Surfing in Canada? I know what you are thinking. Us Canadians should stick to what we know, Ice Hockey and Moose riding. When surfing comes to mind, Canada plots miles off the mental radar. However, on the far west coast of British Columbia, surfers from all backgrounds and skill levels flock like wild geese to the oceanside surf town of Tofino.
Everyone loves a good surf, but Tofino is much more than a wave riders paradise, it holds some of the most cherished coastal landscapes on the entire continent. The Clayoqout Sound Biosphere region within the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation’s holds profound biodiversity and environmental spectacles. The wild scenery, quiet inlets, lakes, prehistoric rainforests, thumping waves, wildlife and never-ending sand beaches embody the culture of this extraordinary region.
The second I stepped foot onto the beaches of Tofino/Ucluelet I felt an indescribable relaxation and connection with the surrounding natural landscapes.
Tofino is home to about 2000 full time residents and over 600,000 visitors check it out every year, the bulk of this traffic in the summer months. Talk about a ‘Serious Swell’. Accommodations get scooped up early, but there are many options from budget campsites, 5-star hotels or sleeping in the car on a logging road in Ucluelet.
I’ve detailed below how we spent, and where we stayed on our 5-day Tofino trip. Hopefully, our trip plan can help give you some ideas and more motivation to pack everything and catch some waves.
Table of Contents
On day one Laura and I were so eager to head out we accidentally left a day early for our trip. We were not at all aware of this until the BC Ferries cashier informed us we didn’t have a reservation. When we revealed our confirmation email, to our surprise, it was confirmed that our reservation and accommodations were booked for the next day. (For those who don’t know, not having a reservation for a long weekend summer ferry sailing is a surefire way to get yourself stuck in a 6-hour line). Without planned accommodation we decided to call our work, explain the situation and wait in the ferry line to depart. Long story short, don’t be like us, make a reservation, and show up on the actual day! Upon arriving in Nanaimo we grabbed some ice and then headed out down the highway excited to get our toes in some Tofino sand. The drive on highway 4 is amazing and is well worth taking your time as you cruise along soaking up beautiful views of lakes and wilderness beside your vehicle.
🌲 Cathedral Grove is a must stop on the way to Tofino. It is one of the most easily accessible stands of towering ancient Douglas-fir trees on Vancouver Island. There is a great network of trails that pave paths over, under, and around some of the most monstrous trunks in the province. There are trails on both sides of the highway. On the south side you will be met with the mammoth Douglas Firs, one measuring more than 9 meters in circumference, and on the North side of the road you can walk amongst ancient Western Red Cedar. 🌲
Hole in The Wall
Right as you are coming into Port Alberni you will see the Combs Country Candy store. Just across the way is the trailhead to a super quick walk to the Hole in the Wall. Parking can be a challenge and I would encourage you not to park on the side of the highway and cross, as this is quite dangerous, and a nuisance for locals. Find a spot to park in town and walk back to the trailhead, your legs probably need a stretch anyways. Maybe even buy a snack while you’re at it to support the local community. The trail is a super quick, well-marked and you will surely enjoy the beauty of the creek and lush forest. A trip down the trail and back should not take you more than half an hour. The hole used to provide passageway for a waterline that fed the Alberni Valley people decades ago. What remains is quite unique and beautiful attracting more visitors every year.
I didn’t stop at Sproat Lake but enjoyed checking it out from the comfort of my driver’s seat. It is impossible to miss as you cruise along it’s 25km shoreline!
Cliff Jumping at the Wally Creek – Kennedy River Love Locks
I didn’t know that this was a point of interest prior to driving by. I was taking my time watching the river and lakes, weaving around the road and I spotted a couple cars abruptly pull-off. I figured this was a sign of something cool, or I was about to make someone’s bathroom break a little bit awkward. Good news, it was a point of attraction and not routine road trip pit stop. The first thing you will observe is a fence covered in pad locks, better known as, “Love Locks”. The idea of love locking gained popularity in the 2000s in Rome and Paris, to leave behind a mark of family bonding and romance. I took a quick look at the rocks and then headed down to the water. The River is crystal clear and surrounded by large sharp canyon sides that make for perfect little diving board into the depths of the river. Many families looked like they were setting up to stay and play for the day. If you want to hang by the river for a while, there are countless other amazing spots to pull off and claim siege to. I decided that it was a great idea to dive headfirst into the water with my GoPro head mounted… it slammed me in the nose and left quite the ding. I did a couple more jumps with the go pro removed, dried off and headed on down the highway.
