Take the Traveller Quiz Super, Natural British Columbia

Go full circle on Southern Vancouver Island with the Pacific Marine Circle Route. A road with varied landscapes, stops and views, the loop is a popular trek amongst driving enthusiasts. The total drive clocks in at a total of 289 km or 179 miles. With the beach pull outs, broad ocean views and a leg that takes you past some of the most majestic old-growth forest on Vancouver Island, the Pacific Marine Circle Route ranks high amongst drivers. It’s also a thrilling drive—winding roads and steep hills will put your handling skills to the test!

You can start at whichever point along the loop that you please (heading in either direction), but we suggest launching from Victoria. From the Lower Mainland, arrive via ferry at Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal and head into the city to settle into the Vancouver Island vibe for a day or two. Explore Victoria’s quaint and vibrant downtown before hitting the road towards Sooke. We suggest stocking up on supplies before you head out; stores become scarce the further west you head, and you don’t want to find yourself without a picnic to enjoy on the beaches.

Pacific Marine Circle Route 2019

Part 1

Victoria to Sooke

40 km | 45 minutes

Ride over from Vancouver and arrive into Schwartz Bay – Image by Fields & Forests

From Victoria, go as fast or as slow as you’d like, meandering through the winding roads into Sooke (only about a 45-minute drive from Downtown Victoria). Here, take a break from the road to explore “where the rainforest meets the sea”; stretch your legs with a trek out to the geological wonder that is the Sooke Potholes, or set out on a scenic shoreline walk along Whiffin Spit – extending between the Sooke Harbour and Juan de Fuca Strait. For something faster-paced, you can go ziplining with AdrenaLINE Zipline Adventure Tours, or set out on a fishing excursion with True Key Adventures. The oceanside town is also home to some spectacular local haunts like Stick in the Mud Cafe, and the 17-Mile House Pub (its namesake is the distance from Victoria’s City Hall) on route into town.

Exploring all that Sooke has to offer may mean you turn in for the night; we recommend SookePoint Ocean Cottage Resort or Sooke Harbour Resort & Marina. If you decide to make this portion of the road trip into a day trip, making a pitstop in Sooke and continuing on to Sheringham Distillery to taste small batch, Island-made hand-crafted spirits and stop in at the famous local staple, Shirley Delicious Cafe, for a late lunch. 

Charging stations:

  • Prestige Oceanfront Resort, 6929 West Coast Rd, Sooke
  • Seaparc Leisure Complex, 2168 Phillips Road, Sooke
  • Sooke Harbour House, 1528 Whiffen Spit Road, Sooke

Must Stop Spots

Where to Stay

Part 2

Sooke To Port Renfrew

71 km | 1.5 hours
Cozy up after your drive and settle into a stay at Wild Renfrew – Image by Ben Giesbrecht
The Port Renfrew to Cowichan route is where you really get to test your wilderness mettle. The road in this section is a former logging route, recently paved over to encourage Vancouver Island visitors to venture through the threading road surrounded by tall trees and rushing waterfalls. A note of caution: there’s no cell service along this portion of the route.

As you’re now heading into one of the most scenic and “wildest” legs of the route, be sure to leave time for stops along the way. We recommend a stop in Jordan River to watch the surfers catch two- to ten-foot waves. This section of the drive also offers access to some of Vancouver Island’s best beaches within Juan de Fuca Provincial Park; Sombrio, Botanical, China and Mystic Beaches are all great places to pull off, explore tidal pools and take in some fresh ocean air.

Further along the route, Port Renfrew will greet you with wild vibes and wide-open ocean – this destination feels inherently West Coast. It is the perfect place to wander great hikes (it’s home to the trailhead of the famous West Coast Trail), explore magnificent old-growth and encounter a sport-fishing mecca. Keep the West Coast rustic vibes going with stop in at Bridgemans Bistro for a meal featuring local Island food and beverage. If you are turning in for the night, it doesn’t get much better than Wild Renfrew Resort – offering luxurious seaside cottages or the more economical West Coast Trail Lodge. In the evening, stoke a fire outdoors while you map out the next day’s drive.

