The small, coastal community of Tofino BC can be found looking out over the mighty Pacific Ocean on the western shore of Vancouver Island. With just under 2,000 permanent residents, Tofino is located over 200 kilometers to the west of Vancouver City.
Tofino is a quiet place in winter that surges with visitors in summer, as they head there in search of the beautiful vistas and untouched national parks that surround the town.
Despite its growing popularity though, it’s still never too busy in Tofino, and there’s plenty of surrounding wilderness to go around.
Tofino is very much an outdoor destination. Even to get here, you have to pass through national parks and take remote roads and ferries. It’s a journey that’s very much worth the time and effort, as this is a pristine landscape filled with rare wildlife.
There are endless opportunities for hiking, kayaking, canoeing, and surfing. While the wild, windswept coast is always the scene of powerful waves and fearsome storms that many people will travel here just to experience.
There are plenty of things to do in Tofino, and here’s our travel guide on one of British Columbia’s best outdoor adventure spots.
Don’t leave home without: 251 Things to Do in Tofino Travel Guide
13 Best Things to do in Tofino BC
Most activities in Tofino BC revolve around the great outdoors, so be prepared to hike and to experience the wonderful nature that is waiting for you in the surrounding areas.
Here are our top picks for things to do in Tofino.
1. Hit the Waves in Canada’s Surfing Capital
Tofino is a real favorite amongst surfers because the sometimes violent Pacific Ocean offers those brave enough to hit the waves an exceptional surfing experience. Tofino goes as far as to style itself as ‘Canada’s Surfing Capital’ and although the water is cold, the waves can be perfect.
When it’s calm enough, or in the more secluded bays along the coast, you can also try the much more relaxed activity of Stand Up Paddle Boarding if surfing isn’t for you.
If you’ve never surfed before but want to give it a try, Tofino boasts some of the top surfing schools in Canada. All throughout the area, you can find surf shops where you can rent equipment and take classes.
2. Go Whale Watching
Whale Watching tours are a big part of any trip to Tofino during the right season. Although you might be lucky enough to spot these magnificent creatures of the coast any time of year, the best time to visit to see them is during the annual migration.
This is the time when hundreds can be seen along the coastline for miles.
We tried our luck with The Whale Center and ended up spending a solid hour with a beautiful Grey Whale off the coast of Vargus Island. He was alone and we never saw any other whales.
However, we did see this whale again, twice, when we set off on our kayaking trip in the Clayoquot Sound a couple of days later. We found the guide very knowledgable and enthusiastic, the boat clean and the provided cold gear comfortable.
3. Take a Bear Viewing Tour
No visit to Vancouver Island, or Canada for that matter, would be complete without heading out for some bear viewing. Tofino offers the opportunity to take a boat trip at low tide to watch black bears from the safety of the water.
We were actually shocked at how many bears we were able to see, seven in total the night we went out, and how mesmerizing the experience was to see them on the shore.
All of the companies in Tofino practice sustainable animal viewing and it shows as the boats kept a safe and respectable distance and the animals showed no threat or fear while we watched quietly form the water.
As we did for whale watching, we went out bear viewing with The Whale Center and experienced the same level of tour, so don’t hesitate to book both trips with them.
4. Go Kayaking in the Clayoquot Sound
Tofino is literally your access point to the world-class kayaking in Clayoquot Sound. Due to the location of the sound and it’s interspersed islands, people come from all over the world to explore the area by kayak.
It is possible to book day trips from Tofino that will take you to some of the closest islands to enjoy lunch on a beach and enjoy forest walks.
For the more adventurous, it’s possible to set off into the wilds on a multi-day camping trip. This is what we did, enjoying 4 days circumnavigating Vargus island and exploring the opposite of Vargas at Meares Island.
These trips are incredible and give you a chance to know the area intimately. We camped on beaches, in forests, paddled in calm waters and surging ocean swells.
We hiked among some of the biggest cedar trees you can imagine and got familiar with the critters that live in the intertidal zone.
If you do nothing else in Tofino, be sure to get yourself into a kayak and set off to explore the area. It’s incredible and something you will never forget.
If you’re looking for the perfect company for your kayak adventure we highly recommend booking with Tofino Sea Kayaking, these guys are the best in the business and have been operating tours in Tofino since 1988.
They know the area in a way you won’t find elsewhere.
