Post Summary: Things To Do In Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island, Canada
Have you ever visited somewhere and then wondered how a place that beautiful can even exist? That pretty much sums up Pacific Rim National Park!
Filled to the brim with dramatic coastlines, giant trees, and epic backpacking trails, this park is a Canadian treasure waiting to be explored. This place is the ideal place to explore if you’re planning a weekend trip to Tofino, BC.
Pacific Rim National Park protects over 500 square kilometers of thick forest, rocky shoreline, and the ocean off of Vancouver Island, Canada. One of the best places to explore Canada’s temperate rainforest and unspoiled west coast beauty, Pacific Rim is truly an amazing example of the power of nature and the sea.
If you’re looking for amazing things to do in Pacific Rim National Park, this post is for you! We’re sharing everything from the best trails to take, our favorite views, and lots of tips along the way.
Let’s get started!
Things To Do In Pacific Rim National Park
Where is Pacific Rim National Park?
Pacific Rim National Park is located on Vancouver Island’s west coast, the side facing the unpredictable, wild Pacific Ocean. The closest towns are Tofino and Ucluelet.
There are three separate sections of the Pacific Rim National Park, each with varying levels of accessibility – Long Beach Area, The West Coast Trail, and The Broken Group Islands.
We’ll touch on the other two sections briefly at the end. This way, you can decide if those sections are right for you and your adventure ahead!
Here are some quick directions to Pacific Rim National Park from major cities on Vancouver Island:
- Distance from Tofino to Pacific Rim National Park: 17 kilometers, 18-minute drive
- Distance from Victoria to Pacific Rim National Park: 300 kilometers, 4-hour drive
- Directions from Port Alberni to Pacific Rim National Park: 110 kilometers, 1.5-hour drive
Recent History of Pacific Rim National Park
TL;DR: Surf Culture exploded near Tofino bringing thousands of visitors, thus spurring the country to preserve and protect this unique area officially in 1970.
We acknowledge the presence of First Nation groups that have cared for and occupied these lands for many years before it was established as a national park. The Nuu-chah-nulth and Tla-o-qui-aht of the Long Beach area, the Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht, Pacheedaht, and the Hupacasath of the West Coast Trail, and the Tseshaht in the Broken Group Area.
Officially established in 1970 as a National Park Reserve, the Pacific Rim area had actually been seen for its amazing recreation potential and natural beauty for many decades before its inauguration.
In the late 1920s, the first request for its park status was put into play. But after some initial surveys, it wasn’t considered for status alongside established parks like Banff and Yoho. This is because at the time, it was extremely difficult to reach this part of Vancouver Island, and the unpredictable weather, fog, and dangerous shores deterred some of the first surveyors.
Nevertheless, the Victoria Chamber of Commerce didn’t give up on protecting this area, and it was established as Wickaninnish Beach Provincial Park in 1958.
From that point on, the area drew thousands of visitors to the Pacific Rim’s amazing beaches and the Tofino area, thus spurring the start of the surf culture in Canada. It became so popular so fast, that towns like Ucluelet and Tofino constantly reached their max capacity, forcing people to create temporary driftwood shacks and camp on the beach just to stay.
The locals made a justified uproar about the mass flood of trash, people, and vehicles sinking in the sand that the Canadian National Park Association couldn’t ignore their plea for preservation and infrastructure any further. After many years of fighting to protect the land, the Pacific Rim National Park was officially established in 1970 and preserved for visitors to enjoy from that point on!
Things To Do In Pacific Rim National Park: Long Beach Area
Before You Explore…Stop By The Visitors Center!
Unlike visiting Banff or Jasper National Parks (which have gates to enter and exit the park), the Pacific Rim National Park is open to thru-traffic. Regardless, you need to purchase a Park pass to visit Pacific Rim National Park Preserve. Park rangers frequent the parking lots, so make sure to display it on your vehicle’s dashboard!