Important Notes: 

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

Charging stations: 

  • Wild Renfrew – 17293 Parkinson Rd, Port Renfrew

Gas station: 

  • Pacheena 1, Juan de Fuca, BC *Note: this is the only gas station between Sooke and Lake Cowichan 

Must Stop Spots

  • Shirley Delicious

    2794 Sheringham Point Rd, Shirley, BC
  • French Beach

    93V4+XQ Shirley, Juan de Fuca, BC

Where to Stay

Part 3

Port Renfrew To Lake Cowichan

62 km | 1.25 hours
Stop to stretch your legs in Vancouver Island’s temperate rainforest – Image by Fields & Forests

Waking up in Port Renfrew will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to hit the wild road again, but not without a quick detour to visit Avatar Grove (best accessed with a four-wheel-drive vehicle). This magical clutch of old-growth is where you’ll discover some of the Island’s oldest old-growth forest – Western Red Cedar and Douglas Fir giants – including Canada’s Gnarliest Tree and a bit further down the road, Big Lonely Doug. 

After this detour, the Port Renfrew to Cowichan route is where you really get to test your wilderness mettle. The road in this section is a former logging route, recently paved over to encourage Vancouver Island visitors to venture through the threading road surrounded by tall trees and rushing waterfalls. Luckily, Avatar Grove wasn’t the last stop for old-growth forest – lookout for signage for the Harris Creek Spruce (about 20 km outside of Port Renfrew), measuring 4-metres in diameter and approximately 80-feet in height. And, as if the old-growth forest wasn’t magical enough, on this part of the route you will catch site of Fairy Lake, home to the “bonsai” – a tiny Douglas fir tree defying odds, growing on a submerged log in the lake.

The winding forest road will eventually deliver you into Lake Cowichan – a charming town on the lake and popular tourist destination for swimming, fishing and (most famously) floating down the Cowichan River on a tube on a hot summer’s day. We recommend stopping for a bite to eat on the water at Jake’s on the Lake or a slice at Carmanah Pizza.

Important Notes: 

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

Charging stations: 

  • Kaatza Station Museum, 125 South Shore Road, Lake Cowichan, BC

Gas station: 

  • Pacheena 1, Juan de Fuca, BC *Note: this is the only gas station between Sooke and Lake Cowichan.

Must Stop Spots

  • Avatar Grove

    JH87+XC Elliotsville, Juan de Fuca, BC
  • Fairy Lake

    HJPX+8V Elliotsville, Juan de Fuca, BC

Where to Stay

Part 4

Lake Cowichan to Duncan

29 km | 30 mins

The Cowichan region is well known for it’s world class vineyards – Image by Fields & Forests

Just a quick hop from Lake Cowichan, Duncan, a.k.a “The City of Totems,” is a great stop for a walkabout and a cultural experience.  Take a short detour off the highway towards downtown and wander through over 40 magnificent carved totems that each depict a unique story told by the Indigenous carver. The newest edition is the Sesquicentennial Totem in Station Street Park (carved by Tommy Hunt Jr. from the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation) erected to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. In between totems, explore the town’s boutique clothing shops, book shop and, if you’re in town on a Saturday, the Duncan Farmers’ Market.

Important Notes: 

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

Charging stations: 

  • Island Savings Centre, 2687 James Street, Duncan BC
  • Coronation Mall, 361 Trans-Canada Highway 1, Duncan
  • Duncan Train Station, 120 Canada Ave, Duncan
  • Cowichan Regional Visitor Centre, 2892 Drinkwater Rd, Duncan

Must Stop Spots

  • Duncan Farmer's Market

    200 Craig St, Duncan, BC, Canada
  • Centennial Pole

    Q7HV+58 Duncan, British Columbia
Part 5

Duncan to Cowichan Bay

9.5 km | 12 mins
Make a pit stop to meet the neighbours – Image by Fields & Forests

From Duncan, head over to Cowichan Bay on the East Coast of Vancouver Island. The small maritime town is the first “Cittaslow” village in North American; a network of towns and villages in over 28 countries, and an offshoot of the Slow Food Movement founded in Italy. Cowichan Bay offers the opportunity to truly “slow down and savour life”: pay a visit to an Old World-style bakery, True Grain Bread, explore Indigenous art at the Arthur Vickers Gallery or call it a day in the car and hop onto a zodiac for whale watching tour with Ocean Ecoventures.


