Take the Traveller Quiz Super, Natural British Columbia

The longest of the Vancouver Island routes, the Nanaimo to Port Hardy trek also affords the opportunity to take things at full speed. A stretch of 114 kilometres between Parksville and Campbell River —of the total 385 kilometres for this drive—is set at 110 kilometres an hour. Beyond that, the double yellow lines are like beckoning beams, pulling the car deeper into the dense forest of North Vancouver Island with the canopy overhead. It’s just you, the road, and nature.

Of course, you can take a more roundabout way of exploring this North Vancouver Island road trip, which sees you taking the turn offs to the smaller towns tucked off the main highway. You’ll also want to budget a slower speed for the pull-offs, particularly as the road winds along the 22.5 km expanse of Nimpkish Lake. As this journey travels through some of the more remote parts of the island, there are plenty of rest stops along the way.

Part 1

Nanaimo to Parksville

38 km | 33 minutes

The perfect starting point, Nanaimo offers an excellent culinary scene, beautiful waterfront and endless activities for all traveller types. Before hitting the road, build an education of this historical port city at the Nanaimo Museum; learn about Nanaimo’s earliest settlers and explore a replica gold mine. A must-see is the Bastion – offering an exciting cannon firing ceremony every day at noon. 

As you set off on your trip, wave goodbye to the city and say hello to some stunning ocean views along this leg.

A popular road trip stop, Parksville offers beautiful sandy beaches and quaint boutique shopping in the downtown district. Tigh na Mara Seaside Spa Resort is worth a stop, whether it’s for a treatment at their Grotto Spa or to hunker down for the night in one of their oceanview rooms.

From here, you can take the fast route by keeping to Highway 19, or take a detour to explore a series of bay towns along Highway 19A.

Charging stations:

  • Parksville Civic and Technology Centre, 100 Jensen Avenue East
  • Parksville Community Park 193 Beachside Drive Parksville BC
  • The Beach Club Resort 181 Beachside Drive Parksville
  • Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort 1155 Resort Way Parksville

Must Stop Spots

  • Nanaimo Museum

    100 Museum Way, Nanaimo, BC V9R 5J8
  • The Bastion

    5387+RQ Nanaimo, British Columbia

Where to Stay

Part 2

Parksville to Campbell River

120 km | 1 hour 10 mins

From Parskville, you’ll hit a speedy stretch of road before arriving in Campbell River, known affectionately to locals as “The River.” At this point you’ll feel the need to stretch your legs in this mecca for outdoor adventure, so we recommend taking the short trek down to the thundering waterfall at the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge, located in one of the most popular provincial parks on Vancouver Island. Another must-see during your time here is Discovery Pier – Canada’s first saltwater fishing pier. With beautiful views of the Discovery Passage, here you will have easy access to recreational fishing, including a seasonal operation where you can rent your own gear.

Charging stations:

  • Buckley Bay Highway/Route 19 24.0KM South of Courtenay
  • Wayward Distillery (2931 Moray Ave, Courtenay)
  • Campbell River Visitor Information Centre in Tyee Plaza (1101 – 1299 Shoppers Row)
  • Dogwood Operations Centre (385 South Dogwood Street)
  • North Island College (1685 South Dogwood Street)
  • Discovery Harbour Shopping Centre Gas Bar (1416 Island Highway)
  • Campbell River Hyundai (1853 Meredith Road)
  • Campbell River Toyota (2785 North Island Highway)
  • Steve Marshall Ford (2300 North Island Highway)
  • Campbell River Community Centre (401 – 11th Avenue)

Must Stop Spots

Part 3

Campbell River to Port Hardy

230 km | 2 hours 34 mins

From Campbell River, you will head inland for a stretch of road towards your final destination: Port Hardy. A short detour off the main drag just under an hour into your drive will take you into Sayward – a town with a tiny population yet plenty to do and see (plus, a great place to fill up your gas tank in case you didn’t have the opportunity in Campbell River). Must-sees here include the World’s Largest Yellow Cedar, the Cable Cookhouse and it is not uncommon to spot elk and black bears nearby.

Another stop may be called for in Woss to view one of the original steam-powered locomotives. And, under an hour from Woss, Telegraph Cove (also just off the main drag) offers a truly memorable Vancouver Island experience. This remote and picturesque maritime village is about as quaint as it gets. Bustling with fishermen, boaters, campers and wildlife viewers in the summer months, this is a great place to stop overnight if you’re ready to “disconnect.” Experience some of the best whale watching around with Prince of Whale Whale Watching in Telegraph Cove.

From Telegraph Cove, you are less than a one hour’s drive to your final destination. When you arrive in Port Hardy, you’ve settled into your second basecamp for the journey. From here you can turn over the wheel to an experienced tour operator to tumble down logging roads and hit Cape Scott Provincial Park, or paddle the magnificent coastline. 

We recommend lodging in true North Island style – unpacking your tent and sleeping bag for a night in the wilderness. Explore all that the rugged landscape has to offer, from bird, bear and whale watching to taking in this rugged region from above by plane or helicopter.

Charging stations:

  • Salter Holdings Parking Lot 8645 Granville St Port Hardy
  • Port Hardy Visitor Information Centre 7250 Market Street Port Hardy
  • North Coast Trail Backpackers Hostel 8635 Granville Street Port Hardy

Gas stations:

  • 1590 Sayward Rd, Sayward, BC Note: This is the last gas stations between Sayward and Port McNeill
  • 1001 Hyde Creek Rd, Port McNeill, BC V0N 2R0

Important Notes: 

  • Cell phone service is spotty or unavailable along this part of the route

Must Stop Spots

Nanaimo

Nanaimo, BC, Canada

Nanaimo Museum

100 Museum Way, Nanaimo, BC V9R 5J8

The Bastion

5387+RQ Nanaimo, British Columbia

Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Resort & Spa

1155 Resort Dr, Parksville, BC V9P 2E3

Parksville

Parksville, BC, Canada

Parksville

Parksville, BC, Canada

Courtenay

Courtenay, BC, Canada

Elk Falls Suspension Bridge

2MRC+J9 Campbell River, BC

Discovery Pier

655 Island Hwy, Campbell River, BC V9W 2C3

Campbell River

Campbell River, BC, Canada

Campbell River

Campbell River, BC, Canada

Sayward

Sayward, BC

Cable Cookhouse

Sayward Rd, Sayward, BC V0P 1R0

Woss

Woss, BC

Prince of Whales - Telegraph Cove

24 Boardwalk, Telegraph Cove, BC V0N 3J0

Port Hardy

Port Hardy, BC, Canada

Discover North Island Stories