The Outdoorsy Guide to Ucluelet and Tofino British Columbia

November 2, 2021

I recently spent a month on Vancouver Island and let me tell you one thing: this place is going to blow up over the next couple of years. This not so secret destination is slowly making its way onto the itineraries of travelers everywhere. Ucluelet and Tofino have changed quite a bit over the last couple of years, Ucluelet less than Tofino, but nonetheless more people are flocking to the Pacific Coast of Vancouver Island.

In this guide to Ucluelet and Tofino I break down all of the places I explored, indulged and slumbered. Let’s get to it.

How to be a responsible traveler on Vancouver Island (and beyond)

As travel becomes a ‘thing’ again there are a few things to remember. Many businesses are experiencing a shortage in staff and the staff to traveler ratio is off. Meaning, things might be running slower, wait times might be longer, capacities might still be limited and items may not be available.

Although Vancouver Island doesn’t really feel like an island, it is! And all of your decisions affect the environment around you. Seeing so many businesses using compostable takeaway containers and coffee cups, paper straws and local ingredients made me happy. As travelers, it’s important to do our part when it comes to sustainability in the places we visit. I encourage you to bring a reusable canvas bag, coffee mug, water bottle, cutlery set and metal straw – anything that can help you reduce your waste while visiting!

Entering Canada as US Citizen by Air

The pandemic has changed so much and travel is surely one of them. As countries re-open there are never before used entry requirements. To enter Canada as a United States citizen you must provide proof of vaccination, a negative COVID test and complete the forms in the ArriveCan app on your phone. There is a little confusion surrounding the acceptable test types for entering Canada. Personally, I got the Rapid Diagnostic Test (ID NOW) at Walgreens and received my results in less than 24 hours. Head here for full details on entering Canada. You’ll likely show all of your documents during the pre-boarding process of your flight.

Upon landing in Canada, you’ll head straight to customs where you’ll share your documents: passport, proof of vaccination, negative COVID test and your ArriveCan e-receipt proving you filled out the necessary documents to enter. Additionally, customs officers are required to fill a certain quota for random testing. I was chosen for random testing at YVR so after I collected my bags, I went and registered for my test, received the test and was on my way all within 40 minutes. If you are selected, you don’t wait there for your results rather you head to your destination and results are emailed to you within 24-72 hours.

Re-Entering the US from Canada as a US Citizen by Air

As a US citizen re-entering the states from Canada, you must provide a negative COVID-19 test taken with 72 hours of your planned arrival back in the country. I found COVID testing isn’t as widely available as it is in the states and it is much more expensive. To find out where you can get tested in British Columbia, head here.

The most convenient way to get tested to re-enter the US (from Vancouver) is at Vancouver International Airport. In the departures terminal, below the Fairmont, there is a clinic providing tests accepted by the US (except Hawaii) and you receive your results within 20 minutes. I recommend making an appointment through CVM Medical to ensure you can get tested, receive your results and travel home. The tests are $139CA, $109USD, which as I said previously is much more expensive than tests within the US.

COVID-19 Requirements in British Columbia

Each Canadian province has different requirements. I was surprised (and happy) to see masks were required inside every business and proof of vaccination was required to enter gyms, restaurants, sporting events, theaters or anywhere else you’d spend a prolonged period of time. Head here for a full outline of requirements while visiting British Columbia.

How to get to Ucluelet and Tofino

When arriving in Vancouver, there are a couple of different ways to get to the island and in this guide to Ucluelet and Tofino I break down 3 ways to travel to the West side of the island. Option 1 is great when you only want to explore Ucluelet and Tofino whereas options 2 and 3 are better if you have extra time on the island to explore Victoria, Nanaimo, Sooke or any other places.

Option 1: Fly to Tofino-Long Beach Airport (YAZ)  from Vancouver (YVR)

There are a few flights running between Tofino and Vancouver during the week. The flights are 45 minutes on Pacific Coastal Airlines and cost an average of $250USD roundtrip. This is the quickest option when your destination is Ucluelet/Tofino. Once you land, you can pick up your pre-booked rental car at YAZ.

Option 2: Fly to Vancouver Island, rent a car and drive to Ucluelet/Tofino

The second option is booking a seaplane to the island or flying Air Canada to Nanaimo (YCD) and renting a car. By seaplane, you will take the complementary shuttle from YVR to Richmond (YVR South) where you’ll board the seaplane with Harbour Air. Once in Nanaimo you’ll be able to rent a car, I recommend booking your car ahead of time to ensure availability.

