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A wise person once said: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.” Or something like that…
Now, the weather on the wild west coast of Vancouver Island in winter is bad. Really really bad.
This is the season for Tofino storm watching! If you have the right gear…
Tofino storm watching
Tofino is a charming boho-chic town on Vancouver Island’s west coast.
It’s located on the northern edge of the Long Beach section of Pacific Rim National Park, one of the most beautiful Canadian national parks.
And it sits smack against the Pacific Ocean. If you look at a map, you’ll see that there’s nothing but water in front of Tofino, nothing but water between here and Japan.
Because Tofino is so exposed, it gets monster storms, fueled by winds building up over that huge swath of ocean.
Rain that lashes you from the side. Gigantic frothy surf. Gales that howl and rattle windows. Ocean swells 20 feet high. And monster rogue waves that, if you’re not careful, can sweep you out to a furious sea and your watery death.
It’s one big, bad spectacle of nature.
The birth of storm watching in Tofino, BC
There was a time that tourists only visited Vancouver Island during good weather, i.e., summer.
But then visitors started trickling in to witness the wild west coast’s bad weather.
Storm watching is now hugely popular in winter – in fact, people come from around the world to watch winter storms batter the coast and its untamed but beautiful beaches.
Charles McDiarmid, managing director at the renowned Wickaninnish Inn, is largely credited with enticing visitors to Tofino for winter storm watching.
Stay at the Wick, and you discover shiny yellow Helly Hansen rainslickers and umbrellas in your room for your use during your stay.
Complimentary rainboots in your size can be picked up from the front desk for cruising the beach.
The sound of the surf is piped into The Pointe Restaurant through a state-of-the-art sound system, which also boasts a 240-degree view of the Pacific. And bathtubs have views of the beach and crashing waves outside.
And after getting blown away on the beach, what better way to revive than a treatment in the Ancient Cedars Spa!
A Relais & Chateaux property, the Wick is the place to pamper yourself for storm watching in Tofino.
Other top storm watching lodges
Since the Wick opened in 1996, several other lodges have also opened their doors to visitors (and offer storm watching on Vancouver Island packages).
Take Long Beach Lodge Resort.
Its beach out front is completely exposed to the open Pacific. And it’s another great place to bundle up into rain gear and go lean into the winds, knowing you can chase that with a glass of wine or brandy by the roaring fire in the lodge’s Great Room.
Down in Ucluelet, Black Rock Oceanfront Resort is one of the top accommodation options.
Its Fetch restaurant juts right out on the rocky headlands, with soaring glass windows on three sides for prime up-close-and-personal storm watching.
Other things to do in Tofino
Of course, Vancouver Island storm watching isn’t the only thing to do in Tofino.
There’s also rainforest hiking, sailing, whale watching, soaking in natural hot springs, bear viewing and more.
Tofino storm season
The best months for storm watching are from November to February.
Mind you, there are no guarantees.
We once visited in February for a spot of Tofino storm watching, only to be greeted with brilliant sunshine, cobalt skies and T-shirt temps. We couldn’t figure out if we were lucky or unlucky.
On Vancouver Island, it turns out, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only storm watching. Or perhaps sun worshipping.
Recommended reading: See our guide to taking the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria
Photo credits: 7 and 15 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 1, 3, 4, 8 to 12 Wickaninnish Inn | 5, 13 and 14 Long Beach Lodge