As its number might suggest, route 2 is the second busiest crossing on the coast. It connects Nanaimo, Vancouver Island's second largest city, with Vancouver and the rest of the province. From Horseshoe Bay, the ferries travel through part of spectacular Howe Sound before entering Georgia Strait. The longest part of the voyage is over the open waters of the strait, a stretch that still offers great views of the Coastal Mountains to the east and Vancouver Island mountains to the west (if it's not raining!). As the ferry approaches Nanaimo, it passes a number of small rocky islands scattered along the east coast of the Island. The most famous of these is Snake Island (usually passed on its north side), where one of BC Ferries earliest ferries, the
ran aground in 1962. Shortly after passing Snake Island, the ferry sails through a small passage and enters the calm waters of Departure Bay.
In general, the ferries on this route are spacious and have plenty of outside deck space to enjoy the fresh air and scenery. The crossing can be very busy, especially on Friday and Sunday nights and every day during the summer. Sometimes, during fall and winter storms, the seas can get quite heavy during the portion of the trip across the open strait.
Unlike Route 1 (Vancouver to Victoria), the terminals on Route 2 are very much connected to their respective communities. Departure Bay is located in a residential and partly industrial neighbourhood of the city of Nanaimo and is only a couple of kilometers from the city center. The terminal at Horseshoe Bay is located right beside the community's small but vibrant waterfront. There are several stores and restaurants, a marina, and a beachfront park within a 5 minute walk of the terminal.
Both Horseshoe Bay and Departure Bay are well served by public transit. The buses also service the communities around the terminals so there are frequent departures; not just when the ferries leave and arrive. Route 2 is actually part of the Trans-Canada highway, so both terminals are easily accessible and well connected to the province's highway system.
Route 2 is one of the oldest operating routes between Vancouver Island and the Mainland. The crossing was established by the Black Ball Line in 1951 and was operated by that company until it was taken over by BC Ferries in 1961.