Tiny Town Tour – featuring the South Island Circle

Starting Point: Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal, Sidney

  • Sooke
  • Shirley
  • Port Renfrew
  • Lake Cowichan
  • Mill Bay
  • Malahat 

Ending Point: Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal, Sidney

One of the most spectacular things about a visit to Vancouver Island is the diversity of tiny towns that are waiting to be discovered by the most curious travelers. In this itinerary, you arrive at Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal in Sidney, just outside of Victoria and travel the Southern route to discover some truly unique spots that are seldom seen on Vancouver Island. Tiny towns are especially special to visit- because you get to experience the island like a local. On this route, we travel down the coastline to visit some of the tiny towns that dot the west coastline of Vancouver Island, eventually cutting inland to some quaint outposts that aren’t to be missed.

Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal to Sooke

Travel Time by Car: 65 minutes

Travel Time by Bike: 3.5 hours

A seaside town with hidden charm, Sooke is a town full of artisans, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and outdoor adventure. Travelers arriving from Victoria by bike will love the Galloping Goose Regional Trail network, connecting downtown Victoria to Sooke potholes. 

Eat: Enjoy a pourover coffee at Kaffewagen, a 1969 Volkswagen Bus serving some of the most delicious coffee in town. Foodies will love organic restaurant Wild Mountain, serving locally-inspired dishes made with coastal ingredients.

Shop: Stop by the picturesque Marshall-Inman Gallery, which features artwork made on-site in their wood and ceramic workshops. The gallery is located near Otter Point on a llama farm, a very Vancouver Island experience.

Stay: Sooke Harbor Resort & Marina features boutique-style townhome condos perfect for families of all sizes. Another option is the waterfront cottages at Salty Towers, featuring private cabins overlooking Sooke Harbour and the Olympic Mountain range.  

Explore: East Sooke Regional Park is full of epic hiking trails of all levels, making it a great spot for an outdoor adventure. Sooke Potholes Provincial Park is another popular destination along the Sooke River, featuring several river trails meandering through the forest.

Sooke to Shirley

Travel Time by Car: 15 minutes

Travel Time by Bike: 1 hour

A small hamlet just outside Sooke, Shirley is a tiny town that packs a punch. A gateway to the scenic beaches of West Coast Road, it’s a stop worth having.

Eat: Shirley Delicious is perhaps what Shirley is best known for, a cafe in a cute a-frame that’s a photo-ready moment paired with good eats. Stoked Wood Fired Pizza features handcrafted wood fired pizzas alongside a market of local goods. 

Stay: French Beach Provincial Park offers camping spots, hiking trails, and more right on the ocean. Alternatively, find one of the many B&Bs in the area including Foggy Mountain B&B, where you’ll also get a chance to see Foggy Mountain Forge, Marty Gilbertson’s blacksmith’s shop and gallery. 

Explore: Sheringham Point Lighthouse is located just down the road from Shirley Delicious, a picture perfect lighthouse that’s a beacon on this coastline. If you opted not to camp at French Beach, try a hike in to see the stunning beach for yourself. 

Shirley to Port Renfrew

Travel Time by Car: 1 hour

Travel Time by Bike: 4 hours

Port Renfrew, or “Renny” as it’s affectionately called by locals, is located on the inlet of Port San Juan about as far west coast as you can go. As the “Tally Tree Capital of Canada”, the wild will call to you on any visit to this impressive wilderness destination.

Eat: The Renfrew Pub is a go-to for locals and visitors alike, boasting a large menu and a great place to rest and take in the waterfront views. Pie-ro pizza features wood fired pizzas, a fantastic takeaway option if you’re looking for something on the go.

Stay: Wild Renfrew is the go-to place for the weary traveler in need of rest and relaxation in a wilderness setting. One of our favorite new additions to Wild Renfrew’s offerings is their luxury tents, which include a private sauna and outdoor shower not to be missed. 

Explore: Lovers of Port Alberni’s Cathedral Grove will be awe-stricken by Avatar Grove, a cluster of old growth forest located in Gordon River Valley just outside Port Renfrew. Botanical Beach is another must-see as it’s one of richest intertidal zones on the West Coast, perfect for tide pool exploration. 

Port Renfrew to Lake Cowichan

Travel Time by Car: 1 hour

Travel Time by Bike: 4 hours

Taking the back road to Lake Cowichan through towering trees and quiet highways, Lake Cowichan is a mountainous area just outside of Duncan that’s rich in wildlife and adventure filled with warm lakes, sandy beaches, and a cute town to boot. 

Eat: The Farm Table Inn is an adorable restaurant and B&B that’s nestled in nature, serving local, organic, and house-made food. Deep Fried Ice Cream is a must-stop for you guessed it- deep fried ice cream. A shop with that perfect small-town feel, their menu also includes delicious eats including poutine and fish & chips.

Stay: Cowichan River Lodge is an idyllic fishing and retreat lodge that is a marvelous place to take in the outdoors from the comfort of a rustic-feeling, yet luxurious lodge in the wild. Gordon Bay Provincial Park is one of our favorite spots to pitch a tent in the region. 

Explore: Honeymoon Bay Ecological Reserve is a stunning walk that’s perfect for all levels, featuring old growth canopies and moss-covered trees. Skutz Falls is a wonderful set of trails that boasts views of river rapids, and is a perfect perch to watch spawning salmon running down the man-made fish ladder. 

Lake Cowichan to Malahat

Travel Time by Car: 50 minutes

Travel Time by Bike: 4 hours

‘The Malahat’ is the term commonly applied to the Malahat Drive, a 25 km portion of the Trans Canada Highway 1, just outside the community of Mill Bay. Named after the Malahat First Nation, this area of Vancouver Island boasts rugged and heavy forests with steep and towering cliffs that provide it with one of the best roadside views on Vancouver Island.

Eat: Bru-Gros Coffee in Mill Bay is a perfect stop on route to the Malahat, don’t forget to grab a donut with your coffee. Alpina Restaurant by Villa Eyrie has one of the most remarkable views of the Malahat, and a stunning menu of local-inspired food in a luxury setting.

Stay: European-inspired Villa Eyrie is one of the island’s most stunning hotels, set upon a cliff overlooking the Malahat and surrounding islands. Cedar Springs Ranch is a camping spot paired with wood bunkhouses that is a great choice when you want to stay close to nature. 

Explore: Goldstream Provincial Park is located right off the highway featuring trails alongside the river through deep forests and marshland. The Malahat Skywalk is the area’s newest destination activity, featuring a spiral wooden ramp leading up to a 32-meter viewing deck with a panoramic view of the surrounding inlets and mountain ranges.

Malahat to Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal

Travel Time by Car: 1 hour

Travel Time by Bike: 4 hours