Experiencing the Scenic Pacific Rim Highway on A Tofino Road Trip
One of the most spectacular ways to experience the beauty and diversity of Vancouver Island is on a Tofino Road Trip along the Pacific Rim Highway. I often have my best experiences outdoors when I hop in my car for a Road Trip. With only the destination in mind I head out but allowing plenty of time to stop and explore along the way.
Your Tofino road trip begins on the eastern shores of Vancouver Island near Qualicum just north of Nanaimo. From here you leave the Island Highway turning off onto highway 4 beginning your westward journey. Spanning 165km the Pacific Rim Highway, nicknamed Canada’s Surf Highway passes through stunning landscapes. Travel amongst mountains, giant ancient forests, pristine lakes, mighty rivers and spectacular beaches.
Nanaimo to Tofino Road Trip Must Do Stops
With only 165 kilometres to travel you might think a few hours would be enough to make this Tofino road 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.
Cathedral Grove – MacMillan Provincial Park
A short way further down the highway enters the home of the ancient giants of Vancouver Island and the most famous stop on a Tofino road trip. 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.
Hole In The Wall Port Alberni
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.
This is the quick way to experience the Hole in the Wall. Although, if you have a bit more time in Port Alberni I personally suggest to check it out via the Rogers Creek Nature Trail route.
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 a newly popular Tofino road trip stop, 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.
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.
Ancient Cedars Loop – Wild Pacific Trail Ucluelet
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)
Wild Pacific Trail Ucluelet
Ranked in the top 10 of all activities in Canada by Trip Advisor and it is clear this is a must do stop. The Wild Pacific Trail encompasses the rugged Ucluelet coastline starting at the 100 year old Amphitrite Lighthouse. Winding it’s way north along the Ucluth Peninsula it reaches all the way to the boundary of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
The trail is suitable for all fitness levels and all ages, this is an activity everyone can enjoy. Always pay attention for ocean hazards such a changing tides and roque waves. Tofino and Ucluelet are Canada’s first CoastSmart Communities. Get familiar with your surroundings before venturing near the water, know before you go and be Coastsmart at CoastSmart.ca>
Schooner Cove Trail – Long Beach Tofino
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.
Rainforest Trail Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
Everyone talks about the coastal temperate rain forests of Vancouver Island. Standing amongst these old growth giants is a must do as words and photos don’t do them any justice. The trail has two loops, Trail A and Trail B of which are 1km long loops. They consist of completely rebuilt boardwalks finished in the spring of 2018.
The trails meander through the ancient old growth giant cedars, douglas fir and hemlock. The forest floor and canopy is alive with birds and wildlife as you explore the sights and sounds. Pay attention to the hidden gems of intricate wood work the builders snuck in along the way.
The trail is family friendly and suitable for leashed pets as well.
Kwisitis Visitor Centre Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
Immerse yourself into the history and cultural significance of the western shores of Vancouver Island from Ucluelet to Tofino. The Kwisitis ( means “other end of the beach” in Nuu-chah-nulth) Visitor Centre is located at the southernmost point of Wickaninnish beach. Here one can step inside to an interactive and immersive world that takes you deep into the history and traditions of the Coastal First Nations. The Nuu-chah-nulth people have called this wild coastline home for over 10,000 years of documented history.
Cox Bay Tofino
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.
Chesterman Beach Tofino
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.
Tofino Must Do
When stopping in Tofino after visiting all the amazing road side stops these are a few of my favourite places to shop eat and stay. For breakfast and coffee I always frequent Rhino Coffee for that morning coffee fix and their donut breakfast sandwich is a must try. For local shopping and finding a momento for your visit I suggest Caravan Beach Shop. I also want to give them a shout-out as regular volunteers to beach clean-up and supporters of Clayoquot Cleanup . Lastly if spending the night consider Shoreline Tofino, which is owned by some of the same team behind Caravan Beach Shop. These rustic a-frame cabins have the most stunning views of Meares Island.
Ucluelet Must Do
On the southern end of your Tofino road trip is Ucluelet, the safe harbour town at the gateway to the Broken Islands. In “Ukee” I love to eat and support Zoe’s Bakery and Cafe for the best coffee in town as well as breakfast, lunch or supper for your day trip. I also absolutely love that they are extremely sensitive to waste. Promoting no plastic, recycling and composting they are real ambassadors on eco-awareness.
Common Tofino Road Trip Distance and Drive Times
- Nanaimo to Tofino distance and drive time: 207 kms roughly 3 hours
- Port Alberni to Tofino distance and drive time: 127 kms roughly 2 hours
- Victoria to Tofino distance and drive time: 318 kms roughly 5 hours
- Ucluelet to Tofino distance and drive time: 40 kms roughly 40 mins
For all travel times keep in mind that during the peak summer season you can expect possible delays and longer trips. Also be aware of the current construction taking place at the Kennedy Hill for safety improvements on a section of Highway 4. Follow the link I shared to watch for the scheduled 1hr traffic stoppages.
Tofino Road Trip Additional Travel Ideas
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.
If you plan to do a Vancouver Island road trip in March be sure to check my article, Visit Tofino and Ucluelet During The Pacific Rim Whale Festival
If you like the Alberni Valley region of the Tofino Road Trip another suggestion might be Two Port Alberni Day Hikes You Should Do . In this post I show you how to explore the Hole in The Wall via the Rogers Creek Nature Trail which is a beautiful experience. Also in the post find details on exploring Stage 1 of the Alberni Inlet Trail.
Starting your trip in Nanaimo to Tofino? Swing by my favourite Nanaimo hiking trails post.
Discover what the Real West Coast is all about and #ExploreBeyondTheUsual
For more photos of all these stops and more from Vancouver Island and beyond you might like checking out my Instagram account at @Stasher_BC