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.
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.
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
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)
OR just forget BC Ferries altogether, ditch the car and jump on a Harbour Air float plane to Vancouver Island!
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. -
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. -
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 -
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 -
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. -
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: https://www.travelingislanders.com/vancouver-island/ -
I'm driving to Port McNeil with my daughter on May30th, only spending 2 days on the island. Would the ferry into Nanaimo be the best option or is there another port closer to Port Mcneil? -
If you are coming from Vancouver then Nanaimo Horseshoe Bay, or Duke Point is unfortunately the closest Island ferry terminal. Have a great trip! -
Hi Jay, First of all, thanks for writing this blog, it's very helpful. My girlfriend and I are coming from Wales (UK) for the first 2 weeks of September 2019, to stay on Vancouver Island. We are on a wildlife (whales, Orca, otters.. etc) watching adventure, and hoping to travel around the island in a hire car as we do so. We plan on getting the hire car in Vancouver city and bringing over on the ferry. Firstly, is that a good idea in your opinion, re the car? Or can/should we hire one on the island? Secondly, are there plenty of accommodation options in the island, around the budget end of the scale? We hoped to hire a campervan initially, but prices in September are high, making a hire car and accommodation seem the best option perhaps? Thanks in advance. Looking forward to our first trip to Canada greatly! Kind regards Chris and Toni -
Hi there Chris and Toni! I’m glad you found the blog helpful. The BC Ferries website can be very confusing for a first time visitor we find. Sounds like you have an awesome trip in store. Be sure to try out our Vancouver Island interactive map for ideas: https://www.travelingislanders.com/vancouver-island/ It’s definitely more expensive to bring a vehicle on the ferry… but it’s also very convenient. No matter what ferry you decide on you will either need to take public transport or a taxi to get to your rental car on the Island side. Something to consider. It would be cheaper if you avoided taking a car back and forth on the ferry… but it also cost you your time. Hope that helps. September is an awesome time to visit Vancouver Island as all the kids are back in school and less tourists are around too. August is now known for forest fire smoke season so I always tell vacationers to avoid that month. I wish there was a campervan you could rent when you got to the island as that’s a really fun way to tour the island… but I would have to do google research and inquire around like I’m sure you are trying. If it’s just you and your girlfriend you should be able to rent a smaller cheaper car and then shop around as you go. Bed and Breakfast places I hear are good options for the budget traveler. -
Hi Jay, Thanks for the info, very helpful. After a little more research it seems renting a car in Vancouver city is considerably cheaper than renting on VI, so much so, that the ferry cost, including a car, still comes under the cost of renting a car on VI for 2 weeks. So that's probably the go-to. Looking forward to getting there! All the best, Chris and Toni -
Thanks for sharing that information. Very helpful. We will be making a blog post with all commonly asked questions about traveling to Vancouver Island soon. Seems like a popular topic that would be helpful. If you have any other info to share please comment back so others can benefit. Cheers. J -
My family of 6 from Alberta is thinking of taking our 40 foot motorhome on to the island this summer. I’m wondering if you know which ferry route would be the cheapest to get on and off the island (we’ll drive to any location if it’s cheaper) -
Hi Kurt! What an epic Vancouver island adventure! Be sure to look into camping spots ahead of time because the island fills up very fast during the summer. The cost difference is negligible on which ferry to take to the island. Be sure to check out our Vancouver Island interactive map for activity ideas: https://www.travelingislanders.com/vancouver-island/ - J -
My husband and l are taking a cruise that arrives in Vancouver on the 11th of September and then we are then renting a car. Never been out West before. Want to take a ferry to the Island and drive around on a scenic tour. Any route suggestions? Then heading back to mainland. We are making our way to Kamloops to visit friends and again want to take a scenic route there. -