Vancouver Island was a spot we were really hoping we could get to during our 6 months of living in the Seattle area and Labor Day weekend ended up being the best time to do in since we had that Monday off! This trip was very rushed as it was. It would have been impossible and not enjoyable if we had tried to squeeze it in in 2 nights. I would probably recommend longer than 3 nights but we had a blast!
DAY 1 FRIDAY 08.31.2018
Getting To The Ferry
Well, there wasn't really anything on the list for Friday other than getting to the island. We caught a ferry from the Tsawwassen Terminal in BC to Swartz Bay at 8pm since that was the best reservation that worked for us. Even with booking a late reservation, we cut it a little close due to a 30 minute wait to get across the border. We left Kent at about 2pm, had dinner at Mod Pizza, and made it to the terminal about 5 minutes before boarding closed.
The Ferry Ride
We planned on relaxing in the van during the ferry ride but they don't let you stay in the cars! The ride was about 90 minutes and then we arrived on the island at dark at about 10pm. The ferry was a lot bigger than the one we took from Seattle to Bainbridge and it went by pretty fast.
Finding A Place To Sleep
Since we've had the van, I rely a lot on freecampsites.net to help us find free places to park the van or camp. I recently came across iOverlander, which is a similar concept but has a lot of different options that people have posted. I found us the perfect spot and people had reviewed it as being a free and legal place to park overnight in Ladysmith (the spot has since been removed). Upon our arrival, the spot was flooded with "no overnight parking or camping signs." We continued driving to 2 rest areas that ALSO had "no overnight parking" signs. It was getting late and we were so tired. We finally arrived at a visitor's center in which signs read "3 hour parking limit. No overnight parking." It was about 12:30am (which is late for us!) and we figured we'd go to sleep. We ended up staying til about 6am and we were not bothered. I suppose next time we will look for an established campground!
DAY 2 SATURDAY 09.01.2018
I don't know for sure about Leslie, but I was kind of groggy when I woke up. Our plans were to visit 3 Provincial Parks, however, we didn't have a ton planned at each one; they are pretty small. We also planned what seemed like (and was) a much better camping situation for the night. Here's what day 2 looked like...
Englishman River Falls Provincial Park
Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park
Stamp River Provincial Park
Camping: Forest Roads [49.236584, -125.358823]
Englishman River Falls: You will find the large parking area at 49.245412, -124.350158 and it is a very short and easy walk to the waterfall! It was actually much shorter than I thought it would be. You can overlook the falls from a bridge and they are quite impressive. The trail continues for a bit but we didn't follow it past the waterfall. We also saw some people hanging out down by the river so I'm imagining the trail heads toward the river.
Little Qualicum Falls: I liked this area a little more than the last one. The trail system seemed a little more entertaining and you can hike down to the Lower Falls and see the Upper Falls. It was another fairly easy trail. According to the website, there is 6km (3.72 miles) of hiking trails. We did a loop trail that allowed us to see the lower and upper falls and it was definitely shorter than that, however, I don't know the exact distance. Parking area located at 49.316046, -124.554474.
Coombs Country Candy: We drove by this place and got suckered in after lunch for some ice cream! We drove just past it to the visitors center for a picnic lunch and came back to try the ice cream and it was so good. I think the 1 scoop was $4 and the 2 scoop was $5 and the 2 scoop was enourmous. I went with chocolate gelato. Highly recommended. It's all homemade.
Stamp River Falls: We came here because I read that it was a good place to see salmon. I also read the best time to see them is the end of August...and we happened to be coming here on September 1 (close enough to the end of August!!). Holy cow, we saw hundreds of salmon. So we parked and then walked on the easy path toward the salmon ladder. We looked and looked and didn't see any fish. We decided to keep going. Just past the salmon ladder (or for the fish, before the ladder), was what's called the salmon pool, where the salmon rest before climbing the river. It was incredible how many salmon there were. I don't know how populated it would be with salmon at other times of the year but if you're coming this way toward the end of the summer and it would excite you to see hundreds of salmon, I would highly recommend this place. Also, the scenery is spectacular. To find the parking area, turn into the provincial park at 49.343895, -124.919265.
Amazing Campsite: Like last night, I also used the iOverland app to find this nights campground. This night it worked out a little bit different...it was amazing. It was slightly tricky to find but not too bad. The coordinates I had in my GPS were 49.236584, -125.358823. It's a gravel road right off the main road. We drove by it once and had to do a U-turn to get back to it. There are a number of free and legal pulloffs along the side of the road and right along the river. Check out these pictures...
DAY 3 SUNDAY 09.02.2018
Day 3 was all about getting to Tofino! We woke up at our beautiful campsite and went down to the river for coffee and tea. After making breakfast, we headed toward Tofino. We stopped at a Pacific Rim National Park visitor's center for the bathroom and to get some recommendations of what to do. Here's what we ended up doing...
Coffee/tea at our amazing campsite
South Beach Trail
Bella Pacific Campground
Coffee & Tea: I loved this place...
South Beach Trail: It was recommended by the ranger that we head to Florencia Bay from the Kwisitis Visitor's Center. I didn't realize it til now that I'm updating this blog that we took the South Beach Trail to a beach on the North side instead of heading to the Bay on the South side. The trail we took was paved and led to the beach with a lot of driftwood and beautiful beaches. We parked at 49.013675, -125.673166 right by the Kwisitis Visitor's Center.
Rainforest Trail: Rainforests are always fun so we definitely wanted to check this one out. The parking area is at 49.041725, -125.681196 and there are 2 separate trails; one on the East side and one on the West side. We were originally planning on doing both but we wanted to get to Chesterman Beach right at low tide for the tide pools and to get out to the island (see below). We did the trail on the East side and the whole trail is on a really well made wooden boardwalk throughout. Very unique. I think it said the trail was only 1km RT for the loop but I thought it felt like longer. It is not a difficult trail, though...a little bit of up and down but overall, fairly flat.
Chesterman Beach: This may be the most famous beach in Tofino. I definitely got that impression when doing my research for planning the trip. At the Visitor's Center, we were told at low tide we could walk out to an island and that sounded pretty cool. The beach is a large one for sure. We found a tiny parking lot at 49.122743, -125.895115, which was full but there was free street parking just past the lot. I believe the island we walked out to was Frank Island, which is private but there is an area right next to it that was very enjoyable to hang out at!
Shelter Restaurant: To decide which restaurant we wanted to go to, we parked in downtown Tofino (free parking) and just walked around town, checking out the menu of every place we walked by. We actually ended up just a bit outside of downtown at the Shelter Restaurant because we both had our eye on the Tofino Surf Bowl with salmon. It was fun to walk around the town and our lunch was delicious as well. We sat outside on the patio and enjoyed a beautiful view across the street of the Tofino harbor. The food was good quality and fresh. I think each meal was $14 CAD. Shelter Restaurant located at 49.150704, -125.898865 and does have its own parking lot.