We had plans for Glacier in early September but scratched that idea because of uncontrolled wildfires. Washington, the Canadian Rockies, Idaho, and Oregon were also choked with smoke. In mid-August, just a couple of weeks before we were due to leave Lopez, we had no idea of where we were going. And then we came up with the brilliant idea of exploring Vancouver Island.
Brilliant, and also a bit overwhelming. We don’t know anyone who has spent time RVing on Vancouver Island. We’ve visited Victoria, the capital of BC on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, twice—once on a tent camping adventure 20 years ago, and again recently while staying in an Airbnb. However, hauling our trailer to the island felt a bit daunting. Not because of the ferry crossing; with all of our travels in the San Juan Islands, we’re accustomed to traveling by ferry.
We had no reservations for places to stay, weren’t sure about campsite availability in September, and we wondered what it was going to be like crossing the border with our trailer. Plus, we didn’t know much about the island (except Victoria), and had no clue about where to go and what to do. With no easy access to the internet on Lopez to research our options, for the first time in 15 years, we bought a travel guidebook. It wasn’t as helpful as I had hoped. Despite the fact that the internet is a time-sucking vortex, it is infinitely better than any other way of researching travel plans. Being without internet drives me crazy. But I digress.
There were two things we knew for sure we wanted to do on Vancouver Island: Whale watching in Telegraph Cove, far north on the island. And exploring Pacific Rim National Park, on the wild west coast. We would fill in the blanks for the rest of our journey as we learned more along the way.
Border Crossing Trauma
Deciphering information about border crossing restrictions is an exercise in futility. There is no way to determine precisely what is and what isn’t allowed. I spent a couple of hours trying to make sense of the rules only to discover this disclaimer: “The requirements may be adjusted at any time.” Not helpful at all.
It’s not that we were planning to haul drugs or guns or plants across the border. Or even large quantities of alcohol. But we had a freezer stuffed with local Lopez Island meats and salmon, and a fridge filled with two dozen local eggs and fresh vegetables from our favorite farm stand. I didn’t want any of our beautiful, organic, island-grown food confiscated at the border. (Of course, the easiest solution is to travel with an empty fridge and freezer. But we had stocked our freezer in preparation for our trip to Glacier.)
I wasn’t being completely neurotic. We’ve heard horror stories about border crossings, including a tale from a close friend who was threatened with stiff fines for neglecting to declare a dessicated lime lolling about in his fridge drawer.
I called the RV Park in Sidney where we would spend our first night, asking if they had any idea of current border restrictions. The woman tried her best to help, searching the same official website that I had tried to sort through. “Hmmm…this is confusing,” she finally said. And we both agreed that essentially, the ease of our border crossing would depend on the mood of the border guard, and whether or not the guard fancied lunch from our well-stocked fridge.
It Was A Piece Of Cake!
On September 8th, we loaded our trailer onto the ferry, sailed away from Lopez, and caught another ferry in Anacortes to Vancouver Island. Two hours later, we cruised into the port of Sidney and queued up for our turn with the customs agent—while watching the trailer next to us get pulled over and searched.
Our agent asked where we were headed and how long we planned to be on the island. Her only other question was whether we had weapons (only bear spray, which is allowed as long as it’s labeled as such). We then had a pleasant conversation about our plans to head north to Telegraph Cove for whale watching. “That’s the best place on the island for whales—I saw orcas there!” With a smile, she waved us on.
A Brief But Fun Visit To Sidney
We made a good choice to stay in Sidney the first night instead of hitting the road and immediately heading up island. The waterfront is a beautiful place to walk, with sculptures and a picturesque harbor.
Our entertainment in Sidney consisted of walking along the waterfront, visiting the sweet little aquarium (our docent at the touch tank was probably 12 years old, and very knowledgeable), and enjoying happy hour at the excellent gin distillery. All very wholesome activities.
About The RV Park
Oceanside RV Resort, in Saanichton, is only 15 minutes from the ferry terminal in Sidney. It’s beautifully maintained, with a mix of seasonal and overnight sites. Our site backed up to a wetland with trails to a small beach. Paved roads, level gravel sites, full hookups, erratic wifi, immaculate showers, and laundry. It has the reputation as the nicest RV park in the area, and from the looks of a couple of the others we passed by, I’d say there’s no question about it.
I’m glad the border crossing worked out well. Beautiful photos. Inspiring.
Happy continued travels.
