During our two months in Qualicum Beach, we originally planned a day trip to Tofino. Realizing this would involve at least 5 hours of driving, leaving little time to explore, an overnight stay was the better option. Tofino is renowned for its amazing beaches, surfing and spectacular winter storms. Ucluelet, 40 km south of Tofino, is an equally popular destination with breathtaking cliff-top views over the mighty Pacific Ocean.
We are here in winter which means a lot of wet and cloudy days so the search was on for two consecutive days with low rainfall predicted, this was hard to come by. Good weather was finally forecast right before our departure for Victoria, so we jumped at our chance to head out to the wild west coast of Vancouver Island.
Early Friday morning we hit the road, the only road, to Tofino and Ucluelet. If you are planning a trip out this way make sure you check the drivebc website for road closures. Currently, there is major road widening construction going on and during the week the road is closed for 5 hours a day, not good if you don’t know about this!!
Arriving in Ucluelet mid-morning our first adventure was the Wild Pacific Trail Lighthouse Loop. This is a 2.9 km trail through beautiful old forest, atop stunning cliffs and past the Amphitrite Point Lighthouse. It was a sunny day and the views over the rugged coastline were breathtaking. A short side trip off the main trail is the Bog Woodland loop, a must-do while here. This is a relatively new 300-metre loop with 11 interpretive signs along the way. The bog is filled with sphagnum moss…did you know it can grow many meters thick and be hundreds of years old 😲😲
After our walk, we drove around Ucluelet, which is not very big, then headed to the Black Rock Resort perched high on the cliffs. This would be a fantastic place to stay with phenomenal views over the ocean…maybe next time! We still got to enjoy watching the waves crashing against the cliffs while having lunch in their oceanview restaurant.
After lunch we headed towards Tofino, stopping first for a walk at Long Beach, the longest sand beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The consistent surf and exposure to the Pacific Ocean established this as one of the earliest and most popular surfing destinations in British Columbia. Long Beach is located in the Pacific Rim National Park so to spend any time here you must purchase a national park pass which costs CDN $20 (USD $15.87) for the day. We bought our pass around 2 pm and it was valid until 4 pm the next day so you could spend almost 2 days in the park.
Our next stop was the Rainforest Trail, also in the National Park. There are two 1 km loop trails, on either side of the highway, taking you to the heart of an ancient rainforest. A few of the trees are 800 years old, it’s easy to feel that our time on earth is insignificant when you imagine the history of the forest. Strolling the boardwalks we were surrounded by majestic giant cedars, soft hanging moss, ferns and forest plants and meandering streams. There are a combined 731 stairs on these two loops so be prepared for a bit of a workout! The interpretive signs along the boardwalk are interesting and informative. Carrying bear spray was recommended, but being here in February, I was pretty sure they were still hibernating 😂
After finishing the Rainforest Trail walks it was time to check into our hotel. Using hotels.com we reserved a room at the Best Western Tin Wis Resort, costing CDN $167.61 (USD $131.98) for the night. We booked a non-pet-friendly room which meant we were on the top floor with fabulous views of the beach and ocean, I think the pet-friendly rooms are all on the main floor with direct outside access. Tides can change up to 14 ft around here so you need to be aware of this while hiking near or on the beaches, running the risk of being stranded if you are not careful. The magnitude of the change was evident as we walked far out into the ocean at low tide looking back at our hotel.
During these covid times, the hotel restaurant is closed so we made a dinner reservation at Shelter Restaurant in Tofino, just a 10-minute drive away. Good thing we reserved, there was not an empty socially distant table left in the place…..and their fish tacos are to die for!!!
We got an early start the next day heading to Chesterman Beach, at low tide and just a few minutes away from the hotel. This is a beautiful wide sandy beach popular with surfers for its consistent waves.
As the tide rolled in and the beach narrowed we drove into the town of Tofino for a look around. There are numerous souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants and art galleries. The various docks and marinas are filled with boats offering excursions to nearby islands and whale watching adventures, but not this time of year.
At the edge of Tofino is the Tonquin Trail, a meandering 3.2 km round trip hike through old-growth forest to Tonquin Beach then Middle Beach. The trail is mostly gravel with numerous viewpoints along the way overlooking the Templar Channel and Wickaninnish Island. The trail passes through the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and there are various interpretive signs along the trail with information about their history on these lands.
From the forest, it was back to the beach, Cox Bay Beach this time. Further south than Chesterman Beach, Cox Bay is another very popular surfing spot. The water is cold but the surfers were out in force, clad head to toe in neoprene offering some protection against the bone-chilling water. The waves here looked a little more challenging and we enjoyed watching the surfers catching a few waves 🏄♂️
By this time we were hungry so made our way to the original Tacofino, a popular food truck with what turned out to be the best fish tacos we have ever had. The truck is tucked away in the back of a parking lot, behind a surf shop, so we would not have found it without it being recommended to us. It’s definitely got that hippie, surfer dude vibe 🤟 Do stop by for a fish taco if you are in the neighbourhood!
After lunch, it was time to head home to Qualicum Beach. Timing was important with the road closed, and being the weekend, traffic only allowed through on the hour. Miss that window and you will wait another hour! As it was, we waited 30 minutes to be allowed through, turning the journey home into a 3-hour drive, albeit a gorgeous drive.
We are happy to have had a couple of rain-free days visiting Tofino and Ucluelet. It’s as spectacular as everyone says, and if we make it back this way during the summer we might have to take surfing lessons.