Story by Tricia Edgar
Vacay.ca Outdoors Columnist
TOFINO, BRITISH COLUMBIA — While falling leaves and snow-covered hills sound like autumn and winter in most of Canada, it’s rain that defines the west coast. In the coastal temperate rainforest, torrential rain and sweeping storms are common sights. It’s the rain that grows the huge trees and moss-covered forests of British Columbia’s Pacific shoreline, and it’s the rain that brings salmon upstream to spawn in the colder months.
The rainy season on the coast is a good time to snuggle up with a book and a hot cup of tea, but it’s also a time to enjoy the weather. Yes, storm watching, surfing, fishing, or those famous long walks on the beach are all excellent rainy-season activities, especially when a warm bath and a book await you indoors.
What are the best places to enjoy the storms on the west coast?
Rainforest Beauty in Tofino and Ucluelet
On the west side of Vancouver Island are two small towns with very different histories, yet they share the same gorgeous surroundings. In the storm season from November to March, 10-foot waves pound the beach. Over the course of the year, four metres of rain falls here on this side of the island that faces the Pacific Ocean.
Travelling to Tofino and Ucluelet is truly a rainforest experience. On the way, you’ll pass a highlight for lovers of big trees: Cathedral Grove just south of Port Alberni, a stunning grove of old-growth forest.
When you arrive, you’ll be right beside another bit of rainforest beauty: Pacific Rim National Park. It is the hub of storm watching in this area. Long Beach is its most famous stretch, perfect for storm watching and beachcombing after the winds and rain die down. The rocky South Beach Trail near Ucluelet is known for its stony beach that sings as the waves roll in and out. One highlight for visitors with mobility challenges is the Shorepine Bog Trail, an accessible boardwalk through the temperate rainforest. Entry to Pacific Rim National Park is less than $7 for an adult. The storms here can be beautiful, but they are also powerful: check with local park officials and residents to make sure that you’re following safety recommendations.
For those who prefer water play to beach walks, check out the local Long Beach Surf Shop for an assessment of the conditions and gear you’ll need to enjoy the water.
Bonus: This fall, BC Ferries is offering two Tofino and Ucluelet storm-watching packages for Vancouver Island visitors.
The Big, Beautiful Beaches of Parksville
If you love wide open beaches, Parksville is for you. Parksville is a mere hour up the Island Highway from the city of Nanaimo, a major ferry hub. It’s a place of immense spaces, and when the tide goes out it seems like you can walk forever. The twisted arbutus trees along the shoreline tell of the strong winds and rain that visit these shores. In calmer moments, look for wildlife on the beach, and scour for sand dollars.
If you love wildlife, visit Rathtrevor Beach, one of British Columbia’s favourite campgrounds and beach areas. During the storm season the campground might be soggy, but it’s popular with tens of thousands of Pacific Black Brant geese who arrive in February on their way to Alaska.
After a walk, enjoy the coziness of the storm season in the spa at the Tigh-Na-Mara resort, or settle in at one of the many cozy bed and breakfasts scattered along the coast from Parksville to Qualicum Beach.
Explore BC’s Wild Side in Haida Gwaii
If you’re determined to wander farther afield, a trip to Haida Gwaii could be the perfect choice. After a windswept ferry ride from Prince Rupert, enjoy the diversity of the islands’ cultures and beaches. You will want to visit Haida cultural sites and learn about the traditions of the islands. Plus, you’ll get to feast on fresh seafood, or go fishing or crabbing and find your own dinner.
Enjoy the surf and the gorgeous stones at Agate Beach on the tip of Graham Island, or go for a walk in the broad and sandy reaches of Naikoon Provincial Park, a beach that features intriguing beachcombing. Visit with the ravens and the eagles during a beach walk in Old Massett. The islands are perfect for wild and windy storm watching.
The storm season off the coast of British Columbia is beautiful, and it’s a sight that most fair-weather travellers never get to see. A trip to BC’s islands will allow you to experience the real temperate rainforest — wind and rain and all.
This Map Shows Tofino and Parksville on Vancouver Island and Old Massett in Haida Gwaii