17 Best Road Trips From Vancouver
If you live in Vancouver and want to get out of the city or if you're just visiting and want to see some of the amazing nature around British Columbia, there are a number of amazing road trips you can take.
Sat right at the southwestern corner of Canada, Vancouver is close to some of the country's prettiest islands and you can drive further into Canada along picturesque roads twisting and winding through deep mountain valleys. The United States is right nearby as well with some great places you can drive to from Vancouver.
Featuring whale watching, mountain towns and Canada's finest hospitality, here is our list of the 17 best road trips from Vancouver.
1. Bowen Island, BC
30 km from Vancouver (1 hour 20 minutes)
When to go: June to September for the warm sunny days
Vancouver has amazing parks dotted throughout the city with few cities boasting something like Stanley Park overlooking the Lions Gate Bridge. For those that want to get out a little further from the city and get more into nature, there's Bowen Island - the closest of the major islands in the area and only just over an hour away.
It will take you about half an hour, traffic permitting, to get from Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay. From there, you need to get onboard a ferry and once it sets off, it takes around 20 minutes to get to Bowen Island.
You can take your car or walk onto the ferry. The car costs an extra $30 but it will mean you can get about the island more easily.
Sure - the whole point of going is the hiking, sightseeing and generally exploring the outdoors, but it's around 9 km from the ferry to Bowen Bay on the opposite side of the island and 11 km to Seymour Landing if you want to get everywhere in a day.
There are two places you can hike up to get great views - Dorman Point is in Critten Park, right by the ferry terminal and Mount Gardner in the middle of the island. The trek up Mount Gardner will take several hours depending on where you start (around 5 hours ferry to ferry) so make sure you allow plenty of time to go up and down. From the top, you get great views north over Howe Sound and the Sunshine Coast and a 360 view from the top that lets you see as far as Vancouver.
Killarney Lake on the way up to Mount Gardner is a great stop and if you don't want to climb to the top, you can hike around the lake instead. Also make sure you visit some of the beaches around the island - the Cape on the opposite end of the island is amazing.
There is the small Cape Roger Curtis Lighthouse sitting on rocks stretching out into the sea and Pebbly beach is great for sitting around, throwing pebbles into the water as the sun sets - there are a lot of pebbles!
2. Squamish, BC
64 km from Vancouver (1 hour)
When to go: Summer for the outdoors activities or winter for skiing and the bald eagles
The residents of Squamish have called their town the Adventure Capital of Canada to make it pretty clear what you may encounter when you get there.
Getting to Squamish is easy - get onto Highway 99 heading north (same route as for Bowen Island above) and follow Howe Sound up until you hit the city of Squamish at the Squamish River's mouth. Highway 99 is the route that connects Vancouver with a lot of amazing road trip destinations on our list including Whistler although the Trans-Canada Highway is the faster route for destinations further than Pavilion.
Once you get there, the outdoors is the main attraction and there is a huge number of different things to do be it summer or winter. There's hiking, mountain biking, dirt biking, horseback riding and climbing. Then you can try kayaking, kite boarding, windsurfing and swimming - the Squamish Spit in the River Squamish's estuary is a perfect place for water sports.
In the winter, you can do everything from going on a snowmobile to skiing, cross-country skiing or exploring the area on snowshoes!
And that's not all!
One thing Squamish is well known for its huge population of resident bald eagles. The bald eagles come to the area between November and February because of its unique climate and the large number of salmon making its way up the river to spawn. If you come around Christmas time, you can easily see dozens of these birds in an hour with thousands coming from across North America to the small area.
Don't miss out on the Sea to Sky Gondola offering unbelievable views from the top and the opportunity to walk over a suspension bridge above the treetops. It's only open from spring to fall, so you won't be able to go up during the winter months.
3. Pemberton, BC
153 km from Vancouver (2 hours 20 minutes)
When to go: Great all year round - late summer for the u-pick farms
The sleepy village of Pemberton sits at the intersection of three valleys in the Coast Mountains range, north of Vancouver. Surrounded by snowy peaks throughout the year, Pemberton will make you feel relaxed and in tune with your younger self as you unwind here.
