While standing on the beach in Tofino, staring at the Pacific Ocean (the only thing separating me from Japan), I began to understand why people think this is the end of the road for Western Canada. However, with all it has to offer, this small town on the western side of Vancouver Island is really the starting point, and November is a particularly great time to discover why.
It’s rare when visitors choose a destination for its bad weather, but that’s exactly what happens in Tofino starting in November. Many people visit with the sole intention of getting caught in the heavy storms and high winds during the winter storm-watching season, a phenomenon that has been catching on among thrill-seekers, weather enthusiasts, and romantics for the last five years.
Bill McIntyre, owner and operator of Long Beach Nature Tours says, “[During] October through March each year, along the Pacific Northwest coast, intense low pressure systems move onto the shoreline from hundreds or even a thousand or more miles offshore. These exciting and dramatic winter storms are humbling to witness, as they exhibit some of nature’s most powerful forces at work.”
Visitors can experience the storms in a variety of different ways. Dave Pettinger, owner and operator of the Pacific Sands Beach Resort, says some people “witness the awesome fury of a wild winter storm from the comfort of a villa or suite, with a fireplace, soaker tub, favorite companion, and beverage by their side, while others sit atop the rocks at Sunset Point and witness firsthand the power and excitement of the winter surf, which can produce waves up to 40 feet.”
Since it can be dangerous to hike the shoreline alone during a storm, visitors can take tours along the coastal trails and headlands with an experienced local guide. McIntyre, who offers a Storm-Seekers tour, says, “Visitors can now experience up close, but in relative safety, the exhilaration of a winter storm.” Tours can range from two to four hours, with an all-day option. Those who participate will “witness wave-swept cliffs, huge ocean swells, breaking surf, and the cacophony of the ocean’s fury as it assaults the outer shores,” says McIntyre. One of the more popular hiking trails offered on a tour is the Wild Pacific Trail, located in nearby Ucluelet.
But not every winter day in Tofino is wet and stormy. Pettinger says, “We can also get quite mild and sunny weather during the storm season. Tofino can often be the warmest spot in Canada during the winter months; some people call it ‘Canada’s Hawaii.'” He adds, “this unfortunately can disappoint people who booked specifically to see a storm. One thing can be guaranteed and that is the weather is very unpredictable during the winter and can change so suddenly.”
During one of the sunny days, visitors can explore the downtown area, which overlooks the Clayoquot Sound, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Typical activities include shopping, sightseeing, or dining at one of the many fine restaurants.
For those feeling a bit more adventurous, outfitters line the streets, offering everything from whale-watching tours to kayak trips. Tofino is also a surfer’s paradise and many enthusiasts visit during the winter months for the massive waves and fewer crowds. And for those in need of something a little more educational, the Raincoast Interpretive Center provides seminars and information about the Pacific Rim National Park and the surrounding area. The Tofino Botanical Gardens, with more than 12 acres of flora and fauna, also provides workshops and field trips to help promote coastal rain forest awareness.
For visitors looking for a more culinary taste of Tofino, the city has designated November as oyster month, during which many local restaurants will offer oyster specialties every night. A festival celebrating the mollusk will also take place from November 16 through 18, and activities will include farm boat tours, a Mermaid’s Ball, and a gala, where oysters will be served in every way imaginable. Tickets are sold separately for each event, and it’s wise to book early as they tend to go fast.
Weather and oysters aside, another reason people visit Tofino in November is for the value. Many resorts and hotels reduce their prices and offer packages during the winter season. For instance, Pacific Sands Beach Resort offers Wild for Winter Specials, with rooms starting at $360 (about $317 U.S.; Check XE.com for current exchange rates) for three-night stays, and Long Beach Lodge is offering the Oyster Bed package, which includes an oceanview room for two, continental breakfast, and a three-course dinner starting at $279 CAD for a two-night minimum stay. Check with the Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce for other specials or hotel deals in the area.
Whether you choose to visit Tofino for the weather, the oysters, or the breathtaking scenery and adventure, November is the perfect time to avoid crowds, save a little money, and see why this picturesque town is either a starting point or an ending point to the rest of Canada. I’ll leave it up to you to decide.