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Advice for Vancouver / Tofino / Whistler Trip

Hello All-
I am planning a trip with two friends to Vancouver / Tofino / Whistler in late March. We have never been, so we are looking for any recommendations!

I am also a little concerned that our itinerary (below) is too ambitious. I wish we had an extra day to work with, but schedules do not allow. Any advise is welcome and appreciated!

Thanks in advance!

March 20: Fly - arrive in Vancouver at 9:30pm. Rent car and spend night near hotel.

March 21: Depart early for Tofino (approx 6 hour trip) – arrive late afternoon. Spend night in Tofino.

March 22: Whale Tour, hiking. Spend night in Tofino. (We know this is very early in whale season, but one of my friends really wants to see a whale as part of her birthday trip, so we are looking to give it a try.)

March 23: Drive back to Vancouver early, return rental car, check-in at hotel, dinner somewhere cool, hockey game at 7pm. Spend night in Vancouver

March 24: Early train to Whistler, Sight see for most of day & check out Scandinavian spa. Spend night in Whistler.

March 25: Day in Whistler (zip line, snow shoe). Spend night in Whistler.

March 26: Early train to Vancouver, check in at hotel, all day to sight see (Stanley Park, sea wall, etc). Spend night in Vancouver.

March 27: Fly home - depart from Vancouver.

Posted by
7046 posts

Yes, everything is rushed and requires a lot of getting up early (are you all up for that? I found that getting even one other person ready on time is an effort, never mind three people especially if you're all sharing one bathroom). You can easily spend an entire week just on Vancouver Island or in Vancouver proper. I drove almost to Tofino from Victoria (my final destination was Uclulet, about 25 miles away), following a ferry ride from Vancouver. That was a lovely, but long drive - the ferry plus the drive may very well take more than 6 hours, probably more like 7 with driving time to the ferry included (more time door-to-door, and even more if you take a break somewhere which is likely). So that's a whole 7+ hours out of your very short vacation < 6 full days just spent in transit (my own lesson was that I was in Uclulet too few days - 2 - to justify the round-trip drive).

I would try to cut down your itinerary a bit, unless you want a very energetic trip where you're up early each day. You'll miss a lot of stuff "in between" when jumping from place to place. Is Tofino the only place you can see whales? It's literally at the end of the map, so it takes effort to get to. How about Seattle/ San Juan islands instead (it may be cheaper to fly into Seattle as well)? I don't think the weather will be great at the end of March in Vancouver or Vancouver Island, but that's expected.

Posted by
7805 posts

This is busy, but doable. Is whale watching the primary motivation for Tofino? If so, you might want to consider a trip out of Vancouver or Victoria instead to reduce you travel time.

Posted by
3035 posts

We have been to Tofino. The drive from the east coast side to Tofino is lovely. There is a forest of old growth trees on the way called Cathedral Grove that is worth stopping to check out. One of the last remaining old growth forests on the island.
Too bad you don’t have time for Victoria! One of my favorites!

Posted by
850 posts

I go up to Vancouver at least once a year. Used to ski Whistler, but not since I broke an ankle a few years back. March is a good time to go, but it can still be cold. It will be wet; expect rain.

I'd look close at going to Tofino. I think that early you'd do better to look for orca inside the passage, and maybe whales. They seem to be moving south late this year, and that may effect their return.

I'll suggest the Delta Hotel in downtown as a good place to stay. This is part of a small chain that's been incorporated into Marriott. Very nice, good staff, modern, priced right, and ideally located for walking around in the evenings. It's my "go to" place in town now days.

Last, and highly recommended, is passing on Stanley Park and going to the University of BC Anthropology Museum. They have much better totem poles, actual log houses, and a world class exhibit of First Nation artifacts. And they have Bill Reid's masterpiece "Raven with the First Men", which is one of the great art treasures of the world.

Posted by
432 posts

You could also go directly to Whistler from Tofino. Take the ferry from VI(Nanaimo) to Horseshoe Bay and then drive north to Whistler. Go there first and then to Vancouver. It means having your car for an extra day or two but then you're not backtracking as much.

Posted by
2852 posts

There is no train between Vancouver and Whistler, except between May and September, according to what I've just looked up.

You'll have to go by bus, or drive.
In winter, that road could possibly be quite snowy, and you'll absolutely need full snow tires on your rental car to be legal; and have to carry chains too.
The buses are the best way, as you wouldn't need your car there anyway if you're staying right in the village.

I would pick two destinations instead of three!
You can always come back, and that way you'd enjoy our beautiful country a lot more!

Posted by
66 posts

That is a fair bit of driving on potentially difficult roads. The drive from Port Alberni to Tofino is beautiful but can be slow due to many curves, and challenging sections. I drive it several times a year and still find it tiring even in great weather. March can be very snowy on the high parts and rainy and windy in the coast. Poor weather adds a couple of hours each way. They have been ripping it up around the Kennedy Lake section in an effort to make it safer and I am not sure how closures will be in March. I never go for less than 4 full days, and that is only from Victoria. Add ferries in and it is a really long day, just to hopefully see a whale. I have been going since the 80's and still have never seen a whale off that section.