Thank you, Christine. We were relieved that the border crossing was a non-event! It was a friendly welcome to the island.
Another adventure! Such a beautiful place. We have only been to Victoria and talk about spending more time on the island. Storm watching in Tofino has been on our list but the storms are mostly in the winter.
Tofino is gorgeous, Debbie — apparently the storms are extraordinary, but we were thrilled to be there in good weather so that we could kayak and hike. :-)
Glad your border crossing didn’t live up to expectations! We always find the crossing experience totally dependent on the mood of the agent. Some years ago we helped our son move to Toronto. We all were worried about having the carefully packed uhaul truck ripped apart and searched, leaving us to repack it again. The agent merely waved us through with a smile!
Love the pictures of the beautiful creatures in the aquarium and your bronze friends handful of posies.
Sue, that’s what was bothering me, having our border crossing depend on the agent’s mood! We were happy to get through customs quickly and be on our way. The aquarium is truly wonderful — all of the creatures are from the surrounding Salish Sea, and they are gorgeous!
We’ve been up through Vancouver Island, but not with the RV — good for you to take it! If you’re still in CA as you read this, note that while our crossing into CA on the drive to Alaska in 2013 was tricky (another story) our RV didn’t get searched until the trip back INTO the USA — all because we’d just bought tomatoes at a roadside stand the day before. We declared them, but I couldn’t remember where I ‘d tucked them, so the female agent ended up doing a very thorough search. Moral of the story: ditch any fruits or veggies before you come back into the US (even if I’d remembered where I put them, she might have searched the rig anyway). You picked a beautiful spot for your alternative travels!
Ellen, thanks so much for the great advice! It’s still a couple of weeks before we head back to the states so your advice is perfectly timed. We’re really happy we came with our trailer to Vancouver Island — this has been a fabulous trip.
Hi Laurel & Eric,
Greetings from a lovely fall morning in Ashland. Wow I’m finally commenting. Sidney sure has “grown up” since my family trekked to Anacortes from Sequim eons ago. The Islands on both sides of the border are etched deeply in my being.I used to hide out at Yellow Point Lodge, Vancouver Island in my youth. Ah, enough reminiscing… Are you birding this Winter? As I type, Colleen & I are packing for our trip to Ajijic, San Miguel de Allende & Guanajuato. Lot’s of food & art in our future. Anyways, just wanted to let you know we follow along with your adventures and love how you are Summer living in the playground of my youth.Safe travels & see you at the CoOp. Saludos, Robert & Colleen
Robert & Colleen, how fun to hear from you! What a gorgeous area of the world you grew up in. It’s a good place to have etched in your being. :-) We plan to head south for the winter — still in the planning stages. Your upcoming trip sounds fabulous! Have a wonderful time soaking in the art and culture.
The island is on our bucket list too.
Brenda, this is a bucket-list worthy item! There’s so much to see, I’d say plan to spend at least a month.
I so want to see the Campbell River area. Like you, Vancouver Island is on the bucket list. There are a couple of RV bloggers who travel there and we have paid attention to some of their information as well. Filing this one away for future use, thanks.
Sue, Campbell River is beautiful, along with so many other places on the island. I’ll be blogging about all of our adventures and hope it will be helpful for you.
We had the same confusion when we crossed the border this summer. Can we bring eggs? Do we need to dump all this chicken? Are onions and garlic going to be confiscated? I could not find definitive answers to anything. At the end of the day, crossing into Canada was a breeze. We answered their questions honestly and they waved us right through. Coming back into the U.S., we were boarded both times, but only for a minute or so… just go take a quick look around and open a drawer or two. Go figure… I guess the goal is to keep people uncertain of what will happen. I understand the need, but it’s still annoying to have people come into our home and start poking around. Oh well…
In lighter commentary, we have recently developed an appreciation for gin… Finding good distilleries is a fun hobby to add to the list! The one you went to looks lovely!
Laura, you understand exactly what our experience was like preparing for the border crossing. Plus, there was the additional warning to not bring anything into British Columbia that can be grown there. What?? Hence we ate about six peaches and an entire box of blueberries the morning we left Lopez. :-(
The distillery was fabulous! The mix and match gin tasting was super fun. That naturally colored purple gin made the prettiest drinks.
We don’t know of anyone who’s taken their RV to Vancouver Island, either, so I look forward to your next post. Looks great so far, even though it isn’t Glacier!
