The Nanaimo to Tofino drive is one of the most epic road trips in Western Canada and one of the coolest drives on Vancouver Island. The road to Tofino is incredible as you pass by lakes, rivers, mountains, and beautiful old growth forests, plus there is always the chance you will spot a bear along the way. Although the Nanaimo to Tofino roadtrip is less than a 3-hour drive, you’ll be blown away by how many things to do and the hidden gems there are along the way.
We have made this journey hundreds of times and it’s just as special each time we do it. Because there are so many different stops along this route you can make every trip out to Tofino slightly different or cram it all into one action-packed day of adventure. Or even better, stop at half of the places on the way out and the other half on the return, Tofino to Nanaimo drive.
If you are coming from Vancouver to Tofino, chances are you will be taking the ferry to Nanaimo and then making the drive out along this route so you’ll get to enjoy this spectacular stretch of the highway too. Gas up the car, strap the surfboards to the roof and get ready for an awesome drive from Nanaimo to Tofino.
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Time and Distance to Tofino
The Nanaimo to Tofino driving time is approximately 2 hours and 50 minutes if your drive non-stop. The distance from Nanaimo to Tofino, BC is 207 kilometres. While the driving time from Nanaimo to Tofino may be just under 3 hours if you drive straight there, chances are if you are reading this, you plan on making some stops along the way.
If you plan to stop at even one of the places on our list then it will take you anywhere from 3.5 – 6 hours. Most of this journey will be along the jaw-dropping Pacific Rim Highway as the road winds right through the heart of Vancouver Island.
The road is an easy drive in the summer but in the winter the Nanaimo to Tofino drive time can be much longer as you contend with snow – along Sutton Pass in particular. It’s a good idea to check out the Nanaimo to Tofino road conditions ahead of any journey in the winter. You can check conditions and view the webcam for Sutton Pass here!
Bus from Nanaimo to Tofino
We fully recommend driving yourself along this route so you can stop at all of the different spots along the way but if you don’t have access to a car there are some alternative options. Unfortunately, there is no public bus from Nanaimo to Tofino but you can take a private bus. The VI Connector has a Nanaimo to Tofino bus route and you can check out their schedules here!
The Nanaimo to Tofino driving time on the bus will be slightly longer and usually takes around 3 hours and 45 minutes as it stops at several pickup points along the way including Parksville, Coombs and Port Alberni. The bus from Nanaimo to Tofino is a great option if you can’t drive yourself but you still want to take in the views along the way.
Where to Stay in Tofino
Looking for the best places to stay in Tofino? We’ve got you covered. All of the accommodation here, not just the best hotels in Tofino, gets booked out months in advance, particularly during summer. If you are planning on staying in Tofino for a few nights in the summer, you will often need to book 4 months or more in advance. Make sure you are prepared and you book your hotel early to make sure you get one of the best Tofino hotels.
Budget: Tofino Hostel – As it is such a popular destination, there really isn’t much in the way of cheap hotels in Tofino. The Tofino Hostel is your best option if you are looking to stay somewhere on a bit of a budget. The other alternative is to camp in one of the many local campgrounds. We have personally camped many times here and always loved it.
Value: Tofino Resort + Marina – Enjoy unparalleled views out over Clayoquot Sound from your hotel room. We have stayed here numerous times and waking up to this view never gets old. It’s also located right on the edge of town making it easy walking distance to all the restaurants and shops.
Luxury: Long Beach Lodge – This the best resort in Tofino and our top pick for the best place to stay in Tofino if you want to spare no expense. The lodge is situated right on the beach at Cox Bay so you’ll have incredible views out over the water as you watch the waves roll in. The lounge here is also our favourite spot for happy hour and to spend the evening watching the sunset. If you are looking for the ultimate place to stay in Tofino then this is it.
Nanaimo to Tofino Map
Nanaimo to Tofino Attractions
There are plenty of awesome stops between Nanaimo and Tofino and we recommend seeing them all at some point, even if you have to break them up into several trips. We guarantee you’ll want to visit Tofino more than once anyway as there are endless cool things to do in Tofino and you’ll fall in love with this quaint little surf town the moment you arrive.
The stops listed below are in order as you would see them if you were driving from Nanaimo to Tofino.
Coombs Old Country Market – Goats on the Roof
The Old Country Market in Coombs is a unique place for many reasons, but it is most famous for its goats on the roof! Yes, you read that correctly, there are real live goats that live on the roof of the market and you can see them from ground level.
