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 Beach, near Green Point Campground | cycling Port Alberni to Tofino | cycle touring Vancouver Island

Some highlights:

  • 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 a caution - 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.

Tofino seaside R & R | cycling to Tofino & west coast |  cycle touring Vancouver Island

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).

Broken Islands, south of Ucluelet | cycling Tofino & Ucluelet | Pacific Rim National Park | cycle touring Vancouver Island

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. There can be a fair amount of traffic, including some trucks, in summer or at the start and finish of weekends.

Cycling Pacific Rim Highway along Kennedy River | cycling to Tofino and West Coast | cycle touring Vancouver Island

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.

Surfing Tofino & west coast | cycle touring Tofino | Tofino & Long Beach

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.  

Fav ride distance / elevation chart | cycling Port Alberni to Tofino | cycle touring Vancouver Island

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).  

Nanaimo to Port Alberni distance / elevation chart | cycle touring Vancouver Island | cycling Nanaimo to Port Alberni
Tseshaht First Nation carved poles | Victoria Quay Park in Port Alberni | cycle touring Vancouver Island

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. 

Fav ride route map | cycling Port Alberni to Tofino | cycle touring Vancouver Island
Map2: Nanaimo Ferry to Port Alberni to Tofino
Fav ride route map | cycling Nanaimo to Port Alberni to Tofino | cycle touring Vancouver Island

Ucluelet harbour. Check out the cyclist at the end of the dock, waiting for a small boat to pick her (and bike) up

Ucluelet harbour | cycling Port Alberni to Ucluelet | cycle touring Vancouve Island

Caution - Safety First:

This website does not encourage anyone to undertake activities in the backwoods without considering fully issues of safety, access and readiness. There are no guarantees with any information provided in this website.  Please read  the FAQs, research further as appropriate, and use your judgement at all times