Hiking & Backpacking / Outdoor Adventures / Road Trips / Surfing

Discovering Vancouver Island

Discovering Vancouver Island

Last summer, my guy and I were traveling the Pacific Northwest for a week. We spent a couple of days photographing a lovely wedding on Lake Washington, during what could have possibly been the best weather Seattle had all season. Sunshine! Clear skies! Hot, hot, 90°F days!

But as we’d been hoping to escape our own heatwave back home, we couldn’t wait to cross the border into our northerly neighbor for a respite from the rising mercury.

We hadn’t been to British Columbia since the 2010 Winter Olympics, but our small taste of the wilds of Whistler was enough to bring us back sooner than later. Crossing the border from the PNW to BC, it was quite apropos that the first sign we saw billed it as “The Best Place on Earth.”

Crossing the border from Washington to British Columbia

After boarding the ferry in Tsawwassen, crossing the Strait of Georgia, and disembarking in Nanaimo, we made our way west across Vancouver Island.

Taking the ferry from Tsawwassen to Nanaimo

Port Alberni on Vancouver Island

Street art in Port Alberni

Situated in a temperate rainforest biome, the island is home to all kinds of wildlife, from wolves to cougars to bears, as well as tall peaks, forested isles, sandy beaches, and majestic fjords.

The Pacific Rim of the west coast is a national park preserve, and we were incredibly lucky to find a B&B in the middle of it all — a B&B with only one room for rent. And not only was it super private with only one room, it was also super stealthy by being the only accommodation inside the First Nation community of Esowista.

A hidden B&B on the Esowista Peninsula

View from our room, overlooking Long Beach

Long Beach at sunrise

Long Beach at sunrise

That meant we had the whole stretch of coastline in front of our room to ourselves (almost), because only community members (and the occasional bear) were allowed access to that beach.

That’s right, the occasional bear… which we spotted one morning when we were out for a sunrise stroll on the shore. (Talk about a wake-up call!)

Sunrise over Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve

The bear (more like a cub) paid us no attention at first… He was lumbering in and out of the driftwood not more than 50 yards away. Probably hungry. Probably foraging for food. Thankfully, we had none on us.

Bear sighting in the Pacific Rim National Park Preserve

Bear sighting in the Pacific Rim National Park Preserve

We stopped in our tracks, wondering whether to turn back or stand still… because wherever there’s a baby bear, there’s a mama bear… ?!

The little guy sniffed around and spotted us. He moved toward us cautiously, but suddenly changed his mind and scampered off into the woods. Maybe his mama was calling him for breakfast.

We continued along the surf-swept coastline of Long Beach, the widest stretch of pristine sand in the Pacific Rim. At this early hour, the beach was still and serene. The first rays of sun were peeking out over Clayoquot Sound, casting beautiful shadows on the sand. We were alone in this delicious wilderness.

Sunrise in the Pacific Rim National Park Preserve

Pristine coastline in Long Beach

The extreme low tide exposed stunning outcroppings of reefs all over the beach. They were so dense that at one point I was walking through a maze-like corridor of vibrant marine life, with rocky reefs on either side of me, some reaching over 20 feet tall. That put all the sea anemones, starfish, mussels and barnacles at eye level — thousands of them in the most extraordinary tidepools I’d ever seen.

Long Beach tidepools.

Starfish and sea anemones.

Starfish and sea anemones in Long Beach.

Sea anemones in the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve.

A colony of sea anemones.

That afternoon, we drove into the famed surf town of Tofino to scope out the local surf scene. You know you’re not in Cali anymore when even the surf signs show surfers wearing gloves, booties and hoodies!

Surf etiquette in Tofino.

Tofino is a small settlement on the tip of the Esowista Peninsula. It’s the type of town with only one major thoroughfare and a handful of restaurants. In fact, I think there were just as many surf and kayak shops as there were restaurants.

The surf town of Tofino.

The village of Tofino on Vancouver Island.

Canoe on Vancouver Island.

In the summer coastal fog envelops its bays and inlets, giving the town a quiet, eerie feel.

Summer fog on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Floatplane in Tofino.

Though winter is notorious for monstrous waves crashing into the rugged coastline, summer usually brings mellow, fun-sized swell to the peninsula.

It was the day that I never thought would come… the day where I would buy my first real winter wetsuit.

The warmest suit I’d brought with me was a 4/3 (considered a winter suit in LA, but definitely not warm enough for an LA girl in BC), so I picked up a little souvenir in town: a new 5/4 wetsuit, complete with a hood.

