On Vancouver Island’s west coast, moody skies, enormous waves and blustery winter days aren’t a reason to hibernate. In fact, getting outside and admiring the stormy weather up close is how locals and tourists alike celebrate the winter season.
November through March is the height of storm-watching season in Tofino and Ucluelet — neighbouring towns on Vancouver Island known for impressive winter storms. There is no landmass between Tofino and Japan, and because of the area’s exposed coastline, strong winds build up over that great distance, reaching up to 70 kilometres per hour and creating waves up to 20 feet high.
Here, two veteran storm-watchers— Charles McDiarmid, the managing director of Tofino’s Wickaninnish Inn, and Jeremy Koreski, a Tofino-based photographer — share their insider tips to help everyone from beginners to seasoned storm-watchers make the most of the season.
Dress for the Weather
Layering up in the proper attire is essential to getting the most out of your storm-watching trip. Photograph by Sander Jain, courtesy of Tourism Tofino.
Be prepared to dress in the “Tofino tuxedo”: a waterproof rain jacket, rain pants and rain boots that go above the ankle. While Tofino’s average winter temperatures are around 8°C, dressing for the windy, wet weather will help you stay comfortable outside.
McDiarmid recommends dressing in layers. If it’s a particularly cold day, wear a T-shirt, fleece and a sweater, with rain gear as your final layer.
“You want three or four layers altogether. If you wear glasses, bring something to wipe them off occasionally,” says McDiarmid. “And because of the strong winds, definitely don’t bring an umbrella!”
Find the Impressive Views
When it comes to great spots to watch the clouds roll in, see huge waves crash on the shore or explore tide pools when the storm ends, McDiarmid has a few places he recommends everyone visit.
“Hiking along Chesterman Beach is one of my favourite spots. You get spectacular views of the storm action because you can see right down the beach,” he says. “South Beach Trail in Pacific Rim National Park is another: the trail is about 1.5 kilometres long, and it’s an often-photographed spot for big waves. It’s also got a pebble beach, so the stones roll back and forth in big surges making a wonderful sound.”
McDiarmid and Koreski both recommend walking to the Amphitrite Point Lighthouse along Ucluelet’s forested Wild Pacific Trail to see the impressive waves crashing on the rocky shoreline from a safe distance.
Don’t Forget Your Camera
The Wickaninnish Inn on Chesterman Beach is a spectacular spot for watching storms rolling toward the coast. Photograph by Jeremy Koreski, courtesy of the Wickaninnish Inn.
Jeremy Koreski has more than 15 years of professional photography experience under his belt, including many years capturing Tofino’s stormy weather. Koreski’s personal preference is heading outside during the height of a storm to take photos, but he says there is no ideal time to take storm photos — it depends on your artistic vision.
“Storms at dusk and dawn create some really interesting, moody photos,” says Koreski. He adds that it’s a good idea to be prepared with the right equipment if you’re worried about your camera getting a little wet. Koreski uses an AquaTech camera shield to protect his camera from the rain.
Tides and weather can be unpredictable during the winter season, so safety is key when heading outside to watch storms. McDiarmid recommends storm-watching rookies be aware of the changing tides, wave height and wind speeds.
“Other than paying attention to the clouds rolling in, it’s important to be aware of the tides. Changing tides and sudden storm surges, which is when a tide is higher than normal, can change how safe a beach is,” says McDiarmid.
McDiarmid recommends storm-watchers head outside at low tide, keep a safe distance from the water’s edge, avoid tidal rocks and stay away from forested paths if there are strong winds. He adds that storm-watchers should always walk with a partner, and be aware of when the sun is setting to finish the hike before dark.
Located in the Wickaninnish Inn, amenities like the wood burning fireplace and boot dryer make the Driftwood Café a perfect warm up spot after a day of storm-watching. Photograph by Anthony Redpath, courtesy of the Wickaninnish Inn.
After spending some time outside in the wild, stormy weather, warm up in a local café with a warm drink. McDiarmid suggests hotel guests and outside visitors stop by the Wickaninnish Inn’s Driftwood Café — a cozy spot with a wood-burning fireplace and a boot dryer, located right on Chesterman Beach.
For another great spot in Tofino, Koreski recommends SoBo, a restaurant that offers hot drinks along with cocktails, fresh seafood dishes and more.
For visitors in Ucluelet, make sure to pop-by the Barkley Cafe and enjoy a soup and sandwich by the fire.
Embrace it Like a Local
With proper preparation and planning, storm-watching offers an entirely unique way to experience the elements. Photograph by Christopher Pouger, courtesy of the Wickaninnish Inn.
Embracing the stormy weather and admiring its beauty is a way of celebrating the Island’s west coast! Storm season is nature performing at its best and embracing the season means enjoying the show.
“As long as you’re bundled up and prepared, it’s a lot of fun to be out when nature is at its peak,” says Koreski. “The strong winds, the pouring rain — it all just makes you feel more alive.”
Make the most of a two-night storm-watching retreat with BC Ferries Vacations™ and enjoy a third night for free.