Tofino might be the most adorable coastal town in all of Canada. It’s small, but has everything that makes an outdoor destination appealing: fabulous beaches, rugged coastline, pristine wilderness and plenty of exciting outdoor activities – on land and water. It deserves a place on your British Columbia bucket list.
It was among the highlights of our Vancouver Island road trip, and in this post we tell you about the best things to do in Tofino, along with a 2 day Tofino itinerary and lots of useful tips to make your stay more enjoyable.
12 best things to do in Tofino
Let’s see the top things to do in Tofino, with specific recommendations:
Tofino is one of the best surfing destinations in Canada, hence surfing is one of the most epic and unique things to do in Tofino. It has consistent waves, great beaches that are suitable for surfing year-round, and lots of surf schools offering lessons.
It’s an ideal place for beginners, but pro surfers love it, too. They will tell you that the best time for surfing is the fall – when the summer crowds are gone, the water is the warmest and the wind is just right. But summer is great for beginners, because the waves tend to be gentler.
As for water temperature, don’t confuse “warmest” with “warm”. You need thick wetsuits for surfing here any time of the year.
But where exactly should you go surfing? Here are the best surfing beaches in Tofino:
- Cox Bay: This is the most popular surfing beach and it’s great for beginners, as well. You find plenty of rental shops and surf schools.
- Chesterman Beach: Just north of Cox Bay, it’s another huge surfing beach, also suitable for beginners. North Chesterman Beach has more reliable waves, while surf conditions at South Chesterman vary.
- Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park: It’s a popular surfing beach for experienced surfers. At the far southern end of Long Beach, you find Wickaninnish Beach, and further Florencia Bay – both are popular surf beaches.
Hiking is one of the best Tofino attractions. (Yes, no surprise, you quite often state this about Canadian towns, right?) Tails near Tofino wind through ancient forests and along scenic shorelines. They take you up to breathtaking viewpoints and take you down to gorgeous beaches.
Let’s see the very best hiking trails in Tofino.
Cox Bay Lookout
Cox Bay Lookout treats you with the best coastal panorama on Vancouver Island. It’s a short hike, but not an easy one. Be prepared to climb roots and rocks, get muddy and use your navigation skills. But the reward is incredible!
The 2.6 km return hike starts from the southern end of Cox Bay, and here’s our detailed hiking guide to make it a better experience.
This is the easiest and prettiest coastal trail in Tofino. It starts from the street (at the end of Arnet Road) and runs along the stunning shoreline and through the coastal rainforest, offering coastal and island views. You’ll have access to sandy beaches – Tonquin Beach, Third Beach and Middle Beach – and enjoy views from elevated viewpoints.
It’s a great family-friendly trail, too. We did it with 3-year-old Tomi, and he walked all the way, climbed those few staircases and enjoyed water play on the beaches. Tonquin Beach was the busiest (because we saw a few other people there), but on Third Beach and Middle Beach we were alone.
Wild Pacific Trail
This trail is actually in nearby Ucluelet, on the opposite end of the peninsula and about 40 minutes drive from Tofino. The Wild Pacific Trail is the best day hike on Vancouver Island’s west coast.
It runs along a rugged coastline, with views of the offshore island and rocky viewpoints. The most scenic (and also most popular) section is the 2.6 km Lighthouse Loop. Another portion of the Wild Pacific Trail runs between Brown’s Beach and Rocky Bluff. It’s an 8 km return hike along the coast and through the rainforest. See a detailed trail map here.
Nuu-chah-nulth & South Beach Trail
Nuu-chah-nulth Trail offers coastal rainforest, beaches and totem poles. Information boards along the trail explain the traditions of the Nuu-chah-nulth culture, and you’ll have access to both Wickaninnish Beach and Florencia Bay, two wonderful, secluded beaches.
The hike begins from the Kwisitis Visitor Center, and it’s a 6.4 km return hike. In the visitor center you can see displays on the cultural and natural history of the area. As you hike from Wickaninnish Beach to Florencia Bay, it’s worth taking a detour to South Beach, a small cove surrounded by large rock formations.