Flights with Harbour Air to Nanaimo average between $164USD to $248USD depending on the tier you select. Its important to note that the seaplanes rely heavily on the weather and visibility. The likelihood of a flight cancellation due to either of these things is present.

On the other hand, flights, roundtrip, from Vancouver to Nanaimo with Air Canada average $290USD-$380USD, excluding baggage unless you have status. Once you’ve arrived there are rental car services available at the airport.

Option 3: Rent a car at YVR and ferry to the island

There are plenty of rental car services available at YVR. Once you’ve rented your car you’ll make your way to one of the two ferry terminals in Vancouver. You can either do Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay (Nanaimo) or Tswwassen to Duke Point. Both ferry’s average $215USD roundtrip with a vehicle and 2 people. If you choose to taxi to the terminal and travel on the ferry as a foot passenger then rent a car once you’re on the island, tickets cost an average of $70USD for 2 people roundtrip.

Why two ferry options? Well, the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal is further from the airport but your arrival is right in downtown Nanaimo. Whereas the Tswassen ferry terminal is closer to YVR but your arrival to the island at Duke Point further from downtown Nanaimo and ultimately further from Ucluelet/Tofino. My recommendation is Horseshoe Bay to Departure bay if your final destination is Ucluelet/Tofino.

Driving to Ucluelet/Tofino

Once you’re finally on the island it’s time to head West, assuming you didn’t fly directly to Tofino! The drive to Ucluelet/Tofino is pretty straight forward. You’ll be on highway BC-4 West for the majority of it and it’s absolutely stunning. I recommend making a day out of this drive and stopping along the way. My must see stops along the way are:

  • Neck Point
  • Qualicum Falls
  • Cameron Lake
  • Cathedral Grove
  • Port Alberni
  • Sproat Lake

There is one road in and out of Ucluelet/Tofino and part of it is currently under construction and will continue to be through 2022. Normally, the drive takes about 2 hours from Nanaimo but with this construction it’s recommended to allot for an extra hour. You’ll want to plan your arrival to Ucluelet/Tofino according to this construction schedule to ensure you aren’t waiting for hours. Currently the road is closed 5am-7am & 11am-3pm Monday – Friday and no traffic will be let through at these times. On weekends, traffic is let through at the top of the hour. Here is more information about the road closure and what to expect.

Once through the construction, the road gets back to being it’s scenic self! You’ll eventually reach a T in the road, to the left is Ucluelet and to the right is Tofino! This is where your experience begins and where this guide to Ucluelet and Tofino gets to the good stuff.

Where to Stay

The ol’ Ucluelet or Tofino debate! Tofino is definitely the more popular and luxurious of the two but Ucluelet is its more eclectic, fisherman village-y little sister. That’s not to say Ucluelet deserves any less time than Tofino! There is a lot of charm, beautiful views and delicious food to be experienced. In my guide to Ucluelet and Tofino I wanted to include and recommend the two accommodations I stayed at because they are different and land in different budgets.

Where to Stay in Tofino – Pacific Sands Beach Resort

I had the opportunity to stay at the beautiful Pacific Sands Beach Resort. It’s situated on the iconic Cox Bay surrounded by rugged coastline and stunning scenery. I stayed in a Beachfront Suite, it’s spacious with separate living and sleeping spaces and is surf in/surf out! You really can’t get more beachfront than that. I loved staying here for its proximity to town, Pacific Rim National Park, on property access to outdoor spaces and experiences with their very own boardwalk trail, and its comfortable accommodations. Room rates vary but this is the more luxurious of the two.

Where to Stay in Ucluelet – Cozy Cabin

If you’d prefer to stay in Ucluelet, again there are so many options! When I visited, I stayed in the coziest cabin set back in the forest with a wood stove, jacuzzi soaking tub and loft. It’s about 15 minutes from Ucluelet and 30 minutes from Tofino. It’s close enough to town for all of the fun, touristy things but far enough away for privacy with loved ones. To rent the cabin the average price per night is $174USD.

