I know we can’t be the only ones who crave moody autumn vibes. There’s just something about rainy weather, storms rolling over the ocean, and sitting by a cozy fire while the wind blows outside. Years ago, we spent a few days exploring Vancouver Island and learned that the coastal town of Tofino in fall is a go-to spot for storm-watching. When we were looking for an ideal October trip close to a West Coast Southwest Airlines hub, spending a few relaxing days in Tofino was our top choice!
Getting to Tofino, Canada, from Washington State
We flew into Seattle and drove a few hours north across the Canadian border to stay the night in Vancouver, Canada, near the ferry port. The next morning, we took the car ferry to Victoria, BC, on Vancouver Island. It only takes a few hours and is a lovely trip!
From central Victoria, it is about 4.5 hours to drive to Tofino. However, I’d highly suggest taking a full day or more to explore along the way. This is a stunning area with many beautiful stops to enjoy the iconic PNW lush nature, wildlife, and waterfalls.
If you don’t have an interest in exploring Victoria, you can also take a ferry from Vancouver directly to Nanaimo. This will cut the drive time to Tofino to under three hours. If you prefer to take a ferry from Washington State, you can also leave from Port Angeles. Of course, you can always fly in directly to one of the Vancouver Island airports. But this wasn’t in our budget.
Just don’t forget to bring your Passport no matter which way you decide to get there! It’s also helpful to remember that Canadian Thanksgiving is in early October, so this may affect ferry schedules and how busy it is.
What to Do Along the Way from Victoria to Tofino
Spending a few days in Victoria at the start or end of your trip is a great idea. We loved wandering through the Butchart Gardens on our most recent trip and downtown Victoria is also lovely! There are also tons of great trails and views to take in.
From Victoria to Parksville, there are multiple cideries and vineyards to enjoy, waterfall hikes, and viewpoints – the Malahat Skywalk is a particularly unique stop for taking in views. Englishman River Falls and Little Qualicum Falls near Parksville are both wonderful places to stop for a short walk and amazing views.
If you want to split up the trip, Parksville is a beautiful place to stay the night and take a break from driving. The turn onto BC-4 to Tofino is right near here also. On our last trip, we went up a little further north to Campbell River to take an amazing full-day grizzly bear expedition and wildlife tour (learn more here).
From Parksville to Tofino, the drive on the Pacific Rim Highway (BC-4) is stunning. As for stops, Port Alberni is a great place to stretch your legs – with Sproat Lake, a cute downtown, and a small lighthouse museum.
A stop at the Giant Cedar Trail, about an hour before you get to Tofino, is a must! This short trail takes you below massive cedar trees and along a trail surrounded by lush ground cover.
Once you drive down the winding road to the West Coast, there are dozens of beaches and trails to stop at on your way to Tofino in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. If you want to make another detour, Ucluelet is a less busy and less expensive option and is home to the amazing Wild Pacific Trail.
Tofino Trails, Beaches & Unique Expriences
Tofino is a great place to enjoy nature, try out storm watching, surf, stroll along a beach, and look for wildlife. There are also many areas to relax and take in the views! Some waterproof shoes with good grip and a rain jacket are a must for fall and winter.
Tofino is a nature lover’s dream! While wandering through the lush forests, keep an eye out for deer, cougars, black bears, and wolves. However, you are most likely to see birds and a large variety of mushrooms! If you need to be concerned with any predators, there should be signs noting if they’ve been seen in the area.
As for marine life, you may spot some whales, seals, or otters off the coast. But a tour is your best bet for getting a closer look at the wildlife in the ocean. Tide pooling is also fun!
Here are some of our favorite things to do in Tofino …
Nature Trails & Beaches in Tofino
The short boardwalk trail to Tonquin Beach was lovely and the beach itself is a small cove with lovely views. You can also extend your hike by starting at the Tonquin Trailhead or continue on to Third Beach.
Middle Beach, Mackenzie Beach, Chesterman Beach, Cox Bay, and Long Beach are all great for a stroll, surfing, or watching storms and sunsets. Many of the resorts are also located along one of the beaches which is lovely!
Check out the views of the Tofino Inlet from the trail behind Hotel Zed (even better with a coffee from their cafe). They also have a REALLY cool driftwood bus that you can even sit inside!
It is also popular to bike around Tofino to the various beaches and trails. You can rent bikes in a few different places in town and at some of the hotels.
If you go down toward Ucluelet, there are multiple trails in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve as well as more beaches. Just note there are parking fees here that are higher than at the other trails and beaches. You can read more about trails in Tofino in this blog post.
The weather didn’t cooperate during our visit, but a boat tour to Hot Springs Cove was high on our list. This unique natural hot tub experience is only accessible by boat or plane, so it is a special activity for nature lovers who also want to soak their troubles away.
If you like to relax by shopping and browsing art, downtown Tofino also has plenty to offer!
Great Places to Eat & Drink in Tofino
One of the things that really drew us in when planning a trip to Tofino is that many of the restaurants offered ocean views or cozy fireplaces to sit around. We loved eating in the Great Room restaurant at Long Beach Lodge Resort where we stayed because it offered both – plus some delicious food.
There are some fancier, pricier dining options available, like The Wolf in the Fog, Shelter, and The Pointe. However, there are some less pricy options that are still delicious, like Tacofino and (our fave) Toki Doki outside the Tofino Brewery. Surfside Grill is also a great bet, especially if you want a yummy takeaway option while enjoying Cox Bay Beach.
As for drinks, the Tofino Brewery is a good bet for good beers with a fun vibe, but we enjoyed the Tofino Distillery nearby even more. We loved that the distillery had a cocktail-tasting option in addition to the common spirits tasting. The Bear Bierhouse and MAQ Pub are go-to options for the bar crowd.
Where to Stay in Tofino
There are multiple amazing places to stay in Tofino for every budget – from camping to high-end resorts. I’d highly suggest staying on one of the beaches if you plan to do storm watching and/or surfing. Plus, it is nice to be able to go for a stroll on the sand just a few steps from your hotel room. Hotel Zed is very hip and unique, but it is across the street from the beaches, so we opted for Long Beach Lodge Resort which we loved!
We really wanted a beach-front option with an in-room fireplace and tub, and we were thrilled that Long Beach Lodge Resort offered everything we wanted within our budget of under $250 per night. (Note: The USD to CAD conversion rate and off-season pricing helped!) Plus, we enjoyed the on-site restaurant with large windows to take in the views. It was very conveniently located with everything we wanted for a cozy trip!
It was lovely to stroll along Cox Bay in the mornings and evenings while watching the dogs run around and surfers brave the cold waves. And taking a much-needed break from reality in our cozy room was exactly what we needed!