Epic Road Trip to Tofino
With only 205km to cover one would think that this is not really worth calling a road trip as it could be completed within 3 hours. But let me show you something different, because this is an epic road trip to Tofino….
The natural wonders of this amazing road trip to Tofino start north of Nanaimo at the eastern shore of Vancouver Island where we leave the Island Highway onto the Highway 4 westward.
The Pacific Rim Highway also nicknamed Canada’s Surf Highway stretches through stunning landscape. On this spectacular road trip to Tofino we travelled amongst mountains, giant ancient forests, pristine lakes, mighty rivers and ran around on Canadas, most spectacular beaches.
Harbour communities of Port Alberni and Ucluelet (if you make the detour) will greet you and leave you in awe until you reach the final destination, Tofino.
Must stops along the Pacific Rim Highway - Road Trip to Tofino
Plan this road trip to Tofino as a whole day activity. Viewpoints and fun easy hikes will cover the time and make this an absolute adventure for the whole family.
Take it all in and enjoy the remote rugged beauty Vancouver Island has become famous for.
Tips and suggestions
The following stops mentioned below have worked for us travelling with young kids aged nearly 4 at the time. We had plenty of time and the diversity of every single stop along this breathtaking road trip to Tofino was worth every minute.
At the end of this post I have added some stops that are also worth checking. Maybe on your way back from Tofino to Nanaimo. Or if you are really that ahead of time they might still fit into your epic road trip to Tofino. As we’re travelling with young kids it would have just been far too much in a day and honestly also for us. But feel free to customise this road trip to Tofino as you like.
Let’s get this epic road trip to Tofino started…
(58km / 40min from Nanimo)
This might just be a quick stop but it is well worth the view across Cameron Lake. Stop at the eastern tip of the lake and admire the beautiful scenery. There is a small road sign saying Cameron Lake Camp Ground on your right and the road looks like you will not really be getting anywhere, but this is the turning you have to take. Anyway if you do start to see the lake on your right whilst driving you have missed the turnoff.
Cathedral Grove – MacMillan Provincial Park
(64km / 50 min from Nanaimo)
A short way further down the highway awaits the next major stop along Highway 4, sitting at the western tip of Cameron Lake, is MacMillan Provincial Park. This will be the most famous stop on your road trip to Tofino and a must.
The park is only small but it sure packs one hell of a punch. It’s home of the ancient giant trees of Vancouver Island and to an ancient Douglas-Fir and Red Cedar tree forest, known as Cathedral Grove - a much loved spot and shortlisted as being one of the seven wonders of Canada.
These ancient trees age up to 800 years old and almost 3m in diameter providing a unique sight!
Along the family friendly hiking trail there are rich and vibrant colours. Ferns and mosses carpet the forest with shades of green, trees tower high above in the sky. We were absolutely in awe and could not believe the sheer nature we’re able to experience during this short walk. There are fallen trees displaying their roots which the whole family can fit inside. Observe how new, young nature is growing amongst the dead trees! Seriously you will love this place.
Parking next to the Cathedral Grove trailhead is right by the main road on both sides of the highway, 20km east from the Island Highway interchange.
Hole In The Wall
(1h20min to Port Alberni from Nanaimo)
Just as you enter the harbour town of Port Alberni lies this hidden and unique photo-stop of the Hole in The Wall. You can actually also go for a swim if you really fancy. Take a short stroll to The Hole in the Wall Waterfall and get some great photos. It might be a bit tricky to find it without a map, but just pin this post and follow our directions.
To find this spot you will need to park at a small dirt pullout on the north side of the highway, just prior to Coombs County Candy store (the new one). You’ve missed it if you have passed the store. Cross over to the south side of the highway and just to the right of the concrete barrier (park there if you are driving to Nanaimo) follow the small gravel trail down. Small wooden signs have been mounted to help you navigate the 10 to 15 minutes’ walk to the Hole in the Wall.
Alternatively, once you get to Port Alberni follow the signs for the visitor centre where you can pick up a detailed map that will lead you straight to the waterfall via the west side.
For a bit of history; the town needed to blast a hole through the rock wall to run their water supply pipe. Yes, you know it now, it is a man-made hole but a very pretty one.