If you’re staying for a bit longer in the area, don’t forget to check out our Tofino packing list and some of the best places to stay in Tofino (for all budgets). These resources come with lots of great weather considerations, especially if you are new to planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest.
Stop by these places to pick up a pass:
- Kwisitis Visitors Center
- Park Information Centre (pictured below)
- Tofino Visitor Information Centre
Climb Up To Radar Hill
Radar Hill is located in the northernmost area of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Just south of Cox Bay in Tofino, it’s the easiest destination to reach from the Tofino town center.
Radar Hill is a historic radar station site used during World War II. The path to Radar Hill is an extremely short walk from the connected parking lot. If you arrive on a clear day, you will be able to see spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, Clayoquot Sound, and the Tofino Inlet with its multiple islands and mountains in the distance.
This is a short, wheelchair-accessible path perfect for the entire family. Come for a quick view of the area and continue your adventurous itinerary of things to do in the Pacific Rim National Park!
Another Amazing Viewpoint: Diablo Lake Overlook in Washington State
Watch Surfers At Long Beach
Long Beach is the largest beach in Pacific Rim Nation Park, stretching over 10 miles of coastline between Tofino and Ucluelet.
Long Beach has some of the most gnarly waves for surfing, so this beach isn’t for first-timers. No worries though, you can still come to visit and go storm-watching and/or watch the pros!
The year-round swell gives surfers an excuse to catch the waves any time, so don’t be surprised when you visit Pacific Rim National Park in winter and find them dotting the coast!
If you hope to try your hand at cold-water surfing in the area, we suggest checking out the shops and surf schools in Tofino, about a 20-30 minute drive north of Long Beach.
In town, you can rent boards and wetsuits (trust us, you’ll need one, the water is COLD), and even get yourself some lessons too!
Nearby Surf Shops in Tofino:
Find Shore-Swept Treasures At Combers Beach
Combers Beach is located just south of Long Beach, only separated by a small overgrown bluff that sticks out on the beach. It also connects with Wickaninnish Beach to the south!
To reach the beach, take a short but steep trail down to the beach (500 meters each way) to enjoy this quieter beach in Pacific Rim National Park. Here, you will find plenty of driftwood and treasures that the ocean decides to wash ashore.
Make sure to pick up a Canada National Park Pass and display it on the dash of your car. Unlike Banff National Park, there is no official entry, so park rangers frequent the parking lots to make sure visitors come with valid passes.
The South Beach Trail Is The Most Beautiful Beach in Pacific Rim National Park
If you’re looking for beautiful scenery, the trail to South Beach is arguably one of the best hiking trails in Pacific Rim National Park.
This 1.6-kilometer hike begins at the Kwisitis Visitor Center and guides you through a dense forest. Along the way, there are optional stops at Lismer Beach and an extended trail option to the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Trail. After the trail junction, you’ll encounter a series of boardwalks and stairs that will bring you to the sandy shores of South Beach.
Once you arrive at the beach, you’ll be greeted with impressive rock formations, crashing waves, and endless ocean vistas. The sea stacks are quite striking as they are one of the first features you will see upon arrival.
Come during low tide to have access to the most beach possible. Oppositely, come during high tide to watch the waves dramatically crash against the rocks and watch ocean spray shoot up in the air.
Safety Note: This section of the Pacific Rim National Park is known for its unpredictable waves. It has often been labeled the most dangerous beach in the park. Don’t ever turn your back on the ocean, and be aware of the tide schedule for the day to be as safe as possible.
Discover Epic Coastline Views On The Wild Pacific Trail
The Wild Pacific Trail is not part of Pacific Rim National Park. It does provide views of the Broken Group Islands, however, which ARE part of the park!
The Wild Pacific Trail is located on the southern tip of the Ucluelet Peninsula. Nine kilometers of trail hugs the edge of this dramatic shoreline on a series of loop hikes, showing off its incredible views of Barkley Sound and the Broken Group Islands.
Built by the Wild Pacific Trail Society, this trail was the passion project of “Oyster Jim” Martin who wanted to showcase the beauty of the rugged coast to all the visitors in the area.
