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Tofino – Storm Watching at the Edge of the World

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A frequent winter travel planning question is: sun or snow? I think we should add another category to the list of holiday possibilities: storm-watching! Vancouver Island’s Tofino has become a mecca for adventure seekers in winter. Here’s why to consider booking a Tofino storm-watching holiday.

Storm-watching as sport in Tofino, Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Storm-watching as sport in Tofino (Photo credit: edb3_16, Depositphotos.com)

Tofino, A Resort Town

Located on Vancouver Island, Tofino has prided itself for some time on the awe-inspiring natural beauty of its location, on the nearly most western point of Canada. It’s been known as a summer destination for many years — popular with surfers, whale-watchers, campers, sightseers, and nature enthusiasts. Travelers come here to enjoy Tofino’s beauty as well as its laid-back and quirky village charm.

Tofino has grown tremendously in the past few decades. It has become a major tourist destination on Vancouver Island with luxury resorts, award-winning restaurants, and all of the trappings of a busy resort town. In fact, Tofino can feel quite crowded in the popular summer months. When the weather is warm, the town has become less of a get-away-from-it-all kind of place, than an everyone-and-their-dog-is-here kind of place.

Seaplanes and harbor in Tofino
Seaplanes and harbor in Tofino (Photo credit: ronnybas, Depositphotos.com)

Tofino Storm-Watching

In the past, Tofino used to shut down after Thanksgiving. Stores, hotels, and restaurants closed and the village returned to the locals during the quiet winter months. Then, Tofino realized it didn’t have to be just a one-season tourist destination any longer. It had a unique winter attraction that few destinations could match — storm season along the Pacific. Hence, Tofino’s storm-watching appeal was born.

 

The storm-watching season extends from November to March, with the peak period being December to February. Tofino gets between 10 to 15 good winter storms a season. Coupled with nearly 16.5 feet of annual rainfall, that makes for some serious weather. Vacationers are lured to Tofino to watch those crashing waves hit the beach from a warm, indoor fireside seat.

The Pointe Restaurant at Tofino's Wickaninnish Inn
The Pointe Restaurant at Tofino’s Wickaninnish Inn (Photo credit: Wickaninnish Inn)

Tofino Winter Storm Warning

My family’s first experience with Tofino storm-watching was more close up. My husband and I went camping with our kids in early October for Canadian Thanksgiving a few years ago when the skies let loose with monsoon-like rains as soon as we finished pitching the tent. Halfway through the night, we built a moat to keep the water from entering the tent, which held…just barely. By dawn, we were exhausted and defeated. We gave up our tent for the warmer, dryer shelter of the Storm Suite at the local B&B on Chesterman Beach.

From our sheltered outdoor hot tub, we enjoyed the magnificent storm and churning waters of the Pacific for the rest of our long holiday weekend. We even ventured out walking in the wind and rain along Long Beach. It’s impressive how quickly you can get completely drenched!  

Note: The ocean in winter is a powerful force to be respected. Never turn your back on the water and keep a healthy distance from those impressive, crashing waves, especially with small children.

Whale watching is a popular activity in Tofino
Whale watching is a popular activity in Tofino (Photo credit: AndreAnita, Depositphotos.com)

Surfing in Tofino

If you really want the full immersion West Coast experience, you will have to consider testing the waters yourself. That means surfing! You can surf year-round in the Tofino area, wearing a wetsuit in winter, of course. Pacific Surf School and Surf Sister are the most established schools, and Bruhwiler Surf School is another great option. Kids are not just allowed, they are encouraged to get on a board, and often teach adults a thing or two about balance and stamina on the water.

Surfing in Tofino
Surfing in Tofino (Photo credit: goofyfoottaka, Depositphotos.com)

Tofino Accommodation Options

There are many accommodation options in Tofino. One of the original family resorts is the Pacific Sands Beach Resort. Like many of the hotels and resorts here, they have options for rooms or autonomous suites with a good range of price options.

Pacific Sands sits on Cox Bay Beach, an amazing crescent of sand that ends at Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. There are two other resorts on Cox Bay that are also kid-friendly: Cox Bay Beach Resort, which provides amazing suites; and Long Beach Lodge Resort.

For a luxurious getaway, the Wickaninnish Inn will not disappoint. “The Wick,” as it’s known to locals and repeat guests, overlooks Chesterman Beach. Book a room here for plush accommodations, impeccable service, delicious food, and stunning views of the ocean.

Aerial view of Wickaninnish Inn
Aerial view of Wickaninnish Inn (Photo credit: Wickaninnish Inn)

Explore More of Canada

To commune with nature in Tofino in summer (or winter, if you’re up to the challenge!), read about camping in Tofino.

Need to unwind? Enjoy the beauty and relaxation of Canada’s Nordic spas.

Quebec celebrates winter in style. Learn about the famous Quebec Winter Festival and more fun things to do in Quebec City in winter.

When the snow starts to melt, it’s maple syrup season in the Great White North. Learn about the springtime maple syrup tradition in Canada.

Storm-watching in Tofino, Vancouver Island

Save These Tofino Storm-Watching Tips

For future reference, save these tips for storm-watching in Tofino. Simply pin the image above to Pinterest. We hope you’ll follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!

Would you consider storm-watching in Tofino in winter? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!

About Claudia Laroye, The Curious Travel Mama

Claudia Laroye lives in Vancouver, Canada, with her husband and two sons. She started traveling at a very young age, and has never stopped. She’s had the fortune of visiting more than 20 countries on four continents, and has also lived abroad in Sweden. Claudia is passionate about the travel experience and the value of traveling as a family. She is the founder of claudiatravels.com, and contributes to many online and print media publications around the world. Connect with Claudia on Twitter as @travelling_mom or Instagram as @itsclaudiatravels.

Comments
  1. I didn’t know that Tofino was popular for storm watching but it certainly makes sense after seeing those photos of the waves! Have heard of Wickaninnish though and have always thought that it would be a beautiful place to stay.

  2. Claudia, I remain surprised that you’ve never added Ucluelet into the mix!! Ucluelet has a recently (mostly) completed Wild Pacific Trail while lops along craigs and down into the beaches right along the coast, it even has a storm watching platform (the ocean was sadly calm both days I was out there, it was even sunny!). They’re hoping to eventually link it in with the trail that runs through Long Beach National Park.

    Ucluelet also has a brand new aquarium, Canada’s only catch-and-release aquarium. We checked it out when we were there in November and had a lovely time!! The staff were great and they even let us feed the fish in the giant tank (mmm frozen shrimp!). Lots of kid friendly touch tanks full of all kinds of critters, and a giant tank in the middle of the aquarium which has a new catch of creatures every 6 months (when they release everything back into the ocean and catch new stuff). Worth the 30 minute trip down the highway from Tofino. And the boys, as old as they are, would probably get a kick out of it. 🙂

    Those are great shots too. I love the very wild west coast, there’s something about the scraggly trees, non-stop wind and crazy surf that makes my heart twitter pated.

  3. Thanks for the comments!

    From your description Allison, I think that Ucluelet deserves an article all on its own. We’re overdue for a trip there, and would love to profile it after a decent visit to discover how much it’s changed. The natural beauty of both places is just stunning – rain or shine!

  4. Ellenor Davis says

    Oh wow, this is an amazing island and it is really looking like “on the edge of the world”. Photos are beautiful I like these waves and I’m thinking now to visit it for the winter. Thank you once again for the great article.

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