Combers Beach Trail
This is a short hike (1 km round-trip) down to Combers Beach through the coastal forest. Short, but steep, like most beach hikes on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Combers Beach is actually the middle section of Long Beach, but with unique characteristics.
It’s a sandflat at low tide, and you find plenty of logs and driftwood to sit on. On the other hand, you usually find very few people on the beach, so it’s a peaceful getaway from more popular Long Beach.
What to wear hiking in the summer?
Hiking pants, preferably zip-off pants: mornings and evenings are chilly, so you’ll be happy to wear long sleeve pants, but it’s very practical if you can simply zip the sleeves off in the hottest part of the day, or when hiking uphill. Columbia offers affordable, practical and durable models both for women and men.
Waterproof hiking boots: appropriate footwear is very important to have an enjoyable and safe hike. We recommend wearing hiking boots that provide good traction. Waterproofness is also important, because weather in BC is quite rainy for most of the year, and melting snow makes lots of trails muddy well into the summer. Dry feet are key for a happy hike. This Columbia Newton Ridge Plus is a great option for women, and the Newton Ridge Plus II for men.
Long sleeve hiking top: you can wear a lightweight, long sleeve top with sun protection as a standalone wear on high mountain trails (it never gets too hot up there, but the sun will be harsh on your skin on clear days), or you can use it as an additional layer when it gets chilly in the morning or evening at lower elevations. This BALEAF top for women offers UPF 50+ protection, and NAVISKIN has a long sleeve T-shirt with UPF 50+ protection for men.
Hiking socks: merino wool blends are moisture-wicking and breathable, they keep your feet cozy either when temperatures are warm or cold.
Waterproof rain jacket: a lightweight, easily packable rain jacket should always be in your backpack, just in case. You don’t want to get caught unprepared in a sudden storm. Columbia jackets are affordable and effective for the average hiker, here you find them for women and for men.
Vancouver Island is one of the best places in the world for whale-watching. Whale-watching tours start from several towns, including Tofino. Tofino has a long whale watching season, running from March (sometimes late February) through October. This is the time of the annual whale migration, from south (Baja California) to north (Bering Strait), and some whales spend the summer in these waters.
Gray whales, humpback whales, orcas, sea lions and harbor seals – you’ll have a chance to see any of these on the Tofino whale-watching tours. Several companies offer them, and you can choose among zodiacs, semi-covered or covered larger boats.
You can spot black bears near Tofino even if you drive around or go hiking, but there’s a safe and fun way to do it: bear-watching tours.
These are boat tours, and they usually navigate on the calm inside waters around Meares Island. Because the local black bears come down to the water’s edge at low tide to look for food.
You can watch them patrolling the beaches, tossing rocks aside or grabbing crabs from the safety of your tour boat. Local guides know exactly where to look for them, so bear sightings are almost guaranteed. You’ll also see the beautiful scenery, maybe a few seals, wolves or eagles.
Tours run from April through October, because that’s when you can see bears coming down to the ocean. Most tours are around 2.5 hours long, and you can choose among roofless or covered boats. More info on the different tours here.
Visiting the Hot Springs Cove
Speaking of boat trips, one of the most popular Tofino tourist attractions is actually outside of town: Hot Springs Cove in Maquinna Provincial Park.
It’s accessible only by boat (~1.5 hour) or seaplane (~20 minutes), and the hot springs offer heavenly relaxation, surrounded by the majestic wilderness. You can take the Tofino Water Taxi, and the journey along the coastline will be just as wonderful as the destination. What’s more, whales or other wildlife are often spotted on this cruise.
Once you get to Maquinna Provincial Park, follow the 1.5 km trail through the forest, which takes you to the hot springs. Marvel at the views and soak in the geothermal rock pools. The pools have different water temperatures, the ones closer to the ocean are colder. Obviously, don’t forget your swimsuit and towel.
Sightseeing in Tofino
Tofino is a tiny town, but a charming one. With only 3000 residents, it’s large enough to have some quirky stores and a good selection of dining options.
