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Pacific Rim National Park: Exploring the wild west coast

Thousands of years of natural beauty, culture, and discovery...

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Created by RoadtrippersCanada - May 11th 2018

For thousands of years, the area encompassed in Pacific Rim National Park has been significant to the Nuu-chah-nulth culture. This park, located on Canada’s wild western coast is a rugged, lush, and impossibly tranquil natural wonder. Here you can hike through temperate rainforests, spend the day at a soft-sandy beach, or head out to sea for some incredible whale-watching. The entire area surrounding Pacific Rim National Park is also an explorer’s playground. So, sit, back, buckle up and learn a little bit about this amazing area.

Established in 1970, in British Columbia’s westernmost coast, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is a crown jewel of the park system. In fact, it was the first park reserve ever established, and there was so much fanfare around its opening that even Princess Anne of England was in attendance. There are actually three unique regions that make up the park, the Broken Group Islands, West Coast Trail, and Long Beach. There’s an adventure for each kind of explorer to be found here. From rugged coastal hikes to immersing yourself deep in the lush rainforests.

Long Beach is probably the most popular part of the park. Here you’ll visit with seals, sea lions, and even see a whale or two. There’s also a campground for tents and people travelling with trailers. You’ll want to head to the Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre when you arrive, in order to situate yourself, grab a bite to eat, and get some information about the park and trails, as well as if there are any closures due to weather. Long Beach is also the only part of the park that you can explore by car.

FUN FACTS: A section of Long Beach was used by draft dodgers, surfers, and hippies until 1970. They lived on the beach until the park was established. In addition, there’s also a “Shipwreck Path” along the West Coast Trail. In fact, the trail itself was created as a rescue path in the early 1900’s for mariners who were stranded after their ships ran aground on a nearby reef.

TIPS:

  • The reserve is open from the middle of March through the middle of October.
  • Expect to see mammals such as raccoons, cougars, martens, black-tailed deer, wolves, black bears, and minks.
  • The best time to visit the park is really between June and September, this is when the weather is at its most temperate. However, if you’re adventurous you can do some storm-watching and big-wave surfing during winter time.
  • You’ll definitely want to budget more than just a day to visit the park. And if you’re planning on taking in the sites around the park you’re looking at around a week. The West Coast Trail itself takes about a week. You could also spend a few days exploring the Broken Group Islands aboard a boat.

Are you in the mood for an epic backcountry hiking adventure extravaganza?! Well, it doesn’t get more backcountry real than the West Coast Trail, from Port Renfrew to Bamfield. BAM! That’s right, this trail was originally created to help with rescue efforts for shipwrecked sailors, and is often called the Shipwreck Trail or “Lifesaving Trail.” It was established back in 1907 and took about three years to complete. Although abandoned in the 1950s, a lot of hippies and draft dodgers used the trail to hideout along some of the beaches. By the 1970s most of the hippies were kicked out and the trail was renamed “The West Coast Trail,” and it’s truly the hike of a lifetime. It takes about a week to complete it, and its’ one of those hikes you really gotta do at least once in your life.

  • West Coast Trail (Beach Option), Alberni-Clayoquot A, British Columbia, Canada

Cathedral Grove

“I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree…” the immortal words of Joyce Kilmer ring especially true at Cathedral Grove. Here you’ll find the remains of an ancient ecosystem of Douglas fir trees. Established in 1947, the largest trees are over 800 years old, but in my opinion, they don’t look a day over 700. There are red cedar groves, hiking trails, and picture-perfect glades to explore. You could easily spend an entire day here so budget your time accordingly.

Stamp River Provincial Park

If waterfalls, lush forests, white-water rapids, and salmon spawning are your thing, then Stamp River Provincial Park is the place for you! Established back in the 1940s, this park is a big draw for visitors to Pacific Rim. Every year thousands of Pacific salmon swim around below Stamp Falls and it is an adorable sight to see…except when black bears get hungry and decide to go fishing. But, there are plenty of safe spots to view the spectacle from one of the many lookout points along the river.

Aww, if you’re in the area you really should do yourself a favour and visit Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. It’s an adorable park featuring waterfalls, a rocky gorge, and plenty of lake swimming and hiking trails along the river. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon, maybe enjoy a picnic, or just spend the day on the lake.

Englishman River Falls Provincial Park

Oi! The Englishman River Falls Provincial Park is home to old-growth forests, two breathtaking waterfalls, and a deep canyon. Close to Cathedral Grove and Pacific Rim National Park, there’s a campground located onsite and some secret swimming holes to discover, just near the lower falls. Dogs are allowed in this park, but they must be leashed at all times.

