Tofino is a pretty fishing village at the tip of Esowista Peninsula near the entrance to Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Tofino is a rapidly growing tourist centre for Long Beach and other Pacific Rim destinations. Once a timber and fishing town, Tofino has become a favoured destination for travellers from around the world.
Tofino was named in 1792 after the Spanish Hydrographer Vicente Tofino de San Miguel (1732 – 1795) who was Rear Admiral of the Spanish Naval Academy in Cadiz. Amongst Tofino’s pupils while a mathematics teacher was the explorer Bodega y Quadra.
The first trading post and hotel was established on Stubbs Island around 1875, where the building remained until 1905 before being moved to present day Tofino. Tofino was incorporated in 1932 and connected to the rest of Vancouver Island in 1959, when a gravel road was built to Port Alberni.
Local environmentalists and artists have banded together to suspend destruction of one of the last virgin timberlands on the west coast of Vancouver Island and halt the rapid development for which the area is ripe. Tofino boasts miles of sandy beaches to the south, islands of old-growth cedar, migrating grey whales, hot springs, sea lions, and a temperate climate.
Tofino’s docks bustle with local fishermen and act as launching points for numerous sea kayaking, whale watching, wildlife, hot springs and cultural tours. Local boats also supply the 1,500 residents of five Nuu-chah-nulth communities and others who make their homes on the nearby islands and secluded shores of Clayoquot Sound.
The economy of the relaxed, vacation destination of Tofino is largely dependent upon tourism and aquaculture.
Location: Literally at the end of the road, Tofino is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, accessed via Highway 4 from Parksville, 26 miles (42 kms) north of Ucluelet and 81 miles (130 kms) west of Port Alberni. Driving time from Victoria is approximately 4 to 5 hours. To reach Tofino by car from the British Columbia mainland, you’ll first need to take the ferry to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, from either Horseshoe Bay, north of Vancouver, or Tsawwassen, south of Vancouver.
View map of the area
The Whale Centre Maritime Museum offers a display of artifacts collected and donated by Tofino locals over the past twenty five years. On exhibit is an assortment of traditional native jewelry, cedar baskets, paddles, sea life, local artifacts – from traditional whaling equipment to original navigation charts of the area – and a complete 40’ gray whale skeleton. The Whale Centre Maritime Museum at 411 Campbell Street is free to the public.
Crab Dock: One of Tofino’s government wharves is known locally as the crab dock and is used by crab fishermen to store traps and tie up their boats – a good place to buy some live and fresh seafood.
First Nations Artwork: There are two excellent Native art galleries in Tofino: the hand-hewn longhouse, Eagle Aerie Gallery, which displays Tsimshian artist Roy Vickers’ works, and the House of Himwitsa. Tofino is home to many artists and features traditional First Nations artwork including totem poles, sculptures, masks, paintings, basketry, and jewellery. Spend some time browsing through Tofino, soaking up the local atmosphere and finding that perfect ‘something’ to remind you of your stay in Tofino.
Hot Springs Cove is a splendid hot spring still enjoyable in its natural state. The boiling spring water cascades down a small cliff into a series of layered rock pools, cooled by the incoming ocean surf. Open year-round and accessible only by sea or air, guided tours from Tofino explore Hot Springs Cove, a popular destination with kayakers after paddling passed Flores and Vargas Islands. The spring is located in Maquinna Marine Provincial Park in the remote northern end of Clayoquot Sound.
Tofino Botanical Gardens constitutes twelve acres of gardens, forest, and shoreline that explore the relationship between culture and nature. A network of paths and boardwalks will take you from the Visitor Centre passed kitchen gardens, the Frog Pond, the Children’s Garden, and into the forest, where clearings have been transformed in a series of pocket gardens. Some of these gardens display plants that once thrived in other coastal temperate rainforests around the world. Others celebrate the various cultural groups that have made Clayoquot Sound their home now and in the past, particularly the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, early pioneer homesteaders, Japanese fishing families, and, of course, Hippies. Darwin’s Café is open seasonally, offering breakfasts, lunches and espresso drink. Microscopes and books full of dangerous ideas are available to all. The Tofino Botanical Garden is located at 1084 Pacific Rim Highway in Tofino and is open daily from 9am till dusk.
