How To Get To Vancouver Island With BC Ferries

Planning a road trip to Vancouver Island? Here are 5 important things you need to know about traveling with BC Ferries to get you started.


If you’re traveling by vehicle to Vancouver Island, then BC Ferries is what you’ll need.

BC Ferries operates 365 days a year with a ferry leaving from the lower mainland of BC to Vancouver Island pretty much every hour.

If you’re traveling to Vancouver Island from the United States there are some advantages and disadvantages to taking an American ferry that you’ll want consider. USA Ferries To Vancouver Island And How It All Works. 

With a fleet of 35 vessels, serving 25 routes and 47 terminals between Lower-Mainland BC, Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, Discovery Islands, Sunshine Coast, BC Ferries is one of the largest ferry operators in the whole world.

Taking a ride on a BC Ferry is part of the whole Vancouver Island vacation experience. The larger BC ferries between the mainland and Vancouver Island are state of the art outfitted with a gift shop, a restaurant, multiple decks, coffee shops, lounges, wi-fi, and observation decks.

The route to Victoria even has a full buffet. During the peak whale watching season you may even hear the captain come on the PA system and direct your attention to whales or porpoises swimming by.

BC Ferries, Vancouver Island, Sunshine Coast

Like our T-Shirts? Check out westcoastees for authentic Vancouver Island clothing.



5 Important Things You Need To Know About Traveling To Vancouver Island On BC Ferries

1. Multiple Ferry Terminal Names For The Same Location

Yes, it’s normal to be confused by the double names. A quick way to understand what’s going on here is to keep in mind that you can ask for a ticket to your destination city or the name of the terminal you are traveling to.

For example: Duke Point or Departure Bay are the location names of the terminal and Nanaimo is the city destination for both those terminal locations. You can also ask for a ticket to Swartz Bay (Terminal location) or Victoria (City destination).

2. To Make A BC Ferries Reservation Or Not To Make A Reservation… That Is The Question

I can count on one hand how many times I’ve made a BC Ferries reservation, however without a reservation it can add some extra stress. It all depends on your travel schedule flexibility, if you want to save money, and how much risk you feel comfortable taking on with potentially being delayed until the next sailing.

During the peak summer tourist months a reservation in hand gives you a lot of peace of mind and you don’t have to arrive super early to get in line with general boarding. We recommend a reservation during the peak summer tourist season.

You can make your reservation on the BC Ferries website for the main ferry routes. You’ll be guaranteed a spot as long as you arrive at the time the reservation dictates.

If you don’t make a reservation, then upon arrival you’ll be directed to the car line up for general boarding. If there are no reservations available online for the ferry time you want, then just arrive extra early for that ferry for general boarding as they never sell all the spots on the ferry through their reservation system. BC Ferries will always leave spots for general boarding.

There is always room for walk-on passengers.

3. The Main BC Ferries Routes Between Lower-Mainland BC To Vancouver Island

Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal (West Vancouver)

This ferry will take you to a terminal in downtown Nanaimo (Departure Bay) on Vancouver Island. The Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal is just outside of Vancouver and an hour from Whistler. It’s hard to believe this beautiful terminal is only 10 minutes outside such a large metropolitan area, but it is. Arrive early and walk over for some fish chips in the quaint town of Horseshoe Bay overlooking the ocean.

You can also access the Sunshine Coast from the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal.

Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal (Vancouver)

This ferry terminal is located 40 minutes south of downtown Vancouver. This is the largest of all BC ferry terminals with multiple destinations including Nanaimo and Victoria on Vancouver Island.

Nanaimo (Duke Point) which is a ferry terminal 10 minutes south of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.
Victoria (Swartz Bay) which is a ferry terminal 30 minutes north of Victoria on Vancouver Island.

You can also access Salt Spring Island or other Gulf Islands from the Tsawwassen ferry terminal.

4. Making Sense Of The BC Ferries Sailing Schedule

In short, ferries from Tsawwassen (Vancouver) to Duke Point (Nanaimo) are mostly every 2 1/2 hours.

