The West Coast of Vancouver Island is known for its rugged coastline, beautiful forests and wild weather. Whilst it’s never going to rival The Rockies, Tofino’s hikes are very pretty and as they don’t involve scaling mountains they’re incredibly relaxing.
The trails can be divided into those in the Pacific Rim National Park and the Wild Pacific Coast in Ucluelet. Those in the Pacific Rim are primarily forested hikes, often leading to deserted beaches, whilst the Wild Pacific Coast is characterised by the rugged rocks and coastline that you associate with the Pacific North West.
We hiked almost non-stop for two days to put together a guide to the best Tofino hikes and what you need to know before you go.
Tofino Hikes - Pacific Rim National Park
Pacific Rim National Park is the area that surrounds either side of Highway 4 between Ucluelet and Tofino. This National Park has the bulk of the hiking trails near Tofino and they start about 20 minutes south of the town. The great thing about the Tofino hikes are that they are really close together, meaning you don’t spend very long driving between the trails.
The trails here are primarily in the forest, but many lead to secluded beaches. On the whole, the hikes in Pacific Rim are pretty easy going: short, flat and quick to do - something that is pretty rare in Canada!
You’ll notice many of the hikes are very short, there isn’t actually a single long hike in the Pacific Rim National Park so if you’re up for it you could complete the majority in just one day!
The Rainforest Trail - Loop A
Distance: 1.17 km loop
Elevation: 34 metres
Time Taken: 25 mins
Starting point: Rainforest loop car park
The rainforest trail loops are short enough that it’s easy to do both in under an hour, there’s just a minutes walk between them. Loop A felt less like a rainforest than Loop B but it definitely had its fair share of giant cedar trees and the forest is beautiful. The size of the trees will leave you feeling humbled.
We visited during a rare sunny moment (you’ll notice we didn’t really have the best weather in Tofino!) but we’ve heard it’s even more atmospheric if you happen to be there on a day when the mist makes its way into the forest.
The board walk is easy but there are quite a few stairs as you make your way around the forest.
Getting to the Rainforest Trail Loops
The Rainforest Trail loops are 24 km south of Tofino and should take about 25 minutes to drive to.
The Rainforest Trail - Loop B
Distance: 1 km loop
Elevation: 36 metres
Time Taken: 20 mins
Starting point: Rainforest loop car park
If you only have time for one of the Rainforest loops make it this one. Almost the entire trail is board walk although there are quite a few steps so it wouldn’t be wheelchair or buggy friendly.
The moment you enter the rainforest you’ll be taken aback by how beautiful it is. You’ll be dwarfed by the huge trees as you make your way along the path and you’ll quickly arrive at a stop with a couple of those iconic Parks Canada red chairs from which you can sit and take in the sights and sounds of the rainforest.
There is barely an inch of space on the forest floor which is crammed full of an amazing array of plants and probably hiding a lot of wildlife too.
This easy trail was one of our favourites in the park.
The South Beach Trail
Distance: 1.6 km return
Elevation: 35 metres
Time Taken: 20 mins
Starting point: Kwisitis Visitor Centre
This is a short but sweet trail which can be walked alone or tacked on to the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Trail - which is what we’d recommend because it is only a very short detour. The trail starts off paved before crossing some rather tired looking boardwalk (seriously, we wonder how long it will survive!) and then into the dense forest. It’s largely flat until you get very close to the beach when there is a staircase to descend.
Your reward for this easy trail is a beautiful beach which is much quieter than the main beach by the visitor centre, there was only a handful of people when we visited in the middle of the day in August!
There are plenty of rocks to sit on and it would make a great picnic spot. The waves can be quite wild here so watch out if you are sitting on the rocks right in the ocean.
Getting to the South Beach Trail
The South Beach trail starts from the Kwisitis Visitor Centre. This is 30km south of Tofino and should take about 30 minutes to drive to. It is only a 10 minute drive from the Rainforest loops in Pacific Rim National Park.
Distance: 5 km return
Elevation: 65 metres
Time Taken: 1.10 hrs
Starting point: Kwisitis Visitor Centre
The Nuu-Chah-Nulth Trail is one of the longer hikes in the park and one of the most diverse. Veering off from the South Beach trail, the hike heads further into the forest and then over a lot of boardwalk. Again the boardwalk is wearing away in places but you could never fall anywhere so it’s not a problem.
After giving glimpses back of the shore, the trail goes inland to a heath that was reminiscent of many of the mountain top hikes we did in New Zealand (allbeit a lot lower down!). The landscape is a lot more open, a lot less trees and it feels completely unlike the rest of Tofino.
Once you’ve done the initial uphill climb (which is pretty small) it is flat and then downhill all the way. Soon you’ll be back in the forest again with the huge cedar trees as the path winds its way back to the coast. Eventually you’ll arrive at Florencia Bay.
