The small fishing village and surf town of Tofino, British Columbia boasts rugged coastlines, gorgeous beaches and lush temperate rainforests. I knew that any place with miles and miles (or should I say kilometers) of untouched wilderness was somewhere I needed to see in person.
This past May, a good friend of mine celebrated her wedding reception in Vancouver which gave my husband and I the perfect opportunity to extend our Canadian vacation and road trip out to Tofino. Our time on this verdant peninsula located on the west side of Vancouver Island was a dreamy getaway so I'd love to share some recommendations from our three day trip for other BC-bound adventurers.
To get to Tofino, you'll need to catch a ferry from Vancouver. BC Ferries runs quite frequently but be sure to make a reservation to guarantee a spot on one of their ships. We chose to leave out of Horseshoe Bay as it was a prettier drive to the ferry terminal. The ride took a little under two hours and the views of the Strait of Georgia were just stunning. The ferry itself was spacious and comfortable and there was a variety of meals and snacks for sale. Once you reach Vancouver Island, you can break up the road trip like we did by staying a night in Nanaimo (we had flown into Vancouver earlier that afternoon from San Francisco) or head straight out west for the three hour drive along Highway 4 to Tofino.
Cathedral Grove in MacMillian Provincial Park
The drive along Highway 4 is quite picturesque and the first stop on your journey is MacMillian Provincial Park where you'll find the Cathedral Grove. There's parking along both sides of the road with trails on either side. We checked out one side on our way to Tofino and the other side on our way back to make the most of our driving time. The trails to the north have a lovely view of Cameron Lake whereas both sections have access to the Cameron River (trail map). The walk through the towering Douglas fir moss covered forest is very easy. You should budget about 30-45 minutes here before continuing on your way. Worth a stop to stretch your legs and get a taste of the wilderness you'll encounter in Tofino.
This is the last major town before Tofino. While primarily a lumber and fishing industry town, there have been efforts to capitalize on outdoor tourism but Port Alberni did not seem as established as Tofino. We stopped here briefly to grab lunch at the Steampunk Cafe before moving on. If you need snacks and to refuel, here's where to do so before the final stretch. (Note: We were able to do the whole drive on one tank of gas with mileage to spare.)
Pacific Rim Highway
Continuing west from Port Alberni, Highway 4 changes from Alberni Highway to the Pacific Rim Highway. The road narrows into a two lane road winding through mountains passing by large lakes and rushing creeks and rivers. Patience is key when driving but there are passing lanes for those in a rush. In May, there was still snow on many of the peaks which felt so wild as we knew that the ocean was just on the other side of the range. There are plenty of spots along the way, like this one at Wally Creek, to pull over and explore. As you get closer to Tofino, the highway beside Kennedy Lake is especially windy and narrow so take care as you navigate this portion as large freight trucks share the road with passenger cars.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
From hiking and beach-combing to surfing and kayaking, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve has a lot to offer. Most of the sights to explore are indicated by clearly marked road signs along Pacific Rim Highway. There is currently free entry to all Canadian National Parks since they're celebrating their 150 year anniversary. You can pick up a map from the visitor's centre, located right before your turn right towards Tofino on Highway 4/Pacific Rim Highway.
Since our time was limited, I chose a few of the easier hikes to make the most of our stay. I wanted to get a feel for the local terrain but would love to come back to explore deeper.
Immersing yourself in the lush greens of the British Columbia coast makes the Rainforest Trail a must see. It's relatively easy 1km trail hike through a Pacific Northwest temperate rainforest. Douglas firs, red cedar and hemlock trees tower above while giant ferns and skunk cabbage flourish on the forest floor. Moss drapes and envelopes every surface and the air smells fresh and rich with life. This was my kind of emerald-hued wonderland. There are two trail loops but at the time I visited one was closed for repairs. I explored the trail loop on the other side of the road from the parking lot. Because the ground is so wet and squishy (it is a rainforest after all) most of the trail is all along a wooden boardwalk with informational signs along the way. There are lots of stair segments climbing around the terrain but nothing too strenuous. Plan to budget about 1-1.5 hours here to soak it all in.
