Seattle to Tofino | A Five-Day [Long Weekend] Road Trip

08 June 2016

Traveling over Memorial Day weekend is a bit of a tradition for us. More often than not, it signifies the start of our summer adventures, so we tend to treat it as more than just a long weekend. Rather, it's a celebration. And we do a little bit of breaking in: the car, sometimes the tent and pudgy pie irons, and—most certainly—our hiking boots. This year, we packed up the Prius and set out for Tofino, British Columbia on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

GETTING THERE | Seattle to Naniamo, 4.5 hours
When it's just the two of us, we tend to book the first leg of our trip and plan the rest as we go, making note of eateries we've read about, and hikes or viewpoints worth visiting. We headed out of Seattle on a Thursday evening to catch our 8:30 p.m. Tsawwassen ferry outside Vancouver. We'd reserved our tickets online, just to be sure we'd make it to Naniamo before nightfall. As the night's purple and deep blue clouds rolled in, we were lucky enough to capture the sunset on our sailing to Duke Point.

Shy of two hours later, we arrived at the terminal and made our way to our first accommodation, the Living Forest Oceanside Campground. With it being the start of high season in Tofino, we knew we'd be maxing out our accommodation budget for the trip, so we shaved off a hotel expense by camping the first night of our trip for a whopping $26/night. We rolled in to our tent site at about 11 p.m., and security popped by with a courtesy visit to see that we had everything we needed. But, of course, we'd forgotten batteries for our blow-up mattress (yes, we luxe car camp...don't judge us). And since I was under the weather and about to sleep in below 50-degree weather, we decided it was worth the hunt for batteries to ensure we'd both get a good night's sleep. Three gas stations later, we were back in business. We tucked ourselves in and called it a night.

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DAY ONE | Naniamo to Tofino, 3 hours
We woke up with a cup of joe and Eggwich at Serious Coffee, a local cafe just south of Naniamo, before getting on the road toward Tofino. With about 210 kilometers added to the odometer and a few hours into our audiobook, we pulled in to Ocean Village, our home away from home for the long weekend ahead. We'd learned the Tofino RipCurl Surf Competition would be drawing in visitors for the weekend, so we decided to book a room last-minute to ensure we'd have a place to rest our heads. (Tofino's quite small, and there isn't exactly a huge selection of Airbnbs...)

As another penny-pinching plan, we loaded up on groceries at the local Co-op to make breakfasts and lunches in our mini kitchenette. But for lunch today, Tacofino was calling.

We'd read about this so-called "food truck" all over the place. People rave about it everywhere and their following is wild about their tacos. In fact, the owners opened multiple locations in Vancouver to feed the growing Tacofino addiction that's hit the west coast. We pulled up the Prius and ordered a pork gringa, a chicken burrito, and a beef taco to share. Ho-ly smokes! That pork gringa... I'd maybe travel the seven hours from Seattle to Tofino just for another. As they said, this place is a must-visit.

We capped off our rainy day at Tofino Brewing Co., where they kindly poured us a few pints of their most popular brew, the Blonde Alemy new favorite PNW beer. Kyle started pulling around the car once my jokes started rolling and my fit of giggles wouldn't quit, and we finished out the night with a few drinks back at our tiny cabin.

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DAY TWO | Tofino
Having deserted our alarm clocks on vacation, we let our bodies awake when they wanted. And around 9 a.m., we rolled out of bed to make breakfast in our PJs and take our time settling in to the day. There were no clear plans ahead, so we drove toward the town center and, to our surprise, caught the last few hours of the Tofino Public Market's live music and camaraderie.

Two of our typical travel splurges are sampling different coffees and breweries. Today, Tuff Beans, just down the street from the market, welcomed us in at mid-day for a cappuccino and an iced Americano with roasted beans from BC's Kicking Horse roaster. We relaxed and considered the day's options: water taxi to Meares Island to hike Big Tree Trail ($30/person; ~2 hours, easy trail), hike the Tonquin Trail to the beach (free, ~40 min., easy trail), or explore the Pacific Rim.

At permits being $18/person for two full days in the park, we elected to save Pacific Rim for Monday and/or Tuesday, when we'd have ample time to make use of our two-day permits. But Meares Island was a tough call. So many people recommended a visit to the west coast's largest cedar tree. Although, at $30/person for a water taxi and hike compared to numerous island hikes awaiting us back home, we nixed it. Instead, we took the Tonquin Trail to the beach and searched for sea urchins, starfish, and other tide pool treasures at the end of the trail. We spent the rest of this lazy day wandering the streets of Tofino and grilling up some brats on the beach.

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DAY THREE | Hot Springs Cove & Cox Bay Beach
Our favorite day, by far, did not come without its challenges. Well... at least, for me. We hopped aboard a seaplane with Atleo Airpilot Malcolm at the controlsand soared 5,000 feet over the Pacific to Hot Springs Cove, where we soaked for hours in our own natural pool.

My stomach twisted and turned for more than two days leading up to our seaplane ride. I barely slept the night before our flight, I peed about eight times in the 30 minutes before boarding, and I was white as paper as we strapped ourselves in to a toy-sized plane. Anyone who knows me well will tell you I like to err on the side of caution. Like, always. I'm an anxious-ridden nervous wreck doing even the simplest activities. So, for me, signing up to soar over the Pacific Ocean in a tiny flying machine isn't exactly the relaxing, calming experience you might imagine it to be.