Eik Cedar Tree: Visit and hug the mascot of Tofino and arguably the most famous tree in Canada. The 800-year-old Western Red Cedar was condemned after the detection of a column of decay inside the trunk. A felling permit was issued and the chainsaw gang arrived. However, the citizens of Tofino came together to save the last example of the ancient old-growth trees that once covered the peninsula where Tofino now stands. In the middle of the standoff, two Tofino residents climbed eighty feet into the tree to spend the next 28 days in the tree’s canopy. Engineers and Arborists conspired to find a way to preserve the Eik Cedar Tree. In summer 2002 the tree was finally fitted with a specially designed metal girdle with ground anchors and steel rods embedded in the bed rock.
The Kwisitis Visitor Centre, formerly the Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre, is a definite highlight for visitors of all ages. You’ll find telescopes mounted on an observation deck at the centre, plus numerous displays inside that introduce visitors to the geographical and natural history of the Pacific Northwest. The centre’s purpose is to provide an understanding of the north Pacific Ocean and its influence on man and nature. The history of the North Pacific coast is illustrated by a collection of artifacts used by Nuu-chah-nulth Indians, the traditional inhabitants of the area. The Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre is open during the day, from late spring to fall.
Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum exhibits the rich history and heritage of Tofino, including old photographs, whaling harpoons, a relic canoe, and model boats offered on loan by Tofino local Roland Arnet, who is a descendant of one of the first groups of settlers in the region. The museum will be open during the summer months, and is located at 331 Main Street, on the lower level of the Tofino Legion building.
Clayoquot Sound covers over 3,000 square kilometres immediately north of Tofino. The sound can best be described as a tranquil wilderness, and its rugged slopes are home to the largest expanse of low-level, old-growth rainforest left in North America.
Tours: Tofino’s docks also serve as starting points for First Nations cultural tours, hot springs tours, whale watching and wildlife tours, bike tours, and kayaking tours. Diving and fishing charters are popular, and surfboard and bicycle rentals are available.
Bear Viewing: Tofino provides an exciting opportunity to observe black bears in their natural habitat along the shoreline of the neighbouring sheltered channels, inlets and sounds. The bears emerge from the rainforest at low tide to feed on a smorgasbord of shellfish, crustaceans and seaweed. Dry suits provided by the tour company keep you warm aboard the comfortable Zodiac vessels as the knowledgeable and experienced guide locates the bears and provides information on the area and the local wildlife. You may also see other marine mammals and birds, and perhaps even a lone wolf on the shoreline if you’re lucky. Bear watching tours run from April to October. Be sure to bring your camera … and your biggest smile. Bear Watching Tour Operators in Tofino.
Whale Watching: Grey whales, Humpback and Killer whales migrate the coastal waters, and porpoises, seals, sea lions, and elephant seals are viewed along the coastline. Every spring, Tofino co-hosts the Pacific Rim Whale Festival, to celebrate the incredible west coast migration of close to 20,000 gray whales! For an even more exhilarating, close-up view of these magnificent animals, one can venture onto the open Pacific aboard local charter boats offering scheduled whale watching excursions from either Tofino or Ucluelet.
Pacific Rim National Park: Whale Watching
One of the joys of visiting Pacific Rim National Park is participating in a grey whale observation tour led by a park naturalist. Start at the Kwisitis Visitor Centre, located beside a lengthy stretch of windswept and surf-pounded beach on Combers Beach in Wickaninnish Bay. The entrance is well marked adjacent to Hwy 4 at the end of Long Beach Road. You’ll find telescopes mounted on an observation deck at the centre, plus numerous displays inside that introduce visitors to the geographical and natural history of the Pacific Northwest. Numerous privately led whale-watching expeditions set out from Tofino daily, or you can whale watch from the shoreline.
Storm Watching near Tofino in winter allows visitors to experience the raw power of the mighty Pacific Ocean, as ferocious waves roll in from Japan and pound the shores of the rugged west coast – nature in all it’s fierce majesty! The weather in the Pacific Rim area has a profound effect on any planned activities, as precipitation along the west coast of Vancouver Island is amongst the heaviest in the world, especially in winter. Annual rainfall is approximately 3 metres or nearly 120 inches. Match the season with your desired activity, and come prepared for rain, awe-inspiring winter storms and glorious sunshine!