If you really want to do Tofino/Whister, I would consider flying Vancouver/Tofino/Whistler/Vancouver. It would maximize your time, as Tofino - Whistler is 45 minutes and amazing scenery. You could avoid the drive time, ferry fares and waits, rental car/gas, and enjoy the places, versus doing a lot of travelling. The airfares might be too much, and if so, I would seriously consider dropping Tofino.

The road to Whistler is also a challenge and there is no train that I know of. Spring here is usually rainy and windy, intermittently perfect, but occasionally snowstorms to happen on the higher elevations (ie roads to Tofino and Whistler).

Posted by
4637 posts

Vancouver B.C., Vancouver Island and Whistler are all very beautiful but March is not the best month to visit. Maybe Whistler if you ski. If you want to go to Tofino and you are staying in Downtown Vancouver, the fastest way beside flying would be to drive to Horseshoe Bay (if you are staying around the airport in Vancouver drive to Tsawwassen) and go by ferry not to Victoria but to Nanaimo. From there it's about 3 hours drive. Be prepared, in March it could be mountain driving in winter. Then on the way back to Whistler go to Nanaimo. There are two ferry stations - Departure Bay (closer to downtown) and Duke Point (few miles south of downtown). You will go to Departure Bay, board ferry to Horseshoe Bay and from there drive to Whistler avoiding Vancouver city traffic. Duke Point ferry goes to Tsawwassen, from there it's closer to the Vancouver airport or if you go to US. By the way there is no regular train between Vancouver and Whistler. Perhaps there is some tourist slow sightseeing train in summer season. Inquire before you commit to nonexistent train.

Posted by
18788 posts

Yes, I would hang on to the car and go directly from Horseshoe Bay to Whistler, rather than backtracking to Vancouver. Return to Vancouver a day earlier and turn in the car. Canucks vs Ducks on March 26 at 7 pm.

Posted by
2852 posts

Jut to add: you only seem to have six actual vacation days , as the travel days don't count.
There is a lot to do in Vancouver alone, without trying to drive many miles in the middle of winter.
And I say again: if you drive yourselves to Whistler, you must have legal winter/ snow tires on the rental car.
If you're desperate to do a day trip, take the ferry from Tsawwassen in the S. part of town, and go across to Victoria for the day.
The ferry trip is stunning.
There is also a lot to see around Victoria.
You have a good chance of seeing a whale from the ferry.

Posted by
441 posts

This seems really rushed to me, with most of your time spent travelling to places. I would personally drop Whistler, or Tofino. And if you have never been before I would even do just Vancouver and Victoria.

In Tofino my priority would be to find a place with a hot tub. You will be chilled after your whale watching. In Vancouver I like the Sylvia Hotel, it is right by Stanley Park etc.

Posted by
18 posts

Thank you all SO MUCH! Your feedback is a huge help.

I think we will scrap Tofino (the only reason for going out there - other than the beauty - was the whale tour). I think we are looking at Victoria and Vancouver. This will allow for more sightseeing time and less travel. And we can probably get away without a car - which is even better!

Still trying to figure out Whistler - would to fit it in, but also need to be realistic. I certainly do not want to be on the go all of the time - it is a vacation after all!

Thanks again...I really appreciate it!

Posted by
2852 posts

Vancouver has many mountains surrounding it, three of which are our local ski hills, within an hours journey, and still in the city. You will see them on a clear day, as you look toward the North Shore of the city.
And Vancouver is chock full of great spas!

Posted by
32101 posts

A few thoughts to add.....

Given the time-of-year that you'll be travelling, skipping Tofino is a good idea. Not only is a bit of a long drive from Vancouver (especially with Ferry travel times), but the weather could be wet and miserable too. As you've added Victoria, you can also take Whale Watching trips there. These are two firms that you could look at.....

One travel route you could consider.....

  • After arrival at YVR, take the Canada Line Skytrain to the main downtown area. There are lots of hotels in various price ranges, from more reasonably priced to posh. Be sure to tell them that you'll be a "late arrival".
  • The following morning, take a Taxi down to the waterfront and use Harbour Air or Helijet to Victoria. This is more efficient as you'll be going direct from harbor-to-harbor. There are also flights to Victoria from YVR but you'll waste more time as the airport in Victoria is in Sidney, which is at least 45 minutes or so from the city (depending on traffic).
  • at the conclusion of your Victoria visit, take Harbour Air back to the Vancouver and then a Taxi to the nearest car rental agency (there are several in the downtown area). This might save some money vs. renting at the airport.
  • drive to Whistler for a few days via the Lions Gate Bridge. Once you connect with the Upper Levels highway, it's an easy drive. You might want to have a look at the Sea To Sky Gondola in Squamish on the way (take Passports and valuables with you, be sure your luggage is out of sight in your rental car).
  • drive back to Vancouver for touring there, and return the car. This website might give you a few ideas on sightseeing (when you choose sightseeing, keep in mind that it could be raining).
  • at the end of your visit, take the Skytrain back to the airport for your flight home.
Posted by
432 posts

You won't be disappointed by limiting yourself to just two destinations.