We've got Pemberton down as a day road trip, but you can certainly come and spend a weekend or longer if you have the time. Further along Highway 99 than Whistler, it is the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of Vancouver.
The town oozes charm with many of the buildings dating back to the 19th century. Set between Pemberton Creek and Lillooet River, there are waterways all around Pemberton adding to the picture-perfect look.
The town sits in the heart of the Lil'wat First Nation that predates the settlement by thousands of years. The next town down the valley is Mount Currie and the Mount Currie Indian Reserve. You will see the peak of the mountain from everywhere in the valley and the Lil'wat consider it a holy site.
The valleys surrounding Pemberton are perfect for spending time outdoors in a relaxed way. In the summer, you can pick berries at local farms, go rafting along the river and explore the mountains on foot, mountain bike or horseback. In the winter, you can try out cross country skiing or taking out a snowmobile. Plus Whistler's ski slopes are only half an hour away.
4. Golden Ears Provincial Park, BC
64 km from Vancouver (1 hour 10 minutes)
When to go: Summer to enjoy the lake and make the most of the hiking
The Golden Ears Provincial Park sits along both banks of Alouette Lake. At only an hour's drive from Vancouver, it is very popular as a weekend getaway for those who live in the city.
If you're only going for a day, try to get there early to make sure you can find parking easily. If you're wanting to come for the weekend and camp, make sure you book in advance - the more popular weekends can get booked up very early so plan ahead.
Alongside the hiking, horse riding trails and mountain biking, you should check out the WildPlay Elements Park - there's zip lines and a series of treetop adventure routes where you can climb with a view. It's family friendly and there is a lot to keep the kids entertained.
Despite being so close to Vancouver, you won't have any cell reception and will feel in complete wilderness almost as soon as you enter the park. If you're feeling adventurous, the hike up to the Golden Ears summit is worth it for the amazing views all around. You'll need to make sure you bring the right gear - snow can be heavy at the top even in the summer!
Some say that swimming in Alouette Lake is a good way to spend the day. If that's what you want to do, you better like swimming in cold water, but it certainly will feel refreshing. If you want to spend time on the lake without freezing, you can do everything from canoeing to fishing, but make sure you get your BC fishing licence first.
5. Highway 7 to Hope and Fraser Valley
156 km from Vancouver (2 hours 20 minutes)
When to go: May to September for the weather and when attractions are open
You might be seeing a bit of a trend here and that is no accident - road trips out of Vancouver tend to involve the outdoors as this is what British Columbia is all about and the trip up Fraser Valley to hope is no different.
When setting off for Hope, don't follow the faster route taking you along Highway 1 that runs south of Fraser River. Instead pick the incredibly scenic Lougheed Highway, also known as Scenic 7 that runs along the north bank the entire way.
Although the route to Hope won't take you long, there are still great places to stop along the way - Maple Ridge and Mission are two beautiful towns in the first half of the drive or you can stop in Harrison Hot Springs or Agassiz in the District of Kent further along. I live in the original Kent, back in the UK and this one certainly has a more scenic mountain top backdrop!
Hope itself is a town where a few canyons and valleys meet. As a result, there is a lot to do here - plenty for a weekend or even longer if you have more time on your hands.
The Othello Tunnels are one of the best attractions in Hope - these old railway tunnels cut into the mountain rock used to form part of a longer railway network, but were closed in 1959. Today you can walk 4 of these tunnels leading you through the Coquihalla Canyon and the Provincial Park. Bring a picnic with you to have for lunch!
Other canyons offer more hiking opportunities from short walks through the Fraser Canyon to the 74 km trail across the Cascade Mountains to Otter Lake if you are up for a challenge.
6. Whistler, BC
121 km from Vancouver (1 hour 40 minutes)
When to go: All year round but January and February will offer the best snow for skiing
Most people know Whistler as one of North America's best ski resorts. The Whistler Blackcomb resort is hugely popular with the locals and across Canada and the United States.
The two mountains of Whistler and Blackcomb are connected by one of the most stunning gondola lifts in the world - it holds the record for being the highest above ground at 436 metres and until recently held the record for the longest span between supports at over 3 km!