Stroll the streets of downtown
One of the best things to see in Tofino are the artsy shops, cute boutiques and art galleries that line the streets of the downtown. Don’t miss the street art displays either. Take a break in one of the cafés or bakeries any time, then continue to the waterfront, which is only a couple of blocks away from the main street. It has nice views of Clayoquot Sound and Meares Island.
Visit the Tofino Market
One of the best places to visit in Tofino on a Saturday is the Tofino Market. Every Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm, from May until October, you find a market full of homemade goods on the Tofino Village Green. Food stands and live music (starting at 12 pm) make it more than just a place for shopping.
Sip coffee at Rhino Coffee House
Tofino has quite a few independent coffee shops, and Rhino Coffee is one of the most special ones. They roast and sell their own beans, and you also find homemade donuts and sandwiches, so you can also have your breakfast there.
Enjoy fresh local food at Shelter Restaurant
It serves up amazing fresh food from local farms and waters, and also a selection of local craft beers. The outdoor patio offers stunning ocean views.
Shelter Restaurant was destroyed in an overnight fire in December 2022, so it’s temporarily closed. But there are plans to reopen soon at a new location.
Find the Weeping Cedar Woman
The Weeping Cedar Woman is a carving: a woman whose tears stream all the way to the ground, signaling stop with her hand. It was carved from a 300-year-old windfall red cedar, and reminds us to protect the old-growth forests.
Visit the Roy Henry Vickers Gallery
The Roy Henry Vickers Gallery features First Nations art made by Roy Henry Vickers.
Walking the Tofino waterfront
I feel like briefly mentioning the waterfront wasn’t enough, the Tofino waterfront deserves its own paragraph. Stroll and take in the views, at sunrise or sunset, or really, any time of the day.
Walk to Anchor Park, a picturesque park that overlooks the harbor, and has a beautiful totem pole.
Find the dock near the Pacific Terminus Sign, it also offers pretty ocean views. Photographers will adore it (time your visit to sunset).
Kayaking on Clayoquot Sound
One of the most enjoyable water activities in Tofino is kayaking on Clayoquot Sound. It’s a maze of waterways and islands, with sheltered bays and coves. Meares Island is a popular kayaking destination, and once you’re there, you can walk along the boardwalk of the Big Tree Trail to marvel at the beautiful old-growth forest. Paddling to Vargas Island is a full-day experience.
Even beginner kayakers can cope with exploring on their own on calm days, but you can also choose to join one of the guided kayak tours. The best time to go? Mornings, that’s when the water tends to be the calmest.
Paddle West Kayaking is based next to Jamie’s Whaling Station on the edge of Tofino.
Visiting Pacific Rim National Park
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is south of Tofino, and this unspoilt park is a must-visit place on Vancouver Island. It includes three distinct areas: Long Beach, the Broken Group Islands and the West Coast Trail.
Long Beach is the closest to Tofino, and it’s the easiest to access. Reaching the Broken Group Islands requires a boat tour, and the West Coast Trail is a multi-day coastal hike.
Walk on Long Beach
Long Beach is the highlight of the area, and it deserves the name: it’s 16 km long. It stretches between the two lovely coastal towns, Ucluelet and Tofino, and this wide, perfectly sandy beach never gets crowded.
You can go surfing on Long Beach, or simply take a walk, climb to one of the rocks for an elevated view, or wait for a magical West Coast sunset. Sun is not guaranteed though. But rainy, misty days have their own magic on Long Beach.
Hike the Rainforest Trail
A very popular, short hike just a quick drive away from Long Beach is the Rainforest Trail. Vancouver Island has some of the oldest forests in Canada, and the ancient Douglas fir, Sitka spruce and Western red cedar trees will impress on this trail. You will see quite some fallen giants, as it takes a long time for them to fully decay – about 1500 years. They support all kinds of vegetation and give life back to the forest in the meantime.
You can walk on raised boardwalks among the majestic trees, and there’s two loops on the two sides of the road, called loop A and loop B. Each of them is a little over one kilometer in length. You can do them independently, or combine them into one loop. There’s a pedestrian crossing with lights, so you can safely cross the highway.