5. Do Some Beach Hopping
Long Beach, found within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, is one of the best beaches in Tofino. Located just along the coast from the town itself, here you can find mile upon mile of soft sands.
This is one of the best surfing spots, and here you will find surfers from all walks of life and all abilities enjoying the waves. It’s also a great spot to just chill out at in summer or to hike along for spectacular views out across the Pacific Ocean.
So while most people head to Long Beach, and you should at least check it out once, take some time to explore the other beaches too. There are many, surprisingly white sand beaches to be discovered all along the road between the airport and town.
Some of the ones we recommend include Middle Beach, Cox Bay Beach (also a great surf spot), Combers Beach, Mackenzie Beach, Chesterman Beach and Wickaninnish Beach. Of course, there are others, but these shouldn’t be missed.
6. Indulge in Some Hiking & Camping
One of the best things to do in Tofino is to hit the hiking trails and explore this area of untouched wilderness.
There are plenty of routes all around the town and out into the forests and along the coast, with the national parks being the best places to really immerse yourself in the scenery. Most of the trails have signed trailheads and information about them can be found at the tourist center.
For longer trails or if you want to do some remote hiking and camp in the woods, it is advisable to have a backcountry camping experience. It is also essential that if you carry food into the forest for an overnight that you know how to properly put up and utilize a bear hang.
If not, please employ the skill of a guide to accompany you on your overnight hiking trips.
Tofino also features 4 official campsites and plenty of smaller, private campsites to pitch a tent or park an RV during your stay. It is popular for people to road trip through Canada, arriving in Tofino and pitching a tent outside of the town for the summer months.
It’s a fantastic culture to be part of and if you like to camp, I’d say it has one of the best camp community vibes we’ve ever witnessed.
7. Visit the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve consists of three individual locations that cover areas of pristine natural beauty. Long Beach is part of the reserve, as are the Broken Group islands off the coast and the West Coast Trail.
Surf at Long Beach, then hike the beautiful trails of the West Coast section of the park, where there are day hikes and multi-day excursions with spectacular camping spots.
The islands, of course, can be explored on boat trips or through kayaking and canoeing adventures.
I can personally attest to the staggering beauty of this National Park. It features massive pine trees that stretch for miles across the reserve. The colors and fresh smells of the forest are rivaled by few other areas we’ve visited before.
But what really makes the area unique is that you have white sand beaches on the coast that lead to dense pine forests, not palm trees. It’s definitely a unique place to experience.
8. Take a Soak at the Tofino Hot Springs Cove
Hot Springs Cove is one of the best places to visit near Tofino. Found within Maquinna National Park, the only way to reach this secluded area is by boat or by seaplane. It’s beautifully pristine, and there are boardwalks and hikes to make through the national park.
The highlight though is, of course, the natural hot springs that are perfect for relaxing in and soaking up the warm, natural water.
You might even see a few whales off the coast here. It is also possible to take an extended, multi-day kayaking trip to visit the hot springs, a trip that comes highly recommended by Tofino Sea Kayaking.
9. Visit the Tofino Market
A much more relaxed activity to enjoy is a visit to the local Tofino Market. The market is held every Saturday without fail, between May and October in the summer season in the center of town.
It’s a lively and bustling place that’s full of local vendors showcasing and selling their products.
Local coffee, chocolates, food and clothing, and jewelry are among the items on show, and it’s a lovely place to spend a Saturday in the company of locals and tourists alike.
10. Enjoy a Scenic Flight
There are few thrills as great as boarding a floatplane and taking to the sky to observe the dramatic wilderness of the Tofino area from above.
During the summer high season, this is one of the top things to do in Tofino, with flights leaving from sun up till sundown, as long as the fog allows.
On a clear day, you’ll find the views hard to compare elsewhere but do keep in mind that weather is a huge factor in whether you’ll be able to fly during your stay in Tofino.
Make sure you to book your flight on the first day that you arrive so that you have a few days to play with if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
11. Do Some Storm Watching
Tofino is a wild and stormy place, and while it can rain anytime throughout the year, during the winter season the town and coastline are ravaged by storms.
While winter then, might not be the best time to visit to enjoy the hiking or the national parks, many visitors still travel here to experience something altogether quite different, but equally enthralling.
