Storm season is an exhilarating time to visit Tofino on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
The exposed coastline is hit by fierce storm systems that originate hundreds of kilometres away, bringing gale force winds, violent waves, sideways rain and moody skies.
Tofino storm watching is a thrill, whether you choose to witness the ferocious weather from the beach or an oceanfront hot tub.
Beyond Tofino storm watching
Tofino’s storm season coincides with late autumn and winter. The best thing about visiting Tofino in winter is that the stormy weather can make a visit both relaxing and exciting at the same time.
Winter is also a quieter time to visit Tofino, which means shorter lines, lower accommodation prices and more space on the beach. As someone who likes a spot of solitude, I absolutely love it.
As well as explaining everything you need to know about Tofino storm watching in this article, I’ll also be sharing my favourite other things to do in the area. There’s probably more things to do in Tofino in winter than you may expect!
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Storm season in Tofino: the details
Tofino’s storm season is generally considered to be from November to late February. This doesn’t mean that there are no storms outside of this time, only that the biggest concentration is during the winter.
Each storm season is a little different. On average, there are ten to fifteen storms every month over the winter, with around a dozen featuring extreme conditions. But the amount and strength does vary from year to year.
For that reason, a visit to Tofino in winter may include a range of different weather conditions from gale force winds, huge waves and torrential rain to overcast skies, drizzle and perhaps a burst or two of sunshine.
The weather conditions can change quickly here on the Pacific coast, so expect a little bit of everything and you probably won’t be disappointed.
Tofino storm watching safety
Experiencing the rage of the Pacific Ocean can be an exciting but it can also be dangerous.
Always keep your own safety in mind as well as others in your care. Check the tides before going out – water moves faster than you may expect. Avoid standing on tidal rocks – yes, the photo opportunities are awesome but waves are not always predictable and could sweep you off your feet before you know it.
Tofino storm watching: Where to go
The following eight places are my top picks for storm watching in Tofino. With five visits to Tofino (and counting…) I’ve been to each location multiple times during a range of weather conditions. Even if the weather isn’t as wild as you hoped, all are lovely places to be regardless.
Of course, the places mentioned below aren’t the only spots to go for Tofino storm watching. There are plenty more, as any Tofino local will assure you!
Cox Bay Beach
Home to the wildest storm watching displays, visiting Cox Bay should be a priority on any winter trip to Tofino. A favourite of surfers, this stunning beach can be hit by 12 metre high waves (40 feet!) during storm season. Try to spot the Lennard Island Lighthouse in the distance when exploring Cox Bay.
Alongside Cox Bay, Chesterman Beach is known to have some of the biggest swells during storm season. Head to the north end of the beach to see huge waves hit the rocky outcropping in front of the Wickaninnish Inn.
The largest and longest beach in Pacific Rim National Park, Long Beach is a dramatic place to go Tofino storm watching. Being 16km in length, there’s plenty of space for everyone to watch the waves, even on busy days.
Kwisitis Visitor Centre
Besides being a great place to learn more about Pacific Rim National Park and the region’s human and natural history, the Kwisitis Visitor Centre is also a fantastic place to watch winter storms. There’s a dedicated observation deck.
Storm watching at the Wickaninnish Inn is a classic Tofino experience. And there’s a very good reason for that. The concept of storm watching was actually incorporated into the design of the property.
The Pointe Restaurant is a great example of this, with sweeping 240 degree views of the ocean and surrounding islands. On our last visit, we spotted dolphins playing in the rolling waves.
The innovative cuisine at the Pointe is almost as good as the view. The menu showcases elevated versions of classic Canadian dishes, with seasonal twists. Having brunch here is our new Tofino tradition.
For the ultimate in Tofino storm watching, consider staying overnight in oceanfront accommodation. You won’t regret it!
Pacific Sands Beach Resort
Pacific Sands Beach Resort is, without a doubt, our top recommendation somewhere to stay while Tofino storm watching. Perched right on the edge of Cox Bay Beach, Pacific Sands is in the middle of the storm watching action. Not only can the waves be the biggest here but the sunsets are also the best in Tofino.
If you can, stay at one of the luxurious oceanfront Beach Houses. The 12 foot high ceilings and huge windows offer the most incredible view of incoming storms.
Turn on the fireplace, listen to the rain and watch surfers play in the waves right from the sofa, patio or even the double soaker tub. Two nights just wasn’t enough!
Middle Beach Lodge
Another favourite spot of ours is Middle Beach Lodge. Being located on a peninsula, the cabins and lodge rooms at Middle Beach Lodge offer varying perspectives of the raging ocean. Our self contained deluxe duplex cabin had a wonderful outdoor soaker tub facing Middle Beach itself.
Ocean Village Resort
On a limited budget? Check out Ocean Village Resort. The well appointed cabins are just steps away from Mackenzie Beach. We stayed in a second floor studio and loved watching the swells from our private balcony.