Both loops are easy enough, but you won’t walk on a flat surface, there’s some elevation change and a number of stairs. So in case you wonder whether to take a stroller, don’t. A baby carrier works much better. If you go with a toddler, let them climb the stairs, mine usually enjoys that part the most.
Walk the Shorepine Bog Trail
The Shorepine Bog Trail might not be considered as a hike, it’s so short and easy. But it’s unlike any other trail in the park.
The path leads through a forest of shorepines, small trees with twisted branches and curved limbs. Winds can get crazy here! They remind me of bonsai trees. Even though some of them are hundreds of years old, they remain small.
This trail is on a flat boardwalk, suitable even for strollers. Combine a stop here with a visit to Wickaninnish Beach and Florencia Bay which are both very close.
Enjoying the view from Radar Hill
It’s not a hike, rather a walk to the viewpoint, because you can drive almost all the way up.
From the top you get 360-degree views of the area. It’s on the way between Tofino and Long Beach and is well worth a stop.
Why the name? There was actually a radar station on this hill during the Second World War.
Taking a plane ride
What to do in Tofino in order to make your visit a one-in-a-lifetime experience? Get up in the air and see this magical coastline from above.
There are scenic float plane and helicopter tours, ranging from 20 minutes to a few hours, and they allow you to see all the mountains, the rugged coastlines with the bays, islands and inlets, and even glaciers and stunning alpine lakes around Tofino. Clayoquot Sound is spectacular from above – on a clear day. That’s important and it’s not for granted on Vancouver Island, but make sure to pick a clear day, otherwise you won’t see much.
Another option for a scenic flight is taking a seaplane between Tofino and Vancouver. It’s not only a breathtaking experience, but also the fastest way to get to Tofino from Vancouver. You can take the seaplane from Vancouver to Tofino, or from Tofino to Vancouver.
One of the typical Tofino winter activities is storm-watching. Tofino is known for dramatic storms in the winter. They roll in from the Pacific Ocean and create waves that reach up to six meters!
Tofino is a unique place on the British Columbia coastline, because it’s really on the open sea, there’s nothing between Tofino and Japan. Hence the spectacular storms, generated as the warmer ocean temperatures meet the cool air.
You can choose to stay in a waterfront property to enjoy the view from your cozy room, or you can visit the beaches during high tide to see those waves from up close. Sunset Point at Cox Bay or the Tonquin Trail are great spots. But please be very careful, don’t venture too close, and never turn your back on the ocean.
2 day Tofino itinerary
Here’s a summary of what you can do in 2 days in Tofino:
- Morning: have breakfast at Rhino Coffee, stroll the Tofino waterfront and rent a kayak to explore Clayoquot Sound
- Afternoon: hike the Tonquin Trail, then drive to Cox Bay and climb up to the Cox Bay Lookout
- Evening: take a stroll and watch the sunset on Long Beach
- Morning: go on a bear-watching boat tour
- Afternoon: take a scenic helicopter tour, then visit the Radar Hill viewpoint and the Rainforest Trail in the Pacific Rim National Park
- Evening: hike the Lighthouse Loop on the Wild Pacific Trail around sunset
Best time to visit Tofino
Tofino is a year-round destination, and it has mild winters by Canadian standards. It doesn’t normally get snow, but prepare for torrential rains, storms and chilly winds if you visit Tofino between November and April.
It’s the busiest in summer, and that’s the best time to enjoy the beaches and other outdoor activities. Fall and spring is the shoulder-season, with colder weather and more rain than in summer, but you can have many attractions to yourself (especially on a rainy day).
Where to stay in Tofino?
Luxury: Long Beach Lodge Resort
This luxury boutique hotel is not actually in Tofino, but it offers oceanfront accommodations on Cox Bay Beach – an excellent location and wonderful views!