Stay awhile to spot the abundant sea life that lives along the shoreline here. You can quite often spot a lazy group of sea lions soaking up the sun or eagles finding their midday snack.
You’ll find two options for hiking the trail:
- The Lighthouse Loop: A loop trail on the southern tip of the Ucluelet Peninsula, circling around at 2.6 kilometers. It brings you to the endpoint, the Amphitrite Point Lighthouse.
- The Artist Trail: This 5-kilometer trail has several side trails that peek out to wild and rugged vistas that only get more dramatic as you walk further! This is the ideal trail to take during sunset.
Wander The Shorepine Bog Trail
The Shorepine Bog Trail is located near the Kwisitis Visitors Center, close to the South Beach Trail and the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Trail. The bog provides is a short, 0.8-kilometer boardwalk trail that brings you through this unique ecosystem in Tofino.
The bog is located in a cool, moist location, unique for its acidic soil and interesting plant species. Some of the most notable plants here are the Sphagnum moss (a kind of peat moss), and the Shore Pine, known for their irregular growing shape.
Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre shares tons of interesting information about the unmistakably unique ecological system in this part of the park. If you love plants and biology, this would be an easy, family-friendly trail to take!
Find Solitude On The Rainforest Trail
Giant Western Red Cedar and Western Hemlock trees tower over this short but sweet trail south of Long Beach. The Rainforest Trail is an easy walk along wooden boardwalks and is perfect for gazing at the ancient trees.
Choose either Route A (north of Highway 4) or Route B (south of Highway 4). There is not a stop sign for pedestrians and vehicle speeds are fast in this area. Be alert when crossing the road!
Berty and I chose to take Route B, which took us on a peaceful journey through the lush, 800-year-old forest! There are interpretive signs along the route, which gave us really interesting information about this unique ecosystem.
Unlike many of the other hikes in Pacific Rim National Park that are in earshot from crashing waves, this trail is quite peaceful. With only the sound of chirping birds and the breeze through the trees to break the silence, it can provide a silent relief to busy lives.
Come for a morning walk with a piping hot cup of coffee from the nearby coffee shop, Tofitian!
Learn About First Nation Cultures At The Kᵂisitis Visitors Centre
Note: The Kwisitis Visitor Center is currently closed for remodeling. We’re including the information below as it is projected to re-open mid-March, 2020.
The Kwisitis Visitor Centre is one of the most beautiful ones in the area! Located on the shores of Wickaninnish Beach, the building provides floor to ceiling windows to look out onto the water. There are also observation decks outside and several boardwalks around the perimeter.
On the inside, you can find the majority of the Kwisitis Visitor Center dedicated to the First Nation culture.
Its impressive display will give visitors a deeper understanding of the land they will enjoy. This is why we think it’s a great first stop on your Pacific Rim National Park itinerary!
Curious about the other sections of the park? Here’s a brief description below!
The West Coast Trail
The more we research details about the West Coast Trail, the more intrigued and intimidated we become!
Open just a short window from May to October, this 75-kilometer (46.6-miles) trail is for experienced backpackers only. The trail consists of several ladders, hand-pulled cable cars, hiking through several beaches, and winding deep in the Canadian rainforest.
The entire West Coast Trail takes around 5-7 days to complete. Hikers must also meet an age requirement to obtain a permit! Start at Pachena Bay Trailhead in Pacific Rim National Park. Additionally, you can start on the opposite side in Port Renfrew to begin this epic adventure.
Broken Group Islands
Located in the Barkley Sound, this area of the Pacific Rim National Park includes more than 100 islands. It’s only accessible by boat, snorkeling, and diving if you dare!
If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind adventure on Vancouver Island, you can plan a multi-day kayaking tour around the islands. In fact, it’s one of the most popular ways to explore this section of Pacific Rim National Park!
This trip boasts crystal clear waters and several camping spots on the islands. This means you can hop around and plan your route to stay at your favorite ones!