Experiencing the Scenic Pacific Rim Highway

One of the most spectacular ways to experience the beauty and diversity of Vancouver Island is on a Tofino Road along the Pacific Rim Highway. I often have my best experiences outdoors when I hop in my car for a Road Trip with only a destination in mind but plenty of time to stop and explore along the way.

Starting on the Eastern shores of Vancouver Island in Qualicum Beach, highway 4 begins it’s westward journey. Spanning 165km the Pacific Rim Highway ( dubbed Canada’s Surf Highway ) travels amongst mountains, giant ancient forests, pristine lakes, might rivers and spectacular beaches. Along the way the harbour communities of Port Alberni and Ucluelet greet the awe stricken traveler until you reach the final western terminus of the highway in Tofino.

Tofino Road Trip Must Do Stops

With only 165 kilometres to travel you might think a few hours would be enough to make this trip. Although after reading this list of must do stops along the way you will quickly consider allocating an entire day to make the journey. Viewpoints and fun easy hikes will have the time slip away and put you at ease amongst the remote rugged beauty Vancouver Island has become famous for.

Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park

Spectacular waterfalls amidst a lush forest rushing through deep canyons and raging rapids. A family friendly well maintained provincial park hiking loop. The trail allows great views of both the upper and lower falls from both sides of the Little Qualicum River. Entrance to the park is 9.3km west of the highway 4 and Island highway intersection.

Little Qualicum Falls, Vancouver Island, Tofino Road Trip

Enjoying the views from the Lower Bridge

Little Qualicum Falls, Vancouver Island,Tofino Road Trip

The Upper Falls Viewpoint Lookout

Cathedral Grove – MacMillan Provincial Park

A short way further down the highway enters the home of the ancient giants of Vancouver Island. Cathedral Grove is a much loved spot that is home to some of the largest Douglas Fir and Red Cedar trees in Canada. These ancient trees aging up to 800 years old provide a unique look into forests past. Rich and vibrant colors of all shades of green carpet the forest from the ferns and mosses to trees towering above line the family friendly hiking trail. The pullout is on either side of the highway 20km east from the Island Highway interchange. Be cautious for traffic and pedestrians during peak tourist summer months.

Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island, Tofino Road Trip

A rich and healthy lush forest

Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island, Tofino Road Trip

Experience the Ancient Giant Trees from the trail

Hole In The Wall

Just as you enter the harbour town of Port Alberni is the hidden unique stop of Hole In The Wall. To find this spot you will need to park at a small dirt pullout on the north side of the highway just prior to Coombs County Candy store. From there you will cross over to the south side of the highway and just to the right of the concrete barrier follow the gravel trail down. Small wood signs have been mounted to help you navigate the 15 minute walk to the Hole in the Wall. As the history goes the town needed to blast a hole through the rock wall to run their water supply pipe. Times changed and the pipeline was no longer needed and all that remains is a unique hole that water cascades like a waterfall through for a unique photo stop.

Hole In The Wall, Tofino Road Trip

Wally Creek – Kennedy River Love Locks

Once you have re-fueled mind, body and vehicle in Port Alberni (explore Harbour Quay, Sproat Lake & Stamp River Falls next trip) the highway continues onward to the mountainous rugged portion of the trip. After roughly 56 kilometers right after a large curve in the highway a roadside pullout along a rocky option section of the Kennedy river will appear. Here you will find the Love Lock fence where couples and family members leave reminders of their stop. Access is possible to explore out onto the rocks along the river and see the power of the river cutting it’s way through. Be extremely careful as the rocks can be slippery and a fall could be perilous.

Giant Cedar Trail

A short 6km further down the highway a small sign and pullout signals the trailhead for the Giant Cedar trail. Still left in a very natural state the dirt trail allows a more intimate experience in the forest than Cathedral Grove. This particular forest trail lets you see the uniqueness that the Giant Cedar trees offer compared to the Douglas Fir that dominates the forest of Cathedral Grove. Make sure to explore along the river bank and take in views of the Kennedy River.

Vancouver Island, Giant Cedar Trail, Tofino Road trip

The Giant Cedar that makes this Hike so Special

Vancouver Island, Giant Cedar Trail, Tofino Road trip

Serene Views of Kennedy River

Walk In The Forest Interpretive Trail

An important stop along this road trip route would be at the Walk In The Forest trail. Maintained by the Central Westcoast Forest Society the trail was developed to educate the public on the importance of rehabilitating the forests. Making a visit here is worth the small amount of time to explore the wooden boardwalks and see the importance of ensuring the health to restore degraded old growth forest.  Only 1.5km before the Pacific Rim Visitor Centre junction you will find the pullout on the north side of the road.

Walk In The Forest Trail, Vancouver Island, Tofino Road Trip

Dense forest constantly growing along the trail

Ancient Cedars Loop – Wild Pacific Trail

A quick drive south for 6km brings you down to the Ancient Cedar Loop of the Wild Pacific Trail. This short easily accessible trail takes you past Giant Cedars, Hemlock and the warped and twisted old growth Sitka Spruce. The trees on this trail are thought to be over 800 years old. Be sure to take a short detour onto the Rocky Bluff portion of the trail. Enjoy the rugged coastal shoreline of the Pacific Ocean as it meets Vancouver island. Expect to spend about an hour here or if you are making good time extend the visit to explore some more special spots in Ukee, as the locals call it.  Some suggestions would be the Ucluelet Harbour, Big Beach, Wild Pacific Trail and the Lighthouse)

Ancient Cedar Loop Trail, Vancouver Island, Tofino Road trip

The Wind ravaged Stitka Spruce of the rugged west coast

Ancient Cedar Loop Trail, Vancouver Island, Tofino Road trip

The 800 year old ancient Red Cedar towers over the trail

Schooner Cove Trail – Long Beach

After leaving Ucluelet headed back North be sure to stop back at the “Tofino Junction” intersection you turned south at. Here you will visit the Pacific Rim Visitor Centre and pick up your National park pass to experience the rest of the trip. Once you have your pass head north towards Tofino for 16km and watch for the Schooner Cove parking lot on your left. This trail is a favourite in the region consisting of 2km of boardwalk built through the rainforest leading all the way down to Long Beach. Once at the beach you will see the massive sandy sprawl of the 10km Long Beach which it’s name is well deserved. Explore the rocky beach outcrops and crashing waves in the distance.

