Literally at the end of the road, the popular village of Tofino, once a timber and fishing town supplying the needs of scattered families around Clayoquot Sound, has become a favoured destination for Northwest and European travellers alike.
Tofino boasts miles of sandy beaches to the south, islands of old-growth cedar, migrating grey whales, sea lions, porpoises, hot springs, and a temperate climate.
Although whale watching naturally tops the ecotourism agenda at Tofino, the natural wonders of Clayoquot Sound, a vast area comprising hundreds of naturical miles and a maze of offshore islands, are just now being discovered.
The islands and mountains of Clayoquot Sound are covered with coastal temperate rainforest. The kind of rainforest found in Clayoquot Sound is the most rare kind of forest in the world, covering less than 0.2% of the Earth’s land surface.
With the support of local First Nations, local communities, and each of the local, provincial, and federal governments, in January 2000 Clayoquot Sound became designated as the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Biosphere Reserves are in essence global laboratories for sustainable development. They combine the three functions of conservation, sustainable development, and support for research, education, and training.
The designation of Clayoquot Sound as a United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Biosphere Reserve demonstrates international recognition of the achievement of a shared vision for social, environmental and economic sustainability in Clayoquot Sound.
The original inhabitants of Clayoquot Sound, the Nuu-chah-nulth people, have a guiding philosophy of Hishuk-ish ts’awalk. This means everything is one which recognises that communities, cultures, economies and environments are interwoven and impact one another.
The open ocean stretches off unbroken and vacant, while the elemental forces at play here, the winds and tides, the sun and rain, excite within visitors a deepseated resonance, a sense of belonging to this place.
Population: 7,848 (Clayoquot)
Location: Clayoquot Sound is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, north of Tofino.
Boating and paddling in the waters of Clayoquot Sound is one of the most rewarding ways to experience this environment. Depending on your skill level, you can either plan a trip on your own or join up with one of the tour operators that use Tofino as their base. Day trips close to town include Meares, Stubbs, Wickaninnish, and Vargas Islands, all within sight of the federal dock in Tofino. Far afield is Flores Island. The sandy beach on Stubbs Island makes it an ideal getaway within sight of Tofino. You can land on the east coast of Vargas Island, a 3-mile (5-km) paddle north from Tofino, and make the one-hour journey across island on foot to Ahous Beach. If you paddle to Ahous rather than hike, be prepared for a stretch of open ocean as you round the exposed southwest corner of Vargas. If it’s blowing too hard, check out isolated Medallion Bay on the south end of the island, a delightful place to land.
Nothing on Vargas, however, tops Ahous Beach’s lengthy expanse, which rivals Long Beach in size. So vast is its hard-caked, sandy surface that light planes occasionally land here.
Hiking: For a real taste of a rainforest trail, take an excursion around Clayoquot Sound from Tofino to Meares, Vargas, or Flores Islands. On Meares Island (also called Wah-nah-juss/Hilth-hoo-iss by the Tla-O-Qui-Aht and Ahousaht First Nations), the Big Cedar Trail (moderate; 2-mile/3-km loop) is marked by yellow ribbons and can be quite muddy. Boardwalks and stairs assist hikers over some of the boggiest sections but can themselves be treacherous when wet. Use caution and enjoy the experience of being in a pristine, temperate rainforest, where moss grows as deep as snowdrifts. Reaching the trailhead on Meares Island (part of the Tla-O-Qui-Aht and Ahousaht First Nations’ traditional territory) requires a 10-minute water-taxi ride from the main government wharf in Tofino. Transportation (and, if desired, a guided tour) may be arranged with the Nuu-chah-nulth Booking and Visitor Centre in Tofino.
Farther north on Flores Island, an ambitious trail-building project is underway to complete the Ahousaht Wild Side Heritage Trail (moderate; 20 miles/32 km return). The ambitious project links the Nuu-chah-nulth community of Ahousaht (Marktosis) with gorgeous, unpopulated white-sand beaches on the island’s south and west sides as it traverses the slopes of Mount Flores. Flores Island lies 12 miles (20 km) north of Tofino and is accessible by water taxi, kayak, or floatplane. For more information on the trail, to arrange a guided tour, and to arrange water-taxi transportation, call the Nuu-chah-nulth Booking and Visitor Centre in Tofino.
An old telegraph trail runs the width of Vargas Island between its east and west coasts. The Ahous Trail (3 miles/5 km return) begins behind the Vargas Island Inn and has recently been protected as Vargas Island Provincial Park. The Ahous Trail takes about an hour to walk each way, most of it across the tussocky bog that characterizes much of the landscape inland from the beaches along the west coast. An ancient corduroy road runs through meadows of pink western bog laurel, kinnikinnick, and Labrador tea, the hummocks of peat carpeted with moss in shades of strawberry and gold. So thick is the perimeter of salal through which the trail tunnels that the entrance on the other end at Ahous Beach is difficult to locate. A pile of beach refuse is the only clue to its presence. Mark this location well in your mind or, better yet, arrange some driftwood that you will recognize upon your return before setting out to explore the vastness of this magnificent beach.
Exciting raincoast backroad adventures are offered out of Tofino and Ucluelet in the comfort and safety of 4 x 4 vehicles. View the newly formed Clayoquot UN Biosphere, pristine mountain lakes, streams and waterfalls, with magnificent vistas of Barkley Sound and Clayoquot Sound. Walk nature trails through ancient forests with huge old growth cedar trees, see bears, birds and waterfowl. Full or half day trips.
The Clayoquot Valley Witness Trail (strenuous; 36 miles/58 km return) is an ambitious undertaking on the part of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee with permission from the Tla-O-Qui-Aht First Nation. No greater contrast imaginable exists between the clear-cut logging around the trailheads and the ancient rain forest the Clayoquot Valley Witness Trail traverses. Currently the valley is under moratorium until full and thorough inventories of all resource values, including spiritual, cultural, biological and recreational values, are conducted. The Witness Trail winds through big-treed ancient forests, alongside lakes and rivers and over two mountain passes. A minimum of four days are needed to hike the route and experience the deep rainforest wilderness. The trail begins a short distance west of Hwy 4 and is best done in a south-to-north direction. To receive a copy of the trail map complete with detailed directions, contact the Tla-O-Qui-Aht First Nations in Opitsaht or the WCWC in Vancouver.
Walk the Wild Side Trail is an 11-km trail historically used by the Ahousaht people for thousands of years. Visitors now have the opportunity to escape into the remote wilderness of Clayoquot Sound and hike along forest boardwalk and 9 gorgeous beaches. Be prepared for a strenuous hike, because the trail ends by ascending Mount Flores, offering a spectacular view of Clayoquot Sound. Bring a backpack with provisions and be prepared for some mud and spontaneous weather changes. Run the Wild Side Trail is an annual event held in June, offering a 22-km run or 10-km walk/run of the trail. For more information visit the Wild Side Trail office, located in Ahousaht Housing office building in Ahousat on Flores Island, 30 minutes by water taxi from Tofino.
Quait Bay: Nestled in a hidden cove deep in the wilderness north of Tofino on Vancouver Island is the remote Quait Bay. Located off Herbert Inlet in Clayoquot Sound, Quait Bay offers a unique experience for the discerning outdoor enthusiast.
For more information about the Clayoquot Sound region on the west coast of Vancouver Island, visit Clayoquot Biosphere Trust.