Road trip from Nanaimo to Tofino

(continuer en français) – Last updated: December 31, 2021

Vancouver Island, off the coast of British Columbia, offers many recreational destinations, from nature to seaside activities. Nanaimo and Tofino are two coastal resorts, on the east and west sides of the island respectively. However, their characters are quite different, if not opposite.

To give an idea of the distances, while the capital Victoria is to the south, the island stretches north for 290 miles, 460 kilometres, and up to 62 miles, 100 kilometres, wide. The road trip from Nanaimo to Tofino covers 125 miles, 200 kilometres.


It is now the second largest city on the island with 100,000 inhabitants. Growth came from coal mining and then forestry. As these natural resources were exhausted or slowly being regenerated, the city was happy to take advantage of tourism and the inflow of retired people in search of a mild climate. The economy is now taking a more diversified form, relying on a population large enough to make a wide range of services and activities sustainable.

Cameron Lake

After leaving the coast towards Tofino on Highway 4, it quickly arrives at a beautiful lake, Cameron Lake, nestled between densely wooded slopes. A small pebble beach is occupied by bathers as an escape from the rougher waters of the coast.

Cathedral Grove

The road runs along Cameron Lake for approximately 1.2 mile, two kilometres, before reaching MacMillan Provincial Park. This small park was designed to protect a portion of the primary forest, with several notable specimens identified here. From the parking lot a short, easy to follow trail leads the visitor into Cathedral Grove passing under trees over 160 feet, 50 metres, estimated to be 800 years old.

A visit to this type of place makes people reflect on the difficult balance between the preservation of an exceptional natural environment and its harvesting by the forestry industry, which is the largest provider of employment on the island outside Victoria.


On arriving in Alberni, it seems there is another lake, it is in fact an inlet of 25 miles, 40 kilometres long. The town developed first of all thanks to forestry, it is hard not to notice the industrial buildings dominated by the high chimney of the paper mill. On the surrounding paths, clear-cutting is the desolate corollary. The growing inflow of visitors attracted by the natural areas offers an alternative source of income. However, tourists will no longer come if the forests disappear, the choice is still to be made.

On the outskirts of the city, the Somass River separates a residential area from the beginning of the wilderness, a black bear seems to roam this other bank to guard the border.

Sproat Lake

Leaving Alberni, Highway 4 is called the Pacific Rim Highway, which is enough to start dreaming about this mythical coast. The Sproat Lake appears, measuring 15 miles, 25 kilometres and discreetly accommodating numerous waterfront residences. Motorboats write white lines on the surface of the water, around it dense forests cover the steep slopes.

Wally Creek

For a while the road runs along the Taylor River, a trickle of water seeking its course between pebble banks. Without noticing it, the road suddenly hits the bank of a much more frenzied torrent, Wally Creek. The river comes up against a rock slide and forces its way furiously through the obstacle. Jumping from one rock to another, or even diving into the water basins, holds the traveller back for a while. Looking up, the valley opens up to a great spectacle of forests topped by snow-covered peaks.


Over the years, Ucluelet has developed from a pioneer village at the end of the 19th century into a 21st century leisure resort. Centred around a port with a mix of fishing and pleasure boats, the pioneering atmosphere persists with wooden constructions that maintain harmony with the forest environment. Pushing to the end of the peninsula, the road leads to the Wild Pacific Trail which allows to observe the coast punctuated by islets and to access the lighthouse on Amphitrite Point.

Long Beach

Between Ucluelet and Tofino, a long sandy beach stands alongside the primary rainforest of coniferous and deciduous trees, protected by a portion of Pacific Rim National Park. In summer the morning mist can hang on for a long time, while a few kilometres away the sun reigns without clouds. On the sand, driftwood forms strange piles, living to the rhythm of the pounding waves on the shore, ruffled by the wind’s breeze carrying the birds’ calls.


Although a handful of pioneers settled here in the second half of the 19th century, the village did not grow to the size of its neighbour Ucluelet located 24 miles, 40 kilometres, away. Tofino’s still modest take-off dates from the opening of Highway 4 in 1964 and the arrival of seasonal residents. Surfing is the basic activity and boosts the resort’s reputation, with sea outings and observation of this preserved natural environment also attracting a large number of visitors.

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  1. The furthest west I’ve been is along the border between Alberta and BC when I visited Yoho and Kootenay National Parks. I would love to go to Vancouver Island someday. Looks beautiful! You’re by the ocean and have those nice views of the mountains.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Canada is so vast and interesting in many places, this leaves room for discovery. I loved the time I spent on Vancouver Island, there is a beautiful nature and despite the distances, being on an island makes you feel you have more control of it. I hope you will have the chance to explore it too.

      Liked by 1 person

    • When walking between centuries-old trees, it is difficult not to feel respect for them. The old house is especially lacking a good paintbrush stroke. Thanks for picking up these photos, a picture is worth a lot of words.


  2. One of my favourite parts of the world! I’m glad you’ve included the charms that are between Nanaimo and the west coast of the island. With the exception of Cathedral Grove, I think visitors (me included) often race through to get to Tofino. I’m hoping to get in a trip to Ucluelet in November. The Wild Pacific Trail is a gem.

    Liked by 1 person

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