But like with many places, times have changed and the pipeline was no longer needed which left the village with this unique and beautiful spot.
Port Alberni - re-fuel mind, body and vehicle
(86km / 1h10min to Port Alberni from Nanaimo)
Take half an hour of your road trip to Tofino and spend it at the Harbour Quay in Port Alberni. Some cute little shops and ideal to grab a bite and admire this magnificent view over Vancouver Island’s longest inland waterway! A playground is right down by the water front and also an amazing ice cream/candy shop. You can park there as well, but don’t take my word for this during peak season. You might have to drive around a bit and find yourself a parking place.
Wally Creek – Kennedy River Love Locks and swimming
(142km from Nanaimo)
Once you have re-fueled mind, body and vehicle and the kids have had a good jump around at the playground in Port Alberni carry on with your road trip to Tofino. The highway continues onward west and you will now be passing through the rugged mountainous part of this road trip to Tofino.
After roughly 56 kilometers from leaving Port Alberni, you will find a new popular stop along the road trip to Tofino. The Love Lock Fence! A bit like in Paris and in many places around the world, where couples and family members leave reminders of their stop by way of a padlock. We’re not such a big fan of things like this, but everybody has their own preferences. It has given us a great short stop as the scenery is breathtaking and the kids could throw a few rocks in to the water. You cannot miss it as it is right on the road.
We have been told that this place is also a gem for hot summer days. Some great cliff jumping and hidden water holes providing a fun day to cool off the Vancouver Island summer heat.
Just be careful if you access the part to explore out onto the rocks along the river. It can get quite slippery and the river can be powerfully cutting through the landscape.
You will find this place right next to the highway.
Pacific Rim Visitor Centre
To experience the rest of the trip you need to have your National Pass permits which you can get at the Visitor Centre plus some great trail maps. A stop might be good as they will also tell you if there are any trails closed during your stay. That is if you do not have already a General Canada National Pass Permit that includes the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The Centre is at the “Tofino - Ucluelet Junction” impossible to miss.
Depending on your schedule you can do either or both of these next places before reaching your final destination; Tofino.
Long Beach for a run around
(190km / 2h50min from Nanaimo)
As this was the end stretch of our road trip to Tofino we wanted to hit the beach and get the surfers feel right away before settling for the night in our accommodation. Even though we’re not surfing, yet, we do love a beach!
You will see an open space on your left marked Long Beach where there is parking and you are right at the beach.
Should this place be full then further down towards Ucluelet at the next pull in is another parking lot which will bring you to the same beach.
The beach is very short…. Haha just kidding, a massive sandy sprawl of a 10km long beach awaits your family.
I hope you do have some snacks in your bag, and some OJ for the kids. This place is all about being and exploring. Watch the sun going slowly down behind the crashing waves in the distance whilst the surfers are demonstrating their tricks.
Cox Bay - Secret Viewpoint
(190km / 2h50min from Nanaimo)
Before I reveal this beautiful point, I ask you please to respect the nature when you climb up there. Please do not make me regret to reveal this viewpoint.
We did this hike on our 2nd day, but you could fit it in your road trip to Tofino if the family still has some energy and you’re all up for an amazing view and even stay for sunset. Walk to the end of the beach, with the sea on your right. A small way inside the forest is the start of the trail. It is not marked and a bit of path finder’s sense is needed to find the starting point.
Once inside the forest you start the short climb, trying to keep left where possible. There are not many passages where the narrow path is splitting. You do need to climb a bit in some places, but nothing exceptional. Our 3.5-year-old twins loved this hike because of the climbing involved.
You will have reached the top when you exit the forest and the amazing view of Cox Bay is visible below you.
Detour to Ucluelet before heading Up North to Tofino
(182 km / 2h40min from Nanaimo)
You would Detour down to Ucluelet before heading up to Long Beach and Cox Beach.
After the Pacific Rim Visitor Centre you are at the “Tofino - Ucluelet Junction” and depending on the time of the day and your energy levels you could still squeeze in the detour down to Ucluelet (left) where you will find the Wild Pacific Trail. We do suggest to take an extra day though to explore the Wild Pacific Trail. It stretches along the rugged Ucluelet coastline from the 100-year-old Amphitrite Lighthouse and winds its way north along the Ucluelet Peninsula before it reaches the boundary of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
The trail is suitable for all fitness levels and all ages and can be shortened to your liking.