Ferry times from Tsawwassen (Vancouver) to Swartz Bay (Victoria) are mostly every hour.

Ferry times from Horseshoe Bay (West Vancouver) To Departure Bay (Nanaimo) depart approximately every 2 hours.

Review the complete BC ferry schedules and get ready to sail away into island time. The sailing time from the Mainland to Vancouver Island are between 1 and 1/2 and 2 hours depending on the route you choose.

Horseshoe Bay, BC Ferries
Ocean discovery time at Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal
Horseshoe Bay, BC Ferries
Approaching Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal

5. How Much Does It Cost To Take A Ferry To Vancouver Island?

Islanders feel it’s pirate robbery and you may too!

Here is the quick break down of the rates for the main routes to Vancouver Island (2017):
• Passenger: 12 years old and older $17.20
• Child: 5-11 years old $8.60
• Under 5 years old: Free!
• Bringing your vehicle will cost you $57.50 more. (extra length rate over 20 ft, per foot $6.50)
• Motorbike: $28.75

Full list of BC Ferries Rates

Simple Right?

Okay, I know, it may still be a little confusing on how to get to Vancouver Island on BC Ferries…. not to worry, feel free to contact us or comment below and we would be glad to help further. Or visit our friends at BC Friends online. 

This BC Ferries route map will help orient you. Look for some of the terminal names we listed above. (Click on map for full size)

BC Ferries map

OR just forget BC Ferries altogether, ditch the car and jump on a Harbour Air float plane to Vancouver Island!

harbour air, Vancouver Harbour Air, Float plane

Comments

  • Hi we are travelling from Revelstoke by car on Sunday and wish to visit Vancouver island probably sailing Monday morning which would be our best departure point. We only have four days to spend on the island so would need to sail back Thursday afternoon. No plans or accomodation booked. Are we best booking a return journey or single way tickets. Any advice would be very welcome. - Reply

    • Hi Jane! I wonder if we're related. Nice last name ;) Best Departure point is Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal. You can easily look it up on Google Maps. Looks like a little rain coming up... what are you hoping to see and do? This time of year reservations aren't really needed we have found., especially for a Thursday afternoon. Tourist season is winding down. Just show up an hour before your sailing and you should be fine. - Reply

  • Hi,, We are travellinzg from Hope tomorrow, we have a reservation for the 3.30pm ferry over to Nanaimo. If we arrive before the 60 mins quing time....is there anywhere we can go and park as we apparently can't be in the que before the alloted time. Many thanks Eirianwen - Reply

    • Hi Eirianwen! Sorry about that it looks like we missed your message. We hope you found Horseshoe Bay Village just by the ferry terminal. Arrive early and have some fish and chips and enjoy the view. J - Reply

  • Hi! Love the video and the pics. We are coming from Hawaii and although we have spent a few days here and there in Vancouver, this trip will be a first to Canada for the family that we are traveling with. Our group will have 4 adults and 3 kids, 13, 10, & 3. We will be visiting in March and have 4 full days to explore. So, I'm thinking about doing 2 in Vicotria. I'm looking at the departure times and I would love to catch a sunset like the pic you posted. Which sailing times would you recommend for March travel? Also any tips is greatly appreciated as I've been designated to run point on this leg of our trip. - Reply

    • Hi Marianne! Wow! Coming from Hawaii in March:) You must be looking for a change in weather. I'd gladly give you our house to stay in while we stay in yours and we can swap islands! We would be happy to offer up any advice for your trip to Vancouver Island. We've lived on the island for 9 years now so have lots to share. Sounds like you've got a great group to make some memories. The sunsets are a little hard to catch during the winter months, but you might get lucky! When you are looking at departure times just take the ferry closest to sunset and that's your best bet. What type of things are you looking to do in Victoria and on the Island? Try this interactive activity map out to get started: http://www.travelingislanders.com/vancouver-island/ - Reply