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Home > Tourism Victoria Blog > The Ultimate South Vancouver Island Road Trip: Part 1

The Ultimate South Vancouver Island Road Trip: Part 1

Posted on July 6, 2016


The Pacific Marine Circle Route is a spectacular 289 km drive that starts in Victoria and takes road trippers through a variety of scenic locations including Duncan, Lake Cowichan, Port Renfrew and Sooke along a scenic highway route.

This ultimate south Vancouver Island route winds through temperate rainforest, along rugged coastlines, past totem poles, ancient trees and lush farmland into the heart of B.C.'s capital. Picnic at a winery, sample the freshest local seafood and produce in the region's celebrated restaurants and learn about local history and culture.

Here are our suggestions for breaking out the trip in to a multi-day experience with different accommodation options. Make an epic playlist for the ride and don't forget your camera!

First Leg: Victoria to Duncan

(76 km, around 1 hour and 10 minutes)

Begin your journey from Victoria, B.C.'s capital city, and take an adventure north for the first leg of your road trip. Cruise through the lush temperate rainforest along Highway 1 at Goldstream Provincial Park, hop out at the Malahat lookout to admire the views over the Saanich Inlet or wander the beach at Bamberton Beach Provincial Park

Image: View from the top of the Malahat, via 460 Communications


What to do: Just 17 kilometers from downtown Victoria, Goldstream Provincial Park lies amid the splendour of an old-growth temperate rain forest. Hike the trail up to the top of Mount Finlayson and admire the 360 degree vista of the city, ocean and forest below, find Goldstream's Niagara Falls or discover the historic wooden railway trestle, Kinsol Trestle.

Tip: Check out the Goldstream Farmers Market on Saturdays from May through October.  

Where to eat: Merridale Ciderworks, located in the scenic Cowichan Valley just 45 minutes north of Victoria, offers a variety of award-winning ciders and is Canada's largest producer of craft cider from English and French cider apples. Enjoy a cider tasting and lunch in their bistro or pick up freshly baked pizza, pastries and breads baked in their wood fired brick oven. 

Image: Merridale Ciderworks


Where to stay: With breathtaking views from 500 feet above the Saanich Inlet and ancient old growth forest in Goldstream Provincial Park, it's worth spending a night at the Moon Water Lodge and Malahat Chalet. Every room has a view out over the inlet along with a soaker tub, gas fireplace and private balcony to help you relax. If you're after a unique overnight experience with speciality lodging, book your stay in one of The Yurts at Merridale

Image: View from the Moon Water Lodge & Malahat Chalet 


Second Leg: Duncan to Lake Cowichan

(40 km, around 33 minutes):

In Duncan, you will find more than 40 hand carved totem poles. Pay a visit to the traditional buildings at the Quw'utsun' Cultural Centre where carvers practice their trade. At Lake Cowichan, Vancouver Island's second largest lake, take a dip in the water, rent a kayak or canoe to explore from the water. Tip: looking for a hike and a great photo op? Head over to Cowichan River Provincial Park and hike along the 66-Mile and Holt Creek railway trestles.

Image: Totem pole in Cowichan Valley 


What to do: The Cowichan Valley is known by the local First Nations as "land warmed by the sun" with the second largest wine region in B.C. Create your own winery tour and visit the region's vineyards including Blue Grouse Estate Winery where you can stop by for a tasting and arrange a picnic full of local cheeses and snacks, or Averill Creek vineyard to try their special Vancouver Island prosecco-style sparkling wine, Charme de L'isle.

Plan to spend a few hours exploring the Cowichan Valley's wonderful wilderness with a short hike or trail walk in the area. Check in at the Cowichan Regional Visitor Centre for up to date info on trails and accessibility. 

Image: Outdoor Exploration in Cowichan Valley 


Where to eat: The Cowichan region produces lots of local produce which can be found in the region's restaurants. Stop by at Unsworth Vineyards and try dishes like roasted venison and poached grey cod paired with their award-winning wines. You can also take a wine and culinary tour with one of several local tour operators, including Cowichan Cellar Doors and Cheers Cowichan Tours.

Where to stay: Duncan and the Cowichan Valley are home to a selection of cosy bed and breakfasts. The Cowichan Bed and Breakfast Association covers 17 individual properties between the Malahat and Crofton. 

Third Leg: Lake Cowichan to Port Renfrew

(61 km, around 1 hour and 10 minutes):

Spend the day relaxing by the shores of Lake Cowichan or take a fishing excursion out on the lake. 

What to do: If you're travelling in a vehicle with good clearance or a 4 x 4, head out to find the Red Creek Fir. This is the world's largest known Douglas Fir measuring 73.8 metres (242 feet) with a circumference of 13.13 metres (43.7 feet). If your car isn't up to it, drive to Port Renfrew and enjoy a leisurely wander along beautiful Botanical Beach, which is teeming with intertidal life. Tip: Don't worry if you can't visit in the summertime, Port Renfrew is an incredible place to visit for winter storm watching! 

A worthwhile adventure while you're in Port Renfrew is a visit to Avatar Grove. Amidst tall, lush trees and tangled forest floor, you will find a well-maintained path which leads to "Canada's Gnarliest Tree", a giant cedar tree boasting an impressive exposed root structure. 

Image: Coastal rainforest hike, photographer Michael Matti


Where to eat: Part of the beautiful Wild Renfrew development in Port Renfrew, The Renfrew Pub is the place to enjoy local food. Take a seat outside on the patio overlooking the Juan de Fuca Strait and sip a cold beer from local breweries including Vancouver Island Brewery and Lighthouse Brewing Company. Tuck in to tasty local fare from seafood chowder to house-made burgers. They'll also happily cook up your catch of the day if you ask nicely! 

Where to stay: Book your overnight stay at Handsome Dan's, Port Renfrew, where you can choose from a series of pet friendly, hypoallergenic, ocean view and oceanfront cottage. They're all privately owned, which means that each one is differently decorated and offers its own unique charms and features.

Image: Handsome Dan's seaside cottages  


Check out Part 2 of the Ultimate South Island Road Trip, which will take you south from Port Renfrew, through Sooke and back to Victoria.