The ski resort was taken over by Vail Resorts in 2016 to add to their huge portfolio that includes Heavenly on Lake Tahoe, Beaver Creek and Vail in Colorado. This has pushed the prices up and you may notice the resort is more commercial than it once used to be, but the beautiful scenery and large ski area is still worth it.
Be wary that as the resort is at low altitude and so close to the Pacific, wet snow and rain are commonplace and peak season is not as long as other ski areas.
Summer is also a good time to visit Whistler - you can enjoy the fresh mountain air and try out everything from white water rafting to rock climbing and zip lining.
As you drive up from Vancouver to Whistler, remember that the village is pedestrian only so you'll have to park your car and continue on foot. That is actually a great thing as the après ski is as good in the summer as it is in the winter and there are a lot of places to stop for a drink or a snack.
7. Fraser Canyon from Hope to Lytton
260 km from Vancouver (3 hours 20 minutes)
When to go: Fall is particularly beautiful with the different shades of leaves
If you're limited for time, a road trip from Vancouver to Hope is a good place to start (see #5 above). If you keep going past Hope, however, the Fraser Canyon that stretches 84 km all the way up to Lytton is a perfect way to extend your drive.
The actual drive through the canyon is around 109 km, following Highway 1 which used to be the main route from Vancouver into inland British Columbia. Now traffic tends to follow the Coquihalla in the next valley to the east, so this scenic road is considerably less busy.
As you make your way up, the road will begin twisting and turning through the canyon as it gets narrower. As you go through the tunnels, make sure you find places to stop to admire the views and the towns you pass through. There are some amazing iron railway bridges that are no longer in use and a unique aerial ferry in Boston Bar.
The aerial ferry used to transport one car at a time between Boston Bar and North Bend on opposite sides of the Fraser River until a bridge was built in 1986. You can still see the original gondola construction in Frances Harrington Park.
Every now and then there are roads that veer off Highway 1 and climb up the mountains either side of the valley. You can get some really great views and see the mountains up close, but take care to read the warning signs - the locals are not in the habit of exaggerating and a lot of the roads are only accessible by serious off-road vehicles.
8. Seattle, Washington
231 km from Vancouver (2 hours 30 minutes)
When to go: All year round
Seattle is the first of a few options on our list that involve crossing the border south to the United States. If you're renting a car, double check the terms and conditions allow you to drive across the border - most will be fine with that but be prepared to wait at the border depending on the time you're turning up.
The biggest city in the Pacific Northwest is only around two and a half hours' drive from Vancouver and it's well worth it to spend the weekend seeing the sights.
Make sure you plan your trip well in advance - Seattle can get very busy, especially during the summer and hotel rooms that are already very expensive may also become hard to find.
Stay somewhere central as getting into the city can take a lot of time - you can get about the city easily from your hotel and many of the major sights are only a walk away.
The key things to see are the infamous Space Needle tower and the Pink Place Market. After those, there are amazing museums, parks, galleries and coffee shops you can go see (Seattle loves its coffee and is where the Starbucks chain was famously founded).
If you're visiting a few of the museums in the city, get the Seattle City Pass which will save a lot of money on admissions. Also check out the monorail that runs between the Space Needle and the Westlake Center. It takes about 2 minutes and costs $3 but it's absolutely worth it for the experience and the views of the city!
9. San Juan Islands, Washington
187 km from Vancouver (4 hours)
When to go: June to September to make the most of the warmer months
The San Juan Islands are an archipelago of islands in the Salish Sea that connects Vancouver and Seattle.
Just south of the border, the islands are part of Washington State. There are 128 named islands, 44 named reefs and rocks and another 250 or so rocks in the area. Only four of the islands are accessible - if you try looking up directions to the islands, Google might well suggest swimming as the best option.
The four islands you can get to are San Juan Island, Orcas Island, Lopez Island and Shaw Island and the ferries take people and cars - the price for a car with a single passenger currently ranges between $35.90 and $70.90 for a return trip depending on the season and which of the islands you're going to. Each additional person in the car will add $14 (discounts available for youth and seniors).
Note that if your vehicle is over 22 feet (6.7 m) long, the prices go up a lot - I don't know any generally available cars that would be longer including the largest pickup trucks money can buy, but you'll pay the price if you bring an RV!
