Tofino: The surprise winter beach destination hiding right in Canada’s backyard

Come on, are you telling me Tofino is really a winter beach destination?

Credit: Tofino Resort + Marina | Jennifer Hubbert

I have woken to the sound of torrential rain in Tofino on three separate occasions.

The first two times, I emerged from my tent the next morning to discover my campsite now enjoyed its own waterfront. Drenched, we packed up our soggy tents and drove out of Tofino, rained out of the West Wet Coast in summer.

More recently, the sudden onset of pounding rain stirs me awake, but this time it doesn’t flood me with dread. Tucked into a cozy Austrian king bed, I’m emboldened: is that the best you can do? I smirk to myself as I realize I had to visit Tofino in storm season to keep dry.

Come on, is “storm season” really a thing?

Credit: Tofino Resort + Marina | Jennifer Hubbert

Even the whales leave for winter.

One can be forgiven for wondering if Tofino is casting its shoulder season as cleverly marketed hyperbole. What’s surf without sun? Who wants to be outdoors in the rain?  Even the whales migrate south to wait out winter in warmer waters…

Canada might not be the intuitive choice for a winter beach destination, but I’ll let you in on a secret: there’s a very real charm to Tofino in storm season. It’s that same refreshing feeling you get from puddle jumping as a child or dancing in the rain. Fight the weather and you’ll lose. But embrace the grey skies, surrender to the drizzle, and in the face of logic, get wet to stay warm – and you’ll realize that sunshine is mostly a state of mind. 

Credit: Cox Bay | Jennifer Hubbert

Credit: Greg Hubbert

5 reasons Tofino storm season beats summer

It’s more affordable. Tofino-area accommodations are steeply discounted in storm season. (Think up to 50%.) From Vancouver, weekend lodging and round-trip transportation (driving) for two people can cost as little as $450. 

There’s less traffic. Three words: single lane highway.

You might get the beach all to yourself. You’ll still have to wait in line for Tacofino though.

The weather is more reliable. You can count on grey skies and drizzle in fall/winter; travel in summer and you might wake up to “Fogust” (foggy August) and overcast anyway.  

You can leave the sunscreen at home. But definitely don’t forget your rain jacket and boots.

How to best enjoy storm season in Tofino

Credit: Paul Levy

Get wet to keep warm

From the window of the Long Beach Lodge great room, I’m shocked by the number of surfers weathering the swells of Cox Bay. It’s mid-November and there must be no less than fifty bobbing atop their boards. Most are clustered in small groups, which suggests to me these are lessons, not hardened local surfers. The obvious question surfaces: isn’t it cold? 

It’s a question I pose to Hannah at Pacific Surf Co. “In the 11 years I’ve been doing this, the number one question, ‘Is it going to be cold?'” she replies with a laugh. “Yeah, the water is cold. But are you going to be cold? No.” Do her pupils believe her? “They still don’t believe you…but when they’re done, the most common comments are: it’s harder than I thought it was, it’s funner than I thought it was, and you’re right, it wasn’t really that cold.”

If Hannah can’t coax you into some frothy fall swells, Hot Springs Cove lies 27 nautical miles northwest of Tofino. These geothermal pools invite bathers to lounge in a series of natural hotsprings in a rugged wilderness setting. The excursion will take about six hours round-trip, starting with a 90-minute boat ride. Once ashore, follow a 1.5-kilometre boardwalk trail through gorgeous old growth forest to arrive at the oceanside pools. Hot Springs Cove excursions run year-round but in the event of inclement weather, tours should be re-confirmed on the day of departure. 


Eat the beach, taste the forest

Credit: Kyler Vos

Chef Paul Moran | Image by Kyler Vos

Credit: 1909Kitchen | Image by Kyler Vos

Taking refuge from the inky black night sky, I’m seated in the warmth of 1909Kitchen‘s waterfront dining room. I’m eager to eat my way through Chef Paul Moran’s Pacific-inspired, ingredient-driven menu. 

One of the hallmarks that makes Tofino so special is an absence of franchises. Translation: gastronomic pursuits are a deliciously local affair – and 1909Kitchen is no exception. Tide-to-table and forest-to-fork dominate Moran’s menu which boasts seafood pulled fresh from the ocean and foraged wild mushrooms. 

While savoury pizzas are being churned out of an Italian wood-fired oven, my husband and I opt to explore the sharing plates served family style. I appreciate the succinct offering, trusting a shorter menu to a rambling one. We sample a kale salad dressed in basil vinaigrette, a playful chick pea, carrot and onion pakora (inspired by Moran’s stint in Dubai), hanger steak dolloped with chimichurri, and succulent miso-marinated, cedar planked black cod that will not soon be forgotten (if ever). 

5 more ways to imbibe local flavours: 

  • Kelp Stout (local, sustainably harvested kelp) and Dawn Patrol Coffee Porter (beans roasted locally at Rhino Coffee House) on tap at Tofino Brewing Co.
  • Wild Blackberry Buttercream chocolates (made with hand-picked Clayoquot Sound blackberries), Wildflower Honey Ganache (local honey), and Organic Lavender Truffle (Vancouver Island grown organic lavender) from Chocolate Tofino.
  • Bamfield Seaweed Salad from Wolf in the Fog
  • Sea sausage salami (cured pork with paprika, ginger and locally harvested wild kelp) and porcini salami (cured pork with Alpindon cheese and wild harvested porcini mushrooms) from Picnic Charcuterie
  • Honey garlic Chinook and candied wild sockeye salmon from Dockside Smoked Fish Store.  