People flock here to watch the violent storms out to sea, and storm watching as it is known is a big activity here. Powerful storms brew out at sea, and photographers and watchers lookout from the town and beaches to see nature at its most fearsome.
The swells are incredible and the waves utterly powerful. Some mad surfers might even try to hit those waves too on their boards, although of course, it’s definitely not encouraged.
12. Take a Road Trip to Ucluelet
Ucluelet is a small town of a similar size to Tofino, found to the south, at the far end of Long Beach. It’s similar to Tofino, given its location on the coast, surrounded by the rugged scenes of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
However, it can be a bit quieter than its more popular neighbor during the peak summer months.
There’s a great beach here, known simply as Big Beach, as well a lighthouse perched in a dramatic position atop high cliffs. The town can be easily walked around, and there are many hiking trails leading into the wilderness and opportunities to explore the offshore islands by boat.
A visit here makes for a nice, peaceful and relaxing change of scenery from Tofino while you are staying in the region.
13. Eat at the Best Tofino Restaurants
We found that there was definitely no shortage of eating options in Tofino during our visit. It really comes down to what you are in the mood for and whether they have space.
Summertime is the busiest time in Tofino, thus reservations are important if you have your heart on eating at a specific time or place. We didn’t have the chance to try every place on our visit, but there are some of the restaurants that we enjoyed.
- Wolf in the Fog – set right in downtown Tofino, this restaurant offers a comprehensive and beautifully presented menu of local favorites. It’s not the cheapest place in town but it’s a beautiful place to enjoy dinner from an amazing menu.
- Shelter – this ended up being our favorite place to hang out in the evenings and grab dinner. The menu is inventive and oh so good. Plus the atmosphere was second to none with outside dining and incredible views of the Clayoquot Sound from the deck.
- Wildside Grill – we stumbled on this place on our last night in Tofino. We had planned to eat at Shelter but we returned late from our bear viewing tour and the wait was well over an hour. So we hopped in the car and found ourselves at this roadside stand en route to the Middle Beach Lodge that night. If ever gourmet food met a food stand, this is what you can find here. The food was delicious and a good place to taste wild varieties of Poutine.
- Tacofino Cantina – an institution in Tofino, you simply cannot visit without making a stop at this food cart in town. Serving up yummy Mexican staples, we found it hard to not head there every day for lunch.
- Big Daddy’s Fish Fry – if it’s fried seafood you seek, look no further. This fish fry shack offers up the best of Fish N Chips, deep-fried shrimp, fried pickles and a whole host of other bites. We stopped in here for lunch one day and were surprised by their menu, there is a lot on offer. The lines were long and to be honest, we didn’t see a single thing come out that didn’t look worth eating.
Tofino Canada Travel Planning Tips
How to Travel to Tofino
Tofino can be difficult to reach, as the remote location means it is not always well connected. There is a small domestic airport with flights to Vancouver and Victoria, however, the nearest international airport is located in Vancouver.
If you are planning on flying in from abroad – or even from the majority of other Canadian cities – you will need to change planes at least once to reach Tofino. The airport is located a few kilometers outside of town.
The main road into town heads no further than the end of Tofino, due to its location on a small peninsula. To travel here by car from Vancouver, it is necessary to take the ferry across from Horseshoe Bay, because of the geographical limitations of Vancouver Island.
Including the ferry crossing, a car journey from Vancouver will take at least 5 hours. There is a limited bus service, which can take you from the larger town of Nanaimo – the arrival point of the Vancouver ferry – or from Victoria, which is located at the southern end of Vancouver Island.
It helps to have your own vehicle in order to get around the sights surrounding Tofino, but the town itself is small enough to stroll around on foot.
There are also many great hiking opportunities nearby and plenty of tour companies operating trips out on the water and to nearby attractions. Water taxis operate along the coast too, transporting visitors to isolated and remote islands and beaches.
Flying – We flew in right from Vancouver directly to Tofino-Long Beach Airport (YAZ) on Pacific Coastal Airlines. The views were amazing throughout this flight and it saved us time.
Flights are daily and it is best to book in advance since in the summertime as they get booked up quickly. You can also fly into Victoria and drive to Tofino.
Driving from Victoria to Tofino:
- Travel north along Douglas Street, which turns into the Trans-Canada Highway/BC-1 for 105 kilometers (65 miles).