Must Stop Spots

  • True Grain Bread

    1725 Cowichan Bay Rd, Cowichan Bay, BC V0R 1N0
  • Aurthur Vickers Gallery

    1719 Cowichan Bay Rd, Cowichan Bay, BC V0R 1N0
  • Ocean Ecoventures

    1721 Cowichan Bay Rd, Cowichan Bay, BC V0R 1N0

Where to Stay

  • Oceanfront Suites

    1681 Cowichan Bay Rd, Cowichan Bay, BC
Part 6

Cowichan Bay to Sidney

74 km | 1 hour
Soak in the last of the sun at the pier in Sidney

From Cowichan Bay, you’ve reached the final leg of the trip. We recommend a quick detour en route to Sidney, via the Kinsol Trestle. An iconic landmark on Vancouver Island, it is one of the tallest free-standing timber trestles in the world. Standing 44-metres tall and spanning 187-metres, it is part of The Great Trail spanning across the country. Get the whole story about this historical landmark at the Shawnigan Lake Museum before heading back to the Malahat Highway, with a stop at the Malahat Summit to take in stunning views of the Saanich Inlet and the Cowichan Valley.

The quaint Sidney-by-the-Sea is a seaside sanctuary with plenty to do. It is the perfect destination to wrap up your road trip by spending some time on the water – whether that’s kayaking, fishing, diving or whale watching with Sidney Whale Watching. If you’d prefer to explore on solid ground, venture out to Sidney’s twelve bookstores or quench your thirst at the local wineries, breweries or distillery. If you have a green thumb, we recommend a stop at the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific’s year-round garden en route back to the ferry. 

Alternate Route: Save time and take the scenic route by driving onto the Mill Bay – Brentwood Bay ferry for a quick (and stunning) 25-minute crossing to Sidney. Be sure to check departure times before you get in line to wait – this ferry doesn’t operate in the late evening.
Charging stations: Kerry Park Recreation, 1035 Shawnigan Mill Bay Rd, Mill Bay


Must Stop Spots

  • Kinsol Trestle

    Glen Eagles Road, Shawnigan Lake, BC, Canada

Victoria

Victoria, BC, Canada

Prince Of Whales

812 Wharf St, Victoria

Adrena LINE Zipline Adventure Tours

5128C Sooke Rd, Sooke, BC V9Z 0E2

SookePoint Ocean Cottage Resort

1000 SookePoint Place, Sooke, BC, Canada

Sheringham Distillery

252 - 6731 W Coast Rd, Sooke, BC V9Z 0S9

Sooke Harbour Resort & Marina

6971 West Coast Road, Sooke, BC, Canada

Sooke

Sooke, BC, Canada

Sooke

Sooke, BC, Canada

Shirley Delicious

2794 Sheringham Point Rd, Shirley, BC

French Beach

93V4+XQ Shirley, Juan de Fuca, BC

Wild Renfrew

17310 Parkinson Road, Port Renfrew, BC, Canada

Port Renfrew

Port Renfrew, BC, Canada

Port Renfrew

Port Renfrew, BC, Canada

Avatar Grove

JH87+XC Elliotsville, Juan de Fuca, BC

Fairy Lake

HJPX+8V Elliotsville, Juan de Fuca, BC

Riverside Inn

56 N Shore Dr, Lake Cowichan, BC

Lake Cowichan

Lake Cowichan, BC, Canada

Lake Cowichan

Lake Cowichan, BC, Canada

BC Forest Discovery Centre

2892 Drinkwater Rd, Duncan, BC V9L 6C2

Duncan Farmer's Market

200 Craig St, Duncan, BC, Canada

Centennial Pole

Q7HV+58 Duncan, British Columbia

Duncan

Duncan, BC, Canada

Duncan

Duncan, BC, Canada

True Grain Bread

1725 Cowichan Bay Rd, Cowichan Bay, BC V0R 1N0

Aurthur Vickers Gallery

1719 Cowichan Bay Rd, Cowichan Bay, BC V0R 1N0

Ocean Ecoventures

1721 Cowichan Bay Rd, Cowichan Bay, BC V0R 1N0

Oceanfront Suites

1681 Cowichan Bay Rd, Cowichan Bay, BC

Cowichan Bay

Cowichan Bay, BC, Canada

Cowichan Bay

Cowichan Bay, BC, Canada

Kinsol Trestle

Glen Eagles Road, Shawnigan Lake, BC, Canada

Sidney

Sidney, BC, Canada

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