• Claire

A Guide to Tofino! Vancouver Island B.C | Hot Springs, Beaches, Whales

Updated: Apr 27, 2019

A lazy, hippie surfer town is probably the last thing you'd expect to come across in Canada, but Tofino on Vancouver Island is exactly that. Sandy beaches, untouched natural scenery, hipster coffee shops and incredible wildlife make this town a gem of the Canadian west.

We actually originally weren't planning to visit Tofino as we had booked the trans-Canada train with ViaRail. But when ViaRail emailed to notify us that the 3-day train journey was going to take an extra day we opted to take a refund and book a quick trip to Tofino instead and we are so glad we did! If you ever find yourself on Canada's west coast, you must include a visit to Tofino in your itinerary.

Tofino is a small village nestled within Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island, off Canada's west coast. Along with being a year-round surfing destination, Tofino is know for its wild natural scenery and abundant wildlife.

Map of Tofino

We spent 2 days/2 nights in Tofino in early September.

Day 1

After arriving in Tofino by bus late the previous night, we spent the first morning orientating ourselves and taking a walk around the town. We quickly realised that Tofino is expensive and that many activities/tours very much exceeded our backpacker budget. So we decided to take the free Tofino shuttle which runs between the town and Cox Bay, down to Cox Bay and walk back up exploring the beaches on the way.

Tofino Free Shuttle Service

Tofino is known as the place in Canada for surfing and even on a gloomy, cold day there were heaps of brave surfers out on the water!

Many people recommended Surf Sister as a great company for surf lessons.

South Chesterman Beach

The rugged landscape of Clayoquot Sound

Exploring hidden caves

Tacofino is a famous west-coast food truck which has now expanded to Victoria and Vancouver. The original iconic orange truck is located at the back of the Life to Surf carpark and there's always a line-up so you know it must be good!

Source: @tacofinotofino on Instagram

After a day of exploring, we walked down to the appropriately named - Sunset Beach to watch the sunset. We set up our hammocks and had the place to ourselves!

Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach

Day 2

For our second day in Tofino we decided to splurge on a tour and visit the hot springs. Whilst the tour seemed expensive at $130 pp, it ended up being so worth it!

We went with The Whale Centre and our guide Alistair was really exceptional. During the 1.5hr trip down the coast to the hot springs he was constantly in contact with other whale watching boats to locate the passing animals.

We saw multiple grey whales breaching right in front of us! Our guide also pointed out otters and sea lions! The abundance of wildlife in their natural environment was just incredible.

Boat trip to the hot springs

Beautiful Clayoquot Sound

A breaching grey whale

Whale spotting

Look closely - you can see an otter!

The hot springs are accessed by a winding rainforest boardwalk trail.

The Tofino Hot Springs are natural volcanic mineral pools which are nestled in the rocky shoreline and run into the ocean. As they are completely natural they are super hot - around 50 degrees celsius! We spent an hour or two soaking in the rock pools.

The Tofino hot springs

The Tofino hot springs

I had asked our guide what the chance of seeing Orcas were as I knew they were present in the area. He told me roughly 10%. But on our return trip we had the incredible luck of seeing them! A group of six were swimming alongside our boat in the distance! Such a goosebumps moment and a highlight of the trip for me.

Other Things to Do in Tofino

There are heaps of other cool activities to do in Tofino like:

  • Going whale/bear watching

  • Hiring bikes and riding around the island

  • Going surfing (if you're brave!)

  • Salmon fishing excursions

  • Storm watching

  • Sea kayaking

  • Ziplining

  • Golfing

See Tourism Tofino for more ideas.

Getting There

Getting to Tofino from Vancouver was quite a hike. We caught a bus from Pacific Central Station in Vancouver to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, then caught the ferry to Nanaimo, then caught the 3 hour Tofino Bus to Tofino.

The bus cost around $50 each way and the ferry was $19 each way.

It is also possible to catch a flight to Tofino at an extra cost.

Where We Stayed

We stayed at the HI Tofino Whalers on the Point Guesthouse which was a clean, friendly and equipped hostel - with a great view of the harbour and within walking distance to downtown Tofino.

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Check out my other adventures in Canada here!