination with a refreshing connection to nature’s beauty.

 

Helpful Links for Visitors

 

 

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Thank you for visiting – I hope you found the information you were looking for at VIBL (Vancouver Island Bucket List) please continue to discover all of the great places that makes Vancouver Island so great! 

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Backroad Map - Vancouver Island

Discover new places and find your way around Vancouver Island. Many areas do not have cell service so maps and guidebooks can be very helpful for the curious.

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