One of the most beautiful and well-known destinations on Vancouver Island is not necessarily the most accessible. Tofino is located on the very west coast of the island, and this rugged coast is broken up by long inlets and steep mountains, dotted with the sandy beaches for which the area is famous.
To the delight of many locals and vistors, the strip malls and chain stores that dominate so many other resort areas have not appeared in this quaint city or its sister town to the south, Ucluelet. The landscape is stirring and impressive, and both towns are charming and picturesque, which is why the area makes top ten lists of places to visit in Canada over and over again.
Here are some of our favorite things to do in the Tofino area:
Do you ever want to stop thinking and just let your thoughts roam uninterrupted? Pacific Rim National Park (just south of Tofino) is just the place for this kind of mind massage. Your beach walk can be hours long if you so choose. Dress warmly, expect wind, and wear shoes that don’t mind sand and water. Watch the waves crash and when you are ready, turn around and walk back. It’s good for both body and soul.
There is nothing like the thrill of watching the tail or fin of a massive sea mammal roll past you in the vast ocean. Go whale watching. It sounds expensive before you go, at approximately $100 per adult for 2 to 3 hours at sea. However, we have yet to meet someone who didn’t come back feeling it was worthwhile.
Even without embarking on an ocean expedition, the Tofino area offers great wildlife viewing. Black bears often appear by the side of the road. Watch for mink and sea otters in the kelp beds near rocky headlands. Eagles and ravens are common, as are many kinds of waterfowl. Take binoculars.
Visiting funky shops and restaurants:
The town of Tofino itself has great places to eat, and some quaint gift shops. It’s a good place to see some west coast First Nations art. Enjoy an afternoon wandering through the many galleries. The House of Himwitsa’s Dockside Cannery and The Tree House Gift Company are two favourites (and they carry SeaChange Seafoods products).
Experience at least one dinner out. This is a part of Canada where you can order fresh salmon or dungeness crab with the confidence that it will be fresh. Sobo Restaurant is where you can head for excellent contemporary cuisine. The Common Loaf has been serving up fresh baked goods with a bit of hippie flair for decades, and Tacofino Cantina is famous for fresh fish tacos. There are lots of options for such a small place.
Walking through the rain forest:
The forest in this area is never dry, even in the middle of summer. It is so thick with undergrowth that you can’t set foot in it unless someone carves a path for you and builds a boardwalk over the twisted roots and boggy forest floor. Fortunately, that is just what someone has done. The forest walks in Pacific Rim National Park are not long, but they are truly spectacular. Especially thrilling are the massive Sitka Spruce, which thrive in the salt-soaked margins of western Vancouver Island.
Watching the surf:
The boom of surf is the perfect backdrop to a fireplace and a good book, enjoyed in the great room of a lovely Tofino resort. Surf-watching from the Park’s Visitor’s Centre in storm season is captivating when the wind is so forceful that you are happy to observe from a safe haven. Surfers provide spectators with mesmerizing entertainment, as these black-suited adventurers paddle out through the frigid waters to stalk the perfect wave. The surf may even call you to don a wet suit yourself and ride the waves. You just can’t go wrong with surf, from any distance.
Driving through the mountains:
The drive to Tofino takes you past one of the most beautiful mountain rivers you will ever see. Clear, swirling water carves a passage through the rock right alongside the road. The smooth rock embankment makes a stunning picnic spot in summer; but it’s fun to see in all weather. Drive in daylight for the view, if not to ensure a safe passage through the twisty mountain pass.
How inaccessible is Tofino, really? If you are coming from Vancouver, you have to take a ferry and then drive for three hours. Part of the drive is over quite a twisty mountain road. If you are coming from Victoria on southern Vancouver Island, you don’t have to take a ferry, but the drive is closer to 5 hours. Getting to Tofino takes commitment, but it’s a world apart, set at the wild edge of Canada. You won’t regret making the effort.
Photo credit: Kathleen Hinkel