Top things to see while exploring the Pacific Rim
Vancouver Island is a huge tourist destination, with the West Coast being the number one draw. When combined, Tofino and Ucluelet attract over 1 million travelers each year. While the summer months are the most popular, any time of year is spectacular for exploring the Pacific Rim.
- Summer offers bustling local markets and great fishing opportunities.
- Fall is the perfect time for spotting wildlife, as bears crowd the rivers and streams to feed off the returning spawning salmon.
- Winter is the best time to enjoy spectacular storm watching from the coziness of your fire-lit hotel room.
- Spring kicks off with the Pacific Rim Whale festival in celebration of the returning whales.
Which destination should you choose?
Both Tofino and Ucluelet offer a variety of tourist attractions and each have their own vibe. Luckily they are only about 30 minutes from one another by vehicle, and separated by the Pacific Rim National Park (which is where the majority of the best beaches are located). So no matter which community you choose to lay your hat each night, the other is only a short distance away!
Things to Do
Whether you want to hang loose in the surf, stroll along pristine beaches, or hike scenic trails, the West Coast is an outdoor enthusiast playground. So lets take a look at the best of the best in the Pacific Rim.
- Long Beach – (located closer to the Tofino side) is definitely the most popular, and is the top spot for both surfing and boogie boarding. It does, however, tend to be the chilliest place in the national park. So if you are wishing to sunbathe this might not be your best choice.
- Chesterman Beach – is a 2.7 kilometre (1.7 mile) stretch of white sand paradise, and located in Tofino. There are actually two sections, North and South, but it is really just one long beautiful beach. Both are sandy and enjoyed by visitors and locals alike. The North end boasts a lighthouse with rocky islands and lots of sand to play in and walk/run on. The two sections are connected by Frank Island, which is a great place to walk on the sand spit at low tide. Surfing is popular on both North and South Chesterman Beach.
- Mackenzie Beach – (my personal favorite) has a beautiful calm shoreline due to the well-situated tidal rocks that shelter the beach. This allows only the gentlest of waves to ripple in. It’s the perfect beach for young children to explore, build sand castles, and swim in the waters. Mackenzie Beach is also located in Tofino.
- Wickaninnish Beach – located closer to the Ucluelet side, is home to the Pacific Rim National Park’s Kwisitis Visitor Centre. Wicki beach is a great place for beach combing, picnicking, as well as surfing. It is also a little more sheltered than Long beach, so a much better place for catching some warm summer rays.
- South Beach – features interesting grey rock formations and is ideal for watching the waves surge and spray up on the rocks. South Beach is a picturesque pebbled and crushed shelled beach. To get to South Beach find a trail behind the Kwisitis Visitor Centre. Turn left at the fork in the trail to follow the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Trail to the Florencia Bay parking lot, and then turn right to continue to South Beach.
- Little Beach is located in the heart of Ucluelet. It is a BC Heritage Site where archaeologists have found remains of old First Nations artifacts. This small beach is sheltered, has great views of the shoreline, and is located along the Wild Pacific Trail. It’s also a prime spot to launch a kayak, as it’s well protected yet very close to the open Pacific!
- The Tonquin Trail is an easy walking 3 km trail that passes through rainforests and provides access to Tonquin Beach, which is one of the best locations for watching sunsets. The beginning of the trail can either be accessed at the end of Tonquin Park Road or from the Tofino Community Hall. There are some wooden stairs along the trail down to the beach, but the forest trails are gravel and offer a fairly easy walk.
- The Schooner Cove Trail is a popular 2 km relatively easy hike in Vancouver Island’s Pacific Rim National Park. This scenic trail leads you through lush rainforests, over gentle meandering streams, and ends at a spectacular beachfront area.
- The Rainforest Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails among locals and visitors in the Tofino-Ucluelet area. Located in the Pacific Rim National Park this scenic trail has two routes, one on each side of the highway. The parking lot is located on the west (ocean) side of the highway. This 2 km trail has many wooden boardwalks, steps, and a steep set of stairs.
- The Lighthouse Loop Trail starts at an active lighthouse with spectacular views of massive rock formations along the Pacific Ocean coastline, and is part of the Wild Pacific Trail. While this 2.6km trail is particularly popular with storm watchers due to its proximity to the ocean, if you aren’t in the mood to traverse the entire trail my best tip is to instead climb the rocks near the lighthouse. Here you will find spectacular tidal pools teeming with sea-life. These rugged coastal rocks are definitely one of my favorite places to hang out.
- The Wild Pacific Trail is an 8.8 km trail offering stunning coastal views along a gravel path that skirts the Pacific Ocean coastline. The best part about this famous trail is you don’t have to complete the entire thing in order to reap the benefits (or sights). It is divided into three sections: the Lighthouse Loop (as mentioned above), Big Beach Section, and Brown’s Beach Section. For more details on how to find the best parking areas for each section head over to Ucluelet’s website .
Best Tourist Attractions
If you’d like to see something other than beaches and trails, both Tofino and Ucluelet offer plenty of great tourist attractions.
- The Ucluelet Aquarium offers a unique look at the amazing marine life that inhabits the waters of Barkley and Clayoquot Sound.
- Bear and Whale Watching Tours can be found in both communities, and are a great way to spend an afternoon. Click on the above link for a list of companies that offer these tours.
- Whether you travel by boat or seaplane Hot Springs Cove is a fantastic place to venture to while on the West Coast.
- Kayaking in either Clayoquot or Barkley Sound is always recommended. There are several companies in either Tofino and Ucluelet that offer kayaks for rent.
- Rent a surfboard or boogie board and hit the waves! Either community offers plenty of surf shops to rent all the necessary gear to get you in the water (and stay warm while you are at it). Many of them also offer lessons, which if you’ve never attempted before, is probably a good idea.
- Spend a day relaxing in a spa. Sacred Stone Spa, located in the heart of Tofino, Ancient Cedars Spa, located in the Wickanninish Inn, and Drift Spa at the Black Rock Oceanfront Resort in Ucluelet all get top recommendations.
As you can tell, both Tofino and Ucluelet offer something special. So whichever destination you choose to call home base for your vacation to the West Coast of Vancouver Island, it is definitely worth taking the short drive to the other community.
No matter what you choose to do while visiting the Pacific Rim you will have an amazing experience, and you will most definitely want to go back again!
What is your favorite activity to do or sight to see while exploring the Pacific Rim? Let me know in the comments below.
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