Kennedy Lake will come into your site shortly after the “love locks”. It’s the largest lake on the entire Island formed by the confluence of the Kennedy and Clayoquot Rivers. There are some great day use areas, and many people like to swim, kayak, and fish in the park. Apparently, you can even view spawning fish and bears on the beach in the fall. We once again enjoyed the views from our drivers’ seat until we reached the Beach.
Beachcombing at Wickaninnish Beach & The South Beach Trail
We were so anxious to see the shoreline that we came sprinting down the trail from the parking lot. We did not end up walking the physical trail and just ran wildly along the shoreline ending up past the Wickaninnish Inn, and Lismer Beach. We walked back into the forest onto the South beach Trail and visited South Beach as well. South beach is rocky and pebbly making it fun to explore when the tide is out. Coincidentally, Wickaninnish, the first beach I laid eyes on, happened to be my favorite of the entire trip because of the contrast between the beautiful sand and the jagged rocks tucked into the shoreline staggering from the water. It was love at first sight.
Tailgate Lunch at Shed
Food places are delicious and extremely busy at Tofino. Since we are Vancouver locals, we did not need to battle the lines at Tacofino for a Burrito and jumped on the first place that looked solid in town. We grabbed lunch to go and sat on the truck eating.
Surf Board Rental & Surfing at Cox Bay
I’m a complete Barney on a surfboard (slang for beginner). Upon arriving at the Long Beach Surf shop the extremely laid-back team helped gear us up. We opted for a 24-hour rental so we could surf the late afternoon and come out again the next morning. We arrived at the surf shop in the early afternoon and got lucky as gear is rented out quick. Morning or later in the afternoon when surfboards are returned, will give you the best chance to secure a solid board. The price was reasonable, and I would wholly endorse getting a full wetsuit as the water is frigid, even in the summer.
A friend recommend Cox Bay to us as a great spot for our exceedingly average skill level. The waves were way bigger than I expected, and we had loads of fun getting whopped around and even riding a few decent waves. We had a full bluebird day and enjoyed hanging out on the sand when we needed breaks from the water.
Dinner at Lil Ronnie’s
We were starving after surfing and went with a group of friends to Lil Ronnie’s a BBQ place right beside Mackenzie Beach. The location is amazing and they have a fantastic outdoor seating area. We ordered the 4-person platter, however, it was more like a 1 person platter. It was tasty, but the portions were way off, so if you’re going there get the sandwich, or the 4-person platter to yourself!
Mackenzie Beach Sunset & Fire
After dinner I grabbed some firewood and wine from the truck, and we enjoyed the sunset and a drink down on the beach alongside hundreds of others who were having fires as well. Mackenzie Beach is one of the best spots to watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. The beach is gorgeous and the unobstructed view of the sun falling over the ocean, kissing the large rocks contrasts spectacularly. Fires are permitted under the District of Tofino Outdoor Burning Bylaw so long as they are under the 24 inches in diameter and are permitted on Mackenzie and Chesterman beaches between 6-11am. If you look on Facebook marketplace you can find locals who sell bundles of firewood, buy it from the general store, or bring it along with you. I saw some paddle boarders enjoying the protected waters as the sun fell. Given how rough the water was at every other beach I would imagine this would be the go-to spot if you are looking to stand up paddle board. This gave us a chance to walk past the Bella Pacifica Campground, which is located right on the water. There was not much privacy at this campsite, and many people accidentally walk through to get to the beach, but its location is spot on.
We luckily managed to snag a night at the Hummingbird House B&B last minute. It was all we needed, had a warm shower, clean room and was the perfect spot to rest and dry our surfing gear before hitting the waves in the morning.
After a well-deserved, restful sleep at the Hummingbird B&B we headed out to Chesterman Beach for a surf. The waves were very small, so we chucked the boards into the tailgate and decided to surf at Cox bay again. Surfing as always, is terrific fun, and an amazing workout. We wrapped up before noon and returned our boards back to the rental shop.
