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.
Our Introduction 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.
A Sea Kayaking Adventure
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.
Outstanding Food In Tofino
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.
The Beaches Of Tofino
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.
Hiking In Pacific Rim National Park
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.
A Catch-And-Release Aquarium
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 Glorious Wild Pacific Trail
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.
Where We Stayed
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.
The salmon chowder looked so yummy!!!
Christine, it was the best fish chowder I’ve ever had! I think the addition of smoked salmon gave it that “extra” yumminess.
Thanks for the tour- what a beautiful place! It’s on our list! And that chowder too!! Safe travels
Definitely put this on your list — it’s not far from Lopez! And I think we can figure out a recipe for that chowder. :-) Hope you two are doing well.
Pass me a cosmic wave please!
Ha, yeah, me too! Cyn, you and Kyle would love Vancouver Island!
My husband doesn’t have a long list of places he’d like to see, but Vancouver Island happens to be high on that short list. Your photographs and tale make it even more enticing for us to want to visit this beautiful place. Thanks for a wonderful tour. Now if only you could pass me some of that chowder!
Ingrid, Vancouver Island deserves to be at the top of your list. We’re already planning a return trip. :-) Just make sure to allow plenty of time when you go. You’ll love the photo opportunities!
Just incredible photos from you guys, thanks so much for sharing your wonderful journey. When were you there ?
Your articles keep us going until we can retire and start our own journey!
Chad & Stacy, thanks so much for your nice comment! We were in Tofino at the end of September, and were on Vancouver Island for a total of five weeks.
Thanks, Brenda. Your Casita wants to take you there. :-)
I have wanted to watch the winter storms in Tofino but think summer looks better. Great photos and story.
Glad you enjoyed the post, Debbie. I think the winter storms would be fun to watch…but summer is definitely better for hiking/biking/kayaking!
LOL at “helping Eric drive”. I’m betting you do the same kind of “helping” I do.
What a great park you found in this unbelievable town. You had me at the Mermaid Tales. The downside is that it’s freezing in the winter, right? What a great paddling trip that looks like. Did you use your own kayak with the guide? Not sure I’ve ever seen a bowl of chowder that looked that good. Makes my mouth water. Of course part of that is your terrific picture. The artistic boardwalk is really beautiful. Almost don’t want to walk on it. Interesting plan for an aquarium, maybe they should do touch and release. ha! Stunning photos on the Wild Pacific Trail. Your text and pictures always make me want to go everywhere you’ve been. Sadly I’ll probably never make it here, so thanks for taking me.
Sherry, I hope you and David will make it here someday. I know you would love it! We didn’t use our kayak on the paddling trip because we needed a sea kayak, and ours is an open recreational kayak.Too dangerous in these cold waters!
What a couple of exquisite stops! Amazing scenery, and the food! Looks like Vancouver Island needs to go on our list!
Lisa, exquisite is the perfect word to describe Tofino and Ucluelet. It’s well worth the effort to make the trek to Vancouver Island. So many adventures, beautiful scenery, and great food!
What a beautiful and special place. Makes me want to turn west from Banff this summer instead of our planned eastward plan!! The kelp stout and salmon chowder look and sound amazing. Combined with the outstanding natural beauty, this is definitely on the list!
Banff and heading east through Canada is on our list, Jodee. We’ll be looking forward to your tales! But definitely put Vancouver Island on your list for future travels.
What an absolutely beautiful place! Those trails look so groomed and enticing. Looks like they’ve put a lot of work into them. Vancouver Island is definitely moving up on the list!
Gayle, some of the trails in the national park are pretty rugged, but they recently replaced the boardwalks on the Rainforest Loops and they’re beautiful. The Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet is very well taken care of by the community, especially the Lighthouse Loop, which is almost like a Zen garden.
I kind of love the idea of a “catch and release aquarium.” Have you seen that before? We just went to a local zoo a couple days ago with my in-laws and I was so torn about it. I hate the idea of caging animals who belong in the wild, but some of these places do great work with research, conservation, and educational efforts. A catch and release facility is such an interesting concept, allowing study of the animals, and education and interaction for the public, without the downside of permanently removing the animals from their natural habitat. Fascinating…
Anyway, as usual, your photos are making me want to just go wherever you all were and do all the things you did. The towns, the hikes, the food… all look so enticing. Our list grows ever longer…..
Laura, that’s the first time we’ve visited a “catch and release” aquarium. We loved it! I feel exactly the same as you do about zoos. I know they do really good work for conservation and education, but I don’t like seeing the animals confined. I doubt that it’s possible to practice catch and release with zoo critters — birds, maybe?
Put Vancouver Island on your list, for sure!
