Summer Getaways on the BC Coastal Tour

Summer Getaways on the BC Coastal Tour
(The Sunshine Coast & Vancouver Island)

Jan Lee's Travellin' News

© Sean Percy
Moonlit night at Powell River.
Photo by Sean Percy

Vancouver Island

Every BC traveller has a special getaway that they claim as their own. For some it is the azure lakes of the Okanagan, for others, it is the quiet, serene parks above Vancouver. For me, it is BC's coastline. No matter the time of year or weather, the view is always interesting, always enticing, and always magical.

Having said that, I will admit that there is no better time to see BC's islands and coastal scenery than during the summer. BC was made for sunny weather, for long strolls along the beach and for inviting, romantic sunsets. It also offers an excellent selection of getaways and wilderness excursions for hikers and boaters.

One of the best ways to see BC's islands and coastal attractions is to drive the BC Coastal tour through Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. Beginning in Victoria (which is accessible by ferry from both Vancouver or Seattle, WA) the tour takes you north on Vancouver Island (Highway 19) to Comox, where you cross back over to the mainland at Powell River. Picking up Highway 101, you travel southeast again through Sechelt and Gibson's Landing, to Vancouver. The circle tour is actually short enough to complete in 2 days (allowing for ferry schedules), but lends itself best to several days or a week of travel. It also provides a great opportunity to take short trips to BC's famous islands, which are easily accessible from Vancouver Island's Swartz Bay terminal.

© Sean Percy
One of the many inlet bays near Lund and Powell River.
Photo by Sean Percy
Having just spent two weeks in Victoria's glorious sunny weather, I can tell you that there is no better time to see BC's capital. Even if you prefer rustic scenery over cities, a trip to Victoria is a must. Its attractions range from historic walking tours (Victoria is world renown for its careful preservation of historic sites), to whale watching and ecology tours. There are, in fact, tours for just about every kind of attraction, from pub- hopping to haunted buildings.

Accommodations on Southern Vancouver Island include a range of bed and breakfast establishments, hotels and campgrounds. To be sure you get the accommodation you prefer, don't forget to reserve ahead. Also remember that great weather means more ferry passengers. BC Ferries recommends arriving at the terminal at least an hour ahead to ensure your place on board. If you are travelling from Washington state, don't forget to make a ferry reservation.

One of the benefits of this particular coastal tour, is that it allows for a trip to the Gulf Islands. All of the southern Gulf Islands have regional parks open to the day traveller and there are two provincial parks with campsites on Galiano and Pender Islands. Salt Spring and Galiano are well known as artist enclaves. The best way to see the islands is to book accommodations on one of the islands and then plan a few day trips to locations around you. Vehicle reservations are recommended for all southern Gulf Island ferries.

Back on Vancouver Island again, Highway 19 north takes you through the City of Nanaimo (113 km/71 miles from Victoria), BC's third oldest city. There are numerous camping and RV sites in the area, including Engishman River Falls and Little Qualicum Falls provincial parks, which offer fishing and swimming. Both are located east of Parksville on highway 4, which is approximately 37 km/23 miles north of Nanaimo. Little Qualicum is 19 km/12 miles from Parksville and Engishman River is 8 km/5 miles south of 4, midway between Parksville and the town of Coombs.

115 km/72 miles from Nanaimo on highway 19 is the town of Comox and the ferry to Powell River. In addition to its popular arts and crafts festival (Early August) Comox is known for its historic Filberg Lodge and Park. Built in the 1930's, it is open to public tours.

© Sean Percy
A great catch near Powell River.
Photo by Sean Percy

Sunshine Coast

The ferry to Powell River takes 1 hour and 15 minutes. It is 145 km/91 miles north of Vancouver. Considered to be one of BC's choicest diving spots, it offers a variety of underwater attractions for all levels of diving experience.

Just north of Powell River (23 km/14 miles), is the town of Lund, BC's northernmost point on Highway 101. Founded in 1889, Lund overlooks the rocky, formidable cliffs of the Georgia Straight. It is possible to rent a boat or hire a tour guide to investigate more northern points, such as BC's marine parks. Kayak and canoe enthusiasts will also enjoy investigating the wealth of portages and lakes in the area.

Powell River hosts a Sea Fair (Mid August) and a Blackberry Festival (Late August). The Sea Fair includes its own bathtub races (a wacky BC specialty that must be seen to be appreciated) and the Blackberry Festival includes a wine vintner's contest.

Take a photo tour of Powell River, courtesy of the Powell River Visitor's Bureau

When you are ready to head south again, you will take Highway 101 to Saltery Bay where you will cross a small inlet by ferry to Earls Cove. The ride is approximately 50 minutes and has always been one of my more favourite ferry excursions. There are several resorts and bed and breakfast inns between Earl's Cove and Sechelt that offer picturesque settings on or near the beach.

Porpoise Bay Provincial Park is located 10 km/6 miles north of Sechelt, an easy drive to local shops and galleries. 21 km/13 miles south of Sechelt is Gibsons Landing and the Langdale Ferry Terminal, where you will catch your last ferry on route to Vancouver. The crossing affords another interesting glimpse of BC's inland waters, which are becoming gradually more populated with summer homes and residential communities.

After you have made this last crossing, you will join Highway 1. Follow the highway southeast to the Lions Gate Bridge, approximately 40 minutes from Horseshoe Bay (allow extra time during rush hours). There are some spectacular views of Howe Sound that make this excursion well worth the trip. Ample rest stops are available on the south-bound side of the highway.

Photos of the BC Coast
Courtesy of Rob Higgens
Camping at Lois Lake
Courtesy of Andrew Loveridge
Coon Bay | Galiano Island | Autumn Gate | Montague Park
Courtesy of Salt Spring Chamber of Commerce
Saltspring Ferry | Boating | Cycling | View
Float Plane | Kayaking | Harbour | Mt Maxwell | Llamas
Courtesy of CRD Parks
Saturna | Mayne | S. Pender
Courtesy of Gunter Mark Photography
Sunshine Coast
Courtesy of Tourism BC
Coastal Waters | B&Bs | Empress Hotel

Travel Information:

CRD Parks Information: 250-478-3344
Vancouver Island's Capital Regional Park System has more than 20 parks in operation for day use. Activities range from hiking to boating and swimming.

BC Parks Information: 250-387-4550
(offers camping as well as day use)
For toll free access to this number call Enquiry BC first, at 660-2421 in Vancouver or 800-663-7867 and request to be transferred to this number.

BC Ferries Information:
1- 888-223-3779 or 250-386-3431

"Sean Percy lives in Powell River, where he works as a reporter/photographer for the Powell River News and Town Crier. A self-taught photographer, he specializes in scenic, wildlife and underwater images. If you are interested in purchasing one of his photographs, he can be reached at"

Copyright Jan Lee

Jan Lee

Be sure to read other articles by Jan Lee in the BC Adventure Network

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Summer Getaways on the BC Coastal Tour