Vancouver has been suffering through an unusually wet April, and so the promise of a sunny weekend ahead meant that we had to do something special; after fielding a few ideas, we settled on Vancouver Island.
If you’re looking for a special weekend off, you can’t do much better than a trip to Vancouver Island.
We didn’t go into the weekend with too much planning; just a last-minute AirBnB reservation and the goal of making our way to Tofino.
There’s so much to see on Vancouver Island, and our path only scratched the surface. These are some of our highlights from our 48 hours on Vancouver Island.
Mt. Tzouhalem is a fantastic little mountain with an even more incredible story. The mountain is named after Chief Tzouhalem, an old chief with a firey tempter. His brutality helped his tribe grow and prosper, but his frequent bouts of murder eventually lead to a rebellion. Banished from the tribe, he fled to the local Mount Tzouhalem (it probably wasn’t called that back then) - taking nothing but his 14 wives. The legend says that he was killed while fighting over a 15th; either by his target, or her husband.
Today, Mount Tzouhalem is home to a rich web of mountain biking paths. The trail system is all community maintained and not officially on the map, but the main trail to the top of the mountain is heavily used and easy to follow. The path does follow a mountain biking route, but hikers and bikers seem to live in harmony here.
The hike is a scenic 8km round trip, and the altitude gain - while considerable - is nicely spread across the 4km. This is not a technical hike.
The trail is beautiful. We found ourselves stopping dozens of times to take it all in. We came accross very few people on our way up, which meant plenty of opportunities to stop and listen to nature around us.
At the top of the hike, we were rewarded with a panoramic view of Duncan and Salt Spring Island. There are plenty birds of all shapes and sizes; we were there in the middle of May, and Falcons and Eagles were still dotting the sky everywhere we went. The birdwatching is especially good from the top of Mt. Tzouhalem; we had a blast watching falcons fly past us at eye level.
If the idea of big trees excites you, Cathedral Grove is a must-see. The small 15 minute hike is nestled right by the side of the highway, making for an amazing break on your way to Tofino.
It’s hard to convey the size of the trees; some of the hollow ones have enough space to fit three people inside.
While the trees are the main attraction, the hiking path itself is quite lovely. The pathway is very clearly marked - the area gets tons of traffic - and the contrast between the public areas and the rest of the forest is stark. You really do get the sense that you’re walking through a jungle.
From the minute you enter Tofino, you get the sense this little surf town has a very laid back vibe to it. Palm trees line the streets, and everyone seems to walk slowly and linger. The waterfront has a utilitarian feel to it; float planes come and go, and fishing boats mingle with whale watching tours.
The real place to be are the three beaches south of the town. They are home to Canada’s best surfing, and the parking lots are filled with RVs, drying wetsuits, and converted camping vans.
We didn’t get a chance to spend much time in the town. A quick brunch, a walk down the main street, a quick visit to the local art gallery, and a stroll along one of the more deserted beaches. I could easily see myself spending a week here, though. A good book, a surfboard, and a stormy forecast; sounds perfect!
It’s easy to fill up 48 hours on the island, and before we knew it we were on our way back to the ferry. The drive from Tofino to the Nanaimo ferry is a little over 3 hours, but the drive feels a lot shorter. The roads on the outskirts of Tofino are spectacular; they cut alongside the mountains and offer spectacular views. I’d love to come back with a sports car or a bike.
All in all, we had a blast exploring the island. I highly recommend the trip if you’re looking to get out of Vancouver for a weekend.