The San Juan Island Scenic Byway is a 20-mile route that runs from Friday Harbor and passes through the pretty hills and valleys in the north of the island including vineyards, the 19th century Roche Harbor Resort and the English Camp National Historic Park where you can learn about the island's history during the joint occupation by British and U.S. forces from 1859 to 1872.
San Juan islands are also known as the best place in the world to see Orca whales in the wild. The orcas live here all year round and while sightings can never be guaranteed, you have a pretty decent chance if you go on one of the specialist boat tours.
Alongside the orcas, you could see the larger humpback, minke or even gray whales depending on the season and your luck.
10. Explore Vancouver Island
650 km round trip from Vancouver (14 hours)
When to go: Weather is great all year round - spring and fall are mild and less busy
To get to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island from Vancouver, you have two options - the ferry from Horseshoe Bay, north of the city or one from Tsawwassen to the south.
The Horseshoe Bay option is faster, taking around 90 minutes rather than 2 hours and is a more scenic route. Plus you arrive straight into Nanaimo rather than the much more industrial Duke Point.
Horseshoe Bay is closer, but you have to navigate Highway 1 and Lions Gate Bridge traffic so the choice really depends on where you're driving from and what time of day you're going.
One alternative route is to go from Tsawassen straight to Swartz Bay - if you're visiting Victoria this is the most direct route and you can come back from Nanaimo after doing a round trip.
Vancouver Island is huge. Given the ferry will easily take you 4 hours including getting to it and waiting time, the more time you have, the more you will enjoy your trip.
The one must stop is Victoria on the southern tip of the island. The capital of British Columbia is a historic city with a beautiful Old Town and some stunning buildings.
You can go on a free tour of the British Columbia Parliament buildings, see inside the grandiose Fairmont Empress Hotel and visit the quirky floating shops in Fisherman's Wharf.
If you follow the road around the island, you'll come to the Sheringham Point Lighthouse and a series of different National, Provincial and Regional Parks.
The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve might just be the pick of the bunch - make sure you stop by Fairy Lake on your way. The West Coast Trail that runs along the coast offers some really spectacular views.
The northern part of the island is more wild with parks and mountains throughout, split up by sounds (narrow inlets of water from the Pacific Ocean). It's certainly beautiful, but we'd leave it out of the itinerary unless you're going for more than 10 days.
Cape Scott Provincial Park at the northern tip of the island is 450 km north of Nanaimo and will take you the best part of 6 hours to drive one way!
11. Kelowna on the Okanagan Lake
390 km from Vancouver (4 hours)
When to go: June to September for the warm summers
The town of Kelowna sits on the Okanagan Lake and is surrounded by some of Canada's prettiest scenery. The foothills of the Cascade mountains are on one bank and the Rockies on the other give an amazing backdrop to a really pretty town where you can really get away from it all.
The best reason to go to Kelowna is for Okanagan Valley wines. Not well known outside Canada, the wide valley is sometimes called the Napa of the North.
There are dozens of wineries up and down the valley and in surrounding areas and many will offer tours and wine tasting if you want to try the local produce (and try you must - you may well find yourself pleasantly surprised by the quality).
With the climate being in some ways similar to Piedmont and other north Italian or Alpine French regions, the local wine industry has used some of those learnings, but virtually every grape variety is grown here. We'd recommend trying a Cabernet Franc or Merlot - these varieties have done well over centuries in the Italian Dolomites and work very well with the local climate.
Other than wine, there is a whole range of outdoor activities for the whole family to enjoy. You can go out on a canoe on Okanagan Lake - time it well and you can see the sun rise or fall behind the mountains from the water.
A 45 minute drive south of Kelowna is the Kettle Valley Railway - this rail track was finally abandoned in the 1980s and runs all the way from Hope to Castlegar (that is a seriously long way). The disused rail track has been converted into a trail that you can explore on foot or, even better, on bike.
The Okanagan Valley is a perfect way to relax and take time out of your busy schedule. If you want a few days to yourself, a road trip from Vancouver to Kelowna should be on your radar!
