On November 4, 1875, under dark skies and a mounting gale, the sidewheeler Pacific collided with the sailing ship Orpheus as it rounded Cape Flattery en route to San Francisco. The Pacific sank almost immediately; only two of its 250 passengers and crew lived to tell the tale. Just over a quarter-century later, the steam ship Valencia became stuck on a reef near Vancouver Island after missing the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. As pounding waves reduced the ship to timber, 136 men, women, and children drowned or died from exposure.
Alas, I am hardly the first person to tell haunting stories of the Graveyard of the Pacific. In the centuries since Europeans began their exploration of the Pacific Northwest, more than 2,000 ships have perished on the treacherous coast between Oregon’s Tillamook Bay and Vancouver Island’s Cape Scott. But as is so often the case, the traits that make this region so dangerous to seafarers—the craggy cliffs, the fog, the unyielding surf—are the same that create its desolate beauty.
It is that wildness that first lured me to Tofino, a small village of 2,000 people on the remote west coast of Vancouver Island. It’s a region where evergreen mountains meet the shimmering blue of Clayoquot Sound—and where a wrecked ship rests in the depths for each nautical mile of shoreline.
And come summer sunshine or winter storm, it’s our breathtaking home for the next three days.
In A West End Town, A Dead End World
Surfer, surf student, beachcomber, or tidepooler, there’s no better place to get to know Tofino than the broad double-crescent of Chesterman Beach. This untamed, M-shaped wonder is guarded at its northern reach by the Wickaninnish Inn, a storied hotel and spa that have welcomed well-heeled surfers and storm-watchers since 1996. But even if a room—complete with a fireplace, soaking tub, and balcony—isn’t in your budget, breakfast overlooking the ocean at The Pointe Restaurant most certainly can be.
As for the rest of the day? Perhaps you’ve booked a lesson with Tofino Surf School or the all-female fleet at Surf Sister; perhaps you’re planning a walk to the tidepools on neighboring Cox Bay Beach. No matter your plans, they should end the same way—with a freshly fished and foraged meal at Wolf in the Fog in town and an awe-inspiring sunset scene on the First Street Dock.
I’m So Keen-O On Tacofino, What A Delicious Cuisine-O Fit For A King And Queen-O
Approximately 35,000 acres of Tofino’s slender peninsula are the northern realm of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, an expanse known for its coastal temperate rainforest and the sprawling, undeveloped shoreline of Long Beach. It’s the former that will bring you to the park this morning, as you hike the two adjacent loops of the Rainforest Trail through hanging mosses and towering ancient cedars.
The trail may be only two miles in length but it’s enough to build up an appetite for lunch at Tacofino, the legendary taco truck that set up shop in the Live to Surf parking lot in 2009. The tacos have since made their way to Victoria and Vancouver, but there’s nothing quite like a bite and a freshie at the original.
Where The Wild Things Are
If you’ve ever created a vision of the Pacific Northwest in your mind—the furious surf, the rugged shores, the dense evergreens—it may have been the Wild Pacific Trail that was filling your dreams. Twenty-five miles south of Tofino in the oceanfront town of Ucluelet, this three-part trail (encompassing the Lighthouse Loop, the Big Beach Section, and the Brown’s Beach Section) offers an astounding payoff for those willing to walk its four-mile length—and an even better one for those who do so at sunset.
Windswept, rosy cheeked, and in need of warmth and nourishment, you’ll find no better place for a late dinner than Shelter back in Tofino, where everything from the herbs to the fish and the poultry is the bounty of beautiful British Columbia.
One If By Land, Two If By Sea
This morning is one you’ll spend among the islets, forests, and coves of Clayoquot Sound—but the method and manner of your exploration is entirely up to you. Maybe you’ll choose to join Tofino Sea Kayaking Company for a half-day journey up Lemmens Inlet, or maybe you’re looking to use your legs in the strenuous ascent of Lone Cone. This formidable Meares Island trail is a four-mile slog that climbs 2,300 feet in its final mile, but the sweeping summit views of Tofino somehow make it all worthwhile.
Insider Tip: If you choose to hike Lone Cone, you’ll have to hire the Tofino Water Taxi for a 15-minute ride to and from the trailhead.
Your reward for these few hours of hard work? A hearty meal of Japanese-inspired comfort food at Kuma, where the tuna tataki and soothing bowls of ramen are eclipsed only by what’s for dessert—one long, last sunset walk on the sands of Chesterman Beach.
A Few Notes
So, how exactly does one reach the remote west coast of Vancouver Island? Tofino is a short and scenic flight from Vancouver, or a three-hour drive from the BC Ferries terminal in Nanaimo. If you’re coming from the United States, you’ll have your choice of ferries to Victoria (or neighboring Sidney) from Anacortes, Friday Harbor, Port Angeles, or Seattle; Tofino is just a four-hour drive from there.
As for when to show up, it all depends on what you’re looking for. June is one of my favorite months in the Pacific Northwest, when the skies are clear, the whales are in sight, and the inevitable wildfire smoke is yet to become a suffocating issue. But intrepid storm-watchers will find just as much joy November through February, when the Wickaninnish Inn provides its guests with full rain gear, rubber boots, and a selection of games to enjoy by the windows.
TITLE: The Wild Pacific Trail | FRIDAY: Chesterman Beach; the Wickaninnish Inn; float planes in Tofino Harbor; sunset at the First Street Dock; sunset at the First Street Dock; sunset over Meares Island | SATURDAY: The Rainforest Trail; the Rainforest Trail; the Wild Pacific Trail; the Wild Pacific Trail; the Amphitrite Point Lighthouse; the Wild Pacific Trail | SUNDAY: Boats in Tofino Harbor; a dock in Tofino Harbor; Tofino Harbor; Meares Island; sunset on Chesterman Beach.