Vancouver Island Stories and Tips

Public Transport Options on Vancouver Island

View from a bus to Nanaimo Photo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Vancouver Island is located off the coast of British Columbia, about 20 nautical miles from the mainland and Vancouver city.
The island is not huge, but still big enough to merit some travel planning.
The island stretches roughly along the North-West to South-East axis and is about 240 miles long and 70 miles wide. However, a lot of the island is mountainous and often pretty wild and undeveloped, especially in the northern part of the island, and thus areas that might seem near can only be accessed by road in a very round about way or not at all. Many roads are unpaved and some communities are only accessible by a rough track, boat or sea plane.

If you are travelling by car, and intend to explore more than the southern and eastern coasts of Vancouver Island, it's essential to have a decent road map, which has indication of the road quality.

For those travelling by public transport, the main option is bus. Victoria has a good network of city buses, as do some other larger communities on the island (Cowichan Valley, Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Courtenay/Comox and Campbell River). Inter city bus services are provided by Greyhound as well as a few other companies, but most of the services are well integrated and operate from the same bus depots.

The main roads are Highway 1, from Victoria to Nanaimo, Highway 19 from Nanaimo all the way to Port Hardy and Highway 4, which runs west from Parksville through Port Alberni to Tofino and Ucluelet. These highways also mark the extent of reasonably comprehensive bus service. There are four buses a day between Victoria and Nanaimo and one between Nanaimo and Port Hardy. Tofino and Ucluelet have two buses a day, operated by Tofino Bus, one arriving in the afternoon and one in the evening.

In addition to the Greyhound there are several seasonal services aimed explicitly at the tourists. West Coast Trail Express has a shuttle service (May to September) from Victoria and Nanaimo to the trail heads of the West Coast Trail and the Juan de Fuca Trail.

In addition to the bus network, Vancouver Island has also something of a skeleton of a railway service, with one train a day between Victoria and Courtenay that stops in Duncan, Nanaimo and Parksville among others. This is a fairly scenic journey, skirting the coast, and if bought in advance the tickets are cheaper than bus tickets on the equivalent route, but as it only runs once a day its usefulness is limited.

Many communities on Vancouver Island have small airports or (more often) an air service provided by float planes. Some places, especially on the west coast of the island, are in fact only accessible by air or boat.

Hitch-hiking is common and popular, especially in areas with little or no bus service (for example on the islands of the Vancouver Island coast, like Quadrant) and so is ride share.

On the west coast, there are boat services that connect otherwise inaccessible locations, for example a three-times weekly mail boat from Port Alberni to Kildonan and (in the summer only) between Bamfield and Ucluelet or the Nootka Sound trips from Gold River.

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