Tofino & the Wild West Coast
Fav ride for all
Tofino, Long Beach & Ucluelet are truly the end of the road as one heads to central Vancouver Island's west coast. Endless sandy beaches, big surf, whale watching, wild winter storms and all the treats of Tofino & Ucluelet attract visitors from around the world. The remoteness, adventure tourism focus, and a year round surfing community, help create a sense of an alternate destination.
An excellent, remote (no services for 80+kms) ride out from Port Alberni, countless camping options and a vast hinterland make this a special cycle touring destination.
Gotta start with a photo of the incredible, endless sands & surf at Long Beach. Stay at Green Point Campground, a Favourite). Yes those little black lines are people in the distance
Long, scenic, twisting, tough (paved!) wilderness ride from Port Alberni to the coast - not a village or store to be seen
World class surfing & beach walking (including winter storm walking) on Long Beach (and other beaches). Sign up for a surfing course if you're game
Excursions into Tofino or Ucluelet for the treats of world class tourist destinations, with an 'alternate' flavour
Check out the cluster of informal camping options along the NW and SW shores of Sproat Lake (see Honourable Mention Fav campsites)
And some cautions - this west coast enclave is both remote and popular with tourists. You can expect to find some higher than usual prices. Most campgrounds will be $40++. Tofino is a little more expensive than Ucluelet. Some travellers manage to track down good bargains, so you may want to ask around.
R & R in seaside Tofino: wifi, fresh pie and excellent coffee. Add in a view over the bustling harbour (including seaplanes & kayakers coming & going), and what more could you ask for after several long days cycling in?
Days for Ride: I've saved the route simply as one way from Port Alberni, assuming the return trip will just follow the same track. It's a good, long 120+ km ride from Port Alberni to Tofino. I suggest camping at Green Point, in Pacific Rim National Park, about 20km before Tofino, making for a manageable 100km ride. Green Point is along Long Beach, and has walk-in campsites, great for cycle tenters - but they're always full in season, so consider reservations. There are a number of fine informal campgrounds closer to Port Alberni. Closer to the west coast, your options will be wild camping if you don't want to stay in a formal campground.
If you're starting from Nanaimo ferry, you need to add a one day ride to Port Alberni, with a number of camping options in and around town. I'd suggest Sproat Lake Provincial Campground, as it'll get you on your way out from Port Alberni. This would make for 2 successive fairly demanding days (both ~100km, with some climbing) of riding to reach Long Beach.
Looking south to the Broken Islands from the Wild Pacific Trail, the western tip off Ucluelet. The islands, a paddlers' paradise, are part of the fantastic Pacific Rim National Park (which also includes Long Beach & the West Coast Trail, far to the south).
Difficulty: Looking back at the specs, I classify this as a medium difficulty ride. You're on pavement all the way (unless you rope in some side trips). Elevation is only up to ~250m. (If you're riding into Port Alberni from the east coast, there's a 400+m hill - the 'Hump" - just east of town).
That said, my memory is of a pretty tough ride. The climb up Sutton Pass west of Sproat Lake is a good one, and there's a nasty climb to the east approaching Kennedy Lake (only up to ~100m, but over 18 degree incline). In this stretch approaching Kennedy, shoulders get really tight and the road is jammed with tight twists and turns - lively riding!
Another challenge to anticipate is the long stretch with no services or facilities, which give the ride a remote edge. The shoulders can be narrow for stretches.
And be prepared: as Tofino is a popular tourist destination, there can be heavy traffic between Port Alberni, notably on and around weekends and holidays in the summer.
Rugged terrain along the ride west. Here, a stretch of rapids along the Kennedy River, which tumbles west into massive Kennedy Lake
Some interesting side trip options.
Just 8 kms SE of the junction of Hwy 4 and the west coast is the village of Ucluelet. It's a great destination in itself, or as a sidetrip from Green Point Campground & Tofino.
About 2 kms before reaching the coast, there's a backroad turnoff NW: follow this ~12kms to Clayoquot Arm Beach Camp. This is as far as I've been along this track, but there's a huge hinterlands accessed from here, if you're into backroads exploration.
Take a boat out somewhere. There's grand coast, islands and inlets all about
From Port Alberni, your start and finish point, there are brilliant (and challenging)! backroads options: S/SW to Cowichan Lake (or Bamfield); south down the eastern shores of Alberni Inlet to loop around Nahmint Lake and the southern shores of Sproat Lake; and, north to Great Central Lake and Courtenay.
In case you've been wondering about how to carry your surfboard out west ....
Here's the elevation / distance view, Port Alberni to Tofino:
This is over 120 km along the bottom axis so things are not as sharp as they may seem (climbs are stretched out over multiple kms). That said, you'll not miss the climb up Sutton Pass, west of Sproat Lake, or the sharp (18 degree!) climb up then down before you reach Kennedy Lake. Beyond that, although there are hills, nothing gets up higher than 150m. Once you reach the coast, things are fairly flat, with elevation staying below 50m on the road to Tofino.
If, like most, you'll riding from Nanaimo to Port Alberni, here's a distance / elevation chart to give you an idea of what to expect. The overall distance is shorter (~80kms) than the ride out to Tofino, which makes the hills look less daunting. What you can expect is a gradual climb up to 100m++ from the Nanaimo terminal, then more gradual climbing shortly after the turn-off to Parksville. You'll stay on the big highway ~5kms further until you'll see the turn-off west onto Hwy 4 which takes you right to Port Alberni. Notable, of course, is the "Hump", as the big hill (over 400m) just east of Port Alberni is affectionately called. It's actually tougher heading back to the east coast as you start from sea level in Port Alberni. That said, it truly makes for a glorious paved road / good shoulder descent bombing down into Port Alberni.
There are several formal camping options at the east end of Port Alberni as you reach town (Timberlodge & Lighthouse). I'd recommend, though, starting west to Tofino along the Pacific Rim Hwy (fancy name for Hwy4), and camping at Sproat Lake Provincial Campground, about 13 kms out from town at the east end of long Sproat Lake (consider reservations in season).
From Victoria Quay Park, at the west end of Port Alberni, which lies within the traditional territories of the Hupacasath and Tseshaht First Nations
Here's the distance & direction guide.
This ride is straight forward. You just stick to Hwy 4 (aka Pacific Rim Highway) from the west end of Port Alberni, and then turn right when you reach the west coast 100kms later (or left if you want to check out Ucluelet).
Port Alberni to the east end of Sproat Lake is ~10kms. Then 22kms along the north shores of Sproat Lake. 13 more kms up to Sutton Pass. Then, ~33kms to the Toquart Bay turnoff, and 13 more kms to the coast, where you turn right/north. 10 further kms to Green Point Campground, and a final 20+kms to Tofino. It's worth a side trip to Ucluelet (~10kms SE from coast junction) - still lots of tourist infra, but more of a working town than Tofino.
See the route map below - ride in magenta/purple. Other routes in blue. A second less detailed map below shows the route starting from Nanaimo ferry terminal to Port Alberni.
Map2: Nanaimo Ferry to Port Alberni to Tofino
Ucluelet harbour. Check out the cyclist at the end of the dock, waiting for a small boat to pick her (and bike) up