This huge bay is often overlooked by a lot of visitors because it does require a walk and that left it feeling very wild! There was a lot of driftwood across this huge beach and only three other people on the whole sweeping bay.
To complete the trail you must head back the way you came, but it doesn’t take long.
The Willowbrae & Halfmoon Bay Trail
Distance: 3.7 km return
Elevation: 119 metres
Time Taken: One hour
Starting point: Willowbrae Trail Car Park
You could do one of these trails but as they are both very short we preferred combining them, it really doesn’t add on much distance. The trail starts from a very small car park, so you may need to try this one early or late in the day to get a spot (we had no trouble after 6pm).
From here the track heads uphill before dropping down again and flattening out. The start of the trail is almost entirely in the forest before you reach a fork: left for Halfmoon Bay, right for Willowbrae. Both involve a hefty descent down to the beach (and a hefty climb back up), so if you don’t fancy too many stairs you could just pick one. Note that hefty here relates to the hiking in the area, in many other places in Canada this would be a casual stroll.
The Willowbrae descends 172 wooden stairs to the beach. It’ll open out to the other side of Florenica Bay that you can visit on the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Trail (that should give you some idea of the scale of the bay!). This side is even quieter though; so quiet that we were able to sit there and watch Ringed Plovers searching for food on the shore with no another soul on the whole beach. It’s a quiet and picturesque place to stop and take in the dramatic scenery.
The Halfmoon Bay trail adds on an additional 500 metres of walking, but it is through some beautiful forest. The trail has a lot of boardwalk and is flat before you head downhill. Whilst Halfmoon Bay has 194 steps, there are some breaks including a platform to take in the view.
Then it’s downhill on good boardwalk to the bay which is another wild and rugged beach. Out of all the beaches we visited on our Tofino hikes, this felt the most cut off from civilisation, and again no one else was on it! Amazing!
Sadly it’s back up those steps to head back to your car but it really isn’ that bad and doesn’t take long at all.
Getting to the Willowbrae & Halfmoon Bay Trail
The Willowbrae Trail is 35 km south of Tofino and takes about 35 minutes to drive to. It is down Willowbrae Road and is a 10 - 15 minute drive from the Rainforest Loop and Kwisitis Visitor Centre.
Well, this isn’t a hike as such although you can walk for a long way along the beach, but you can’t miss this place when visiting Tofino. This huge beach is famous for it’s spectacular sunsets which are reflected on the water that sits on the sand. At any time of day this creates a mirror effect.
Sadly we had constant cloud during our visit to Tofino (which isn’t that unusual!) so weren’t able to see a glorious sunset like we hoped but even in the dismal weather this beach is a beauty and well worth taking at least half an hour on for an easy stroll.
Getting to Long Beach
Long Beach is well signposted and the turn off is easy to see. It is a 17km drive (18 minutes) south of Tofino.
The Bomber Trail - currently closed
The Bomber Trail is currently closed for maintenance but when it’s re-opened will be one of the best trails in the park in our opinion. For very little effort you can go deep into the forest and arrive at an old WW2 bomber plane which crashed in 1945 (luckily no one was hurt).
The trail hasn’t been maintained by Parks Canada for a while and is notorious for being muddy but is otherwise an easy walk. The trail is predominantly flat with just a few sections of tree roots to navigate. An amazing reward for such little effort.
The area is currently under construction and access is prohibited so don’t attempt this one until it re-opens!
Essential info about Pacific Rim National Park
Entrance Fees for Pacific Rim National Park
Like all national parks in Canada, you’ll need to pay an entry fee of $7.80 per person or $15.70 for a group. The ticket lasts from the day of purchase until 4pm the following day.
If you plan on spending a bit of time in Canadian national parks on your visit you might be better off buying the annual pass (Discovery Pass) at $67.70 per adult or $136.40 for a group in one car.
Best time to visit the Pacific Rim hiking trails
Trails like the Rainforest Loops and the Willowbrae Trails have very small car parks that get very busy. We recommend trying to avoid these two trails in the middle of the day when the crowds in the park are at their worst!
The South Beach and Nuu Chah Nulth Trails go from the Kwistis Visitor Centre which has ample parking.
Tofino Hikes - The Wild Pacific Trail
Distance: 10.1 km one way
Elevation: 240 metres
Time Taken: 2.5 hours
Difficulty: Easy - moderate
Starting point: Ucluelet Lighthouse Loop
One of the most popular hikes in the region, the Wild Pacific Trail follows the coastline around Ucluelet (just a 40 minute drive from Tofino and very close to many of the Pacific Rim tracks) and showcases the rugged coastline with beaches and forest that few others seemed to visit.
There are plans to extend the trail, but currently it is an 8km trail that gently undulates much of the way, starting at the Ucluelet Lighthouse Loop and finishing at the Rocky Bluffs. It isn’t a difficult hike, but we recommend downloading the maps from this website before embarking as it requires some navigation in parts.