Where to Eat

Every adventurer needs fuel and no guide to Ucluelet and Tofino would be complete without some food and coffee recommendations! Food is a-plenty in this area. Correction: delicious food is a-plenty. Here are my must-try places while visiting Ucluelet and Tofino.

Heartwood Kitchen Food Outfitter: This was my favorite restaurant in the area. Heartwood serves up West coast comfort food with plenty of options for dietary restrictions. HIGHLY recommend the Chickpea Fritters if you spot them on the menu. They currently are not accepting reservations and the wait times vary so try to avoid peak dining times.

Tacofino: A Tofino staple. So popular, they now have a food truck in Victoria! But, you must try the real deal. The line is often long but well worth the wait for some deliciously unique tacos and burritos.

Shelter: Serving up fresh fare from local farms and waters, Shelter offers delicious eats and al fresco dining with views of the inlet.

The Shed: Known for their burgers, bowls and brews with the classic West coast hospitality.

SoBo: Japanese comfort food with West coast inspirations.

Zoe’s Bakery: Zoe’s is known for their locally sourced and handcrafted baked goods, drinks sandwiches, breakfasts, and lunches with plenty of options for dietary restrictions.

Tofitian: The hub for coffee and community in Tofino. Serving up an array of coffee and tea beverages, daily menu items like muffins and scones, breakfast sandwiches and sausage rolls, cookies and cakes and rotating gluten free/ vegan items.

Rhino: In addition to absolutely delicious coffee, Rhino serves breakfast, lunch and mouthwatering donuts. The donuts are so delicious, they often sell out before the morning comes to a close!

Quick Guide to Ucluelet + Tofino : What to Explore

Explorations here are endless! There’s always another view, trail, beach or off the beaten path place to discover. But in this guide to Uclulet and Tofino I’m including my favorite spots in the area.

Lighthouse Loop

The Lighthouse Loop, located in Ucluelet, is a 1.8 mile heavily trafficked trail and a portion of the larger Wild Pacific Trail (detailed below). The trail provides swoon-worthy vistas of the coastline, lighthouses, and is a great place to storm watch! The waves are some of the biggest I’ve seen.

Wild Pacific Trail

The Wild Pacific Trail is a 5.6 mile trail network in Ucluelet. You can approach this trail in two sections. One section is by the Lighthouse Loop, as described above, and the Big Beach to Rocky Bluffs section. It’s perfect to explore any time of year and the forests’ canopy acts as natures umbrella.

Cox Bay Lookout

This is a heavily trafficked, 1.6 mile out and back trail located in Tofino. With 377 feet of elevation gain it is rated as moderate. Once at the top, the views are endless of Cox Bay and beyond. Be prepared to see several people on trail, especially at sunrise and sunset!

The Rainforest Trail

This is a 2 mile trail that follows along a boardwalk through the rainforest in Pacific Rim National Park. It’s accessible year round and makes for a great escape from the rain as you have shelter by the towering canopy. Try to visit at off peak times and keep in mind there are several steps and the boardwalk can get slippery with all of the rain.

Long Beach

This is the longest beach on the island, stretching over 16km (10 miles)! Pressed up against an old growth forest, you’ll spot driftwood all along the beach adding to this iconic surf spots mystical vibe. Here you can spot gray and humpback whales, winter storm watch, check out the historic Incinerator Rock and meander the tide pools.

ʔapsčiik t̓ašii (ups-cheek ta-shee) Pathway

This is a 25km (15 mile) paved, multi-use pathway connecting Tofino and Ucluelet. The trail meanders through the forest and avoids steep grades with minimal highway crossings. It gives users access to new and existing viewpoints and facilities along the way and is a great way to experience the West coast. Check with your hotel for bike rentals but if they don’t offer rentals there plenty of shops in Ucluelet and Tofino.

Guide to Ucluelet and Tofino: Final Thoughts

Ucluelet and Tofino will forever be my happy places. To be there, experience all of the wild beauty it has to offer with someone I love – a dream come true. I can’t recommend an escape to the West coast of the island enough! From its landscapes, weather phenomena, warm hospitality, delicious food, access to nature and everything in between, it is truly one of the most magical, mystical places I’ve ever been. I hope this guide to Ucluelet and Tofino inspired you to book a getaway to its rocky coast! As always, please remember to follow the 7 Leave No Trace principles while exploring.

In need of more Canadian inspiration? Check this out!