Huge, wet Pacific storms pummel the west coast of Vancouver Island every winter, blessing it with the obvious ingredient any temperate rain forest needs to flourish. The result is lush abundance. Stands of old-growth spruce, red cedar, and hemlock crowd deserted headlands. Offshore, seabirds squawk, sea lions bark, and whales breach. At the heart of it all are the three units of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve—Long Beach, the West Coast Trail, and the Broken Group Islands—a Wild Kingdom just north of the international border.
One-Night Stand: When hiking one of North America's wettest places (120 inches or 305 centimeters of precipitation annually), visitors would do well to bring an umbrella and stick to the oodles of thoughtfully planned trails that lace the narrow Long Beach unit. The hiking is generally easy, often with boardwalks that span mossy bogs. Our favorite route is the one-and-a-half-mile (2.4-kilometer) Nuu-chah-nulth Trail, which connects Long Beach to Florencia Beach. The path winds through some truly exceptional forest and leads directly to 13 miles (21 kilometers) of deliriously deserted coast.
Three or More Days: A hundred-plus forested isles are scattered within Pacific Rim's Broken Group Islands unit. And that translates into a sea-kayaking paradise. For experienced paddlers, an eight-mile (13-kilometer) loop linking the solitary anchorages and campsites of Hand, Willis, Dodd, and Gibraltar Islands provides ample opportunity to spot sea life, traipse around tide pools, and explore among the giant trees. To do it you'll need to bring water and maps, and you should arrange for a powerboat shuttle from Lady Rose Marine Services, in Port Alberni. The less experienced should set up a similar trip with the professionals at Majestic Ocean Kayaking, out of Ucluelet.
Must-Do Secret: Strange as it may sound, Pacific Rim is the nexus of a hot year-round surfing scene in the chilly waters off Long Beach. Big rollers and perfect barrels abound, but they're particularly dynamic during the winter storms.
Vitals: Pacific Sands Beach Resort, just north of the Long Beach unit, has ecofriendly oceanfront rooms ($170; www.pacificsands.com). Lady Rose Marine Services has powerboat shuttles for sea kayakers ($30; www.ladyrosemarine.com). Majestic Ocean Kayaking offers four-day paddling trips ($800; www.oceankayaking.com). Surf Sister (www.surfsister.com), in Tofino, has lessons ($75, including board). For guided nature hikes in the Long Beach unit, contact Long Beach Nature Tours ($160 a day for up to five people; www.oceansedge.bc.ca). Permits are required for camping in the Broken Group Islands ($8 a night; www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/bc/pacificrim).
PLUS: The Top Five
The Thrill Factor
Five unexpected itineraries that scream action
Trips Through the Ages
Five classic adventures that will never go out of style
Five off-the-charts escapes that reach deep into the wild
Moments to Live For
Five of life's most essential experiences, done perfectly in the parks
Pick up the June/July 2006 issue for 50 top adventures in the national parks; how to move to Montana; the best ten-day Brazil vacation; 11 instant weekend escapes; and new watches, cameras, and sunglasses for summer.