Ultimate Road Trip to Tofino
Tofino is a funky surfer town on the West Coast that has earned its reputation as Canada’s top adventure playground. With its sprawling beaches, wild inlets, and ancient rainforests, it’s easy to see why Tofino has become such a popular destination.
Most travellers will get to Tofino by taking a ferry from Vancouver into Nanaimo, and then driving about three hours west from there. But as amazing as Tofino is, the road trip there can offer just as much excitement if you know where to stop! After all, they say happiness comes from the journey, not the destination. Follow this guide for the ultimate road trip to Tofino if you want to enjoy both.
Stop #1: Englishman River Falls
Englishman River Falls Provincial Park features well-maintained trails leading to two beautiful waterfalls, which are not to be missed. The Upper Falls cascade into a deep canyon, which is what makes this hike so unique; a footbridge lets you look down into them, offering a very different waterfall perspective than usual.
As beautiful as Englishman River Falls is, it’s not strictly on the way to Tofino; a stop here will add approximately 20 minutes to your journey. If you’d like to see a waterfall but would prefer to make less of a detour, Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park can be an alternate stop.
Stop #2: Coombs Old Country Market
Next on your road trip is a stop at the Coombs Old Country Market, an interesting place to wander around for snacks and souvenirs. But the real draw here is definitely the goats. The Coombs Old Country Market is famous for its grass rooftop, upon which a family of goats grazes.
Stop #3: Cameron Lake
Early on Highway 4 to Tofino, you will see a little turnoff signalling Cameron Lake. This does not need to be a long stop; just a few minutes on the shores of the lake are enough to appreciate this naturally beautiful scene. See if you can spot the trestles across the water; these old train tracks were in operation from 1909 to 2001, and as they are no longer in use, nowadays some people even choose to trek across them. Wave to any hikers you see, then get back in your vehicle and journey on.
Stop #4: MacMillan Provincial Park & Cathedral Grove
Cathedral Grove is a small ecosystem of ancient Douglas fir and red cedar, an increasingly rare and endangered sight due to industrialized logging. Cathedral Grove never fails to inspire awe in its visitors. Some trees in the Grove are about 800 years old, and tower to 80 metres in height and 9 metres in circumference. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to explore the well-maintained trails of the Grove, but you may wish to spend longer contemplating the trees. See if you can spot a red cedar with its bark stripped off; these “culturally modified trees” are important, but unprotected, archaeological artifacts that provide evidence for how First Nations people used the trees. Some can be dated back as far as 1137AD!
Stop #5: Port Alberni, Hole in the Wall, and Sproat Lake
The town of Port Alberni makes a good place to stop and recharge for a bit, especially because it’s the last place on Highway 4 with cellular reception until you’ve almost arrived at Tofino. Port Alberni has lots to offer, but two stops in particular are my personal favourites.
First, park in the Coombs Country Candy sweet shop and get some snacks or ice cream (vegan ice cream options are available). When you’re done, leave your vehicle and walk across the highway in search of the Hole in the Wall. The Hole in the Wall is a short hike, roughly 15 minutes one-way, that will take you to a small and beautiful stream featuring a unique, man-made phenomenon. Many years ago, there was a need to run a pipeline through the solid rock here, and so, explosives were used and a hole was made. When the pipeline was eventually removed, the hole remained, and the creek now runs through it serenely.
When you’re done with the Hole in the Wall, you might consider grabbing some lunch in town, but make it takeout! Take your food to Sproat Lake and have a picnic by the sparkling water. Try to find the Sproat Lake Petroglyphs while you’re there. Petroglyphs are rock carvings, archaeological artifacts left behind by the First Nations people of the region. The petroglyphs at Sproat Lake are on a rock face at the edge of the lake, and can be seen from a floating platform nearby.
Stop #6: Wally Creek
About 75 kilometres away from Tofino is an unmarked parking area for Wally Creek. You’ll likely notice the chain link fence first, where visitors leave locks of all shapes and sizes before descending to the creek.
Wally Creek itself is a pristine creek with rapidly flowing water and plenty of boulders to jump around on. Only go as far as you are comfortable, of course, but if you wish, there are some viable swimming hole options here!
Stop #7: Ucluelet & The Wild Pacific Trail
When you get to the “T-junction” at the end of Highway 4, go right for Tofino and left for Ucluelet. Depending on how much time you have left in your day, I strongly recommend going left to Ucluelet, a detour, but one that is extremely worthwhile. Like Tofino, Ucluelet is a small beach town known for its natural landscapes and its potential for outdoor activities. But Ucluelet offers something that Tofino does not, and that is the Wild Pacific Trail.
The Wild Pacific Trail is a 9-kilometre trail network that exists in two main sections. The first section is a 3-kilometre loop featuring a lighthouse that starts right in Ucluelet; the second section is found just outside of Ucluelet, and extends 5 kilometres one-way from Big Beach to the Rocky Bluffs. There is also an optional 1-kilometre “Ancient Cedars” loop that can be visited as part of the second section. Though the trail is easy, relatively short, and family-friendly, do yourself a favour and budget lots of time to explore. While under a canopy of rainforest, the trail will skirt the edge of beautiful reefs, offering opportunities for whale-watching and wave-watching. You’ll want to stop every few metres to snap a photo, I guarantee it.
Stop #8: Tofino
From Ucluelet, Tofino is about a 35-minute drive. Your road trip is coming to an end, but not to worry – the best is yet to come! You’ll pass through the Pacific Rim National Park on the way to Tofino, and will likely spot numerous turn-offs to various beaches. Take time in your Tofino holiday to explore as many of them as you can. Whether you’re there to eat, surf, hike, shop, or lounge on the beach, be sure to enjoy Tofino just as much as you do the road trip to it!
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Sara Perillo is a speech-language pathologist who specializes in improving literacy skills in children and youth. Sara is originally from Montreal, Canada, but has relocated various times. Currently she lives in Vancouver Island, in British Columbia. When she’s not working, you can normally find Sara pursuing her outdoor hobbies, including hiking, climbing, and kayaking. Sara has been an avid traveller for much of her adult life and is passionate about seeking out adventure in the outdoors.