Lovingly referred to as “the jewel of Canada’s west coast”, Tofino is a sleepy town near the middle of the ocean-facing coast of Vancouver Island. Each summer the population swells well past its modest 2,000 residents as the choppy waves of the Northern Pacific Ocean draw in surfers, and nature lovers come to revel at the beauty of the national parks, hot springs and expansive beaches teeming with marine life. This summer, add Tofino to your list of west coast side trips.
Driving into Tofino will bring you along the Pacific Rim Highway, which weaves through the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, a massive 49,962 hectare park separated into three regions: Long Beach, the Broken Group Islands, and the West Coast Trail.
Dotted with driftwood along the shore, Long Beach spans 10 kilometres and is one of the most accessible and popular surf beaches in BC. The Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre provides great information on the area’s history and inhabitants, while numerous walking trails line the rainforest and offer a glimpse into the unique ecosystem the area is known for.
Heading to the Broken Group Islands in Barkley Sound is a nautical treat. Accessible only by boat, this is a popular stop for kayakers or campers willing to bring in their own fresh water (there is none on the islands).
If you have some time, the West Coast Trail is an extensive 75-kilometre hike that winds along the rainforest shoreline. It can take up to seven days to complete so only seasoned backwoods hikers should attempt it and booking should be done well in advance as the trail only allows for 60 overnight backpackers a day.
For more information on the park, visit: www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/bc/pacificrim/index.aspx
With direct exposure to the Pacific Ocean, Tofino is one of the few places on the west coast where you can surf throughout the year. Though the winter months boast some exceptionally rough waters – popular for storm-watching – in summer, the gently rolling swells are suitable for beginners as well as more seasoned surfers. Head to any of the many surf shops in town to rent a board or take a lesson.
Maquinna Marine Provincial Park is located northwest of Tofino in Clayoquot Sound, home of the Ramsay Hot Springs. Nearly a dozen rocky pools make up the hot geothermal waters that are fed by a waterfall which tapers through the pools getting cooler as it goes towards the ocean. Zodiac and tour boats head out from Tofino for half-day trips each day and whales are often spotted on the way out.
Being on an island means that there is no shortage of seafood delights to be had. Though most of the big resorts outside of town boast fine dining restaurants that are open to the public, the small town of Tofino still has a lot to offer.
$ – Tacofino Food Truck
Just off the highway before you get into the town centre a collection of surf and rentals shops are spread out on a gravel opening. At the back of the parking lot, the praying hands of Guadalupe clutch a taco on the unmistakable bright orange Tacofino food truck. Line-ups are a regular occurrence as fanatics get their fix of the truck’s famous fish tacos.
1184 Pacific Rim Hwy, 250-726-8288, tacofino.com
$$$ – Shelter
Located right in the heart of the town, Shelter claims to offer “the basics at their best” – be it food, wine or shelter. The cozy wood-clad restaurant boasts a panoramic outdoor patio as well as an indoor dining area with rustic stone fireplaces and cathedral wood-planked ceilings. Focusing on freshness with mainly local and organic ingredients, the restaurant serves caught-that-day seafood and free-run, ethically-raised meats. Be sure to try their specials like Dungeness crab or fresh shucked Vancouver Island oysters.
601 Campbell St., 250-725-3353, www.shelterrestaurant.com