13 Top-Rated Things to Do in Tofino, BC
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On the west coast of Vancouver Island, Tofino is a remote destination where tourists come to appreciate nature, play in the ocean, and relax at a seaside resort. The town is small enough that you feel like you are getting away from the city and big town busyness, but developed enough to offer things to do, great accommodation, and even fine dining.
This is a year-round destination. In summer, tourists flock here, particularly families, to enjoy the beaches and other attractions and activities, but in winter, people come here to escape crowds, storm watch, enjoy surfing, and take advantage of the near-empty hiking trails and tranquility. Many people prefer to come between fall and spring, rather than during the busy summer tourist season.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, home to Long Beach, is the highlight of the area. It stretches from just north of the small town of Ucluelet to just south of Tofino. The park has wonderful hiking trails and long stretches of empty beach that you can access at numerous points.
Other popular activities involve getting out on the ocean, from boat trips and wildlife viewing to kayaking. Stop by the new Tofino Visitor Centre just north of the park for information on specific tour providers, and plan out your visit with our list of the best things to do in Tofino.
1. Walk on Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park
The star attraction of Pacific Rim National Park and the Tofino area is the 16-kilometer Long Beach. This beautiful stretch of sand is the perfect place for walking, with hard-packed sand you can even push a stroller on. Long Beach is flat and incredibly wide when the tide is out and stretches on seemingly endlessly as you look off into the distance through the salt spray hanging in the air.
On sunny days, the beach is packed with people walking or staring out over the Pacific. It's a mesmerizing place with a sense of space that's hard to find in other areas of Vancouver Island.
The most recognizable site on Long Beach is Incinerator Rock, a large island just offshore that can be seen from well off in the distance, with the surf crashing around it. On most days you'll see people surfing here.
This magnificent stretch of sand is accessed from numerous points, either along hikes or simply from a parking area on the edge of the beach.
Official site: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/bc/pacificrim
2. Go Surfing
The miles of endless beaches and perpetual waves make Tofino the top destination for surfing in Canada. You can surf here year-round, but thick wetsuits are required. On sunny days in February, it's hard to tell it's not the middle of summer, with surfers flocking to the beaches from morning until sundown.
For true surfers, the best time for surfing in Tofino is September to November, but for families and beginners, any time is good, although summers are the most popular.
In the Pacific Rim National Park, Long Beach, particularly the area around Incinerator Rock, is a popular surfing area. Washrooms and showers are located right off the beach in the parking lot. At the far southern end of Long Beach, Wickaninnish Beach is frequently packed with surfers, and also Florencia Bay, just to the south of Wickaninnish.
Surfing is also extremely popular at the beaches outside the park, and many of them offer easy access for guests staying at the oceanfront resorts or campgrounds. Cox Bay is arguably the most popular surfing beach in Tofino. It's also home to some of Tofino's best resorts and an oceanfront campground.
The Pacific Sands Beach Resort on Cox Bay even has its own surf shop, lessons, and rentals right on the property at their Surf Sister Surf Shack. Also along here are the Cox Bay Beach Resort, Long Beach Lodge, and the new Surf Grove Campground.
Chesterman Beach, just north of Cox Bay is another huge beach and a favorite spot for surfing. This beach is backed by homes and has a few bed and breakfasts, but also a parking area with showers and basic facilities.
These are just some of the surfing beaches in the Tofino area, and certainly not the only ones.
If you like the idea of surfing, but maybe aren't ready yet, you can simply enjoy watching surfers from the comfort of a restaurant or beach chair overlooking the action.
3. Hike through Old-Growth Forest to Beaches and Coves
The hiking trails in Tofino and nearby Ucluelet are relatively short but nothing less than spectacular. The old-growth forests here contain some of the oldest documented trees in Canada. Huge, centuries-old Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, and western red cedar line most of the trails, and many lead to secluded coves and empty beaches.
One of the most popular short hikes is the Rainforest Trail, where you can walk on raised boardwalks below giant trees and experience the sights, sounds, and smells of this magical place. Two loop trails (loop A and loop B), each of which is a little over one kilometer in length, can be done independently or combined into one. Although the boardwalks make this an easy trail, there is some elevation and a number of stairs.
For a mix of forest, beach, and culture, walk to the Nuu-chah-nulth Trail to Florencia Bay Trail. See a totem pole and information plaques along the route explaining the traditions of the Nuu-chah-nulth culture. This trail opens onto both Wackaninnish Beach and Florencia Bay, both spectacular beaches.
The Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet is a longer trail covering a more rugged landscape. Many people opt to hike only the 2.6-kilometer Lighthouse portion of this trail, leading past phenomenal lookout points and a lighthouse. Another section from Brown's Beach to Rocky Buffs is a four- kilometer one-way hike.
Also part of the Wild Pacific Trail but an easy trail that can be done on its own is the Ancient Cedars trail. This is another great place to experience the beauty of the rainforest, walking below the huge trees. You can find other beautiful hikes within easy reach of Tofino.
Unlike many areas of Canada that are under snow a portion of the year, the hiking trails are open year-round in Tofino and are actually much more peaceful in the winter months when the main tourist season has died off.
4. Take a Whale Watching Tour
If you want to get out on the ocean and enjoy some wildlife viewing, a whale watching tour is a must. In the waters around Tofino, you can see gray whales quite regularly, as well as orcas on occasion, and in summer, humpback whales.
A variety of tour operators, which you'll see as you walk through town, offer trips, either in large Zodiac-style, semi-covered, or covered boats. These tours also offer a great opportunity to see some of the area and landscape, including the scenic Clayoquot Sound.
5. Enjoy the Best Dining and Desserts in Tofino
For such a small community, Tofino has a diverse range of dining options. You can find everything from fine dining to food trucks, you just have to know where to look.
For fine dining head to the Pointe Restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn, where you can enjoy the views from their cliffside location, or stop by their more casual Driftwood Cafe, with windows that look out to the beach.
For ambience, it's hard to beat the Great Room at Long Beach Lodge. Overlooking Cox Bay, this is a beautiful sunset location with huge windows looking out over the beach. Another idea for a fine-dining experience, but located right in the town of Tofino, is the Wolf in the Fog. Also in Tofino, The Shelter offers inside and outside dining looking over Clayoquot Sound.
One of the tastiest places to visit for young and old and everyone in between is Chocolate Tofino at 1180A Pacific Highway, just before you enter the main downtown area of Tofino. The owners make chocolate treats and gelato like you won't find anywhere else in Tofino or possibly on Vancouver Island. Their signature gelato Salted Caramel Sundae, complete with a chocolate surfboard on top is a must-try.
In the same roadside retail complex of rustic-looking wooden structures is the original Tacofino Truck, serving a good assortment of tacos, burritos, and more. This eccentric looking "truck restaurant" has since expanded to several restaurant locations in B.C., but this is where it all began.
If you are simply looking for a good cup of coffee and a tasty pastry, the Rhino Coffee House is the place to go, right in Tofino.
6. Wander around Town, Shop, and Explore the Galleries
Although Tofino is a tiny community of only 3,000 full-time inhabitants, you can find some interesting stores and plenty of ways to fill your day. Souvenir stores, clothing shops, and art galleries are all within a block or two of each other in downtown Tofino. When you need a break, pop in at a café or bakery for coffee and a snack.
The waterfront, just a couple of blocks off the main street, looks out over an area of stunning Clayoquot Sound and across to Meares Island. Wander farther up the street, and you'll come to a park with a picnic table and totem pole and more incredible vistas.
On the main road running through Tofino, you'll see the intricately carved and painted facade of the Eagle Aerie Gallery, featuring the colorful works of artist Roy Henry Vickers. Even if you are not looking to buy a piece, these works by this renowned Canadian artist are worth seeing. Bright, vibrant colors dominate the pieces, which feature the wildlife and scenes of nature related to the West Coast. Vickers was born in northern British Columbia, and his works are also on display in several prominent Canadian museums.
7. Storm Watch in Late Fall
To see one of the area's most spectacular displays of nature, come to Tofino in the late fall or winter, during storm season. Huge waves, often reaching up to six meters (20 feet), reveal the power of the ocean in jaw-dropping fashion between the start of November and the end of February.
Beyond the shores of Tofino is an uninterrupted stretch of ocean, with nothing between here and Japan. Storms generated by the warmer ocean temperatures and the cool air masses at this time of year make for powerful lows. The resulting storms and waves attract photographers, surfers, and nature lovers, but it's also a great time of year to enjoy a romantic getaway.
Tofino winters rarely see snow, and temperatures are quite moderate by Canadian standards.
8. Kayak around Clayoquot Sound
Sea kayaking is a beautiful way to explore nearby Clayoquot Sound. One of the most popular destinations on kayaking tours is to Meares Island. This is an area of old-growth forest, where you can hike trails and walk along the boardwalk of the Big Tree Trail.