Tonquin, Middle and Third Beach Hike
Tonquin beach is a staple trail to walk when visiting Tofino. It is located smack dab in the middle of the town. We grabbed lunch then walked from Downtown Tofino to the trailhead enabling us to visit one of the limited residential areas of the town. There is also parking at the end of Tonquin Park Road if you want to walk a little less. The trail is about 3 kilometers and leads you through the rainforest to Tonquin Beach, Third Beach, and Middle beach. Third and Middle beach are great spots to hangout if you want something a little quieter. Many people walk the trails, but many less carry their beach stuff with them, so if you want to have a picnic with a bit more privacy this would be the play.
It’s a requirement that we must try every new Brewery everywhere we go. Beer is good!
After a quick beer and saying goodbye to our friends we drove to Ucluelet to check into our accommodation for the remainder of our adventure. The drive to Ucluelet from Tofino is only about half an hour and even shorter if you are hanging out at long beach which is in the middle of the two towns. Because of it’s close proximity to the beaches, Ucluelet was the perfect option for us to save some money and stay somewhere with more character. Instead of camping like we always do we decided to try something new and rented the super affordable, Sea Shack at the Mussel Beach Campground for 4 nights.
The Sea Shack at Mussel Beach
This was hands down the best decision we made the entire trip. The Sea Shack at the Mussel Beach Campground is a destination in and amongst itself. I believe we paid under $100 per night. Since, it has gained some serious traction and increased prices considerably. There are many waterfront camping spot options at the Mussel beach campground and because of the new premium on the shack, I will book a site when I visit again.
You will need a vehicle with decent clearance as you must drive a seriously bumpy, but relatively flat, 4×4 road to get to the campsite. I love driving backroads, but this tacked on an additional half hour of driving time one way to and from Ucluelet. The Sea Shack is a private waterfront hut built right on the water with your basic camping amenities and panoramic views of the ocean. It boasts a covered cooking area and an amazing large deck that you can eat and chill on, and a firepit to sit by for the night hours. I found this place to be super special, at the time, it was the cheapest way to have a completely undisturbed waterfront stay.
We woke up and made a fantastic omelet for breakfast and decided to spend the day exploring the shoreline of Mussel Beach. The seashore is an amazing mix of rocks, sand and whirling tidal pools overflowing with different sea creatures. We strapped on our hiking boots and ventured along to the west for about 2 hours before turning around for camp. We discovered the remains of an abandoned shack tucked into the forest just off the water. It must have been someone’s home quite recently because there was some modern-day garbage and furniture in the mess of remains, and the 3 level structure was holding up quite nicely. As we ventured further, I noticed smoke, arriving at a fire that looked like it had not been put out properly from the night before. There was a Solar powered lantern hanging from a tree and a tent pad built on the sand. The road in looked very overgrown and hairy, but whoever lived here or regularly camped here sure had an amazing secret to themselves.
There are many bears hanging around at Mussel beach, but we did not run into any on our walk. Once we got back to camp, we sat down by the water and enjoyed some beverages before dinner and a fire to end the night.
Following breakfast, we hopped in the truck and bobbled down the forest service road, juggling and sipping our coffees until we reached Ucluelet. One minute down the logging road as we were leaving the campsite a baby bear curiously popped it’s snout out of the forest. I shut the truck off, and we watched it slowly wander in front of us and back into the brambles.
Wild Pacific Trail
If you only have time for one hike on your trip, this is the one!
