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Tips For RVing On Vancouver Island, BC

Tips For RVing On Vancouver Island, BC

Posted by on Jan 22, 2018 in British Columbia, Canada, Gallery, Maps, Travel | 22 comments

We’ve had a lot of wonderful adventures in our four-and-a-half years of full-time travels, but our five weeks on Vancouver Island was definitely one of the highlights so far. From outdoor adventures to world-class museums; and farmers’ markets to gourmet restaurants; Vancouver Island offers all of the things we enjoy, wrapped up in a package of spectacular coastline, quaint towns, a sparkling jewel of a capital city, and a vibrant First Nations culture.

Because we had so much difficulty finding information about RV travel on the island, I thought it might be helpful to share some things we learned for those of you considering the trip.

The Big Picture

We planned our island tour hoping to catch the best weather in each area (it varies greatly from south to north, and east to west). We also wanted the optimal opportunity for a variety of outdoor adventures and for seeing wildlife.

We headed north first to catch the prime whale watching season, then west to the wild coast of Pacific Rim National Park. Following our mailboat cruise in Port Alberni (and bear and salmon watching) we returned to the east coast to explore the temperate Cowichan Valley and Salt Spring Island, just off the coast. We wound up our time on the island with a few days in lovely Victoria—at this point, the weather was distinctly beginning to turn toward fall.

The little green campers denote all of the places we stayed on the island. Click on any icon, and you’ll see where we stayed, with a link to the associated blog post about our adventures there.

A Snapshot Of Vancouver Island Adventures

How To Get There

Two passenger/vehicle ferries make the round-trip journey from the U.S. Neither are luxurious, but you’ll have comfortable inside seating and large windows to enjoy the scenery (or you can move outside to the deck if the weather is good). A Washington State Ferry travels from Anacortes, Washington to Sidney, B.C. A private ferry line (Black Ball Ferry, MV Coho) makes the trip from Port Angeles, Washington to Victoria, B.C.

Washington State Ferry carrying passengers and vehicles

We’ve taken our rig on ferries dozens of times (we spend our summers in the San Juan Islands) and it’s a straightforward process. A deckhand will guide you onto the ferry and into position. It will be tight quarters, especially if the ferry is full. Just go slow, be vigilant, and don’t let them rush you!

It’s always close quarters on the ferry

The ferries can handle any size rigs. Even the small ferries to the outer islands surrounding Vancouver Island can easily manage the largest RV.

On a small BC Ferry to Salt Spring Island from Vancouver Island

Anacortes, WA to Sidney, B.C.: Although this route takes almost three hours, it’s by far the most scenic and sails through calm, sheltered waters on a Washington State Ferry. You’ll travel through the picturesque San Juan Islands to the small harbor of Sidney on Vancouver Island. Sidney has a beautiful and interesting waterfront, and it’s only a half-hour drive to Victoria and the highway that takes you north on the island.

Views of Mt. Baker while sailing through the San Juan Islands

Port Angeles to Victoria, B.C. The journey on the Black Ball Ferry MV Coho is shorter (about 90 minutes) but you’ll be traveling over 20 miles of open water with nothing interesting to look at, and you’ll feel the enormous ferry roll with every ocean swell. (To add drama you might have two women sitting across from you making the sign of the cross every time the ferry pitches.) However, it delivers you directly to the Inner Harbour in Victoria, which is interesting and convenient if Victoria is your destination.

Victoria’s bustling Inner Harbour; the ferry landing is right downtown

The cost of the ferries is approximately the same. We paid about $200 each way for our tickets (the price increases with the length of your rig). You don’t need to purchase a round-trip ticket, and you don’t save anything by doing so. Make reservations in advance to secure your space on the ferry, and plan to arrive about 90 minutes ahead of your sailing to go through Customs. You can always change your reservation if need be, with minimal or no charges if you provide sufficient notice.

How Bad Is Customs?

Really, not bad at all. We breezed through Customs on our entry to Vancouver Island and were stopped and searched when we returned to the States (but it was no big deal and only delayed us about 15 minutes). Here’s what we learned: You are not going to be able to figure out exactly what is and isn’t allowed, coming or going. That’s because the laws are ephemeral, and can change at any time.

Instead of worrying about it, make a list of the foods you’re carrying so that you’re prepared for any questions the customs agent asks. We were searched in Port Angeles because of a lemon (apparently bringing citrus into the States—even citrus grown here—is a red flag). The U.S. Customs Officer confiscated our lemon and after a quick glance in our refrigerator sent us on our way.