It has a mix of lodge rooms (41) and cottages (20), and they’re all steps away from the beach. Downtown Tofino is a few minutes drive away. Long Beach Lodge Resort has an on-site restaurant, sauna, hot pool and coffee bar. Surf lessons, surf equipment and bike rentals are offered all year. In-room childcare is a service that parents will appreciate very much. (Additional charge applies.)
Long Beach Lodge Resort is one of those places which guarantees a magical stay even in bad weather. It’s great for storm-watching in winter, because you can enjoy sea views from your cozy room. Watching the powerful waves from indoors is among the few enjoyable things to do in Tofino when it rains, anyway.
Mid-range: Middle Beach Lodge
It’s a bit luxurious, as well, even though it’s a lodge-style accommodation. Middle Beach Lodge offers waterfront accommodations in two lodges and twenty self-contained cabins (“the Treehouses”), with timber furniture and warm decoration.
The lodge and cabins are set well above the ocean so that you enjoy wonderful views from the decks. You’ll have access to two private beaches and a few short walking trails. There’s a dining room on-site, and guests are offered complimentary rain gear (first-come, first-serve), coffee and tea. The sun terrace has BBQ facilities.
Whalers on the Point Guesthouse (or simply Tofino Hostel) has simple accommodation but fabulous views, overlooking Clayoquot Sound and Tofino harbour. Is the name confusing? Well, it’s not really a guesthouse, rather a hostel, so adjust your expectations accordingly.
You can choose from shared rooms, private rooms (with shared bath) or suites (with private bathroom). All guests can use the common kitchen. Tonquin Beach Trail is a 10 minutes walk away, and you’re steps away from Tofino downtown and waterfront.
7 great things to do on the way to Tofino
If you drive to Tofino from Nanaimo through Port Alberni, a long, scenic drive awaits you. It’s worth adding a day or two to your trip so that you can stop at some wonderful attractions on the way to Tofino.
Englishman River Falls
Just after you leave Parksville, take a detour to Englishman River Falls Provincial Park and its roaring waterfalls. The 1.3 km long loop trail runs along the river, crosses two bridges and offers great views of the upper and lower waterfall.
If you’re short on time, walk to the upper waterfall only, it’s the mightier one and also the one that’s closer to the parking area. In summer you can enjoy a swimming hole below the lower waterfall. (Expect ice cold water though.)
Little Qualicum Falls
Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park is an ideal stop on your way to Tofino from Nanaimo. It’s about 30 minutes before you reach Port Alberni.
Unlike the name suggests, Little Qualicum Falls is quite big and very powerful, especially in the rainy season. You can reach it on a 1.5 km loop trail from the day use area. The trail is easy to follow and has security fences all around the waterfall area. You find another waterfall as you hike down to the second bridge to complete the loop.
view of Cameron Lake from Wesley Ridge
It’s right by the road, so it’s worth a quick stop in one of the pullouts at least. If you have more time, the 5.8 km return hike to Wesley Ridge is one of the lesser-known trails and has fabulous views of Cameron Lake.
Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park
Quite similar to the Rainforest Trail, Cathedral Grove has two easy loops on the two sides of the road to let you enjoy the sight of 800-year-old Douglas firs and giant fallen trees. If it won’t be on Vancouver Island, it surely would be one of the main attractions. Here it’s only one of the many spectacular old-growth forest trails. 🙂
The Hole-In-The-Wall is just outside of Port Alberni. Even though not technically a waterfall, it’s a unique water feature. It was once an opening for a water pipeline, and the water flows through the hole these days.
If you like quirky attractions, hike the 1.5 km round-trip trail to visit it. Otherwise, Englishman River Falls and Little Qaulicum Falls are much more impressive.
Right by the road and surrounded by pristine forests, crystal clear Sproat Lake is worth a stop. Its water gets warm enough in the summer so that you can enjoy swimming. Water skiing, windsurfing and fishing are also popular activities.
Another roadside lake, Kennedy Lake is the largest body of freshwater on Vancouver Island. Pacific Rim Highway 4 runs alongside the lake for 52 miles. There’s no hiking trails in Kennedy Lake Provincial Park, but it has sandy shores and day-use picnic areas.