Highway 4 leads right up to the First Street Dock in British Columbia's Tofino, a hamlet on Clayoquot Sound off Canada's west coast. Getting that far takes a ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay, followed by a three-hour drive into the mist, around hairpin curves, and through Pacific Rim National Park Reserve to the ocean. The payoff is more than worth the commute: remote surfing beaches, humpback and gray whales, black bears and bald eagles, and old-growth rain forests home to some trees thought to be one to two thousand years old. When an ancient red cedar falls, Nuu-chah-nulth master carvers ask the tree for permission before giving it new life as four dugout canoes. So when you paddle one on a T'ashii Paddle School guided canoe tour into the rain forest, remember to thank the tree.
When to Go: From October to February, storm watchers gather at waterfront lodges to watch the massive winter waves pound the coastline. In March, the Pacific Rim Whale Festival celebrates cetaceans with events in, on, and near the water: naturalist-led marine mammal and whale watch tours, storytelling and music highlighting the gray whale, and interpretive walks on the Tofino mudflats. August delivers the sunniest beach days. You won't have to go far to find a good beach spot. "Tonquin Park beach is almost in downtown Tofino, but you usually get the place all to yourself," says frequent visitor Jared Melvin. In November, the Oyster Festival showcases Clayoquot Sound's oysters, 8,000 to 9,000 of which are slurped down during the three-day event.
How to Get Around: Take a trip on the water taxi to Big Tree Trail on Meares Island or to Hot Springs Cove for a soak in the natural hot springs splashed by cool ocean waves. Floatplanes take you from the harbor to some of the more remote areas of Clayoquot Sound.
Where to Stay: Middle Beach Lodge, Wickanninish Inn, and Long Beach Lodge all offer spectacular views of the ocean during storm season. Camping is available in various campgrounds around town, in the national park, as well as on many of the more remote islets of the rugged coastline.
Where to Eat or Drink: Shelter gets its name from its mission—to get back to basics: food, wine, and shelter. All the ingredients are local (they even grow some vegetables and herbs in the garden out back), and the place is popular with local surfers. After a morning on the water, fill up on a steaming bowl of Meares Island chowder (house-smoked salmon, arctic surf clams, and Yukon gold potatoes) served with house bread. Join the line at the original orange Tacofino food truck, parked at a surf shop lot on Pacific Rim Highway. The "fast slow food" Baja fish and tuna tacos are made from scratch and wrapped tightly in foil, perfect for beach picnics.
What to Buy: Roy Henry Vickers expresses his respect for the area's natural beauty through his paintings, carvings, and original prints on sale at Eagle Aerie. The gallery is in a traditional longhouse, where Vickers regularly holds free storytelling sessions. Clayoquot Crafts sells Adirondack chairs made from red cedar logs felled by storms and salvaged from Clayoquot Sound.
What to Watch Before You Go: Several scenes in The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009) were filmed at Tofino's South Beach (accessible via the 0.9-mile South Beach Trail from Wickaninnish Beach) inside Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Fun Fact: Tofino's water temperature varies little across the seasons, going from a low of 48°F degrees in winter to a maximum of 59°F degrees in summer.