Long a hideout for draft-dodging hippies, the old mining and logging town of Tofino, on the northwest side of Canada’s Vancouver Island, seems like an oxymoron: a Canadian surf spot. Combine the beauty of Puget Sound with the ruggedness and frontier feel of Southeast Alaska and you get an idea of the feel here. It is a small town, home to just a few thousand people, and yet hosts close to a million tourists every year (Clayoquot Sound is a UNESCO World Heritage site). While such overheated tourism would typically have us running in the opposite direction, we’ve found the key to Tofino is timing your trip, and autumn is perfect for a visit.
By Fall, the summer hordes have thinned, the weather is still good (by Canadian standards), and it turns out some really great waves start to pump. Known as Canada’s “Surf City,” Tofino is the center of a booming industry in Canada. While you could certainly show up and simply paddle out and jostle with the locals for a spot, we recommend hiring local surfer Raph Bruhwiler to take you around (firstname.lastname@example.org). He’s one of the best surfers in the area and will take you via boat to the best surf spots (hopefully far from the crowd). Plus, he’s a survival specialist – this is Canada after all – and is used to camping on the remote coast. He’s also the only surfer we know who carries a loaded .45 with him when he goes to the beach.
If donning a thick wetsuit, hood, booties and gloves to surf in 50-degree water isn’t your jam, Tofino is still worth a visit for all the other natural wonders afforded by the Pacific Northwest. You can wander for miles in Pacific Rim National Park, or go sea kayaking on the calm inland waterways while watching for whales. Or hop on a floatplane and go fly-fishing for trout and salmon in the many remote bays and creeks. You can combine a day of whale watching with a not-to-be-missed visit to Hot Springs Cove located in Maquinna Marine Park. Or simply comb one of the beautiful broad beaches for some of the Tsunami debris direct from Japan while watching one of the late autumn storms roll in.
Tofino’s well-oiled tourism industry does have one distinct advantage: For how blissfully far away from civilization the place can feel, it’s pretty easy to get to, and there’s a lot of cool places to stay (we like Beach Break Lodge for the ocean views and private hot tub). You can take a ferry from Seattle or Vancouver to Victoria and jump on a bus from there, or even hitch a ride on a floatplane from Vancouver, getting the added bonus of a beautiful ride and the smoothest take-off and landing any plane can offer.