A number of outfitters offer guided tours. This is not something you need to have experience in to participate; beginners are welcome. All equipment is included with your tour, and you are fully escorted by a guide trained in first aid and rescue techniques.
9. Take a Bear Watching Tour
One of Canada's most iconic animals, black bears are abundant around Tofino. They can often be spotted wandering along the shores at low tide looking for food. Bear watching tours offer visitors a chance to see these beautiful animals in the wild from a respectful distance.
Tours are done from a boat and offer a safe way to see bears in their natural habitat. Tour times vary depending on the tides, and tours operate between the start of April and the end of October. This is also a great time for seeing bear cubs.
10. Walk through Tofino Botanical Gardens
Tofino Botanical Gardens combine nature and art. Beautiful gardens and forest areas are sprinkled with art installations that range from simple and small wood carvings to large and funky pieces of art, some of which stand out and others that blend so perfectly into the surroundings, you may miss them if you don't look carefully.
Trails lead through the forest areas, along a coastal mudflat, and through areas of carefully designed gardens that include vegetables, herbs, and flowers. In the spring, the rhododendrons bloom in fantastic colors.
A small section of the garden is a memorial to the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami. On display here are a variety of items from Japan that washed up along the coast in the years following the tsunami.
Address: 1084 Pacific Rim Highway, Tofino, British Columbia
Official Site: http://tbgf.org/
11. Get an Aerial Perspective from a Scenic Flight
To see the towering mountains, rugged coastlines, glaciers, and stunning alpine lakes around Tofino, there is no better way than on a scenic flight.
Sightseeing tours take place via float planes or helicopters and range in length from 20 minutes to five hours. On a clear day, Clayoquot Sound is spectacular. This trip will give you a unique perspective on the area, and depending on what your interests are, the pilot can land on a glacier, an alpine lake, or at a remote hot springs location where you can take a dip.
Individuals and couples are welcome, but you'll get the greatest variety of destinations and best pricing with a group of four.
12. See the Views from Radar Hill
Radar Hill is an easy-to-access high point of land near Tofino. Views from the top look out in both directions from above the trees to the mountains and ocean. It's not exactly a 360-degree view, but two separate viewing areas look out in different directions and offer a completely different perspective from anywhere else in the Tofino area.
A road leads right to the top, and the viewpoint is a short walk along a well-graded pathway. Radar Hill is also a place that lodges and bed-and-breakfasts nearby inform their guests about, referencing it as a place to go in the event of a tsunami. The hill was used as a radar station in the 1950s, during the start of the Cold War, although you won't see many remnants of this today, apart from some foundations.
13. Go Deep Sea Fishing
The waters off Vancouver Island are some of the best fishing grounds in Canada. For a real adventure out on the open ocean consider taking a full- or half-day fishing charter from one of the outfitters in Tofino.
The fish out in the Pacific waters grow to incredible sizes - when you hook into one be prepared for a long, drawn-out fight. Fish available include several species of salmon, halibut, and ling cod. The best fishing is generally from mid-June through to mid-September; however, halibut fishing is especially good when the herring run in March and April near the full moon.
Where to Stay in Tofino
- If you are in Tofino to surf or storm watch, you'll want to be on the beach. Pacific Sands Beach Resort, just to the north of Pacific Rim National Park, is a great surf-in, surf-out property, with a pavilion for storing boards, an on-site surf shop offering lessons, and a take-out restaurant. The suites, including brand new units, as well as more traditional, rustic-looking luxury units are just steps from the sand.
- Neighboring Long Beach Lodge Resort is another lovely property, with a mix of lodge rooms and cottages, great for romantic getaways.
- The traditional go-to property for high-end luxury is the Wickaninnish Inn at the north end of Chesterman Beach. Beautiful suites with balconies look out over a fantastic stretch of beach, and the service here is impeccable.
- At the upper end of mid-range, Middle Beach Lodge overlooks a usually quiet and uncrowded crescent of beach. The lodge and cabins are set well above the ocean and have fabulous views from the decks, but you can still walk down to the shore from the resort. Rooms and common areas are beautifully decorated, with exposed wooden beams in some rooms and a huge stone fireplace in the main lodge.
- Cox Bay Beach Resort is another good beachfront property, with comfortable suites and an outdoor hot tub for guests to enjoy.
- At the Best Western Tin Wis Resort, you are sure to have an awesome view. All rooms offer ocean views and have large balconies. This hotel also has a hot tub and a restaurant.
- A good option is the recently renovated Tofino Resort + Marina. This property is more of a mid-range hotel but sometimes offers good deals. Rooms look over the harbor.
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