Cox Bay

The second spectacular beach to enjoy is Cox Bay. The parking is accessed 8km past the Schooner Cove parking lot and found a short distance down Maltby Rd on your left. The unique crescent shape of Cox Bay provides a beautiful beach to sit back and watch the local surfers test their skill against the waves. (On a future trip consider hiking to Radar Hill for a unique “top of the world” view of Cox Bay and Tofino.

Cox Bay, Vancouver Island, Tofino Road Trip

The distant Lennard Island lighthouse in the setting sun

Cox Bay, Vancouver Island, Tofino Road Trip

Surfers catching the last waves before the sun sets on Cox Bay

Chesterman Beach

Quite possibly the most beautiful place to experience a sunset on Vancouver Island would be on this Tofino beach. How suiting is it then that the road trip day would end at Chesterman Beach. Only a short 2km up from Cox Bay beach parking you will turn down Chesterman Road watching for the parking lot on the right. Park and then walk the short path down the the beach where the sprawling sands greet you. Head to your right and make your way towards the outcropping of Frank Island that is accessible during low tides. From this point the most vivid and photogenic spots are found and sure to create a sense of wonder and awe of the beauty.

Chesterman Beach, Vancouver Island, Tofino Road Trip

Frank Island is accessible on the sand spit during low tide

Chesterman Beach, Vancouver Island, Tofino Road Trip

West Coast Wonderland ~ Sunset Surfing at Chesterman Beach

Chesterman Beach, Vancouver Island, Tofino Road Trip

The end to a perfect day

With so many places to see and things to do on a Tofino road trip along the Pacific Rim Highway it was hard to narrow down a few favourites. Make sure you allow yourself a few extra days in the region so you can explore each community more intimately. Discover what the Real West Coast is all about and #ExploreBeyondTheUsual

Join the discussion 16 Comments

  • Judy Carlson says:

    Are you sure that is Hidden Peak? I always understood it was so called because you couldn’t see it anywhere from the highway. For my money, that would be Mt. Maitland, and Hidden Peak is farther west, behind the shoulder of Steamboat Mtn.

    • Judy Carlson says:

      Forgot to say how much I admire your photos!

    • Chris Istace says:

      It very well could be , I summited the MacKenzie Range just to the left of this image and looked down at those two peaks. From the topo I was certain it was Hidden Peak but Maitland would be a logical choice as well. You are bang on with the shoulder of Steamboat though

      • Trevor Inscho says:

        To bad the Peak Baggers CHECKLIST wasn’t available to yah Chris at the time. Load it up in the GPS’r and take your bearings on any high point of the island.

  • Patrick H says:

    Another great post. Some awesome suggestions here for people planning a weekend on the wonderful west coast! Love the shots of the surfers at sunset Chris!

    • Chris Istace says:

      Thanks for the comment Pat. I had a fun time putting this list together and love capturing images to hopefully inspire others to visit for themselves.

  • Becky R says:

    So excited to see this. My boyfriend and I are traveling from SE US to BC in September, and we’re going to be doing this entire route. We’ll spend a few days with Ucluelet as our base point. Amazing pictures and really appreciate the route you laid out for us to see such beautiful stops.

    • Chris Istace says:

      Hi Becky, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me on any of my social media channels during your visit if you have any other questions on the area. Check out my National Park blog post on my website for some ideas of stops between her and your home. Also I hope to create another article on the beautiful Olympic National park. You can see those recent photos on my instagram account > @Stasher_BC . Thanks for checking out my page ~ Cheers Chris

      • Becky R says:

        Thanks Chris! I showed him the page and he’s also excited. Our biggest challenge I think will be going back home.

      • Becky R says:

        Quick question Chris…what do you think the likelihood of us seeing Orcas around Telegraph Cove around late September will be? We’ll be arriving there around 9/24 – doing a whale watching tour, then a grizzly tour, and then we’ll drive on to explore the island and spend a few days in Ucluelet before heading on to Victoria and San Juan Islands for a few more days.

        • Chris Istace says:

          I’m not too sure about the Orcas but could ask some friends about the area. The rest of the trip sounds good and might suggest adding Port Renfrew to your itinerary.

          • Becky R says:

            OK, thanks. We are in Ucluelet for 3 nights, will try to make it over to Port Renfrew, just driving time eats into our schedule getting along the west coast of the island. Are water taxis a good option along there?

          • Chris Istace says:

            Hi Becky , the water taxis are great in the area from friends that have used them. As for Ucluelet to Port Renfrew I am not sure that there is anything that goes that route.

  • Angie says:

    Saw some of this list too late but did stop by some of be best major spots over Canada Day long weekend (not quite as busy as expected). Will also warn anyone not to look forward to decent priced restaurants in Tofino though I didn’t check all of their menus unless you are budgeting to blow some monies on the dining (or can visit the grocery store)…..eat out in Ucluelet instead…prices are more reasonable.

    • Chris Istace says:

      That’s great that you were able to see some of the stops Angie. I hope you had an awesome long weekend. Be sure to hit up the rest next time out.

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