There is a 1.5km section in the middle which requires hiking beside the road to connect up two sections of the trail (the road is quiet and there is pavement, so - while we aren’t a fan of hikes that take you out of the park - it isn’t too bad).
If you want to avoid hiking along the road, you can split the hike into two (which is our recommendation having done the whole trail in one go). That would mean hiking the lighthouse loop first and then driving to the start of the next section of trail.
Ucluelet Lighthouse Loop
When we spoke to locals this was always the trail that got mentioned. The Ucluelet Lighthouse Loop is well signposted and is 2.5km south of the centre of Ucluelet.
It’s a short gravelled loop trail which gently undulates as it makes its way around the coast. You’ll dip in and out of the forest but you’ll never be far from those wild pacific views.
It’s a great trail for spotting marine life, of which there is plenty including; humpback whales, grey whales, seals, otters and even the odd orca if you’re very lucky.
If you are in the area in March then definitely head down to the trail to catch sight of some of the 20,000 grey whales which migrate along the coastline.
The trail is also a great spot to watch the sunset and it felt like every few metres there were benches and lookouts so you’ll be spoilt for choice when picking your spot.
As for the lighthouse itself - it wasn’t quite what we were expecting, being quite short and squat, but we came for the hike and the wildlife watching so we didn’t mind!
The connector along the road (if you don’t separate the trail into two different stages)
After completing the Lighthouse Loop, you’ll need to walk along the road for 1.5 km to Big Beach. You’ll see a small trail marker along the side of the Big Beach Resort where the trail heads back to the coast and through the forest again.
It’s a pretty dull section to hike but it isn’t too far, and you may get lucky and see deer like we did at one point!
The rest of the Wild Pacific Trail
The rest of the Wild Pacific Trail hugs the coastline, occasionally weaving inland through the forest before appearing at another bay with virtually no one on it. There are a few ups and downs but it is never steep and the trail is in great condition.
They even have stroller bypasses for sections where they are stairs! It’s not a gravel path like the Lighthouse Loop though so it feels more natural.
The forest is pretty and the views out to the coast are gorgeous, even in the gloom. You could easily spend several hours stopping at various lookouts along the way.
There are a few sections where you can veer off the main trail to the “Artist’s Loop” for views and inspiration (although it looked pretty similar to the other parts of the trail!
After 4 km you’ll reach the Rocky Bluffs, the section where the trail currently ends. From here you’ll need to turn back to the Ancient Cedars Trail to find the road or head 4km back along the trail to your car.
The difficulty with the trail
The Wild Pacific Trail has a lot of hype in the area and whilst it had some good points, we felt like it wasn’t complete yet and needed a bit more signage. There is also a lot of different distance measurements which add to the confusion along the way! The stats we give our using our AppleWatch.
The end of the trail is also quite abrupt (there are plans to extend it a lot more, so that’s why) and currently it involves turning around and retracing your steps for just over a kilometre to get back to the road. Even then you are going to be 4km from where you parked your car at the start of the trail.
The trail currently works best if you have a car shuffle and one car parked at either end of the trail. If you don’t, you can just hike back along the trail (which is another reason we don’t recommend doing the trail in one go, meaning you have to leave your car all the way back at the Lighthouse Loop).
Getting to the Wild Pacific Trail
The Wild Pacific trail starts at the Ucluelet Lighthouse Loop just south of Ucluelet, which is a 40 minute drive from Tofino.
Looking for a greater adventure?
Lone Cone hike, Tofino
If all this sounds way too sedate for you, then take a look at the Lone Cone Trail. This trail sounds like one huge adventure, but given our poor weather in Tofino we weren’t prepared to take it on as it involves a steep and slippery trail - sometimes using rope - but if you have a clear forecast it could be amazing! Knowing Tofino’s weather you should expect mud! The trail is said to be very difficult and you’ll need a head for heights, but the pay off is some incredible views from the top.
Gaining 730m in elevation in just 3.3km (the whole trail is 6.6km) you’ll need to be fairly fit. We’d love to give it a try one day!
To get to the trail head you’ll need to go by water taxi which costs around $40 per person.
Bear Safety on Tofino hikes
Vancouver Island has a healthy population (7000) of black bears but no grizzlies. There are bear signs at the trail heads of all the hikes we mention although we never saw any. Black bears tend to be shy and usually won’t pay you any attention but it’s a good idea to carry bear spray and be aware of your surroundings and any blind corners where you might surprise a bear.
Where to stay in Tofino
We actually couldn’t stay in Tofino itself for our visit because we were booking too late and everything was sold out so we stayed in Uculet. Uculet makes an equally good base for hiking but we preferred Tofino as a town so opt for there if you can.
Tofino Motel Harbourview
If we’d had the chance we would have opted for Tofino Motel Harbourview which has a really central location with amazing views and is reasonably priced. It gets great reviews for being clean, comfy and eco friendly.
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Are you planning a trip to Vancouver Island? Which Tofino hikes are top of your list? Let us know in the comments below!