Pacific Rim Highway
Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada
Lying just west of Washington, the British Columbia mainland and North America’s most beautiful city – Vancouver – lies one of the continent’s most spectacular islands. And cutting through the middle of Vancouver Island is the Pacific Rim Highway, BC 4. Starting in Qualicum Beach, the road heads west from the Strait of Georgia and then climbs into the Vancouver Island Ranges. The mountain chain runs the length of the island and in 1959, a logging road was finally completed, linking the eastside to the open ocean. Still, beach bums had to wait until the weekend to use the road when loggers were off. And when you drive today’s Pacific Rim Highway, you understand what the loggers were after. Giant trees, including western red cedar, Douglas fir and Sitka spruce, line the route. Vancouver Island is home to some of the world’s most extraordinary temperate rainforests, where the life cycle for some trees is more than 1,000 years. Several rainforest trails can be found along the route, including A Walk in the Forest, a series of short boardwalks giving brief yet interesting insight. It’s located about 1.5 km or a mile before the Pacific Rim Visitor Centre. The highway then leads into the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve with access to several gorgeous beaches. Another thirty minutes and BC 4 dead ends in Tofino. On a sunny day you’d be hard-pressed to find a prettier beach town anywhere on the Pacific coast – Canada or elsewhere. Humans have lived in the area for thousands of years but Tofino itself was founded in 1909. Today, it’s a tourist mecca where visitors whale watch, surf, fish and hike the glorious rainforests.
Keep in Mind
Tofino is a resort town and thus, you’ll find everything you need, including high prices during peak times. Same goes for Ucluelet, down the coast from Tofino. And they get booked up during the busy summer months and on weekends. So be sure and check ahead. I frequently stay on the east side and make a day trip to Tofino. It’s usually less expensive but you have to keep in mind the 2½ hour return drive, many times in the dark.
Route & Map
Starting in Qualicum Beach, BC 4 crosses the Vancouver Island Ranges before reaching the Pacific Ocean. It then parallels the coast to Tofino. To get to Vancouver Island, you can fly and rent a car. Or take the car ferry across from several locations in mainland British Columbia and Washington.
Driving the Pacific Rim Highway from Qualicum Beach to Tofino is 164 km (102 miles) and takes 2½ hours nonstop, one way. But you’ll want to allow time for the beach and Tofino as well as A Walk in the Forest and Kennedy Lake. And then there’s the return drive if you don’t want to spend the night in Tofino.
Best Time to Visit
Vancouver Island enjoys the mildest weather in all of Canada. Now while that sounds impressive – and it IS considering Canada is the world’s second largest country – well, it IS Canada, after all – home to some of the harshest and coldest weather on the planet. In the winter, Vancouver Island is cloudy and rainy. But summer and fall can be surprisingly sunny so your best bet is to plan a visit between July and October.
Tofino, the Tourism Association of Vancouver Island and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve all maintain helpful planning sites.