“You ARE going to Tofino, aren’t you?” That was the query of everyone we met on Vancouver Island.
Considered the gem of the island, Tofino has it all—astonishingly beautiful scenery, epic outdoor adventures, and a surprisingly sophisticated food scene. All this, in a town of 2,000 perched on the remote and wild west coast of the island. Tofino is also right next door to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and within a few miles of the intriguing harbor town of Ucluelet. Yes, we were definitely going to Tofino.
Highway 4, the road that connects the east coast to the west, is an adventure unto itself. Narrow, two lanes, hairpin curves, and sheer rock walls—you get the idea. I was too busy “helping” Eric drive to take any photos.
Arriving safely in Tofino, we breathed a sigh of relief and squeezed into our site at Crystal Cove Beach Resort. Tide pools and a gorgeous beach are all part of the benefits of the RV Park.
After our first glorious sunset and evening on the beach, we set out to explore Tofino the next day on our bikes. This is a surfing town, and for a moment (a very brief moment) we thought about taking a surfing lesson. But there’s that whole ordeal of having to squeeze into a wetsuit and getting into really cold water. Not to mention sharks, and looking a lot like a seal when you’re in a wetsuit, and sharks liking to snack on seals. As it turns out, we were too busy hiking, biking, kayaking, and eating to try surfing.
We spent a half-day kayaking on an awesome tour of Clayoquot Sound. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, this is a pristine landscape of old-growth forest and a maze of inlets and islands. Our guide was terrific, sharing the history of the area and pointing out flora and fauna along the way.
The food in Tofino is outrageously good. We ate our way through town, trying everything from tasty healthy fast food at Sea Monster to a fabulous meal of fresh caught halibut at Wolf In The Fog, considered one of the top restaurants on all of Vancouver Island. I think the best meal of all, though, was the salmon chowder at Sobo. Made with both fresh and smoked salmon, it was outstanding.
There are many beaches in Tofino and nearby Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, and we explored them all. Each has a different personality, ranging from miles of expansive sandy coastline perfect for long walks to tiny jewel-like coves. The west coast of Vancouver Island is known for wild weather and spectacular wave action, but the ocean was tame while we were there.
After five days in Tofino, we moved about 15 miles south to Pacific Rim National Park for an additional three days. This put us in the heart of the park, and closer to the village of Ucluelet, a less polished version of Tofino.
A variety of hiking trails wend through old-growth forest and along the coast in Pacific Rim National Park. The hikes are generally short (the longest is only 5.0 miles round trip) but most involve rugged boardwalks and zillions of stairs. It’s a quieting experience to walk through these ancient, cedar scented forests.
We hiked every trail in the park. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Trail, named for the First Nations people of this area. Other of our favorites were the Rainforest Loop Trails and the Schooner Cove Trail.
There are three outstanding attractions in Ucluelet: The breathtakingly beautiful Wild Pacific Trail (including Lighthouse Loop), the sweet little aquarium, and the Raven Lady Oyster Forte food truck.
Yes, a food truck made our list of top attractions in Ucluelet. This particular food truck turns out delicious gourmet offerings, including excellent fish tacos and an addictive combination of smoked oysters on fig crostini with whipped blue cheese and pickled red onions.
As for the seafood we didn’t eat, the Ucluelet Aquarium is a delightful small local catch-and-release aquarium. Each specimen is collected locally in early spring, then released in the fall. It’s astonishing how many beautifully colored, fanciful creatures live in the seas here.
The aquarium has many “touch tanks” and we spent a couple of hours getting to know the different critters of the sea—velvety or knobby sea stars, prickly sea urchins, delicate anemones that feel sticky to the touch (that’s the feeling of tiny poisonous harpoons, but harmless to people), and rubbery-textured sea cucumbers. So much fun.
The Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet is one of the most beautiful shoreline trails we’ve experienced anywhere in our travels. The crashing waves and plaintive clanging of the bell buoys just offshore added to the meditative ambiance. I can still hear those bells when I look at these photos.
About the campgrounds:
Crystal Cove Beach Resort is an excellent location for exploring the village of Tofino. It’s truly a resort, with gorgeous landscaping and lots of amenities (wifi, free bikes, movies, morning coffee). The RV sites, however, don’t really qualify as “resort” quality, but they have full hook-ups and are private. With tide pools and a gorgeous beach not far from our site and the bike path to Tofino right across the road, we loved staying here. Book ahead! This place is popular and there were no sites available when we decided to extend our stay. Hence, after five days we moved to the National Park, where we got the last available site for three nights.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is hugely popular, even in late September. The campground is heavily forested and borders beautiful Long Beach (the best sites have views of the beach). No hookups, but the bathhouses are nice and there’s water available throughout the campground. We liked being close to all of the trails in the park, and it’s just a few miles from Ucluelet.
Next Up: A Mailboat Cruise: Port Alberni, BC