Sometimes it feels good just to cozy up indoors, especially when a Northwest winter storm is raging outside. Light the fire, open a bottle of wine and put your feet up near a window that looks out on the Pacific surf pounding the shoreline. There’s no better place for a Pacific storm to rip loose than Esowista Peninsula on Vancouver Island. The peninsula is home to the villages of Ucluelet, the southern gateway to the peninsula, and Tofino, about 30 miles away on its northern tip.
The winter drive from Victoria is a long one, and weather on the route can be unpredictable, so it’s best to fly in to the Tofino-Long Beach Airport (YAZ). Once you choose your home base—Ucluelet, Tofino or somewhere in between—check into your hotel and explore the peninsula, as weather permits.
Clayoquot Sound defines the Esowista Peninsula to the north and east, and the Pacific Ocean is the peninsula’s western shore. The peninsula’s two outstanding natural features are the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve’s Long Beach Unit and the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The environment is pristine, and the scenery quintessential Northwest Coast.
For storm watching, book a hotel room overlooking waves crashing against the rocky shore; Black Rock Resort and The Wickanninish Inn are perfect choices. But to experience the elements more fully, a handful of public places have been designated for exactly that. In Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, head to the Kwisitis Visitor Centre at the south end of Wickaninnish Beach; the center’s observation deck provides a panoramic view of giant waves as they collide with the beach. Another prime spot is Amphitrite Point at the southern tip of the peninsula in the community of Ucluelet.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve features numerous trails. Your biggest problem will be deciding which trail to hike. Whether you prefer long or short, steep or flat, you can marvel at temperate old growth rain forests, learn about First Nations history and culture, and reach wild, isolated beaches. Winter hiking in the rain forest can be a soggy endeavor; fortunately, many of the trails have boardwalks and stairs through the mucky and steep sections, but be prepared with waterproof footwear and rain gear. When you reach the beach in storm season, make safety a priority. The sea here can sneak up on you and toss giant logs with it.
In the winter months, you can take a guided cultural walk through an ancient rainforest in Tla-o-qui-aht territory with a Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation’s guide, Tsimka Martin of T’ashii Paddle School. You’ll stroll on a boardwalk trail deep in the forest and learn about local First Nation history and culture along the way. The relatively short Schooner Cove Trail ends at the beach with the open Pacific Ocean on one side and view of the expansive Long Beach on the other.
Storm watching and appreciating West Coast nature and culture aren’t the only draws on the peninsula. Several surfing outfitters and instructors make this their home. Surfing is a year-round activity here and attracts both those who seek an adrenaline rush on some gnarly surf or beginners who simply want to try and balance on a board.
When it’s time to take shelter from the elements to dine, you’ll have no shortage of options from fine dining to local pubs, coffee shops and casual eateries. Tofino has become a foodie hotspot on Canada’s culinary map, thanks to the region’s fished, foraged and farmed bounty. Visionary chefs at The Pointe (at The Wickaninnish Inn), Wolf in the Fog, and Shelter have a passion for showcasing local ingredients in creations that please the eye and the taste buds. And get in line for lunch at the famed Tacofino food truck, just south of town.
In winter, you can choose not to leave your hotel room or take in all the peninsula’s sights. A winter getaway here is what you choose to make it.
When you go
Plan your stay in Tofino
Plan your stay in Ucluelet
Black Rock Oceanfront Resort (Ucluelet): blackrockresort.com
The Wickaninnish Inn (near Tofino): wickinn.com
Pacific Sands Beach Resort (near Tofino): pacificsands.com
Trails in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Long Beach Unit: gc.ca/eng/pn-np/bc/pacificrim/activ/activ12.aspx#LBU
Cultural walk or dugout canoe tour with T’ashii Paddle School: tofinopaddle.com
Surfing instructors and outfitters: tourismtofino.com/tofino-activites/surfing
If you plan your visit in March, you’ll find yourself amid the excitement of the Pacific Rim Whale Festival, an event that celebrates life on the coast and heralds the spring return of the grey whale. The two-plus-week festival includes educational and cultural events, whale watching, art, food and much more. A special event during the festival is a guided cultural paddle tour in a dugout canoe to the Echachis whale hunting village site of the Tla-o-qui-aht first people. Tip: Plan ahead when booking your lodging reservations during the festival. For 2017 dates and details, check pacificrimwhalefestival.com.