The important thing is, be honest. If they find something you haven’t declared, the fines are stiff. “Forgetting” that you have something is not a valid excuse.

Going through Customs in Port Angeles; it’s pretty straightforward (don’t bring lemons!)

What’s The Weather Like?

We were on the island for most of September and into mid-October. This is typically a good window of weather with plenty of sunshine and little rain.

The temperatures were comfortable, generally in the mid-40’s at night and the mid-60’s during the day. Perfect hiking and biking weather! Of course, you’ll want to wear layers and have a good rain jacket. We were also happy to have waterproof boots, which came in handy for hiking muddy trails.

The weather is mostly excellent in the fall for outdoor adventures

Other Reasons To Go In The Fall

You will miss the crush of summer crowds. Tourism drops off sharply after Labor Day, which means you won’t need reservations for most campgrounds, but most campgrounds and other attractions are still open, at least until mid-October.

If you’re heading up the island, be sure to plan that early in your trip. The further north, the colder and wetter it tends to be. The weather on the west coast is random, so plan extra time there. We lucked out with sunshine and mild temperatures for the week we spent in Tofino/Ucluelet, but we met people that spent only a day or two in the area and didn’t see a thing because of heavy storms.

Watch out for Labour Day (they celebrate it the first Monday in September, same as Labor Day in the U.S.). That’s their last hurrah of summer camping. We planned our trip to arrive just after Labor Day. Also watch out for the second Monday in October, their Thanksgiving. That one caught us by surprise. Apparently, a lot of people go camping that weekend—we found a sweet place on Salt Spring Island, but only after a bit of scrambling.

One more excellent reason to visit in the fall: Lots of wildlife! This is a great time for whale watching up north, the salmon are returning to spawn in the rivers, and the bears are actively fishing.

September is an excellent time for whale watching expeditions from Telegraph Cove

Getting Around

Travel on Vancouver Island is pretty simple. Traveling south to north, there’s a long ribbon of highway that begins in Victoria (Hwy 1 north). In Nanaimo, about halfway up the island, it changes to Hwy 19 north to Telegraph Cove and beyond. The roads are wide and well maintained. Don’t miss a small detour onto scenic Hwy 19A, the Oceanside Route between Parksville and Campbell River.

Highway 4, the road from Port Alberni west to Tofino is another story. It’s the only access road to Tofino/Ucluelet/Pacific Rim National Park. Two lanes, winding, hairpin curves, rock cliffs that narrow as they rise and a stretch with an 18% grade is not friendly for big rigs. We were fine (we have a 27-foot trailer and a Tundra), but I’m not sure that I’d drive that road with anything much bigger. Then again, tractor-trailers use that route. Which seems crazy.

The challenging road to Tofino and Ucluelet. Don’t think I’d drive this with a big rig.

Try to not miss Tofino/Ucluelet/Pacific Rim National Park. Consider leaving your rig behind if it’s not appropriate for that winding road, and stay in other accommodations for a couple of days. It’s worth it!

Make the trip to Tofino if you can, even if you have to leave your rig behind for a few days.

Where To Stay

We stayed in everything from B.C. Provincial Parks to tiny rustic RV parks to fancy RV resorts. The provincial parks are beautiful but have no water or electric hookups. They offer taps for filling water, dump stations, and bathhouses, though. The private parks tend toward full-hookups and internet (sometimes good, sometimes not).

We made reservations a couple of weeks ahead for our time in Tofino, because it’s a popular place, even in the fall. Other than that, we looked ahead a few days at a time and called places that looked interesting. We had no trouble getting beautiful sites (in summer, it would be a different story).

We enjoyed wonderful views at the RV Park in Nanaimo, BC

The campsites are spacious and beautiful (and rustic) in the Provincial Parks on Vancouver Island

About That Internet

Your provider, even though it promises connection in Canada, is going to be lame. We had intermittent cell coverage on the island, and as far as useable internet connection via our phones or hotspot, we had none.

Verizon connects to the cell towers on Vancouver Island (Telus or Rogers will show up on your phone). Phone coverage is actually okay except when driving from one town to the next (or if you’re heading somewhere really remote). Traveling up the island, you won’t have coverage from north of Campbell River until you reach Telegraph Cove (about 2 hours driving time). Heading west from Port Alberni, you’ll be out of range for a couple of hours until you get close to Tofino and Ucluelet.

Almost all private parks offer internet (most of it pretty good, some of it excellent) and you can always get blazing fast internet at coffee shops. No, it’s not as convenient as sitting in your RV, but we spent some lovely afternoons in lovely coffee shops doing what we needed to do on the internet.