12. Cascade Mountains and Leavenworth, Washington
345 km from Vancouver (4 hours)
When to go: Plenty to do whenever you choose to go
The Cascade Mountains run from northern California all the way to Fraser Valley just outside Vancouver.
One of the best parts of the mountain range is the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in the U.S. Washington State.
Getting here is relatively straight forward - cross into the U.S. through the Peace Arch crossing and head south along the I-5 until you get to Everett. From there, take Route 2 towards the National Forest and you'll eventually make it to Leavenworth.
The terrain is great for hiking - there are forested valleys, lakes and caves and trails that can be explored on foot in the summer or snowmobile in the winter months.
The town of Leavenworth is worth spending some time in. Everything here from the buildings to the buses and horse carriages (yes - horse carriages) look distinctly Bavarian.
There is a museum dedicated to the Nutcracker and festivals almost all year round, some of which are not dedicated to beer.
If you stay in Leavenworth, you can easily venture out for the various outdoor activities. In the winter, the fantastic ski resorts of Stevens Pass and Mission Ridge are 45 minutes away (in opposite directions).
13. Cannon Beach, Oregon
560 km from Vancouver (7 hours)
When to go: July to September to avoid the cool fog that comes in early summer
Cannon Beach on Oregon's Pacific coast is one of the most iconic in the United States - the giant boulders and rock formations sitting just off the coast make for amazing views with very few places in the world being able to match this unique landscape.
Haystack Rocks is the biggest and most famous of the lot - according to the locals it is the third biggest monolith in the world. It sits alongside the Needles just off the beach and is home to a lot of wildlife including different crab and mollusk varieties.
Cannon Beach is the most famous, but not the only place in the local area you have to explore. The rock formations continue as you head further north to the Ecola State Park - you can drive but it's not far to walk along the two trails that run along the coastline.
You will pass the Sea Lion Rocks and Bird Rocks - you may be able to guess what you might find there! Crescent Beach and Indian Beach are home to a number of lagoons and some secret beaches which only reveal themselves at low tide.
Towards the end of the Cannon Beach Trail, at Hikers Camp, you will be rewarded with views over the Pacific Ocean and the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse which has been abandoned since 1951 due to the difficulty of getting to the rock to maintain it.
The town of Cannon Beach has a relaxed vibe and a well known arts scene - there are a few different art galleries and shops you can stop by to see the best of local artists' work.
With more seaside towns nearby and parks along the coast (Oswald West State Park a few minutes south of Cannon Beach) or inland (the climb up Saddle Mountain is worth it), if you have a week to spare and want to relax to the sound of ocean waves, a road trip from Vancouver down to Cannon Beach is highly recommended.
14. Portland, Oregon
510 km from Vancouver (6 hours)
When to go: Portland is great to visit all year round
80 miles inland from Cannon Beach is the city of Portland. If you have time on your hands, combining the two into one trip can be a great idea to mix the seaside relaxation with a vibrant city break.
After the long drive to Portland from Vancouver, the best thing to do is find a place to park your car for the duration of your stay. Getting around the city is far easier, quicker and more enjoyable using public transport of on one of the Biketown bikes. There are bike lanes everywhere you look and the public transport system is one of the best in the states making driving around a pretty pointless exercise.
Over the last 20 years Portland has built a bit of a reputation for being a foodie town. There are amazing local restaurants with everything from Vietnamese chicken wings (you have to try them!) to the doughnuts that Portland is so famous for.
You probably have heard about the reputation of Portland's breweries. There are over 100 of them within the city limits, so a brewery tour is a perfect way to spend an evening. Try some of the smaller local breweries instead of heading for the big names - the beers are crafted with more love and you can find some real gems.
One of the best things to do in the City of Roses is to visit the amazing parks you can find throughout the city. There is a Japanese Garden and the Lan Su Chinese Garden as well as the world's smallest park according to the Guinness Book of Records - Mill Ends Park that measures 2 feet in diameter and can be found in the middle of Naito Parkway.
15. Nelson, British Columbia
660 km from Vancouver (7 hours 30 minutes)
When to go: June to September to make the most of the outdoors
As we get into the realm of some longer road trips from Vancouver, there will be a popular question along the lines of "Why don't you just fly?".