What to wear for Tofino storm watching
We often tell people that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. This is especially true if you want to get in the thick of things when storm watching in Tofino.
- The number one rule is to wear a rain jacket. Don’t own one? Most of the larger oceanfront resorts provide durable rain gear to their guests. Some even offer gumboots, an ideal choice in footwear for Tofino storm watching.
- Dress in layers. Underneath the aforementioned rain jacket, wear a warm midlayer (such as a fleece or wool sweater) and then a baselayer or long sleeved shirt. Avoid cotton if you can, as it does not provide any insulation when wet). We swear by Icebreaker merino wool baselayers and wear them almost every day.
- Waterproof pants are a good idea on the most extreme storm watching days. We love our Sherpa 2.5 waterproof layer Kunde pants, but this Mountain Warehouse version would also work well.
- On your feet, put on a pair of gumboots (known as Wellingtons to Brits like me) or waterproof boots. No-one likes to have cold and soggy toes. If heading to the beach, don’t wear shoes that sand could damage.
- Don’t forget a hat! A double layer toque (like this one) is perfect for keeping warm while storm watching in Tofino. Gloves are also recommended to prolong your storm watching adventure.
Other awesome things to do in Tofino in winter
While storm watching may be my number one activity, it is not the only highlight of the season on the West Coast. Here are seven more awesome things to do in Tofino in winter.
The winter winds bring the biggest swells to Tofino, creating epic conditions for seasoned surfers. The water is a little colder than the rest of the year but line-ups are also shorter. Embrace the challenge and enjoy having the waves almost all to yourself.
Beginner surfers shouldn’t rule out winter as a time to learn as sheltered spots can still be found unless extreme conditions roll in. Most of Tofino’s surf schools remain open year round, offering daily beginner group lessons.
Hike in the rainforest
Three metres of annual rainfall ensure that the coastal temperate rainforest around Tofino remains so incredibly green, lush and beautiful. Much of this rainfall descends over the winter months, making it the perfect time to find out what really puts the rain in rainforest.
Pacific Rim National Park has two 1km long rainforest loop trails, perfect to explore on a rainy day. Breathe in deep, listen to the patter of falling rain, look at the huge cedar tree trunks and marvel how the huge branches provide a natural shelter over the boardwalk.
Soak in natural hot springs
Hot Springs Cove may just be the most impressive natural hot tub in Canada. 26 nautical miles north of Tofino, a ten foot high waterfall cascades into six rocky pools perched right on the ocean. At high tide, the ocean waves flow in, cooling down the naturally heated pools. Soaking here is a magical experience.
Accessible only via a boat or seaplane ride and then a 2km raised boardwalk through an old growth forest, the journey to Hot Springs Cove is almost as exciting as the destination. By boat, it’s a full day trip (six hours) with the potential of seeing whales and other marine wildlife on the way.
Tofino’s food scene is thriving. Fresh, local and sustainable are key concepts here, shared by casual post-surf food trucks as well as high end ocean front dining rooms. Seasonal menus are common, with winter being a particularly good time to try local shellfish.
We particularly loved the seasonal menu at Long Beach Lodge. Showcasing locally foraged ingredients, the three course dinner option is a bit of a steal at $55. My recommendation is to go a little early and watch the sunset while enjoying pre-dinner Happy Hour specials in the scenic Great Room.
I’ll admit it, I’m not much of a shopper. But Tofino is different. With a mix of independently owned galleries, clothing stores, bookshops and funky gift boutiques and more, downtown Tofino is one of a kind. It’s extremely walkable too, with plenty of unique coffee shops and cafes to stop at.
Outside of downtown, a must stop is Chocolate Tofino. Offering a surprisingly large range of homemade artisan chocolates and gelato, this is the ideal place to pick up some winter gifts and treats. Insider tip – ask about the secret gelato flavours!
Go beach combing
Even if a storm isn’t rolling in, Tofino’s beaches still have plenty to offer in winter. Walk the sands, climb the headlands, peek into rockpools, have a beach fire (all regulations in Tourism Tofino’s FAQ page) and more.
Besides the beaches already mentioned, I also love Florencia Bay, South Beach and Tonquin Beach. The latter is accessible via the Tonquin Trail, a wonderful coastal hiking route. Schooner Cove is another of my favourites but is currently inaccessible due to trail maintenance.
Stay in and relax!
As much as I absolutely love nature, there’s just something so lovely about staying in, wrapping up warm and doing very little. A winter trip to Tofino can provide a guilt free excuse to enjoy all the pleasures of staying inside.
This includes (but is certainly not limited to) taking a long, hot bath, reading a good book by the fire, playing board games and even just curling up on the couch with a cup of tea.
For the best in Tofino relaxation, consider staying in oceanfront accommodation. You’ll be able to watch the ocean waves, see surfers at play and listen to the rain patter on the roof.
Thank you to Tourism Tofino for assisting with our most recent storm season trip to Tofino.
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