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What to See and do along the Sidney-Tsawwassen route?

The jaunt up the Saanich Peninsula from Victoria to Sidney takes you past Elk Lake, Brentwood, and of course Sidney-by-the-Sea. The ferry ride is only an hour, but you pass near (or between) several of the Gulf Islands with strong tidal currents depending on time of day. From Tsawwassen you take the South Fraser Perimeter  Road, past several docklands, marshes,and under several major bridges. YOu reconnect with the main Trans-Canada route between Surrey and Langley.

BC-Itinerary - Sidney Tsawwassen Ferry
Pat Bay Highway-HillsideView SouthTo Cascade Mountains -sliver
Pat Bay Highway-HillsideView SouthTo Cascade Mountains -sliver

Victoria to Sidney (Patricia Bay Highway)

The Victoria to Sidney stretch of the highway is 32 kilometres (20 mi). Then you take a one-hour ferry from Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen, and a leisurely 44-kilometre drive on the South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR) to get to the Trans-Canada at Surrey.

TIP: If you have come to Victoria via the Horseshoe Bay-Nanaimo Ferry and driven down-island, this is a nice fast way to return home. You can also go in the reverse direction, visiting Victoria first, and then heading up-island to Nanaimo, visiting Port Alberni and Tofino, before heading to Vancouver Island’s northern areas.

View of James Bay and Cruise Ship Terminal

Highway 17 from Victoria to Sidney  (also call the Patricia Bay Highway or “Pat Bay Highway” for short) has had its present course since 1978, when the Blanshard extension was completed.  From Mile Zero on Dallas Road, head straight north on Douglas Street, with Beacon Hill Park on your right. After crossing Southgate/Superior Streets, Douglas Street forks into two one-way streets. The northbound route now follows Blanshard Street, which is designated BC Highway 17, the southbound is Douglas Street and designated “Trans-Canada Highway #1”. At the next street, Belleville, you can turn left to the visit the Victoria Inner Harbour and the BC Legislature Building.

Most drivers will continue northbound, where Blanshard become two-way north of Fisgard Street and the road continues northbound past the Mayfair Shopping Centre. If you are continuing on Trans-Canada Highway #1 to Nanaimo, head to #1 at Cloverdale Ave west for 2 blocks.

After Swan Lake Park (on the east side of Blanshard) where the road divides for a few blocks for a Big Box retail zone, the road is re-designated the Patricia Bay Highway (and continues as Highway #17).

If you are SOUTHBOUND, at this point, turn right after the Walmart Supercenter, and go right to Highway #1/Douglas St southbound.

View of Dominion observatory to the NW from Pat Bay Highway
A few kilometres north you connect with #17A northwest to Brentwood Bay and Butchart Gardens, and a shortcut ferry across Saanich Inlet to Mill Bay on the Trans-Canada #1. Then you pass Elk/Beaver Lake Regional Park (you’ll often see rowers training on the lake). Then you pass through First Nations territory, which is noticeable only because of the sudden density of billboards (local and provincial highways signage restrictions do not apply on First Nations land, though speed limits do).

Then you pass through Saanichton, North Saanich and pass by Victoria International Airport on the west before passing the seaside town of Sidney, which is worth a stop if you know you have a wait for the ferry to the mainland. Then you pass several sailing/fishing marinas on the east side of the highway before arriving at the Swartz Bay ferry terminal.

TIP: book your ferry passage in advance, going online to BCFerries.com

BC Ferries Between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay-sliver
BC Ferries Between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay-sliver

The Ferry Crossing

At Swartz Bay, Highway 17 leaves Vancouver Island, and starts on a 44 km (24 mi)-long ferry route through the Southern Gulf Islands and the Strait of Georgia. The ferry route between Swartz Bay and the Mainland is the oldest and most heavily used route in the B.C. Ferries system.

View of Active Passage with Ferry

The ferry ride is scenic, and passes by a number of Gulf Islands, and most notably through a narrow passage called Active Pass between Mayne Island on the south and Galiano Island to the north, before crossing the open Strait of Georgia (crossing a small stretch of American waters) to arrive at the ferry dock at Tsawwassen. Just north of the Ferry dock is the GCT Canada Coal Shipment docks.

Tsawwassen - BC Ferries Loading Dock -liver (Mark Ruthenberg)
Tsawwassen - BC Ferries Loading Dock -liver (Mark Ruthenberg)

The South Fraser Perimeter Road

View of container storage at North Delta

The route between the Tsawwassen Ferry and the Trans-Canada used to be a tricky set of connections and intersections. In 2013 a new route called the South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR), which is a continuation of Highway 19, and is 44 kilometres (27 mi) long.  Construction of this route was started in 2010 and was completed in 2013 at a total cost of $1.26 billion.

The SFPR is a four-lane expressway that connects the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and Highway 99 in Delta to Highway #1 at 176th Street in Surrey. The SFPR has a speed limit of 80 km/h (50 mph), and while that’s not fast compared to normal highway speeds, it sure beats stop & go traffic along the old route. Plus, for out-of-town travellers, this is very stress-free route to and from the Tsawwassen Ferry terminus. This route also provides access to all five of the major Fraser River bridges in Metro Vancouver and incorporates noise walls and in some urban sections of so-called Quiet Pavement to reduce traffic noise.

View of Annacis Highay Bridge over Fraser River beside SFPR

At the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal you travel on a 1.8-kilometre (1.1 mi) long causeway to the Tsawwassen Peninsula, and the expressway follows adjacent the CN Railway Deltaport, and crosses Highway 99. The route then follows the west side of Burns Bog, past the south side of the Tilbury and Sunbury industrial areas. At the Fraser River is a junction connecting to Highway 91. The SFPR proceeds east along the south bank of the Fraser River, passing under the Alex Fraser Bridge, Patullo Bridge, and Port Mann bridges. The10-lane wide Port Mann bridge carries the Trans-Canada #1 overhead. The expressway then turns southeast at Surrey Bend Regional Park to terminate at its junction with Trans-Canada Highway 1 and Highway 15 (heading south to the US border).

Westbound drivers, on their way to Tsawwassen, should watch for Exit 53 for Highway 15 to the USA Border and Highway 17 to Delta.

More about Vancouver Bridges

Victoria to Sidney-Tsawwassen Ferry to TCH at Surrey/Lang;ey Route Map

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