Vancouver Island Bucket List - What to do on Vancouver Island

Pacific Marine Circle Route – Road Trip

Victoria, Sooke, Port Renfrew, Lake Cowichan, Duncan


Embark on an incredible journey along the Pacific Marine Circle Route on Vancouver Island. Stunning views of rugged coastlines, lush evergreen forests, and a vast array of wildlife will greet you. Explore breathtaking beaches, quaint towns and villages, and fascinating historical sites as you make your way through this awe-inspiring route.

289km (179mi)
2-3 Days
Paved: Car, Motorcycle
Duncan, Lake Cowichan, Langford, Port Renfrew, Sooke

Table of Contents


Swartz Bay


=    65km    |  


Port Renfrew  
=    71km    |  
Port Renfrew


Lake Cowichan  
=    63km    |  
Lake Cowichan


=    78km    |  

Use the map to discover the ultimate sightseeing spots and activities along the Pacific Marine Circle Route, along with accommodations, restaurants, shopping and more.

Choose your adventure level, zoom in and click the icons and use the filter to choose the best activities to fit your travel style for this remarkable route.

Pacific Marine Circle Route | Plan the perfect trip with this extensive guide

What to Expect on the Pacific Marine Circle Route

The Pacific Marine Circle Route is a scenic drive on Vancouver Island that takes you through some of its most beautiful and diverse landscapes. The road trip begins and ends in Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, and takes you on a journey along the coast of the Juan de Fuca Strait and up through the Cowichan Region, looping back down through the Malahat.

Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to explore charming small towns, beautiful beaches, and old-growth forests, as well as visit popular attractions such as the Malahat Sky Walk.

The Pacific Marine Circle Route is a popular road trip destination for visitors to Vancouver Island. It can be completed in a day, but we recommend taking your time to allow for a more leisurely exploration of this beautiful island region.


Road Trip – Driving Conditions

Pacific Marine Loop Vancouver Island misty road from Port Renfrew to Lake Cowichan South Vancouver IslandThe loop is completely paved, but as you explore, you will find that beach accesses and excursions away from the main highway can take you onto rough gravel and logging roads.

The Pacific Marine Circle Route highway is windy and narrow and can be rough in some places, especially between Sooke and Port Renfrew. It’s a two-lane road except along Hwy 1 from Duncan to Victoria and a couple of sections between Langford and Sooke.

Traffic does tend to pile up in Sooke (especially on weekends and rush hour) but thins out as you get closer to Port Renfrew.

It’s best to ensure you have filled up before leaving Sooke. There is a gas station in Port Renfrew and Cowichan Lake, but open hours can be limited. And don’t expect to have cell service for most of your trip.


3 Day Itinerary – Pacific Marine Circle

Let’s start your Road Trip! If you are looking for a full day of driving, you can complete the loop in about five hours. Keep reading and you will soon discover there are so many spectacular beaches, trails and experiences that you might not want you to miss. Use the map above to help you devise an itinerary and plan for all your stops. We have compiled options for a 3 day itinerary for a Pacific Marine Circle road trip, but if you have the time plan for longer, you won’t be disappointed.

Day 1 – Victoria to Sooke:

Becher Bay at Aylard Farm drone shotTake the scenic way through, stop at Aylard Farms in East Sooke, and enjoy the white sand beach and the coastal trails.
The roads are windy, but it’s beautiful. Stop at the 10′ Sasquatch to take a photo.

Sooke is the gateway to the Juan de Fuca and is the perfect place to stay for your first night, and you will find spending a second night might be worth it. Between East Sooke and Jordan River, there are many beautiful and unique Resorts and Vacation Rentals to make your visit memorable.

Once in Sooke, spend an afternoon checking out the local Sooke shops, galleries and restaurants along the Sooke Boardwalk Loop and an evening walk on Whiffin Spit is always a great experience.

If you are looking to spend more time in Sooke (which we highly recommend), Here’s a link to the Free Sooke Visitor Gide and Travel Planner.

Day 2 – Sooke to Port Renfrew:

Leave early; there’s so much to See!!