Catching up with the internet in a cozy coffee shop in Port Alberni

Next Up: Rainy Days And Gardens: Portland, OR

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Looking Back At 2017 (And A Map!)

Looking Back At 2017 (And A Map!)

Posted by on Jan 4, 2018 in Gallery, Maps | 38 comments

Well, it’s that time of year when I make resolutions about doing things like getting our blog up to date. And then I promptly get distracted by doing something like creating a map of our 2017 adventures and browsing through photos from last year.

Despite our rather rough beginning to 2017, it turned out to be a wonderful year, filled with new experiences and revisiting some favorites. We checked a bunch of stuff off of our bucket list: the Oregon and Washington coasts, Vancouver Island, and Big Bend National Park were some of the big ones. The only problem is that those places were all so awesome that they went right back onto our list. It’s a good problem to have.

You can enlarge the map (click on the “plus” symbol), click on any of the icons, and access information about where we stayed. Clicking on “more details” will take you to related blog posts. Most of the locations have an associated blog post; I’ll add the others as I get them done. (Time to turn my attention back to catching up on the blog!)

 

 

Here’s how 2017 turned out:

January to mid-May: Ashland, Oregon (our hometown, a lengthy stay for Eric’s unexpected surgery and recovery)

Mid-May to July: Traveling up the Oregon and Washington coasts, including Olympic National Park

July and August: Lopez Island, Washington (our seventh year as interpretive hosts at Spencer Spit State Park)

September to mid-October: Vancouver Island, BC

Mid-October to mid-November: Ashland, Oregon

Mid-November through December: traveling down the California coast, through southern Arizona and New Mexico to West Texas.

We spent New Year’s in Big Bend National Park—more specifically, at the Starlight Café in Terlingua, Texas.

Totally funky, and totally awesome. The sign you can’t see says “No dogs on porch.” Haha.

It’s a tiny town on the far side of nowhere. The Starlight Theatre is the place to be.

A few statistics, for those of you who like numbers:

Total mileage for the year: 4670 (towing)

Number of places stayed: 43

Travel distances: Between 8 and 270 miles; with most travel days under 150 miles. Our average travel distance was 108 miles.

We stayed most places 3-5 nights, with the occasional one-night stand or weeklong stay thrown in here and there. And of course, we stayed for two months on Lopez Island for our hosting gig, and a total of 5.5 months in Ashland in 2017(!!!).

Favorite place: That’s the question everyone asks us. We still can’t answer. :-)

We hope 2018 brings you joy and peace in equal measure, along with the opportunity to realize your dreams. Thank you for continuing to join us in our journey—it makes our travels infinitely richer to have you with us! We love hearing from you.

Next Up: Victoria, BC and Vancouver Island Wrap-Up

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It Was A Very Good Year (And A Map!)

It Was A Very Good Year (And A Map!)

Posted by on Jan 16, 2017 in Gallery, Maps | 28 comments

It truly was a very good year. Despite the shock of Eric’s unexpected surgery at the beginning of December, we enjoyed another magnificent year of traveling, filled with soul-nourishing adventures.

Our wings are clipped for several months. But one of the benefits of sitting still is that I have the time now to take care of things that have long been on my to-do list—things like creating maps of our travels.

So, ta da! Here it is, a map of our 2016 adventures, beginning with our winter in Florida and ending in our hometown of Ashland, Oregon. You can enlarge the map, click on any of the icons, and access information about where we stayed. Clicking on “more details” will take you to related blog posts. (Almost all of the locations have an associated blog post; there are a few at the end of our summer that don’t yet have posts. That’s also on my to-do list, haha.)

 

 

We made a conscious effort to slow down our travels this year. It worked out well—although we didn’t anticipate just how slowed down our travels would become at the end of the year.

We stayed most places 3-7 nights, with just a few one-night stands; at the opposite extreme, we spent two-and-a-half months on Lopez Island for our summer hosting gig, and three months at the end of the year in our hometown of Ashland (that wasn’t planned, but it’s a good place to be). Our travel distances were split pretty equally, with one-third under 100 miles, one-third under 150 miles, and one-third at close to 200 miles.

A few statistics:

Total mileage for the year: 6790 (towing)

Number of places stayed: 52 (some more than once)

Shortest travel day: 20 miles (from Mt. Vernon,WA to Lopez Island)

Longest travel day: 238 miles (from Boise, ID to Joseph, OR)

Next Up: The Best Of 2016

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