But, now that it's behind me, I can tell you it was one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had. The scenery was like nothing I've seen beforejust continuous coastline views, vibrant rolling mountains, and bright blue waters stretching for miles and miles. While I still needed some chatter to keep my mind busy during the flight (and Kyle and Malcolm kindly obliged), the views beneath the seaplane wings captivated us. Truly breathtaking. With a few hours on the island, we followed the boardwalk to the hot springs and discovered a little pool just perfect for two. For Everything You Need to Know about Tofino's Hot Springs Cove, we'll be publishing a new post soon!

Surprisingly, my nerves heightened just before climbing into the plane to head back home. Again, the pilot prepped me before we hit a few bouts of turbulence on the ascent and kept our conversation flowing for the 20-minute ride to Tofino while I distracted myself with the view, Kyle at my side. I finally took a breath once the plane hit the water. I planted my feet on the dock only to leap into the air again and again, jumping on Kyle with excitement: "I DID IT. I LIVED IT, AND I'M ALIVE!" Spinning in circles with my head to the sky and my arms out wide, I celebrated this small victory of overcoming a massive fear.

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View from Cox Bay Beach trail
The weather was too beautiful to call it a day, so we drove straight from the dock to Cox Bay Beach in search of a trail we'd spotted online. Our only indication of finding the so-called trailhead was a giant piece of driftwood at the southend of the beach, as promised by locals. From that log, we'd climb about 2.5 km uphillthrough mud pits, up rock piles, over tree roots, and under branchesto reach the most incredible view in all of Tofino.*

We later capped off our day with our only dinner out in Tofino. Stomachs growling, we ordered a Block Party feast for two at Wolf in the Fog, making it the third best decision we'd made that day. BBQ pulled pork, roasted chicken, a half rack of ribs, pickled watermelon, and the tastiest cornbread we've ever eaten was plated for us. And it was so. freaking. good. Stuffed silly, we made our way back to Ocean Village, where a beautiful beach sunset beckoned us. Blonde Ales in hand, we ended the night fireside.

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DAY FOUR | Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
Before arriving in Tofino, we'd stopped off at the Pacific Rim Visitor Center in Ucluelet to get the scoop on permits, trail accessibility, and tide levels. The ranger tipped us off to a few rare finds down at Florencia Beach: a small boat and a young gray whale, which had made their way to the shoreline a few days earlier. Having grown up so far from the ocean, it's incredible to me the kinds of sea life and other-worldly things that turn up on shores. We wanted to see it for ourselves.

We followed the Willowbrae Trail (2.8 km, easy) to the beach, then walked another mile until we came across the beached whale. Had birds not been flocking the area, we likely would've walked right past itit was covered in sand and camouflaged by natural debris. We'd later learn there was no apparent reason for it's passing, just simply nature taking its course. Farther down the beach, the small ship laid on its side, a small red and white boat dubbed Regulus. The backend had been entirely demolished by waves. And the boat's contents scattered the shoreline, caught between giant pieces of drift wood. Thankfully, no one was in the boat as it sank. Rather, a local resident purchased it at auction and attempted to tow it across the bay when it started gathering water and slowly sinking. They cut the line and the boat turned up on shore the next day.

Before firing up our final campfire of the trip outside our Ocean Village cabin, we played nine holes on the Long Island Golf Course and, for the first time ever, I came close to beating Kyle. It's true! We made a roadside stop at Chocolate Tofino on the way back to camp and treated ourselves to a Mint Chocolate Flake chocolate-dipped waffle cone. Let me tell you, this ice cream was unreal. I've never liked mint chocolate ice cream in my life. Until Chocolate Tofino. And now that I've fallen in love, I'm heartbroken they don't sell it anywhere else.

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DAY FIVE | Tofino to Seattle
Needless to say, our vacation was winding down. For five hours, we traveled back to Vancouver, this time by way of the Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay ferry. There was just one last to-do in Canada: hike Bowen Point. I'd read about the Cyprus Mountain trail a few months earlier, but wasn't quite sure a short, 4.4-km hike warranted it's own border crossing alone. But it certainly made the perfect travel break in our long trip home.

Typically, hiking is calming and soothing to me. You know, a relaxing experience encompassed by wildlife. That is, of course, unless you pull up to a trailhead with signs that warn, "50% of Canada's grizzly bear population and 25% of the black bear population lives in this region. Be bear safe."

GAH.

And, of course, luck would have it that zero other hikers were heading to Bowen Point. None. Nada. It was just us and the bears, for all 4.4 km. So, rather than enjoy the sounds of nature, I nearly sprinted through the forest (Kyle in tow) yelling things like, "LOUD NOISES" and jumping at the sound of rattling trees until we reached the stunningly beautiful Bowen Point summit. And for a moment, we weren't thinking about bears at all.

Unscathed by wildlife, we ended our trip with a victorious seaplane experience, a newfound love for mint chocolate ice cream, another few hikes in the book, and so much gratitude for the beautiful world we live in. Tofino, we'll be back.

Retrace our steps in Tofino. Pin our itinerary for your first trip to one of Vancouver Island's best-kept secrets.

*Note, the Tofino tourism board does not recommend the Cox Bay beach trail due to safety, unmarked trail concerns (E.g., getting lost or injured), and depreciation of the natural area. 

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