Pacific Marine Circle Route Sandcut BeachPick your Beach, maybe two? With so many wonderful stops along the way, it may be hard to choose.  We’ve compiled a list, and depending on your Adventure Level, you might want to choose the beach that best suits you and your family. Here’s a list of the most popular stops between Sooke and Port Renfrew along the coastal highway.

  • French Beach – Easy, Very short walk to the beach. You will find picnic tables and a playground for kids.
  • Sandcut Beach – Medium – Small parking lot with a beautiful walk through the rainforest once you reach the beach walk along the shore line to a unique waterfall.
  • China Beach – Medium – Fairly Easy walk down to a sand and peble beach perfect for strolling. I love this beach in winter.
  • Mystic Beach – Medium-difficult – The most unique beach on our list is a difficult trail down but in the end you get a waterfall and sea caves. Try to visit during low tide.
  • Sombrio Beach – Medium – The road down is rough. This beach offers some unique experiences, a popular surfing spot, hidden waterfall and a lot more.

Other stops that might interest you. Sheringham Point Lighthouse in Shirley. Or watch some surfing at Jordan River.

Second night stay in Port Renfrew. There are some great Vacation Rentals in town. Looking to stay an extra day? You’ll find some of the best fishing charters based out of Port Renfrew.

To finish your night, spend the night in or walk along Pacheedaht Beach while the sun goes down.

Day 3 – Port Renfrew to Langford:

Expect another full day for the third day of your road trip, and some choices will have to be made depending on your adventure level.

If your timing is right and the tide is low in the morning, located just outside of Port Renfrew, the Botanical Beach Loop is a must-visit.

Large Harris Creek Sitka Spruce tree found just off the road between Port Renfrew and Lake CowichanFor the adventurous type, head up the logging roads to visit Avatar Grove, Lonely Doug and Eden Grove. All three are on the same logging road, so it’s worth completing the trifecta. It will fill up your morning so start early.

As you head up the Pacific Marine Road towards Lake Cowichan, make sure you make the quick stops at Fairy Lake Bonsai Tree and Harris Creek Spruce Tree.

Once you reach Lake Cowichan, you’ll find a quaint little town on the lake where you can stop for some lunch or continue on to Duncan and enjoy the self-guided Totem Walk while visiting the local stores downtown.

Heading south on the Malahat, there are three excellent stops to choose from.

  • Kinsol Trestle – Veering off the direct route past Shawinigan Lake, you will find one of the largest free-standing wood Trestle Bridges in the world. The Kinsol Trestle is an easy 3km walk with beautiful views and a great picnic spot. If you like history, stop in at the Shawnigan Lake Museum before to learn more about the Kinsol Trestle.
  • Malahat SkyWalk – No matter the weather, you can appreciate the fantastic architecture of the Malahat SkyWalk, and on a clear day, you will find a stunning view of the Saanich Inlet. There is nothing like the Malahat SkyWalk experience anywhere else on the island.
  • Gold Stream Park – On the right-hand side of the highway, as you reach the end of the Malahat, there is a small pullover and parking lot.  Walk along the edge of the creek bed to see little Niagra falls, a 200-foot waterfall set just off the highway. Can be just a trickle in late summer, but still worth the stop. Back towards the parking lot, there’s a tunnel leading under the highway to the rest of Gold Stream Park.

Your Back! If you have some time to kill, we highly recommend a visit to the gardens at Hatley Castle or, for the history buffs, Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse. There is an excellent beach in the area at Esquimalt Lagoon.


Tips and Suggestions

  • This trip is about getting out and exploring rugged Vancouver Island. There are large sections without cell service or gas stations, so plan ahead.
  • Tides – Be aware of the tides, and some beaches, like Botanical Beach, are only accessible during low tide.
  • Car sick? If you are prone to being car sick, the roads can be hard on visitors. Especially sitting in the back seat. The narrow roads in East Sooke and from Sooke to Port Renfrew offer the biggest challenge.


In Conclusion

The Pacific Marine Circle Route on South Vancouver Island is an incredible journey that really packs in the adventure. You’ll find breathtaking views, unique experiences and plenty of opportunities to stay overnight or extend your trip. With a bit of planning and advanced research, you can make sure this road trip will be one to remember! Enjoy!

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