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!

This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a qualifying purchase after clicking one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

JR walking on beach with golden sunset behind ocean waves
Checking out the sunset on Cox Bay Beach, Tofino, during storm season
A surfer catches a wave at Cox Bay
Watching surfers at Cox Bay, Tofino
Two people stand on the beach and watch huge storm season waves
Huge waves during storm season in Tofino – photo courtesy of Tourism Tofino, photographer Sander Jain

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. 

Two people running on a beach with waves crashing behind
The beach offers the most exhilating storm watching experiences. Photo courtesy of Tourism Tofino, photographer Sander Jain
Surfer crossing sign in Tofino
Winter storms bring epic surfing conditions to Tofino
Silhouettes of people on Cox Bay beach with bright sunset behind
Weather conditions can change quickly on the West Coast – even stormy days can end with a sunset like this

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.

Three people surfing in big waves at Cox Bay, Tofino
Cox Bay, Tofino

Chesterman Beach

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. 

Long Beach

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. 

Piece of driftwood on sandy beach with calm ocean behind
Pacific Rim National Park’s Long Beach on a calm day

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.

A wooden building on sandy beach in Pacific Rim National Park
The Kwisitis Visitor Centre on Long Beach, Pacific Rim National Park – a great place for Tofino storm watching

Wickaninnish Inn

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. 

Circular restaurant with large windows and views towards the ocean
The Pointe Restaurant
Large slice of toast topped with mushrooms and a fried egg, dotted with pink huckleberries
My “Mushrooms on Toast” dish at the Pointe – Crispy fried egg, onion purée, mushroom variations, huckleberry

Oceanfront accommodation

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! 

Elevated double soaker tub with king bed and fireplace behind, looking out to beach
The master bedroom at our luxury beach house on Cox Bay Beach, Tofino – check out that double soaker tub!
JR sitting on deck chair on balcony watching the ocean
Our beach house had two balconies, perfect for Tofino storm watching

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. 

Sandy beach with forested headland and islands in background
Middle Beach, Tofino

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. 

Two floor cabins sit just behind beach at Ocean Village Resort, Tofino
Ocean Village Resort, Tofino

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. 
Gemma in a yellow rain jacket on Cox Bay beach
Pacific Sands offers complimentary rain gear to guests, perfect for storm watching!

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. 

Go surfing

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. 

Three surfers walking along the beach in Tofino
Preparing to surf at Cox Bay

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. 

Gemma standing on boardwalk next to huge trees in Pacific Rim National Park
Hiking the Rainforest B trail in Pacific Rim National Park on a rainy day

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. 

Photo courtesy of Tourism Tofino, photographer Jeremy Koreski

Taste winter menus

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. 

Piece of ling cod sitting on top of roasted caulfilower pieces and yam gnocchi
“Ling Cod and Shrimp” at Long Beach Lodge Resort – yam gnocchi, side stripe shrimp, pearl onions, cauliflower, lemongrass curry, cilantro

Go shopping

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. 

Our favourite Tofino businesses include the Roy Henry Vickers Gallery, Dockside Smoked Fish, House of Himwitsa and Storm. Check out the Common Loaf Bake Shop for tasty cakes. 

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!

Ice cream cup with chocolate gelato and chocolate surfboards
Eating homemade gelato at Chocolate Tofino – check out the chocolate surfboards!

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. 

Anemones and barnacles on rock on Tonquin Beach
Checking out the rockpools on Tonquin Beach, Tofino

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. 

Looking out to balcony with deckchair, beach and ocean views behind
The stunning view from our Pacific Sands beach house

Perched on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, the small town of Tofino is commonly hit by violent winter storms. It's an exhilating experience, whether you choose to watch from the beach or an oceanfront hot tub. Click to discover a complete guide to storm watching in Tofino, BC. offtracktravel.ca

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. Here's everything you need to know about Tofino storm watching! offtracktravel.ca

Tofino storm watching is a thrill, whether you choose to witness the ferocious weather from the beach or a hot tub. Here's everything you need to know and more about visiting Tofino during storm season. offtracktravel.ca

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Author

One half of a Canadian/British couple currently based in British Columbia, Canada. Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure.

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