Surfing: There are only two locations on Vancouver Island where you’ll find a surfing community. Jordan River is one, and Tofino (Long Beach) the other. A small but dedicated group of aficionados lives here year-round, while another coterie safaris over as often as possible, particularly in winter months when storm season produces the best peeling surf. As the ocean temperature here hovers at a constant, chilly 42-44 deg F (6-7 deg C) year-round, it hardly matters what month it is: it’s the waves that count. Tofino does boast the highest annual mean temperature in Canada, which may help remove some of the sting if you think about it hard enough while you’re paddling out to catch one more wave. Long Beach boasts the only Surf Camp of its kind in Canada, providing popular adult camps, youth camps, and daily surfing lessons. You can also learn to surf at Canada’s only all-women surf school, offering weekend and weekday Clinics, Mother & Daughter Camps, and Teen Camps. Cox Bay, midway between Tofino and Pacific Rim National Park is Canada’s Malibu. Vancouver Island ranks as a rugged wilderness adventure best experienced amongst huge winter swells, beginners stick to the gentler surf and reassuring crows of summer.
Windsurfing: Thanks to its wide expanse and western exposure, Long Beach is the beach of choice for freewheeling, Maui-style windsurfing when the ocean gets riled.
Golf: The Long Beach Golf Course is surrounded by the ancient rainforest of the Pacific Rim National Park, one of the most scenic golf courses in BC. The 9-hole championship course is also known to be one of the most challenging courses on Vancouver Island. Vancouver Island Golf Vacations.
Fishing: Open-ocean fishing occurs far offshore from Tofino and Ucluelet. The continental shelf runs west of the two ports for almost 30km to La Perouse Bank, an undersea plateau that forms the leading edge of British Columbia’s coastline. This is where the action happens, where the currents, swells, and weather combine. Fishing charters and guides are available for day trips to the area’s many fishing spots.
Tofino offers year-round saltwater fishing opportunities, with world-class salmon fishing and flyfishing in Clayoquot Sound, with April through September being the best time. Freshwater anglers can driftfish or flyfish for magnificent sea-run rainbow trout or fall Salmon on the remote, pristine rivers that drain into Clayoquot Sound. Shallow protected waters and the abundance of bait fish, makes Clayoquot Sound an ideal place to catch salmon and sea-run cutthroat on the cast fly. For those who have not caught salmon on a fly, once is all it takes to get you hooked.
Offroad Touring: Exciting raincoast backroad adventures are offered out of Tofino and Ucluelet in the comfort and safety of 4 x 4 vehicles. View the newly formed Clayoquot UN Biosphere, pristine mountain lakes, streams and waterfalls, with magnificent vistas of Barkley Sound and Clayoquot Sound. Walk nature trails through ancient forests with huge old growth cedar trees, see bears, birds and waterfowl. Full or half day trips.
Offroading on Vancouver Island.
Beaches: You can spend days walking the beaches between Ucluelet and Tofino, and in the process discover why some folks spend their whole lives caught up in the surf and tidal rhythms here. Located between the village of Tofino and Ucluelet, the Long Beach unit, which offers outstanding beach hiking, is the most accessible and most developed component of the Pacific Rim National Park.
Radar Beach, Long Beach, Combers Beach, and Wickaninnish Beach run successively from north to south and stretch for 15.5 miles between Cox and Quisitas Points. Radar Beach is rugged and puts up a fight when pummelled by the surf. If you only have a short amount of time, head directly to Long Beach. Depending on the season and the height of the swells in Wickaninnish Bay, not to mention the thickness of the mist, you may see surfers, sea kayakers, cyclists, kite flyers, hackey-sackers, disc tossers, swimmers, joggers, and walkers at play on the hard-packed sand. Something about the enormity of Long Beach just makes you goofy.