Oh good, I’m happy we can show you two Vancouver Island! Although we were disappointed to miss Glacier, we’re really happy that we decided to come here. The adventures on the island are endless!
It always distresses me how really distressed I am with no internet. How can I be so dependent on it? I lived most of my life without it. Too many words to say I sympathize. Really great sub plan! So glad you didn’t lose that delicious sounding food in your refrig. Does the park take American for payment? Can’t wait to see your travels on Vancouver, a place I can’t imagine I’ll ever be able to see in person unless I start growing younger rather than older every year.
Sherry, we use our bank credit card for almost everything, and that way we get the best exchange rate. Of course, we also get cash at ATM’s in Canadian money for small purchases.
Not having internet is excruciating. It’s worse in Canada than it was on Lopez. :-(
So glad the border crossing went smoothly. It is always a moment of concern even when we are just riding our bikes across Wolf Island heading to Kingston! I love your docent!! What a great idea:) Blue sea stars are so pretty. Looking forward to your journey and your take on the island.
Pam, our aquarium docent was delightful! And she knew a lot about the beautiful Salish Sea creatures. You guys will love Vancouver Island if you decide to come here in your travels. :-)
If you’re ever up for an extended kayak trip, the Broken Group is really wonderful. I spent a week there in August 2016 camping with friends, followed by time in Tofino. It was such a lovely and memorable time that I can’t wait to get back to Vancouver Island.
Oh, how cool, Joanne!! Kayaking in the Broken Group is one of the adventures we’re planning to return for. We spent 8 days in Tofino/Ucluelet and did some kayaking, but weren’t prepared for an overnight trip. I’d love to hear more about your trip. We also want to do a kayaking adventure up around Telegraph Cove.
beautiful! Keep on trucking!
Thanks, John. How fun to hear from you! Let’s plan a caravan adventure to Vancouver Island together. Do you have your Halloween costume figured out for the Ashland parade yet? We’ll be home! :-)
Crossing the border into Saskatchewan:
Canadian Customs – Do you have any eggs?
Customs – You can’t bring them into Canada.
R&K- you can have them.
Customs – No, you have to go back…
Later, crossing the border into Minnesota:
US Customs – Do you have any eggs?
Repeat the above….
Whoa, now that’s a crazy story! They wouldn’t let you cross the border?? Maybe because you two look so suspicious? :-))
You guys are brave to go to a desirable destination without reservations in a potentially high season! How wonderful that the loose plan seems to have worked out! It is amazing how incredibly dependent we are on internet…especially in this lifestyle.
From the looks of Sidney this seems like it’s going to be a terrific area to explore!
Lisa, you understand exactly one of biggest concerns we had about our spontaneous trip to Vancouver Island — we didn’t know what to expect traveling without reservations. I’ll share what we’ve learned in our blogs about the island. Fortunately, it has all worked out wonderfully well. We love it here!
As always you two are leading the way…Vancouver Island is on our list as well! Maybe summer of 2018. Thanks for sharing and it is so wonderful to see you both well & enjoying life:-)
Bettina, it’s so good to hear from you! I think you and Bob will really enjoy Vancouver Island. The wildlife adventures here are pretty remarkable.
Sounds like your frig and freezer could have fed the whole shift – glad you got the wave! I thought you were kidding about the docent being 12 – how delightful that one so young is so knowledgeable. Beautiful pics of the colorful aquarium. That RV park looks perfect.
Jodee, I was very impressed with our young aquarium docent. She was really delightful. That aquarium is super sweet, love that it focuses solely on the Salish Sea. As far as customs, we’re happy that we sailed right through. :-)
Glad to hear your border crossing was uneventful. Having enjoying those fresh veggies and wonderful meats and fish from Lopez Island, I would be devastated to lose any of them. Sidney looks like a lovely place to visit. The aquarium and the gin distillery next door were a great find. We’ve never been to a gin distillery, just bourbon in Kentucky. At the time I didn’t appreciate it much but this past summer I learned to drink good bourbon and was introduced to a drink while with family, called a bourbon smash, which seems to be much like a mojito. I am hooked! So happy for you both to check off another bucket list item, so important to do! I look forward to hearing more about the island.
LuAnn, we were so disappointed that the fires kept us from meeting up with you and Terry in Glacier. Vancouver Island has turned out to be a wonderful back up plan…I hope Colorado was the same for you. Next time we’re together I’ll have you introduce me to a bourbon smash. :-))