Vancouver Island’s wild West Coast is known for its expansive beaches, towering old-growth trees and surf just begging for a board.
And while the region, including Tofino, Ucluelet and Pacific Rim National Park, teems with visitors looking to collect these experiences under sunny skies, winter creates its own dramatic backdrop.
Indeed, the region is the destination for winter storm watching – there can be few better places than this peninsula perched on BC’s far coast to take in the fury of wind and rain.
|Wide-open beaches on Vancouver Island’s wild West Coast beg to be explored no matter what the season. Jennifer Blyth photo|
During a late-December trip to Tofino, Ucluelet and Pacific Rim National Park, we enjoyed every manner of weather: Cool temperatures and a snow-kissed landscape along the long and winding road west from Port Alberni, bold, colourful sunsets reminiscent of a Roy Henry Vickers painting, and pelting rain blown sideways by fierce winds.
With this in mind, the key is to plan head, be prepared, and be safe.
The quieter winter months and shoulder seasons offer more options for accommodations than you’ll likely find in high season. Choose from traditional motels to home rentals to luxury beachfront accommodations.
|Roy Henry Vickers Gallery, Tofino. Jennifer Blyth photo|
Get out and explore!
Those waves we talked about off the top are definitely the stars of a west coast winter visit. It’s essential to dress for the weather, be mindful of weather warnings, and be on the lookout for big waves – even when you’re on land! Rogue waves can arrive quickly and unexpectedly.
|The rugged shoreline is a highlight of Ucluelet’s famed Wild Pacific Trail. Jennifer Blyth photo.|
Dressed in protective rainwear, we had the vast Chesterman Beach virtually to ourselves, but the next day, with the winter sun quickly drying the rocks and trails, we explored the Lighthouse Loop, part of Ucluelet’s famed Wild Pacific Trail.
|Love locks along Lighthouse Loop, on Ucluelet’s Wild Pacific Trail. Jennifer Blyth photo.|
Allow about an hour for this easy trail that travels past rugged, wind-swept coastline, sharing dramatic views of Barkley Sound and the Amphitrite Lighthouse.
A second part of the trail travels along the rugged waterfront, from Big Beach, past Brown’s Beach and on to the Ancient Cedars and Rocky Bluffs – about 90 minutes one-way.
Shopping & Dining
You won’t find a Starbucks or McDonalds in the Tofino-Ucluelet area; what you will find is an awesome assortment of local, independent dining and drink options. From the quirky to the world-class, and just about everything in between, DO plan to indulge your inner-foodie on your trip.
A few kilometres outside Tofino, Outside Break is a quaint collection of shops and eateries. Pick up a coffee and pastry from local favourite Tofitian (and maybe a keepsake showcasing their fierce, locally designed logo!) browse the surf and dive shops, and check out the work of local artists. Indulge in fresh, flavourful fare from Tacofina Cantina – the food truck that launched sister restaurants and trucks in Victoria and Vancouver – enjoy fresh-caught fish and chips under the trees at Wildside Grill, and finish with hand-crafted chocolates or gelato at the aptly named Chocolate Tofino.
|Shelter Restaurant, Tofino. Jennifer Blyth photo.|
In Tofino itself, the walkable town centre has virtually everything you need for your getaway, regardless of the time of year. Top-rated coastal-inspired restaurants range from the eclectic Wolf in the Fog and Shelter, to international options including Japanese-style comfort food at Kuma, south-east Asian flavours at Sea Monster Noodle Bar, to various vegetarian and vegan choices.
Raise a pint or savour a sampler at Tofino Brewing Company, founded with the goal of creating handcrafted, small-batch beers, and sharing both staples and seasonal selections at the inviting tasting room.
For those who prefer to view Mother Nature’s wild winter spectacle from warmth and safety, enjoy a meal or beverage at one of the region’s waterfront resorts, such as the famed Wickanninish Inn, where the Pointe Restaurant and lounge sports a sweeping 240-degree view – you won’t miss a single wave!
|Wildside Grill, just outside Tofino. Jennifer Blyth photo.|