The Wild Pacific trail was breathtaking, and embodied the power of the Pacific Ocean and beauty of British Columbia’s wild coastlines. There are a few different sections of this trail network. The longest and most beautiful portion is from Browns Beach to Artists loops ending at the Ancient Cedars Loop & Rocky Bluffs. The second portion of the trail a short drive up Marine Drive is the Lighthouse Loop. We parked at a roadside parking lot near the Black Rock Ocean Front resort off Marine Drive. We walked down to Big Beach and Brown Beach and then hiked towards the Artists Loops. Big Beach to Rocky bluffs is about 8km with very little elevation gain and should take you just over an hour one way. The trail is a storm and watchers dream getting you up close and personal with the strength of the Pacific Ocean. There are non-stop unique viewpoints along the way that bring you above thrilling cliffs, surge channels and shipwreck reefs. Loads of fisherman trolling around the area, and I’m sure the water is teeming with wildlife. The sounds of the waves crashing is extremely relaxing as you walk along the shoreline. There are some safe spots where you can safely stand on the rocks, but, if a storm is brewing keep your distance from any bare rocks as a surge could sweep you from it. We walked all of the artist loops on the way there popping onto the ancient cedars loop to get a quick glimpse of the century’s old trees. The Rocky Bluffs at the end marked the ideal halfway point to stop for a PB & J. We did not take the artists loops on our return and enjoyed soaking in the views from another vantage point on the walk back.
The Lighthouse loop was our second stop on the Wild Pacific Trail. It is a super quick 2.6km loop which offers great views of the shoreline and the lighthouse. There is parking at the Otter Lot, Whale lot and accessible parking spots for those who need them super close to the lighthouse. There is something so fascinating about lighthouses to me, and stories of the men and women who used to keep them running full time. This is an amazing spot to get that quintessential lighthouse photo.
Zoe’s Bakery and Café
After all our walking we were famished. A local we met on the trail tipped us off to a very popular bakery in town, ‘Zoe’s Bakery and Café’. This place had a line out the door and let me tell you, it was worth the wait!
Just minutes out of Ucluelet turn up to the Wya Point Resort Campground. Park your car and head down the Willowbrae Trail. It’s a wide path to begin, tracing the route of an old road. You will reach a confluence, continue straight to Florencia beach. It’s a long series of wooden stairs to the sand but opens up at the bottom to a wide secluded beach. Locals call it Flo Beach, but it was initially coined “Wreck Bay” when an effort to tow an irreparable ship “The Florencia” to Victoria failed. The tugboat pulling the Florencia was having engine troubles and let it go, and a storm blew the Florencia to this bay. What makes the beach especially amazing is that it’s 6km shoreline is joined to a massive cliff wall stretching it’s entire distance. Florencia is the spot to be if you want some serenity, and people from all passions of life come here to do what they love. Admittedly, I loved watching the creek meander it’s way through the sand and felt like a child digging trenches with a stick altering it’s path to reach the water. If you really want to extend your walk you can head to the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Trailhead which will lead you back to the South Beach Trail, Wickaninnish and Long Beach. Unless you want to run a shoreline marathon there is no way you would be able to cover Tofino’s endless shoreline in a single trip. If you’re planning to spend time at Florencia or walk far, be aware of rising tides as it’s prone to flooding and the cliffs do not allow for an easy escape.
Half Moon Bay Beach
We walked back up the “stairway to heaven” from Florencia Beach, took the other trail and checked out Half Moon Bay Beach. There are some steep ramps and uneven stairs on the way down so make sure to watch your steps. This beach is the lesser visited and we enjoyed the crescent moon shaped cove all to ourselves.
Rainforest Trail A & B
The rainforest trail is probably the best maintained trail in the park. It allows you to easily travel deep into the rainforest and supplies informational placards to help educate you about temperate rainforest ecosystems. Both trails are 1km wooden boardwalks that loop past massive ancient moss-covered trees and make you feel like you are at one living side by side with the fauna and flora. We took our coffees with us for both loops and spent time reading the informative signs. We walked the trails an a very casual pace and were in and out in about an hour.
Canso Plane Crash
The Canso Plane Crash was the most remote/adventurous hike of the entire trip and felt a little more like your atypical “hike” and was a nice change from the other phenomenally beautiful beach walks. It’s a 5km out and back trail boasting a slim elevation gain of 130 meters. To get to the trailhead turn off on Radar Hill Road from the Pacific Rim Highway, and park in the first lot closest. When facing the highway turn right (south) down the shoulder and count 15 telephone poles. At the 15th telephone pole you will see a drawing of a small plane, head into the forest and follow the trail. The path begins very wide until you reach an abandoned building. Go ahead and make yourself at home! I didn’t do any research on this hike so at the time I wasn’t sure if I should be in there. The building is super dark and creepy. It’s trashed, with glass strewn everywhere, graffiti colored walls and weird structures inside. There is a spray-painted sign inside the building that says “Trail this way”. Since the building freaked me out so much, I didn’t know if I should trust the poorly painted directions. But this is not some sort of trick, the trail is actually that way. Apparently, the building used to serve as a transmitter in the early 1950s. The path begins to descend while simultaneously becoming much narrower. You will reach a bog section. Even in late July when we visited, it was extremely muddy. I saw a lady who went thigh deep into a mud pothole. So, make sure to wear decent shoes, and leave your dress clothes at home.
