No visit to Vancouver Island is complete without a trip to the stunningly beautiful West Coast. But make sure you don’t hurry as there are many places to see along the way. Old growth Douglas Firs, shimmering mountain lakes and rushing rivers are just a few.
You will begin your trek on the Pacific Rim Highway when you turn inland into the mountains that run down the spine of Vancouver Island from the Parksville-Qualicum Beach area. Then, before you start the climb up the Arrowsmith Summit, you’ll come to parking lots on both sides of the highway. Pull in. You’ll discover the West Coast rainforest as it was in ancient times. Douglas fir that are 800 years old, 75 metres (250 feet) tall and nine metres (29 feet) in circumference. You’ll find towering ancient red cedars — The Tree of Life. And yes, you and the kids can touch, climb, pose, run around. It’s a park!
Port Alberni is nestled between the soaring, snow-capped Arrowsmith massif and a sparkling blue deep-sea fishing port. As you drive down the Arrowsmith Summit, you come upon the Port Alberni Visitor Centre where the staff will help you make the most of your visit to the “Salmon Capital of Canada”. Most people will want to keep heading down- hill to the ocean and, if you do, you’ll soon come to Harbour Quay, a colourful collection of boutique shops, galleries and restaurants right on the shores of the stunningly beautiful Alberni Inlet.
LADY ROSE MARINE SERVICES
Ready for a West Coast adventure? Just around the corner from Harbour Quay is Lady Rose Marine Services. The historic MV Frances Barkley takes you on a day trip down the Inlet and back, making real-life mail and supply stops at remote outposts, before arriving at the tiny community of Bamfield on the wild Pacific Ocean. Lady Rose also offers kayak adventures to Bamfield, Ucluelet and the Broken Group Islands. You can also book a stay at the fully serviced Sechart Lodge way out in Barkley Sound.
MCLEAN MILL HISTORIC PARK
A short walk from Harbour Quay is the 1912 Historical Alberni Train Station. It’s not just for photos, though. Take a ride on the beautifully restored Alberni Pacific Railway through picturesque meadows and forests, across three wooden trestles to this fully operational steam-powered sawmill. The McLean Mill features a steam donkey, logging trucks, graders, carriers, the Steam Pot Café and the Mill Store gift shop.
PACIFIC RIM NATIONAL PARK
Vancouver Island’s West Coast is a feast for the senses. The small communities of Tofino and Ucluelet serve as centres for beachcombing, whale watching, fishing, surfing, kayaking and storm watching. But the visitor will also be awestruck by a chance to wander ancient rain forests and get close to wildlife including black bears, bald eagles and marine mammals. The world-famous park offers 35 kilometres (22 miles) of sandy beaches and is but a short drive from Tofino or Ucluelet. Long Beach is the most popular and is famous for surfing. But don’t miss other landmarks like Incinerator Rock, Wickaninnish Point…the local Visitor Centre can help you find plenty of things to “see and do”.
If you’ve dreamed of kayaking on the wild Pacific Ocean, this is your dream come true. Pacific Rim is kayaking heaven. From the calm harbour waters you can set out on adven- tures that last a day or a week. You’ll discover sandy beaches, pristine lagoons, spectacular blow holes and amazing wildlife as you explore Barkley Sound, the Broken Group Islands and Clayoquot Sound. There’s a variety of operators with a variety of outings and tours.
When you arrive at Long Beach or Chesterman Beach in Pacific Rim National Park, you may be surprised to see dozens of surfers. If you’re thinking, “Hey, that looks like fun,” there are lots of surfing schools and outfitters ready to rent you the gear and get you on board. You’ll also want a wet suit (the water is 10°C (50°F)) and, yes, you have to know how to swim. Once you’ve got your sea legs, you may want to try the waves at Cox Bay Beach, where most of the surfing competitions are held. If paddle boarding is more your style, try MacKenzie Beach.
HOT SPRINGS COVE
About 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) up the coast is Hot Springs Cove. Whether you arrive by Zodiac, comfort cruiser or sea plane, you’re dropped off at a remote boardwalk trailhead where you take a 30-minute hike through an old-growth rainforest. The trail ends at a waterfall cascading into seaside pools heated by geothermal springs at 120°F.
The fishing here is world-famous, so it’s hard to walk a block in Tofino or Ucluelet without seeing a fishing charter outfit. There’s a wide range of companies, boats, rates and pack- ages. You can head straight out into the ocean after salmon and halibut or you can try a little saltwater fly fishing in spectacular Clayoquot Sound. With its protected harbour, Ucluelet is of course a fishing port and about 40 kilometres (25 miles) out to sea are some of the world’s richest salmon and halibut fishing grounds. Ling cod are plentiful, as well. You can head out for an afternoon or for days on a wide variety of charters, boats and tours. Operators aren’t shy about “guaranteeing” catches of 50-90 pounds! Whether you believe that or not, this is Pacific Ocean fishing at its best.
Not every day on the exposed North Pacific is a sunny day. Straight out across the water, that’s Japan and the in-between can serve up some wild weather. In winter and spring, the area can get 6.5 metres (21.5 feet) of rain, and a lot of it comes in sideways. And so people come from all over the world to storm-watch. They dress from head to toe in rain gear provided by their resorts and they head out into the storm, leaning into the gale like they’re flying while the wind-whipped surf crashes into the shore.
WILD PACIFIC TRAIL
The non-profit Wild Pacific Trail Society has built local trails allowing people of all ages and abilities to access and explore this rugged coastline. One trail starts at Big Beach,
cuts through the world-famous Black Rock Oceanfront Resort and continues along eight kilometres of spectacular coastline. There are towering old-growth cedar forests, storm- watching decks and platforms with amazing vistas, wild rocky bluffs and roaring surge channels. At the very tip of the Ucluelet peninsula, the Society has built a 2.6-kilometre (1.6-mile) loop trail. Park off Coast Guard Road and hike in through a mossy rainforest to a rugged, windswept coastline. The trail follows the edges of the rocky headlands, offering awesome views of Barkley Sound, the Amphitrite Lighthouse and clusters of tiny wind- swept, surf-bashed Pacific islands.