Kayaking: The spectacular Clayoquot Sound is a premier sea kayaking destination, offering miles of sheltered inlet waterways, exciting coastal stretches, and pounding surf beaches. Boating and paddling these waters is one of the most rewarding ways to experience this environment. Depending on your skill level, you can either plan a trip on your own or join up with one of the tour operators that use Tofino as their base. Kayaking day trips close to Tofino include paddles to Meares, Stubbs, Wickaninnish, and Vargas Islands, all within sight of the federal dock in Tofino.
You can land on the east coast of Vargas Island, a 3-mile (5-km) paddle north from Tofino, and make the one-hour journey across island on foot to Ahous Beach. If you paddle to Ahous rather than hike, be prepared for a stretch of open ocean as you round the exposed southwest corner of Vargas. If it’s blowing too hard, check out isolated Medallion Bay on the south end of the island, a delightful place to land. Nothing on Vargas, however, tops the lengthy expanse of Ahous Beach, which rivals Long Beach in size. So vast is its hard-caked, sandy surface that light planes occasionally land here.
As intimidating as the ocean can be at Long Beach, there are wonderfully long, calm days in summer when boaters and paddlers can safely enjoy an excursion offshore. A boat launch is located beside the parking lot at the north end of Long Beach, beside Highway 4.
Grice Bay is a sheltered niche of ocean waterway tucked in beside Meares Island in the backwaters of Clayoquot Sound. At low tide, the bay drains so low that it takes on the appearance of a green marshland. Eelgrass covers much of the mudflats in Browning Pass, which links Grice Bay with Tofino to the north. A boat launch is located at the end of Grice Bay Road, which leads east from Hwy 4, almost 9 miles (14 km) south of Tofino.
Hiking: The extensive network of trails in the Pacific Rim National Park is provided for hikers only – no bikes or horses are permitted – and motorized vehicles are not allowed on the park’s beaches or trails. The hiking trails are designed to expose visitors to the miles of quiet sandy shoreline and to the truly wonderful forests of the region. Many of the trails in the park provide short, easygoing walks. The Wickaninnish Trail (easy; 6 miles/10 km return) involves a much longer excursion between the beaches on Wickaninnish and Florencia Bays. It begins beside the Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre and follows the same route as the South Beach Trail, before striking off on its own towards Florencia Bay. This is one of the best rain-forest trails in the park.
Numerous short trails lead through the salal and Sitka spruce forest and along the beaches of the park. Some of the trails follow pathways that have been tunnelled through the overhanging salal; others follow wooden boardwalks. Many of the trails lead through interpretive zones where plaques describe the biodiversity in the surrounding rain forest. From mid-March to September, park naturalists are on hand at the Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre to answer questions and lead tours. In the off-season, take one of the self-guided trails such as the Shoreline Bog Trail (0.5-mile/0.8-km loop), the Rain Forest Trail (two 0.6-mile/1-km loops), and the Spruce Fringe Trail (1-mile/1.5-km loop). The Gold Mine Trail (2 miles/3 km return) leads visitors to Wreck Beach on Florencia Bay from Hwy 4. It passes through an old gold mining site.
The South Beach Trail (1 mile/1.5 km return) leads from the Wickaninnish Centre to Lismer and South Beach, across a rocky headland with great ocean vistas. As the motion of the surf rolls the pebbles on the beach back and forth, it produces a percussive, musical sound. Towards the north end of Long Beach, the Schooner Cove Trail (1 mile/2 km return) leads through the rain forest and down a staircase to a secluded beach from Hwy 4. Hike into history; the 3-km Meares Island Big Cedar Trail’ leads to the Hanging Garden Cedar, a living tree with a trunk circumference of 20 meters and estimated to be over 2,000 years old!
Walk the Wild Side Trail is an 11-km trail historically used by the Ahousaht people for thousands of years. Visitors now have the opportunity to escape into the remote wilderness of Clayoquot Sound and hike along forest boardwalk and 9 gorgeous beaches. Be prepared for a strenuous hike, because the trail ends by ascending Mount Flores, offering a spectacular view of Clayoquot Sound. Bring a backpack with provisions and be prepared for some mud and spontaneous weather changes. Run the Wild Side Trail is an annual event held in June, offering a 22-km run or 10-km walk/run of the trail. For more information visit the Wild Side Trail office, located in Ahousaht Housing office building in Ahousat on Flores Island, 30 minutes by water taxi from Tofino.