Keep following markers and you will notice a small pond. I learned later that this was a crater formed when the rescuers removed the bombs of the plane, and as an alternative to transporting them out of the difficult terrain, they detonated the bombs near the wreckage. You will arrive at the Canso’s fuselage shortly after the pond. The remains of the plane were amazing, so much of the original aircraft was still intact after over half a decade. The Canso 11007 crashed on February 8, 1945 during a routine training exercise from Coal Harbour to Ucluelet. The crew on that fateful day was supposed to look for appropriate recreational equipment for the coal harbor base. The Canso was unable to land on the water near Ucluelet so it altered the trip plan landing for a refuel at the airbase in Tofino. Shortly after takeoff from Tofino the left engine failed, and the pilot decided to turn around and head back to the base. In the process of turning the pane began nailing treetops and promptly lost speed, which stalled it and it fell to the Ground. 12 crew members were part of the crash, all of them survived. Remember to be respectful of the remains and don’t climb on them for a photo. It’s remarkable how much of the aircraft still stands and I’m sure others would love to see it in the same condition for many more years to come.
Remember the Backcountry Basics
- Carry your Survival Kit & Essentials
- Let someone know where you’re going with a Trip Plan
- Know how to avoid negative wildlife encounters
- Practice Leave No Trace to keep the wilderness pristine
Long Beach isn’t a named hike in Tofino, but since most of the hikes in the area are flat, walking along Long Beach was one my top three hikes overall. There is nothing better than removing your shoes and pursing your toes along the sandy shoreline of a pristine beach. In Tofino, you can make this dream a reality by walking the shoreline of Long Beach for 16 kilometers straight. You heard me right, if you walked the shoreline all the way down and back, you would have just about covered the distance of a marathon. We walked along the shoreline for many kilometers stopping at incinerator rock. We climbed up incinerator rock and found an awesome hidden park bench sitting atop providing an insane Birdseye view of the never-ending coastline in both directions. Walking on the shoreline of a pristine sand beach this prolonged is not something you have the opportunity to do frequently, especially not in Canada. I believe walking along endless shoreline is one of those things that makes Tofino so remarkable.
On the way back to the campsite we decided to make a quick stop at Ucluelet Brewing, this was a sweet spot and as always, I enjoy an ice cold one.
We went back to Mussel Beach, propped our chairs looking over the ocean, and sat out there until the sun set behind the water. I got the fire started and we fell asleep staring into the flames.
We said our goodbyes to the Sea Shack ,Packed the car up and travelled back to the Ferries. We left ourselves ample time to drive the highway back since there is always construction, delays or accidents. To kill time, we decided to shoot towards Qualicum beach to hang for a few hours before our Ferry. On the way we saw some signs for Goats on The Roof, and after a quick google search found ourselves at the Old Country Market. The Market is awesome and there are some seriously delicious baked goods and ice cream, and most importantly, there are quite literally, goats grazing on the roof. We took our treats and headed to Qualicum beach to catch some rays before getting in line for the ferry, with a reservation we actually had, and headed back to the mainland.
Tofino is an amazing place to explore in both the summer and winter. Don’t expect to have sun for your entire trip, or for any of your trip to Tofino. The coastal weather changes fast and we had some rainy and foggy conditions during our stay. This doesn’t make anything less beautiful, In fact, I’m a pretty big fan of wet conditions because places are less busy. Fog and rainfall also look beautiful over ocean landscapes.
Hopefully there are some bits, pieces and ideas in our trip that you can apply to yours when you head out.
Have fun and Surfs Up.