The roof is covered in grass and the goats happily spend their day munching away, unconcerned with the swarms of people taking pictures of them from below.
It really is something I had never seen before and if you haven’t been, it is definitely worth stopping to see the goats on the roof and it’s only a 5-minute detour off of the main road.
The goats on the roof are definitely the main attraction but the rest of Coombs market is also worth exploring. The main indoor market is a mix of local goods and produce, mixed with products imported from all over the world. They carry a wide variety of products including food, children’s toys, art supplies, ceramic dishes, home decor plus some totally random items as well. It’s such an eclectic mix of products under one roof and the funky wooden cabin interior all adds to this.
There is also a lot of delicious food to choose from in Coombs. There is an outdoor produce market which sells fresh, local fruits and vegetables and a few different restaurants. You can get Mexican food from La Taqueria Mexicana Cantina food truck, soups and sandwiches from the Market Cafe or some more high-end italian food from Cuckoo. We personally recommend Cuckoo and their outdoor patio is gorgeous!
After your main course, you’ll need some dessert. You’ll be spoilt for choice again between the Market Bakery, Billy G’s Donut Shop and our personal favourite, Billy Gruff Creamery which has a HUGE selection of homemade, gourmet ice-cream and gelato. The Ferrero Rocher ice cream is up there for the best ice cream we have ever had.
Coombs Old Country Market is open every day from March to December and they close for a couple of months in the winter each year. It’s a truly unique experience to wander around all of the different shops and of course, see the goats on the roof.
Little Qualicum Falls
Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park is less than a 10-minute drive from Coombs Old Country Market and the turn off is around 3 kilometres past Whiskey Creek, on the right-hand side of the Alberni Highway. Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park is home to several waterfalls and canyons and makes for a beautiful walk through the forest.
There are several routes you can take through the provincial park but we recommend completing the main loop which will take you to both the upper and lower falls and takes around an hour to complete. If you are a little bit tighter for time, then you can do a direct out-and-back trip to the upper falls.
The main loop is a roughly 2 kilometre circuit with some incline, but nothing too difficult. We would classify this as a fairly easy trail and the views over the powerful falls are impressive. The upper falls are the real attraction here and you get a perfect view from the trail directly across the canyon from the multi-tiered waterfall as the Qualicum River cascades down through the rocky canyon.
You can also check out the nearby Cameron Lake if you are looking for a spot to swim or a nice spot to stop for a picnic as there are picnic benches overlooking the lake. While Cameron Lake may look extremely appealing on a hot sunny day, the water is actually super cold year-round. Having grown up in nearby Qualicum Beach, Roxy can attest to this as it was one of her local swimming holes and no matter what time of year you go, the water always seems to be cold.
Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park is one of the most impressive old-growth forests on Vancouver Island. The ancient Douglas Fir trees are truly ginormous. The largest of the trees in the forest are about 800 years old, up to 75 metres (250 feet) tall and 9 metres (29 feet) in circumference.
There is a network of walkways amongst the ancient trees here and you can stop for a few minutes or take an extended walk through the forest. Cathedral Grove gives visitors a glimpse into what life on the island looked like before European settlers arrived. In a place so covered in forest, it’s amazing just how impressive it is to walk amongst the giants in Cathedral Grove.
As well as giant Douglas Firs, you will also see ancient Red Cedar trees, covered in lush green moss. Walking through the forest here feels a bit like a fairytale. You really don’t need to spend too long on a stop here, but we highly recommend taking a quick walk amongst the trees to appreciate these ancient giants.
The Hole in the Wall, Port Alberni
The Hole in the Wall in Port Alberni used to be one of the hidden gems on this roadtrip to Tofino but in recent years it has become more popular with locals and tourists alike. A short hike along some old gravel roads and down a rocky path through the forest will take you to the Hole in the Wall.
This is actually a man-made phenomenon from years ago when a large hole was drilled through the rock to make way for an old pipeline. The pipeline is long gone and what’s left behind is known as the Hole in the Wall. There is a beautiful swimming hole, full of crystal clear water that is fed by a small creek that flows right through the huge hole that has been carved into the rock. The water is fairly cold, but it does make for a great spot to cool off on a hot summer’s day.
You can cross the river and reach the hole and you can even climb up and walk right through the middle to get a sense of just how large of a hole they had to drill through the rocks here. On the far side of the hole, you will see the creek that feeds down into the swimming hole below.