So fun to hear your tales and remember a trip we took in 2016, celebrating a friend’s 50th. We kayaked for a week in the Broken Group and finished with a day and a couple nights in Tofino. For so many reasons it was incredibly special. We camped on Long Beach. I really fell for Vancouver Island generally and look forward to getting back there. Happy holidays!
Joanne, we would LOVE to return to kayak the Broken Group. It’s definitely on our short list. You must have had a spectacular time! A week kayaking in those beautiful waters sounds idyllic. Happy holidays to you, too. And thanks for commenting, I love hearing from you. :-))
Ooh this is a wonderful post!!! You guys consistently introduce us to spots in the U.S. and Canada that are interesting and alluring and ones we know nothing about! And your combination of activities is right up our alley.
However… in this post, with all the glorious sights and sunsets, you had us at the salmon chowder! Have never heard of salmon chowder before, but we are ready to go to Tofino to try it! Had a good laugh at the visuals of the wetsuit as shark food opportunity you turned down. Just the other day while sitting at the beach I actually considered trying to learn to surf too.. and even though I would not have sharks nor a wetsuit to contend with, I kept thinking about how the board was sure to hit me in the head a few times and so stayed lazily lounging instead.
Loving your journeys, photos and descriptions!
Peta & Ben
Peta & Ben, you both live such adventurous lives, I’m happy we can introduce you to something you haven’t yet experienced (including food!). The smoked salmon in that chowder put it over the top. And those smoked oysters—I know you prefer oysters unadorned, but those were outrageous.
Lounging on a tropical beach sounds idyllic. Could be fun to try surfing in those warm waters, though, and I’ll bet you would be good at it! :-)
Oh Laurel, these two places look stunning! I’m so glad you’re exploring somewhere new because I feel like I am too! I love following all your posts these past few years, but not only is it fun to see somewhere new, it’s also practically in my old backyard. And yet I never traveled around Vancouver Island when I lived on the Olympic Pennisula because I’d only ever walk on the ferry to Victoria (from Port Angeles). So this is just amazing to see. What beauty! And even though all your other friends seem to love the chowder the best, I love that first photo of the town the best. THAT is so stunning. Thanks too for including a map. Always love a map!
Janet, I’m so happy we’re showing you someplace new in a place you know so well! Although we’ve talked about exploring Vancouver Island for at least 15 years, this was the first time we’ve ventured beyond Victoria/Sidney. And now we can’t wait to return. :-) I’m glad you’re continuing to accompany us in our journeys.
Oh, it’s great to read your travels….you are shortchanging your position, you are not armchair helping, YOU are THE navigator. It’s so necessary when you are on the road…enjoy and thanks for sharing your special places….
Julie, haha, I’m not sure I’m a very good navigator, but I’m vigilant at looking out for potential disasters on the road! That stretch to Tofino warranted careful driving. But wow, was it ever worth the trip!
I cannot wait to explore Vancouver Island. Tofino looks absolutely divine. I so miss kayaking adventures. Thanks for taking me there with you. I too would have eaten my way through Tofino. That salmon chowder had me salivating and those smoked oysters from the food truck at Ucluelet look so yummy. Looking forward to catching up in a few days.
LuAnn, I think you and Terry will love Vancouver Island. I know you have more exotic adventures currently planned, but keep this on your list! We really want to return for a multiple-day kayaking trip. Want to join us? Looking forward to seeing you very soon!
Thanks for taking us to a place we won’t be visiting as long as we have our MH. I loved how you were “helping” Eric drive!! I’m sure he appreciated the help…haha! What a beautiful little area! The salmon chowder and smoked oysters, fig and blue cheese sound heavenly! I love the workmanship in that beautiful boardwalk design. I’m sure the kayak trip was great fun! Very cool trail! I can see why you wanted to stay longer.
Pam, it truly is a beautiful and unique place. We saw plenty of motorhomes on Vancouver Island and a few (but not many) in Tofino. I think you two would really enjoy the island should you ever decide to visit, but I agree that a smaller rig is easier to navigate there. I’m working on the salmon chowder recipe; I wish I could duplicate the smoked oysters, too! I’d go back to Ucluelet just for those. :-))
You had me at Hello with the Salmon Chowder and the IPA Beer. The sites along the way would also be great…ha! ha!
Beautiful photos … and I have new friends!
Thanks, Nancy. Haha, yes, there were a few sights along the way between the salmon chowder and the beer that were worth seeing. :-))
Wow, you guys sure know how to find the good stuff! I think I do a pretty good job of planning out our adventures but maybe I need to take a few lessons from YOU. Every bit of this post has me sooooooo looking forward to being back up that way next summer.
Henry, you do a fabulous job of planning great adventures! There’s just so darned much to do. It’s a good thing there are a lot of us out here exploring and sharing ideas. :-)