Seven Great Things to Do In Tofino, BC in Winter (and Without Gear)

What do you do when you accidentally leave your suitcase behind when you travel to Tofino? You discover other interesting things to do that don’t involve using your own outdoor gear.

Tofino is Canada’s most famous surfing town on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island. It is full of free-spirited, international surfers of all ages, many of whom work in the service industry and lend a lively air to a town that has a rich and tragic history. Despite the potentially stormy weather and short days, the winter in Tofino is a great time for running on the beach, hiking, storm watching, soaking in thermal hot springs, and relaxing in a cozy lodge.

Middle Beach Lodge

This Thanksgiving, we decided to repeat our several-year tradition of going to Tofino, and were lucky to find a reasonable rate at our favorite lodge. While relaxing on the ferry ride to Nanaimo, BC, we suddenly realized that we forgot to bring our suitcase with us. We had hidden it so well from our dog as we attempted to pack without her knowing that we forgot all about it as we left early in the morning. I had packed my Paggle for the car ride with enough clothes to last me three days, but we had both left behind our hiking shoes, rubber boots, running shoes, and bathing suits. We discovered that these omissions led us to do other things in Tofino. We strayed beyond our normal routine of going to Hot Springs Cove, hiking boggy and muddy trails, and jogging into town along a wooded path. Here are a few other ways to spend a long weekend in Tofino:

1. Kayak: Take a 4-hour or all-day kayaking trip with Tofino Sea Kayaking. Supplied with gear (boots, dry-bags, and a kayak-skirt) and a knowledgeable and friendly kayaking guide from Australia, we enjoyed a gentle paddle through the harbor islands. Sam, our guide, led us to Meares island where we walked an uneven wooden path which meandered through a forest of massive trees, many of which were over a 1000 years old.

Kayaking in Clayoquot Sound

2. Walk on the beach: Tofino boasts miles sandy beaches, many of which are deserted in the winter. Bring your children and dogs for hours of exploration or reconnect with your own inner child. Be sure to get a park pass at the new Tofino visitor center to park at most of the beaches.

Long beach tofino

3. Hike in the rainforest: Many of the hikes around Tofino are more casual walks than rigorous hikes, yielding incredible scenery for minimal exertion and minimal gear. The rainforest hikes are my favorite for seeing old-growth trees.

rainforest Tofino

4. Eat with the locals: Kuma, a cozy ramen restaurant is the perfect place for a warm meal to shake off a damp chill after a walk around town or kayak trip. Unlike many of the more expensive restaurants in town, Kuma is popular with the locals and others who are interested in a reasonably-priced meal.

5. Drink with the locals: Located in the light industrial area just outside of Tofino, the Tofino Brewing Company was packed on a Saturday evening with surfers recounting their day’s adventures. As we waited for a table, we were offered several free samples of their impressive collection. Our favorite was the Kelp Stout.

Tofino Brewing 

6. Hang out at the lodge: One of the best things things about being in Tofino is relaxing indoors while observing wild scenery outside. Somehow, we found time to do the things we never seem to have time for at home: reading, playing games, lingering over breakfast, watching the sunset, and sitting by the lodge fire. We always stay at Middle Beach Lodge which is very reasonably priced, friendly and cozy. They serve a delicious breakfast of baked goods, cheeses and healthy options.

Middle Beach Lodge Sunset 

7. Wander the museum: The Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum is a delightful place to spend a few hours on a rainy day or as downtime between more active adventures. The exhibits are small but informative with pictures and artifacts of Tofino's recent and ancient past.

Sometimes, a trip is not exactly what you expect, but it can be even better.

Logistics: To get to Tofino from the US, you can take a ferry from Port Angeles, WA to Victoria, BC and drive 4-5 hours OR take the ferry from Vancouver (Tsawwassen, BC) to Nanaimo, BC and drive 3-4 hours across the island. Both routes meander through breath-taking scenery of old-growth forests, rushing streams, and pristine lakes. Be sure to stop at Bare Bones Fish and Chips in Port Alberni.

Book pairing: Tofino and Clayoquot Sound by Margaret Horsfield