Hike the rainforest to escape the rain

My husband is not immediately convinced when I suggest a walk in the woods. He eyes the fat raindrops that land on the balcony of our suite at Tofino Resort + Marina. It’s his first visit to Tofino but I happen to know that the thick canopy of this temperate rainforest will offer us refuge. He relents to my request – but makes sure to pack an umbrella.

Sure enough, the umbrella doesn’t leave the car. The woods are humid and steamy but boardwalks elevate us over the sodden forest floor. Branches catch and release raindrops, composing the soundtrack of the rainforest. We duck below fallen giants, pass decomposing nurse logs – from which new life springs, and stand in awe beneath centuries-old cedars. In the shadow of a mammoth sitka spruce, I am small and insignificant. They say to practice “leave no trace” but I walk away from these woods with a pocket full of humility. 

Credit: Rainforest Loop A | Jennifer Hubbert

Credit: Rainforest Loop A | Jennifer Hubbert

5 Tofino trails to hike in storm season

Schooner Cove Trail – a 2 km trail that leads from a small parking lot on Pacific Rim Highway. Travel through a pretty forest to Schooner Cove, which anchors the north end of Long Beach. This easy boardwalk “hike” leads you over foot bridges, and up and down steps. Look for the 600-year-old sitka spruce. 

Rainforest Loop (A & B) – Consists of two loops, both of which are 1.2 km, that wind through a dense, temperate rainforest. Both trails have interpretive signage that describe this unique ecosystem – a good reason to take pause. The trailhead to Loop A is located across the highway. Start out by turning left to travel in a clockwise direction. This boardwalk trail ducks below fallen giants before descending a set of stairs which lead to a jaw-dropping 800-year-old cedar. Loop B trailhead starts from the parking lot, setting out along a gravel path which soon turns to a wooden boardwalk. Both routes are easy hiking. 

Big Tree Trail (Meares Island) – a 10-minute water taxi takes hikers from Tofino to Meares Island where you’ll encounter some of the largest, oldest trees in the world. This hike can be done as a loop (3.3 km) or out-and-back along the boardwalk portion of the trail, which culminates at Hanging Garden Tree. This hulking western red cedar measures 18 m in circumference and is estimated to be some 1000-plus years-old. 

Wild Pacific Trail (Ucluelet) – The Wild Pacific Trail is comprised of three distinct sections: Lighthouse Route, Artists Loop and Rocky Bluffs. All are easy, accessible year-round and dog-friendly (though pets must be leashed). 

When you go:

Sleep: Tofino Resort + Marina

This newly renovated 62-suite property is the only full-service resort located on Tofino’s inlet shore. Why is that brag-worthy? Because most Tofino resorts are located along Pacific Rim Highway, well outside of walking distance from Tofino’s quaint village. From my suite, I casually fetch a coffee from a local cafe and nip into a couple of surf-inspired boutiques. 

What I love most though, is the value. Traditionally, lodging options on the coast have included B&Bs, high-end resorts and divey motels. Tofino Resort + Marina is a mid-market offering, making it especially attractive to families and couples. (Did I mention this is our “babymoon”?) Storm season weekend rates start at $120 per night, which means more money in my pocket for adventures and dining.

At $120 per night you might expect basic – at best- so I’m pleased to find that my room is quite neatly appointed. A semi-private balcony overlooks the marina, my bed is a spacious Austrian king, in-room toiletries are organic, and a locally photographed mural oozes coastal vibes. 

On-site, 1909Kitchen and The Hatch Waterfront Pub serve up inlet views with every thoughtfully plated dish. Excursions are easily arranged at The Adventure Centre. Your only struggle is deciding what to do first: whale and bear watching, guided fishing, a Hot Springs Cove tour, surfing, paddleboarding, or catching a water taxi to a nearby island for some remote hiking. 


Getting to Tofino: 

Drive: From Vancouver, take BC Ferries from Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay. Reservations are recommended. Crossing time is 1 hour 40 minutes. Standard vehicle fare is $57.50, adults are $17.20, seniors and children $8.50 (one-way). 

Tofino is 207 km from Nanaimo. Take exit 60 and follow BC Highway 4. From here, the road is largely single-lane highway. Beyond Port Alberni, the route is scenic but winding; drive with care. 

Note: From 10/1 – 3/31, BC Highway 4 between Coombs and Tofino is a designated winter tire route. Appropriate tires will be marked with a three-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol, or the M+S (mud and snow) symbol. 

Fly: Scheduled flights arrive and depart Tofino Airport (YAZ) via Orca Airways, KD Air and Kenmore Air. One-way flights from Vancouver run about $175 per person, inclusive of taxes.  

Get around: 

  • Car rental: A small fleet is operated by Budget; kiosk located in the Tofino Airport
  • Taxi: Limited taxi services operated by Tofino Taxi
  • Bicycle rental: TOF Cycles or Tofino Bike Co


Have you visited Tofino in storm season? 

Tell me about it: comment below

Disclosure: accommodation provided by Tofino Resort + Marina. Meal offered by 1909 Kitchen. Ferry courtesy of BC Ferries. All opinions are my own. 

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