South Beach Trail
If you're looking for a beautiful secluded pebble beach with big rock formations, South Beach is an easy one to visit. Take Wick Road off Pacific Rim Highway down towards the Kwisitis Visitor Centre. At the end of the road, you'll turn left into the lot. Be sure to wander around Wickaninnish Beach and the Visitor Centre before heading to the trailhead located behind the building. At the time I went, there was some construction going on but you'll see a big sign and map at the trailhead. The South Beach trail is the short one on the map but this does link up with Nuu Chah Nulth Trail on your right if you have the time to explore further and go towards Florence Beach. The walk to South Beach takes less than an hour but you could easily spent a lot of time watching the waves crash along the shore here.
Wild Pacific Trail (Ucluelet)
Located south of Tofino in the town of Ucluelet, this is a must do hike to really get a feel for the wild coastline. Large jagged rocks and low mid-day fog added to the untamed feel of the landscape. It's no wonder that this coast was the site of many shipwrecks over the years. We only had time to explore the lighthouse loop portion but there are other parts you can access from the town of Ucluelet. There are signs indicating the trailheads and parking lots once you take the main road into Ucluelet. Budget about 1.5 hours to explore this area and more time if you do other parts of the trail. It's a relatively easy hike with beautiful views and lots of places to stop and take photos along the way.
If you're looking to continue your yoga practice while on vacation, you can catch a class at Coastal Bliss Yoga located in a shopping plaza off Pacific Rim Highway. Check their website for schedules. It's a lovely space with second floor views of the surrounding forest offering a variety classes. It was a great way to start our morning and get to meet some locals.
While we didn't get a chance to kayak on the Clayoquot Sound, some traveler friends of mine had a great time out on the water. You can read more about Emily's experience kayaking with Remote Passages on her travel blog.
Adventure Tofino Wildlife Tours
This is a must do! Adventure Tofino provides whale watching and trips to a local hot spring but the bear tour is the easiest and most unique of their offerings. One of the highlights of our vacation was watching this black bear digging through the rocks to catch crabs for breakfast! We also saw several of bald eagles and seals during our two hour excursion. It's a beautiful way to check out the Clayoquot Sound while watching black bears from the comfort of an open boat. Adventure Tofino provides warm, waterproof suits so you won't need worry about packing lots of clothing to bundle up for the trip. You do have to get up early in the morning but it's worth it. Make sure to book a reservation online. We couldn't have asked for a better way to start our day.
WHERE WE STAYED & WHAT WE ATE
For our two night stay, we chose the Ocean Village Resort. This reasonably priced hotel features small oceanfront cabins located steps away from Chesterman Beach. Each room has a stunning view of the water and the overall atmosphere was cozy and relaxing. Ocean Village Resort doesn't have its own restaurant but there are well-stocked kitchens in the rooms so we did breakfast by buying groceries from the Co-Op Market in downtown Tofino. The market is also a great place to buy snacks, water and other supplies if you need anything.
Being the veggie loving hippies that we are, we enjoyed grabbing lunch at Earth Mama Love Kitchen Collective which is located inside Green Soul Organics grocery coop. We visited two days in a row for fresh smoothies and nourishing vegan friendly bowls. This place is cash only and they're only open for a few hours mid-day and generally stop serving lunch by 3pm. Be sure to check the website for more information.
Located right next to Green Soul Organics is Wolf in the Fog where we got some desserts to go. Super yummy! We didn't eat there since it was crowded as it's one of the more popular and highly praised restaurants in Tofino right now. I would recommend a reservation if you want to try it.
We also checked out the famous Tacofino taco truck which was located right down the street from where we stayed in the back of the same gravel shopping plaza as the Coastal Bliss Yoga studio. Compared to the real Mexican food we get in the Bay Area, it was decent but not really worth the wait. The agua frescas were really refreshing though!
When in Tofino, seafood is the cuisine to have! We stumbled across The Fish Store and Oyster Bar and absolutely fell in love. This place is so good that we ate dinner here both nights! Really revivals what you'd find in the culinary rich and snobby San Francisco Bay Area. High quality seafood paired with fresh ingredients and friendly service made it an easy favorite. Must tries are the seafood chowder and the smoked fish platter. And of course, make sure to get yourself a round of raw oysters!
This wild and lush place is a must visit for anyone who loves the raw nature of the Pacific Northwest. My only regret is that we didn't have more time to explore all that it has to offer. But I hope this post has piqued your interest and can serve as a good starting point for your Tofino adventures. Happy exploring!
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