- Turn left at Nanaimo Parkway/Highway 19 (signs for Parksville/Campbell River) and continue north for another 43 kilometers (26 miles).
- Take Exit 60 onto Highway 4 (also known as the Pacific Rim Highway ), heading west for 156 kilometers (97 miles). You will drive through spectacular Cathedral Grove, historic Port Alberni (drive straight downhill and turn right at the junction), and on the winding road around Sproat and Kennedy Lakes. You will also drive through scenic Sutton Pass, at an altitude of 250 meters (850 feet) – where we especially recommend heeding to the speed limit. Travel westward until you come to the junction between Tofino and Ucluelet.
- Turn right at the Tofino/Ucluelet junction and drive north towards Tofino for 28 kilometers (17 miles). You will drive right through Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Take a break and get your first view of the ocean at the Incinerator Rock parking lot at Long Beach (watch for the green sign signaling the turnoff), or continue toward Tofino.
- Once you exit the Park, pass Long Beach Lodge Resort and Cox Bay Beach Resort.
- Your overall travel time from Nanaimo to Tofino will range between 2.5 and 3 hours.
Best Time to Visit Tofino
Tofino is always busiest in summer because this is when the weather is at its best and the outdoors is ready for exploring. However. you will quickly find that the weather in Tofino can change rapidly, even in summer.
In the shoulder seasons and in winter, there are frequent storms and a lot of rain. Many people will visit in winter though, purely to experience the violent storms that slam the coast here.
Arriving in spring will give you the best chance to see the annual whale migrations off the coast.
We visited at the end of August and the weather was unbelievably beautiful. While we did experience some smoke residue from the area wildfires and a couple of the typical thick fog mornings, we had mostly sunshine and only a spit of rain.
Best Tofino Accommodation
Accommodation in Tofino is as diverse as the culture. From the high-end resort vacation to a rustic camping experience and everything in between, you can find it in Tofino.
Resorts and Hotels: If you’re seeking a resort or lodge type experience for your trip to Vancouver Island, Tofino offers no shortage. Some of the best lodges in the area are found just off the highway outside of town, on spectacular beachfront property.
We spent our whole stay at the Middle Beach Lodge, a place that overpowers you with rustic charm during a stay. Located literally on Middle Beach this lodge is the place people dream of when planning a getaway to British Columbia.
The lodge features a wide range of options from cozy rooms to fully kitted condo units, all tied to welcoming cabin-inspired common areas.
Hostels: if you’re traveling on a budget or looking to stay at a place where you can meet people, then hostels are the perfect accommodation. There are not many in Tofino, but these two offers that perfect balance in budget and comfort: Tofino Trek Inn B&B and Whalers on the Point Guesthouse HI Tofino.
Campgrounds: there appear to be 5 official campgrounds and from what we could see, a few other private ones. At the end of August, they were full to the brim and offered a great outdoors meets surf culture vibe. We saw a wide range of people camping from long term backpackers to families and everything in between. We didn’t personally camp during our visit but these are the campgrounds that came highly recommended when asking around:Bella Pacifica Campground and Long Beach Campground.
Getting Around in Tofino
The Tofino airport is not big, but there is a car rental company there and personally, I think having a car is the way to go. We had the freedom to go where we wanted when we wanted and this lead to exploration opportunities we might not have had otherwise.
The roads are easy to drive on with clear signage and good conditions. Driving in town can be busy but we didn’t have any issues finding parking and once you’re there, everything is walkable.
Of course, due to the limited number of cars, it is highly advisable to book your rental car in advance.
Need to book a car for your road trip adventure? We use Discover Car Hire for comparing car prices to find the best deal. They search both local & international rental companies.
During the summer months, the town of Tofino offers a free shuttle bus that operates between downtown and Cox Bay. This is a great way to get between places if you do not have a car and are planning to visit any of the stops along the route.
If you’re visiting outside the free summer shuttle season, the same company operates regular bus services along a fixed route with a number of stops. Pick up a bus schedule at tourist information when you arrive.
Three taxi companies operate in Tofino providing transportation to the various stop points and from the airport to the various lodges and downtown.
If buses and driving are not for you, join the people that enjoy biking during their stay in Tofino. The town and surrounding area are very bike-friendly with designated biking lanes, signage and bike racks at all the beaches and around town.
Bike rental can be purchased at numerous places in town and many of the accommodation options.
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