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More time on Vancouver Island or fold in Whistler? Summer trip

More time on Vancouver Island or fold in Whistler? Summer trip

Old Jan 23rd, 2023, 10:50 AM
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More time on Vancouver Island or fold in Whistler? Summer trip

Hello and TIA!
We are traveling in and out of Vancouver in mid-summer for 9 days--4 moderately outdoorsy adults and 4 tweens. We already have 3 days in the city planned and are now debating whether to dedicate the rest of the trip to exploring Vancouver Island (from Nanaimo to Tofino area, maybe Salt Spring Island...don't think we need to see Victoria unless someone has a compelling reason!) or to a few days there and trying to loop in Whistler for a night or two. Seems doable with a bit of car time but wondering if worth it to come off island. For context we are US East Coasters and all the landscape is breathtaking to us, but if these places are redundant we would devote time to just one...any thoughts welcome!
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Old Jan 23rd, 2023, 01:30 PM
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First, I'll say that I grew up in Vancouver and have spent a lot of time on Vancouver Island. It's a massive island with its own mountain range going up the middle of it (look up Strathcona Provincial Park). The west coast of the island, like around Tofino/Pacific Rim National Park, is more primeval, rugged, wild and undeveloped with massive waves crashing into the beaches, where old growth temperate rainforest grows at the edge of the ocean, and the only towns are small tiny villages - but there's a lot of stunning scenery, the best sunsets, excellent restaurants and oceanfront resorts. It's otherworldly here. The east coast of the island on the east side of the mountains feels totally different. It has a dry climate and is more developed with small towns (Cumberland is a favourite), small cities (Duncan and Courtenay are cute), suburbia and highway stripmalls, farmland and some of the best farmers markets, wine regions (especially in the Cowichan Valley), gentle, warmer, sandy, lake-like beaches (especially at Parksvlile and Qualicum Beach), and younger forests, many parks and waterfalls. You could easily spend all your nine days there on Vancouver Island and still only see a fraction of it.

With 4 tweens and 9 days in mid-summer, I'd probably just stick to two destinations split equally, or at most, 3 destinations. Not 4 or 5.

3 days minimum for Vancouver (but you can easily spend more - there is SO much outdoorsy stuff to do right in Vancouver proper).
6 days on Vancouver Island with one or two home bases at most. Tofino for 4 days. Maybe 2 days in Parksville or Qualicum Beach, if you want to explore the east coast of the island.

I wouldn't add anything more. I wouldn't add Whistler. I wouldn't add Salt Spring.

I also wouldn't hesitate to add Victoria. It's a tiny city, very different from Vancouver. If Vancouver's international and vibrant and modern with glass skyscrapers, Victoria's very old fashioned with low rise historic English colonial architecture. It's sleepier and Americans generally love it because it looks English. It's a walkable seaside city with interesting shops, great cafes and craft breweries, bookstores, museums, whale watching tours, and lots of wilderness in the surrounding region. You can easily save it for another trip though. But there's plenty to keep a family occupied if you did decide on a few days in Victoria, including things like the Butterfly Gardens, the Bug Zoo, Miniature World, the Royal BC Museum/IMAX, and Butchart Gardens.

Another idea is to spend 3 days in Vancouver, 2 nights in Whistler then 3 days in Tofino, and then your last day in Vancouver. You don't want to be in Whistler or Vancouver Island on the same day as a flight home.

I should also say, while I like Salt Spring, I don't see how you can make the time. It's not an island with many beaches, the island's more famous for its hippy counter culture and artisans. Generally you go there for a few nights to relax and drive around the country lanes touring the soapmakers, the goat cheese farms, the cidery, the leathersmith, the jeweller, the hippy bakery, etc. I generally wouldn't dream of going to Salt Spring for any less than two overnights.

As for Whistler, it's a diferent kind of place entirely as it's a resort town built so that you ditch the car and walk between the hotels, restaurants and shops. In the summer the place is buzzing with the work-hard play-hard folks, with partiers, and with mountain bikers. But there's a lot there for families if you like to be active in the mountains - gondola rides, alpine hiking, downhill mountian biking, zip-lining, bungee jumping, canoeing, golf, etc. It has a fantastic art gallery too, Audain Art Museum, which is one of the best in western Canada. You can also make a full day of driving up to Whistler, stopping off at places like the Sea to Sky Gondola or the Britannia Mine Museum (cooler than it sounds).

You'll soon discover you'll need to book a future trip to see the rest - this area has several lifetimes of vacations. You can't see it all, but you can't go wrong. Just try not to bite off more than you can chew as ferries can be a slog, and mountain roads can be slower than the interstates you may be used to travelling at home! It takes time to get around, so if you can limit rushing around to different places and spend more time in fewer places, you won't regret it.

Last edited by BC_Robyn; Jan 23rd, 2023 at 02:24 PM.
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Old Jan 27th, 2023, 05:51 AM
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One Very important detail

Jaquelyn has given you all you need for a decision. But if you decide on Vancouver Island, make sure you get a reservation for the ferry! Otherwise you may be stuck on a hot parking lot waiting for hours to board. Not fun & so easily avoided. I live in Courtenay so I know how time wasting tha can be - especially when on vacation. They charge something like $15=20 CAD but it'll be the best money you'll spend.
www.bcferries.com
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