Winter Wonderment On The Road To Tofino

After moving to Vancouver Island in late 2019, the first big road trip I took was to the true west coast of the island- more specifically, to a peninsula facing the wide expanse of open Pacific ocean.

Situated on this peninsula is Tofino, a small but unforgettable district with expansive sandy beaches, ancient rainforests, year-round surfing, a relaxed vibe and access to true wilderness adventures. Visit once, and you will long to return repeatedly.

I’ve had the great privilege of travelling to Tofino on a few occasions over the last several months, as I was taking a yoga teacher training course at a local yoga studio on the coast. The drive from Victoria (British Columbia’s capital city, where I live) to Tofino takes you north and then west through central Vancouver Island across many mountain passes. The landscape always leaves me reeling with gratitude and awe. One of these recent road trips took place right after an unprecedented island snowstorm, which exposed me to new scenery along the east-to-west Highway 4. To see this route with a thick dusting of fresh snow seemed straight out of a winter dream.

It brings me so much joy to share the magic of this west coast village with others. As an introduction to the source of its lure, I would love to highlight the journey of getting there- an indelible part of the reward.

Should you ever find yourself on Vancouver Island looking for a memorable road trip that captures the spirit of the west coast, you will not regret this one. Below is a list of some of the noteworthy stops that I made during the winter months, which deserve to be slowly savoured.

Wonders await you on the road to this beautiful Canadian destination.

Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park

This stunning provincial park is a welcome first spot to take a break and stretch your legs. On a short but incredibly scenic hike, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the forest and crystal clear streams, accentuated by the therapeutic roar of many tiers of waterfalls along the path. There are also several picnic areas, making this a perfect place to relax, have a snack and enjoy the natural beauty of the surroundings before you hit the road again.

Cameron Lake

A short distance from Little Qualicum Falls is the first glimpse of this freshwater lake, surrounded by tall peaks and lush forests. On a calm day, the reflection of the landscape in the mirror-like surface of the water is otherworldly. This is a very popular spot for photography, and to see it on a moody winter’s day will soothe your soul. There are rest stops and multiple roadside pull-outs as the highway curves along the water’s edge, allowing you ample opportunity to take in the views.

Cathedral Grove

Cathedral Grove is one of Vancouver Island’s most enchanted parks, with 800-year-old Douglas Fir trees that tower so high they will humble you. A remnant of an old-growth rainforest, the grove offers spectacular views via hiking trails (including an accessible boardwalk) and short loops that take you through the heart of the forest; there is also informative signage and interpretive displays along the way. A walk here feels like stepping onto the set of an ancient fairytale and is not to be missed.

Taylor River

This spot has got to be one of the top hidden gems on Vancouver Island; when I first stopped here on a recommendation from a friend, I honestly could not believe my eyes. What is at first an unassuming roadside rest area is actually a gateway to scenic views of the turquoise-blue Taylor River, with direct access for swimming, kayaking, or other water activities. While a busy spot in the summer months due to the aforementioned features, I had the entire place to myself on each winter road trip to Tofino.

Rainforest Trails

The aptly named Rainforest trails are located within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve- the largest ocean-side park in Canada. These boardwalk trails lead you through pristine coastal rainforest in a unique and unforgettable way, alongside old-growth western red cedar and hemlock trees that are carpeted with hanging gardens of moss and surrounded by lush ferns. There are two short loop options, both of which offer a glimpse into the history and ecology of these ancient forests.

With the journey now nearly complete, the salty air, ocean waves and wild spirit of Tofino awaits you on the horizon. Stay tuned for a follow-up post where I will share more of the beauty and must-visit spots in this treasured area of the west coast.

What is it about travelling west that is so alluring? I would love to know your thoughts on this in the comments below!


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25 comments

  1. As always beautiful pictures and your descriptions truly make me want to experience that journey some day !

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    • That makes me so happy to hear- thank you! It is a journey well worth taking and I feel lucky to have made the trip so many times these past few months. πŸ’–πŸ˜Š

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  2. Your pictures are absolutely stunning. The drive to Tofino looks spectacular with all that snow. It’s neat to see how different the landscape looks in the winter. Cathedral Grove is such an enchanting spot.

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    • I am so grateful for your kind feedback about my photos! This drive is one of my absolute favourite journeys to take on the island. I always discover something new or see a part of the landscape in a different light. Each drive to Tofino seems to take me longer and longer due to how often I stop lol. πŸ’–

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      • It’s funny how that is. We fell in love with the scenery along the west coast when we visited last spring and are planning on returning. We actually just booked our plane tickets into Seattle and will be taking a road trip along the Oregon Coast next month. I can’t wait!

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      • Ahh that is so exciting- I can’t wait to see the photos/blog posts of your upcoming road trip! A drive down the coast of Washington/Oregon/California has always been on my bucket list. What a dream to plan such a trip! πŸ›£οΈπŸ˜Š

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  3. Sounds like a wonderful secluded refuge to escape the hustle and bustle – some fantastic snapshots of such a beautiful retreat into nature πŸ™‚

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    • Thank you so much, Tom! This road trip is truly a photographer’s paradise and it is such a peaceful journey. I can always feel the stress and worries of day-to-day life slowly melt away the farther west I drive on the route.

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  4. What beautiful places and pictures, you’re so very fortunate to live with such beauty. I can’t wait to see more.
    It’s good to see you Laura, I hope you’re well πŸ™‚

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    • Thank you so very much, Simon! The road through the mountains was a bit treacherous after the big snowfall but the beauty I saw more than made up for it. I do feel grateful to be surrounded by so much beauty on the island and love to explore and share it all. πŸ’•

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  5. Winter wonderment indeed Laura, thanks for providing a window into a region I have yet to explore. Such idyllic scenes throughout, I love that shot of the open road stretching out, a mountain framing the backdrop. I can also see why you describe Taylor River as a hidden gem… the colour of the water is magnificent.

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    • Hi, Leighton- I am so glad you enjoyed the photos from this post; the drive to Tofino never ceases to amaze me! The scenery is so varied depending on the weather, but always beautiful. Did you and Sladja encounter any snow this winter during your travels?

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      • Unfortunately yes we did ha ha. We were somewhat snowed in inside our apartment in the mountains so it was a bit rough for a week or so. Just a few little heaters to stay warm and something of a challenge to source ingredients for meals in the tiny village we were living in. Buses to the nearby town had been suspended. Not quite my idea of a winter wonderland but hey.

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      • Oh my goodness- that experience definitely encapsulates the dark side of winter storms. A week is a long time to be without access to amenities. Plus, the cabin fever phenomenon can be a bit maddening! Hoping this message finds you enjoying some early Spring sunshine somewhere in the world πŸ’—πŸ˜Š

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      • Yes, thankfully I didn’t end up like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Yes, Spring has arrived on the island now, thanks Laura! Hope it isn’t too crazy cold where you are.

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    • Thank you so much for your comment! This road trip blows me away every time, and I am so glad to know that others enjoy seeing the photos 😊

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