When you’re ready for some serious beach time, head to Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, where you’ll experience an unbeatable ocean sunset. This beach is a perfect spot to pitch a tent at one of the forested campsites, which are just a few minutes walk from the beach, and it offers some great swimming. A great place to spend the day with a family (hopefully your own, or who knows maybe you could make some friends!), or enjoy it on your own. Ooh, this park is also known for its awesome bird-watching. In fact, every February-April you can catch the annual Brant geese migration! Because this park is so special and so popular, it’s highly recommended that you make a camping reservation, especially if you want to visit during summer.

At the Petroglyph Provincial Park, you’ll be amidst Canada’s largest concentration of indigenous rock carvings. The petroglyphs at this park depict various animals like snakes and turtles, as well as humans. Be sure to stop by the Learning Place Visitor Centre to learn about the sacred and cultural traditions of this area and the Ojibway (Nishnaabe) people. You can also visit McGinnis Lake, which is a vibrantly-coloured, blue and green-hued lake that’s pretty special in that here the water layers don’t intermix with each other. There are also several fun hikes in the park. You can visit between 10 am and 5 pm. Be aware that hours may change depending on seasonality.

With several beaches, camping, and a few trails, Juan de Fuca Provincial Park is perfect for a night or weekend away. Botanical Beach is a favourite for its tidepools. They're home to a rainbow of unique marine life, including red, purple and orange starfish and sea urchins, white gooseneck barnacles, blue mussels and green sea anemones, sea cucumbers, coralline algae, periwinkles, chitons and sea stars. As for hikes, the Parkinson Creek Trail winds through old-growth forest, regenerating areas that were recently logged, and past rugged coast. And China Beach has a campground and a sandy swath of shoreline perfect for relaxing.

Ocean EcoVentures Whale Watching

After all of that hiking, head to Ocean EcoVentures for some prime whale-watching. The company prides itself on delivering customers with the “highest orca sightings on Vancouver Island.” Tours depart daily from Cowichan Bay and include half-day (4 hour) and full day (8 hour) tours.

For a change of pace take a leisurely stroll through the Victoria Butterfly Gardens, where you’ll be surrounded by hundreds of butterflies. The setting is akin to a lush jungle…but indoors! The Victoria Butterfly Gardens is home to over 75 species of butterfly and also houses flamingos, large iguanas, parrots, frogs and other tropical wetland species.

Next, head over to the Butchart Gardens and immerse yourself in a floral extravaganza! These gardens welcome about a million visitors a year, and it’s so popular and culturally significant to British Columbia that it’s been designated a National Historic Site of Canada. Be sure to visit the Sunken Garden, Ross Fountain, and Bog Garden.

The Old Country Market

The Old Country Market started out quite humbly, as a simple highway fruit stand that soon evolved into a burger hut, and then a country market. The original owners hailed from Lillehammer, Norway, and brought with them a traditional Norwegian design for their market, which prominently featured da sod roof. Think, hobbit house. This particular market has become one of the world’s most famous sod-roof buildings. Why? Well, it’s got quite the claim to fame: The roof is also home to their goats. Yeah, so don’t be surprised if you drive by and see some goats just hanging out on the roof. They’re very friendly, and make for a fantastic photo op!

Gina's Mexican Cafe

If you’re in the mood for Mexican, Gina’s Mexican Cafe is a local favourite. The colourful building is located right in downtown Nanaimo and features fish tacos (straight from the West Coast), vegetarian dishes and pollo chipotle. There’s a great vibe here and it’s been running for over 25 years. It’s often referred to as the “Pink House on the Hill”, because it’s literally on a cliff, just off Highway 1. You’ll get great views, great food, and an awesome atmosphere. Definitely get a margarita if you go!

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Wya Point Resort

There are quite a few great places to stay near Pacific Rim National Park, but Wya Point Resort is one of the most beautiful, and just a few minutes away from the park. It’s located on the coast and has its own private beach, as well as 600 acres of old-growth forest. There are a few types of accommodations to choose from, including yurts located right on the water, camping on the beach, or a luxury lodge.

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Black Rock Oceanfront Resort is an absolutely GORGEOUS oceanfront resort, also located on Ucluelet. If rugged coastline, innovative architecture, sexy design, and unreal ocean vistas are your thing, then Black Rock is the place for you. Here you’ll be surrounded by the Wild Pacific Trail, and close to every attraction on Vancouver Island, and just a few minutes drive from the absolutely charming town of Tofino. There are studio rooms and 2-bedroom suites available, with kitchenettes, a balcony, soaking tub, and there’s also an onsite spa and restaurant. Or you could unwind in the lounge, by the fire with a delicious drink, staring out into the ocean.

Finish up your Pacific Rim adventure in style at the Free Spirit Spheres. These treehouse cabins are completely quirky, totally relaxing, and undeniably unique. You’ll fall asleep in your little treehouse sphere gently swaying in the trees. I mean, it doesn’t get closer to nature than literally sleeping in the trees. There are loads of eco-adventures to be had here as well, and the accommodations are right between Qualicum Beach and “Lighthouse Country.”