Alternative stops along this Road Trip to Tofino
Below I have listed some alternative stops and hikes along this beautiful road trip to Tofino. We have not stopped at these places but they could certainly be a nice add on to your trip.
Pick what interests you the most and put together an unforgettable epic road trip to Tofino.
Alternatively, these might give you some great stops on your way back to Nanaimo.
This way you would have most certainly seen the best places there are along the Highway 4 and up to Tofino and Down to Ucluelet.
Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park
(55km / 40 Min from Nanaimo)
Some Impressive waterfalls cascade and plummet down a rocky gorge in a beautiful forest setting. A great way to spend a one hour break on your Road trip to Tofino whilst hiking the loop and seeing the lower falls and upper falls, which will take about 1 hour.
Giant Cedar Trail
(143km / 2h from Nanaimo)
An alternative to the Cathedral Grove – MacMillan Provincial Park stop, could be the Giant Cedar Trail. Only 6km further down the highway from the Wally Creek, a small sign and pullout signals the trailhead. This part is still left in it’s natural state and the dirt trail allows a more natural experience in the forest than Cathedral Grove. Although I strongly suggest not to miss out on the Cathedral Grove. The beauty of this particular forest trail is the uniqueness the Giant Cedar trees offer compared to the Douglas Fir that dominates the forest of Cathedral Grove.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
(184km / 2h45min from Nanaimo)
If you and the family still have some energy then squeeze in this amazing short walk, it is a good one.
Everyone talks about the coastal temperate rain forests of Vancouver Island. Standing amongst these old giant growths is a must do as words and photos don’t do them any justice. The trail has two loops, Trail A and Trail B both of which are 1km long. They consist completely of rebuilt boardwalks completed in the spring of 2018. Although the trail counts 731 steps so it is not an easy flat 2 km (total) hike, but even with stops at the informative trail plaques and with all the photography opportunities it is amazingly beautiful.
The trails meander through the ancient old growth giant cedars, Douglas fir and hemlock. The forest floor and canopy are alive with birds and wildlife as you explore the sights and sounds.
The parking lot is located on the west (ocean) side of the highway.
Schooner Cove Trail – Long Beach Tofino
(192km / 2h52min from Nanaimo)
Close to Tofino is the Schooner Cove Trail. Unfortunately, due to storm damage this trail was closed when we visited, but I have read and heard only good things about it. People say it is a beautiful hike in the late afternoon. Which will be the case if you have followed our Itinerary of this amazing road trip to Tofino.
Once you have collected your pass head north towards Tofino for 16km and watch for the Schooner Cove parking lot on your left. It is a 2km boardwalk through the rainforest leading all the way down to Long Beach!
Road Trip to Tofino, Distance and Drive Times
Nanaimo to Tofino distance and drive time: 207 kms roughly 3 hours
Port Alberni to Tofino distance and drive time: 127 kms roughly 2 hours
Ucluelet to Tofino distance and drive time: 40 kms roughly 40 mins
Where to stay in Tofino
Tofino Motel Harborview
Cox Bay Beach Resort
Good to Know
about this Road trip to Tofino
On the road
The Pacific Rim Highway (highway 4) has started major roadworks in May 2019 to improve the whole area. The road might be closed for several hours during the day or allow only single line traffic which can cause delays. Delays are normally marked well ahead on big road signs whilst you’re driving so take notice of these announcements. Even better go prepared and check out the road website.
Hiking by the beach
Some hikes are better when it is low tide as you can enjoy the tidal rock pools. Check out the tide table in advance.
Sure, and certain is that you will have an amazing road trip to Tofino no matter where you stop and how many trails you hike. It is the road to paradise.
Things to do whilst in Tofino
I am guessing that you will not only stay one night in Tofino, then that would be a shame. This place has so much on offer, and honestly we would have loved to stay a few more days longer. All the above alternative stops can of course also be done during your stay. But there is one thing you cannot miss apart from visiting all the beaches, and that is the Bear Watch Tour with Ocean Outfitters.
Let us know below in the comments of any other amazing places along this small but worthwhile road trip to Tofino.