Spending 8 hours on the road is not for everyone and there are daily flights from Vancouver to Castlegar which is only 30 minutes' drive from Nelson. But flying always misses out on the one thing that makes these trips so memorable and unique - the getting there is sometimes as important as the place you're visiting.
The road trip to Nelson from Vancouver takes you along Crowsnest Highway (Highway 3) as it snakes its way near the border with the United States. The road follows rivers running through valleys, conifer forests and has some amazing views as you climb into the mountains.
Be careful if you're attempting to make this drive in the middle of winter - although Canadian roads are amazingly looked after, snow and ice can make the drive more treacherous and add hours onto your journey. Roads including major routes can be closed with no warning with limited alternative routes available.
There are dozens of places to stop along the route if you want to break up the journey. Although you should easily do it in a day, you can explore nature at EC Manning and Bromley Provincial Parks where, if you're lucky you can meet a local marmot (a type of prairie dog).
The towns of Hedley and Keremeos are about halfway and are good overnight stop points with a rich mining history to explore in the former and endless fruit stands in the latter.
Once you're in Nelson it's all about the outdoors and exploring things to do up and down Kootenay Lake. One of the best known attractions is the Ainsworth Hot Springs. The naturally hot water attracts a lot of visitors, so if you can, try to get here early or stay at the resort for morning access before it opens to the public.
To make it easier getting around, there is a free ferry that goes between Balfour and Kootenay Bay that takes half an hour, but makes the east side of the lake very accessible.
16. Canadian Rockies Tour
2,400 km round trip from Vancouver (You'll want at least 2 weeks)
When to go: Go in the summer when roads are accessible and the driving is easier (although we've driven around in February!)
This is a definite joker in our pack of the best road trips from Vancouver - exploring the Rockies starting and finishing in Vancouver is a mighty road trip through the mountains, but it might just be one of the best road trips you will ever take.
If you're renting a car, you always have the option of going one way and then dropping it off in Calgary before flying back to Vancouver. The route here is a little more flexible and while we have driven large parts of this route, I've never done the entire thing in one go!
There are 4 major National Parks that you must travel through as you make your way around the Rockies: Banff, Yoho, Kootenay and Jasper. The first three are all relatively close together with Jasper National Park being further north.
Whether you're going in the summer or winter, start with the central part of the Rockies - Kicking Horse, Banff and Canmore are all great towns to explore for different reasons. Plus there's the famous Lake Louise in the middle which is striking - you can walk on it in the winter too!
Driving up to Jasper follows the most scenic driving road on this list - the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93). It runs all the way from Lake Louise to Jasper, passing through valleys and the impossibly blue Peyto Lake. There are loads of places to stop for a drink, a quick photo opportunity or to take a detour to a fast flowing river flowing through a canyon.
The quickest way back is to follow Highway 5 all the way into Vancouver although if you don't want to come back the same way, you can head west along Highway 99, making your way past Pemberton and Whistler instead.
17. Drive up to Barkerville, British Columbia
800 km from Vancouver (9 hours)
When to go: Summer is better to explore the town, but you can visit all year round if the roads are passable!
Barkerville is a long drive north from Vancouver and while it is an amazing place to visit, you should definitely make it part of a wider trip instead of heading for Barkerville and then trekking right back.
You can add stops in Whistler, Pemberton or one of the Provincial Parks in the lakes that surround Highway 97. Alternatively, add in Jasper and as much of the Rockies as you can to your itinerary if time allows.
Barkerville became a prominent Gold Rush mining town in 1862 and as the rush moved on was declared a National Historic Site as early as 1924.
Today Barkerville is the largest authentic heritage town in North America where everything has been left as it was in the 19th century mining town. The buildings, shops and even the people will make you feel immersed into the historic town and even the food is themed in the restaurants.
You can get a ride on one of the stagecoaches, see different professions in action in over 130 historic buildings and even have a go at mining your own gold - there is plenty to do for all ages making it a great family experience.
With the Cariboo Mountains forming a backdrop to Barkerville and other sights up and down the Okanagan valley, this is a quirky choice for your road trip from Vancouver - make sure you bring snacks and think of games to play along the way - distances become larger the further north you go in British Columbia and it can easily take an hour to hop to the next town up the road!