The entrance to this trail is found almost directly opposite Coombs Country Candy which is just before the town of Port Alberni. There is a small parking lot next to Coombs Country Candy, or if you plan to buy something from the candy store you can park in their parking lot. Then make your way across the road and slightly back up the hill to find the trailhead.
It’s a short walk to reach the Hole in the Wall and you will probably only need 30-minutes to explore the area unless you plan on going for a quick swim. Although you are unlikely to get this place to yourself, especially on a sunny summer day, it is usually relatively quiet.
If you are looking for a spot that is a little warmer than Cameron Lake to go swimming then Sproat Lake, a few kilometres past Port Alberni, is an excellent choice. Sproat Lake is huge so you can spend hours, if not days exploring all of it, but you can make a quick stop on your way out to Tofino. An easy place to stop is either the Sproat Lake Provincial Campsite or a pullout just past Taylor Arm Provincial Park. Both options are right on the water.
The weather in the valley around Port Alberni is always considerably hotter than the rest of the island, so if you make this trip in the middle of summer and want to enjoy scorching hot weather and a perfect lake to swim in, then Sproat Lake is an awesome place to stop.
If you want more of an adventure you can explore some of the logging roads around the lake. One of the cool things about venturing a bit further off the main road is that you will have a much better chance of spotting some of the local black bears on the quieter roads.
Taylor River Rest Area
Like the Hole in the Wall, the Taylor River Rest Area used to be a bit of a hidden gem on the island but has well and truly shot to fame now. The rest area seems fairly unspectacular when you first pull in, but as you walk over towards Taylor River you’ll see exactly why people love it here.
The water right in front of the rest area is the most ludicrous shade of blue/green that really has to be seen to be believed. We had seen this spot loads on Instagram and thought people were using filters to really make the colour pop but it really is an incredible colour.
The water is crystal clear and you can see all the way down to the river bed. This is yet another really cool spot to stop and have a swim, there is a couple of small cliff jumps or you can jump on a stand up paddle board if you have one too.
It’s really hard to describe just how out of place this water looks at this random stop of the Pacific Rim Highway. It looks like something you might find in a tropical destination rather than in the heart of Vancouver Island. Don’t let the colour fool you though as the water is very cold!
One of the single best views along this epic road is at the highway pull-off at Wally Creek. As you walk out onto the large boulders you’ll get jaw-dropping views straight down the river and up to the towering mountains in the background. This is one of our favourite stops along the way as you only need to take a few minutes here but the scenery never gets old.
The water that flows along Wally Creek is a beautiful deep green and you can stand right above it and watch the water rush through the rocky canyons. This is a great quick stop to take in the mountain views and stretch your legs. This pull-off can be quite easy to miss, so keep a close eye out for it. It is marked on the map above, and historically was identifiable by its small fence riddled with locks, and you will also find the exact location if you type ‘Wally Creek’ into Google Maps.
While Tofino is the real gem along the west coast of Vancouver Island, Ucluelet certainly deserves a mention. It isn’t quite as quaint and cool as Tofino but it is still a really funky town in a very pretty setting. There are some cool cafes and bakeries here and the inner harbour is worth visiting. However, the real appeal of Ucluelet is the Wild Pacific Trail.
The Wild Pacific Trail hugs the shore and offers you incredible views out over the rugged coastline and over the Pacific Ocean. The Lighthouse Loop is a quick and easy trail you can take to experience some of the best views without having to walk the whole circuit. In winter this is a great place to come and storm watch although you need to be careful to stay off the rocks as the ocean is unpredictable.
Although it is a little bit out of the way, if you have the time we recommend spending a few hours exploring Ukee.
As you drive the last stretch of road into Tofino you’ll drive through Pacific Rim National Park, past beautiful beaches, endless cool boardwalks, including the trail out to Schooner Cove, and lots of other cool spots. We won’t go too into detail here about all of the things to do in Tofino as that is a whole separate blog post!
You can check out our full guide on all of the best things to do in Tofino here!
While you may not be able to pack everything from this list into one road trip to Tofino, this just gives you the excuse to make the Nanaimo to Tofino drive again in the future. Or if you are looking for more adventure and an excuse to come back, considering checking out our Epic Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary!
We can’t explain just how much we love Tofino and the trip out here is nearly as amazing as the destination. If you take this road trip to Tofino, we’d love to know your favourite stop. Let us know in the comments!
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