Nanaimo – Port Alberni- Tofino Tour

What to See & Do Between Nanaimo and Tofino?

This 206 km (3 hours) route takes you across the width of Vancouver Island through stunning old-growth forests and over 2 mountain passes to Tofino and the Pacific Rim National Park, with stunning views, waves and wildlife. Stay at least one night to savour the ruggedness.

BC itinerary-Nanaimo-Port Alberni-Tofino

This stretch of highway takes you “the western terminus of the Trans-Canada Highway” according to the town council of Tofino (back in 1909), which declared that long before there were paved roads in Canada, let alone an actual Trans-Canada Highway,
Englishman River Falls at Parksville
From the ferry docks of Nanaimo, head north on Island Highway #19 through the town of Nanaimo, and stroll around its harbourside downtown, with views of the marina and the Hudson’s Bay Fort. From there head north to the seaside town of Parksville, with its Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park on the water, and the Englishman River Regional Park with its forests and waterfalls, and in-town take part in its weekly (summertime) evening street fair.
Goats on the Roof at Coombs
From there head west on Highway #4A through Coombs, best known for its “Goats on a Roof” marketplace, with a number of tourist-focused enterprises and restaurants, before continuing west on the main Highway 4 past mountain-ringed Cameron Lake and through MacMillan Provincial Park, where you can stroll a short loop through old-growth forests (you can stroll lakeside on the way west and forest-side on the way back!)

Qualicum Beach - view east to Mount Garibaldi on Mainland
Qualicum Beach - view east to Mount Garibaldi on Mainland

Cathedral Trail in MacMillan Provincial ParkThe highway then traverses mixed lowland on the way to Port Alberni,  climbing up the Port Alberni Summit at 411 metres (1,348 ft) (there is a Brake Check turnout for trucks, north side of highway)

In Port Alberni, the highway follows Redford Street, which turns right onto Stamp Ave at the Catalyst Paper Mill, crosses Roger Creek and passes the Marina beside the Nuu-cha-nulth Whaling Canoe Sculpture overlook Kitsuksis Creek, before continuing west through the Tseshaht First Nation, passing the magnificent band council building before continuing into the forested highlands.

View of Sproat Lake

You will shortly pass Sproat Lake, known not only for its waters, but for the Coulson Flying Tankers forest fire water bombers that are based here. To the west of that is the Taylor Arm Provincial Park with scenic picnic spots overlooking Sproat Lake. After this point there are NO SERVICE STATIONS until you reach Ucluelet or Tofino.

Tofino view north from viewpoint-sliver (Mark Ruthenberg)
Tofino view north from viewpoint-sliver (Mark Ruthenberg)

You’ll climb from Taylor River Rest Area up to Sutton Summit (240 metres (790 ft)) at the Clayoquot Plateau Provincial Park and Wally Creek before descending down to Kennedy Lake on the right, with steep mountain sides on the winding highway’s south side.

Surfers enjoying waves at Pacific Rim National ParkWhen you approach a “T” intersection, the left road takes you to Ucluelet, the right road takes you to Tofino, and right at the intersection is the Pacific Rim Visitor Centre on the right.

Tofino sign claiming to be 'End of the TCH'Heading north (right) to Tofino, you pass through tall pine forests past several beaches that are part of Pacific Rim National Park, Wickaninnish Beach, Combers Beach, and the most famous being Long Beach before passing the Tofino-Long Beach Airport and winding around a hilly stretch into the town of Tofino with the harbour to the right and open ocean to the left.

On the return drive, be sure to drop into Ucluelet before heading back to Nanaimo.

Bald Eagle in tree - Tofino
Bald Eagle in tree - Tofino


Highway 19 north of Nanaimo

View north on Highway 19 north of NanaimoHighway 19, is the main north-south route on Vancouver Island from Nanaimo to Port Hardy, and extension of Highway 1 from Victoria to Nanaimo.  A gravel roadway has existed on the Island since about 1912, and was paved  in 1953 between Nanaimo and Campbell River, and it was finally being extended to the northern tip of the island in the late 1970s. By 1976, highway 19 was extended north to Port Hardy, to  the Bear Cove ferry terminal, to provide ferry access to Prince Rupert, the mainland terminus of the Yellowhead Highway #16.
Englishman River Bridge on Highway 19 at Parksville
From Nanaimo to just south of Parksville, Highway 19 is a 4-lane, divided arterial highway with a concrete median barrier. From Parksville north to  Campbell River, the highway is divided with a grass median. North of Campbell River, Highway 19 stretch  is an undivided two-lane configuration. The total length of highway 19 is 403 kilometres (250 mi).

Highway 4, Parkville to Tofino/Ucluelet

Highway 4 is the longest east–west main vehicle route on Vancouver Island, with a total length of 162 km (101 mi). It is known locally as the Alberni Highway to the east of Port Alberni and the Pacific Rim Highway to the west.

The original highway from Parksville to Alberni and Port Alberni was completed in 1942 and was originally designated as Highway 1A. It was re-designated as Highway 4 in 1953.

View of Sproat LakeThe road to Tofino was a gravel logging road (and a dangerous one at that). In 1955, forestry companies BC Forest Products and MacMillan Bloedel Ltd did blasting at the Kennedy rock bluff and also completed the Sproat Lake section, which had tight switchbacks and a steep drop-off without guardrails. The road was opened to the public in 1959.

The road west from Port Alberni was extended in 1961 to the district of Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, connecting Pacific Rim National Park to the rest of Canada. Paving started in the late 1960’s and was completed by 1972, at which point the switchbacks were replaced with a more driveable graded route.

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Nanaimo – Port Alberni- Tofino Route Map