Victoria and Vancouver area are wonderful places to visit. In the Vancouver area the Museum of Anthropology out at UBC is a world class museum. Stunning location overlooking the ocean and amazing displays. Take the gondola up to Grouse Mnt and have lunch - great views on a good day. Capilano Suspension Bridge is an interesting stop - on the way to Grouse. Walking around the Pan Pacific Hotel and Coal Harbour is pretty neat. There is a float plane aircraft terminal area right there and it's kind of cool to see the planes landing and taking off on the water. I see that Stanley Park and the seawall is on your list - good. Granville Island is a cool place to explore. You can access it from several locations. False Creek ferries tour around the False Creek area and access Granville Island, Science World and Olympic Village. Nice way to see downtown Vancouver from a different angle. Lots of amazing restaurants everywhere. Steveston Village is a cool place to hang for a bit - it's out near Richmond area (nearer the airport). Active fishing wharf area, interesting cannery museum and a nice ocean side walking path.

Victoria is also a great place to visit - great beer, if you're into craft breweries. There's lots of them there. Royal BC Museum is top-notch. Lots of walking opportunities along the harbour. BC provincial parliament buildings are quite interesting - you can go inside and tour around a bit. The Empress Hotel is amazing - love to wander through and enjoy it's opulence. Some people like to have high tea there - expensive, and you need to book ahead, but quite the experience. Also lots of good restaurants. They have the oldest Chinatown in Canada and second oldest from the one in San Fransisco. You could also do a harbour tour in Victoria. Rodgers Chocolates is a Canadian highlight and tradition. You HAVE to go into their store. How can you tell I love chocolate....

In March, spring is just starting so you may see lots of cherry blossoms on the trees and daffodils in many of the parks. There's lots of beautiful gardens that I haven't listed - so if you're interested in exploring some, there's a number of large public and private parks to visit.

I've spent a great deal of time in both locations - lived there, went to university and also for work off and on for years. I've missed lots of places, but this will give you some thoughts that you might add to your list.

Have fun!!

Posted by
67 posts

Hi Nortmanl
I am replying as a former Vancouver resident, currently live in the Victoria area, and have been making a trip to Tofino each year for the past 25 years. In my opinion, you do not have enough time to accomplish everything on your list on this trip. All of the above posts have provided you with great advice. Your decision to make is to do Vancouver/Tofino, Vancouver/Victoria or Vancouver/Whistler. There is bus service out of Vancouver to all locations if you do not want to rent a car.

If you plan to make a trip to Tofino, a car is useful to visit the area. March is the start of the yearly migration of the grey whales north to Alaska. Yes, it may be windy and wet. However, the west coast of the Island at this time of year is storm watching season. It is also a big surfing area. A lodging recommendation is Middle Beach Lodge. I would not go to the west coast for anything less than three nights. Beaches are wonderful, this area is located in a rain forest with old growth forests, along with many easy hiking trails through the natural habitat. Prior to entering Tofino, you will pass through Pacific Rim National Park where many of the hiking trails and beaches are located. Visit Long Beach, hike down to Schooner Cove, do the Rain Forest trail, take a water taxi to Meares Island if the water is too rough for a kayak trip, and visit the many unique shops and restaurants in Tofino.

Three days in Vancouver and three on the West Coast would work. Others have provided ferry information, and from Nanaimo it is about 2.5 to 3 hour drive without stops. Parts of the drive are slow on winding roads, and still the chance of snow on the two mountain passes.

Something to consider if you do head to the Island, is to make a ferry reservation. Spring break for public schools is around the middle of March so that impacts traffic volume.

Vancouver/Victoria is another great combination. Three nights in the Victoria area would also work, with a very walkable downtown area if you choose to take the bus or even transit. There are whale watching companies running out of the inner harbour. The Royal BC Museum is worth a visit, along with a tour through the Legislative Buildings. Walking through Old Town, China Town, walking out on the breakwater and Dallas Road gives you wonderful sea views. The city is also known for its craft brew pubs. There are many wonderful hotels and B & Bs in the city.

That is my take on this.


Posted by
370 posts

Hi Nortmanl. You have made a good decision to drop Tofino on this trip, and you have great suggestions to focus on time in Vancouver and Victoria (where I live.) If you end up renting a car and driving from Vancouver to Victoria, please be sure to make a reservation for your trip, from Tsawwassen, just south of Vancouver to Swartz Bay, just north of Victoria. Visit to do this online. If you are travelling as a foot passenger, you don't need a reservation. If you need more info on this, please PM me, I work for BC Ferries. This is Spring Break and the ferries will be busy! You may just luck out and see whales on the ferry trip - the captain will announce their position should they be in the area!