The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is a magnificent amalgam of mountains, coastal rainforest, wild beaches and unspoiled marine landscapes stretching intermittently for 125km between the towns of Tofino in the north and Port Renfrew to the south. It divides into three distinct areas: Long Beach, which is the most popular; the Broken Group Islands, hundreds of islets only accessible to sailors and kayakers; and the West Coast Trail, a tough but popular long-distance hike. The whole area has also become a magnet for surfing and whale-watching. By taking the MV Frances Barkley from Port Alberni to Bamfield or Ucluelet and back, and combining this with shuttle buses or scheduled buses from Victoria, Port Alberni and Nanaimo, a wonderfully varied combination of itineraries is possible around the region.
Lying north of Long Beach, Tofino, once a fishing village, has been dramatically changed by tourism, but with its natural charm, scenic position and plentiful accommodation, it still makes the best base for general exploration. Ucluelet, 40km to the southeast, is comparatively less attractive, but almost equally geared to providing tours and accommodating the park’s 800,000 or so annual visitors.Unless you fly in, you’ll enter the park on Hwy-4 from Port Alberni, which means the first part you’ll see is Long Beach, shadowed along its length to Tofino by Hwy-4. Note that the beautiful (105km) stretch of road from Port Alberni to the park’s visitor centre requires careful driving – much of it is windy and adjoined by sheer drops. At “The Junction”, where Hwy-4 forks east for Ucluelet and west for Tofino, you’ll find the Pacific Rim National Park visitor information centre. Bamfield, a tiny and picturesque community with a limited amount of in-demand accommodation, lies much farther southeast (it’s 190km from Ucluelet by road) and is known mainly as the northern trailhead of the West Coast Trail.
The weather on this part of the island boasts short but sunny summers and a soaking rainy season (an average of 330cm of rain falls annually), but the motto for this part of the world is that there’s no such thing as bad weather – just the wrong clothes; so bring boots and a rain coat and spend your time admiring crashing Pacific breakers, hiking the backcountry and surfing. In the off-season (Jan & Feb), storm-watching has become a popular pastime, and rates for accommodation tend to be cheaper.