Camping: With almost one million visitors a year to Pacific Rim National Park, it’s important to have somewhere for them to camp, especially after they’ve driven all that way. With this in mind, Parks Canada maintains campgrounds in the park for both those who wish a formal site and those who wish to make contact with the wilderness. At the Green Point Campground on Long Beach, about 10 km north of the Tofino / Ucluelet junction on Hwy 4, you’ll find 94 vehicle/tent sites and 54 walk-in sites on the beach, sheltered by thick stands of salal.
Diving: A vast tableau of the marine life that thrives in the nutrient-rich waters of the west coast of Vancouver Island is arrayed underwater in Dawley Passage Provincial Park, a popular local dive site located due east of Tofino. Strong currents surge through a narrow passage, which makes for clear water but sketchy conditions. Divers must be sure to explore the 1899 wreck of the schooner Hera, right off Tofino Harbour, British Columbia’s first designated underwater heritage site.
The magnificent Pacific Rim National Park is the only national park on Vancouver Island, providing protection for substantial rain forests and an amazing marine environment on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The full force of the mighty Pacific Ocean mercilessly pounds the constantly changing shores of this rugged coastline. This unique park encompasses a total area of 49,962 hectare of land and ocean in three separate geographic units – Long Beach, the Broken Group Islands and the world-famous West Coast Trail. Nature’s reward to hardy hikers include immense old-growth rainforests and significant Nuu-chah-nulth archaeological sites, long sandy beaches, prolific and abundant marine life, isolated beaches swept by powerful surf, cliffs, sea stacks, and surge channels.
Long Beach: Located between the villages of Tofino and Ucluelet, the Long Beach unit is the most accessible and most developed component of the Pacific Rim National Park and is open year-round. Named for its 12-mile stretch of surf-swept sand, Long Beach offers outstanding beach hiking.
The Broken Group Islands: A pristine archipelago made up of more than 100 rocky islands and islets in Barkley Sound, the Broken Group Islands can only be reached by boat. Eagles, sea lions and marine life abound, and tide pools and dozens of sandy pocket beaches beckon to photographers and nature enthusiasts.
Vargas Island Provincial Park protects the rugged western portion of Vargas Island, Blunden Island and the tiny La Croix Group of islands immediately northwest of Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Flores Island Provincial Park includes the western and southern parts of Flores Island, in Clayoquot Sound northwest of Tofino. This vast, untamed wilderness area protects three undisturbed watersheds and hosts a network of trails through ancient Sitka Spruce forests.
Maquinna Marine Provincial Park is located on the east coast of remote Hesquiat Harbour, northwest of Tofino in the remote northern end of Clayoquot Sound. Outdoor enthusiasts will revel in the wide range of exciting activities available in the park, including sea kayaking, hiking and swimming. One of the main attractions of the park is the hot mineral water of Hot Springs Cove.
Annual Events: Most of Tofino’s annual events focus on family fun, including Aboriginal Days, the West Coast Maritime Festival, and the Tofino Lantern Festival. The Shorebird Festival is held in May to celebrate the arrival of tens of thousands of shorebirds to resting places on the beaches and mudflats of the estuaries in Barkley Sound and Clayoquot Sound. Tofino and Ucluelet are directly in the path of the Pacific Flyway, making the area an ideal location for nature watchers when large flocks of birds fill the sky.
The Edge to Edge Marathon is hosted by Ucluelet and Tofino in June. Runners will run a slightly undulating course through the Pacific Rim National Park between Tofino and Ucluelet – a perfect marathon distance on a beautifully natural course.
Just a half-hour drive south of Tofino is the fishing community of Ucluelet, which means safe harbour in the Nuu-chah-nulth language. Visit the scenic Amphitrite Point and Lighthouse, explore the trails around He-tin-kis Park, and visit the Thornton Creek hatchery.
Quait Bay is a remote bay nestled in a hidden cove deep in the wilderness north of Tofino on Vancouver Island. Located off Herbert Inlet in Clayoquot Sound, Quait Bay offers a unique experience for the discerning outdoor enthusiast.