My souvenir 5/4 wetsuit from Tofino.

When I first started surfing a few years ago, I always figured that if it was cold enough to warrant wearing a 5/4, I should probably be snowboarding instead. And here I was, about to surf with the sea lions in a frigid wilderness.

Not only that, but I was about to surf on the same beach where we’d spotted a bear that morning… the same beach that was part of the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. (Cross that one off the life list! … even though I never knew such an opportunity existed.)

Without a doubt, the biosphere was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen, much less surfed. (And, my new wetsuit kept me comfortably toasty through our sunset session!)

Surfing on Vancouver Island.

Surfing on Long Beach.

While we had a beautiful beach in front of our B&B, behind us was another world entirely. Right in our backyard was a mossy rainforest home to the biggest slugs I’d ever seen! Judging from the amount of havoc just a few inch-long slugs can wreak in my garden at home, I’d never be able to grow anything up here with these slimy beasts.

Rainforest slug.

Rainforest slug.

A few steps away from our door, the Schooner Beach Trail led us through a thick evergreen forest full of thousand-year-old cedars and spruce. All we could hear within that vast terrene were the exotic trills of birds and frogs.

Temperate rainforest in the Pacific Rim.

An elaborate path of wooden walkways meandered around the rainforest and over a stream.

Schooner Beach Trail on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Schooner Beach Trail through the rainforest.

Schooner Beach Trail.

Schooner Beach Trail.

We came out of a clearing where the forest met the sea, landing on the northern end of Long Beach in front of Schooner Cove. The beach was wide open yet secluded, with tree-covered islets dotting the deserted coastline.

A deserted stretch of Long Beach.

Beautiful Long Beach.

At the end of our week, we drove a little further south on the peninsula, arriving in the fishing village of Ucluelet. Its rocky headlands are known for jagged cliffs and surge channels that have claimed many a shipwreck, and the only passage across this rugged terrain runs along the coast via the Wild Pacific Trail.

Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet.

Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet.

It was a gray and misty and beautiful day, a very Vancouver Island type of day.

Rugged ocean coastline in Ucluelet.

We walked through a temperate rainforest that opened up to views of Barkley Sound and Amphitrite Lighthouse.

Wild Pacific Trail.

Mushrooms on the Wild Pacific Trail.

Barkley Sound on Vancouver Island.

Amphitrite Lighthouse in Ucluelet.

Flanking the trail were wild blueberry bushes filled with buds and berries. I couldn’t resist picking a few to taste!

Wild blueberry bushes flank the trail.

Wild blueberries.

Wild blueberries.

When we finally left the island, we decided to board the ferry from Victoria, which took us over Haro Strait back to the Canadian mainland.

Queen of New Westminster ferry.

Aboard the Queen of New Westminster.

This much more scenic route passed through the Gulf Islands and the San Juan Islands, straddling the border between British Columbia and Washington.

Ferry from Vancouver Island to the mainland.

Ferry from Vancouver Island to the mainland.

Hundreds of islands and islets form the archipelago within the strait, and from the ferry we could see sandstone beaches and oak meadows floating atop the bluest water. It was just about the most perfect day we could hope for on our last day in the Pacific Northwest.

Islands along Haro Strait.

Passing the Gulf Islands and San Juan Islands through Haro Strait.

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring—all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »


  • Carolyn Valdez
    July 10, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Looks beautiful! I love your blog and perspective because I’m from LA and live in Seattle now, and am slowing becoming accustomed to gardening up here. [And unlike Adam who posted earlier, I have found a few giant slugs (banana, leopard, etc.) in the garden! Apparently they eat the smaller slugs?] Keep up the great work!

    • Linda Ly
      July 18, 2013 at 1:30 am

      Thanks Carolyn! (And good luck with your Seattle garden… after being in LA for so long, where nearly everything grows here, I can only imagine how challenging it must be to garden in such a vastly different climate!)

  • Adam Nott
    March 28, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    Dropped by your page for your tips on tomatoes, but got sidetracked with all the other great content. Glad you enjoyed Vancouver Island, but as a local gardener I can assure you that the big slugs don’t make it into the veggie patch.

    • Linda Ly
      March 30, 2013 at 9:53 pm

      Haha, good to know!

  • Kendra
    March 20, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    This is such a fantastic photologue of the Pacific Rim! I’m glad you had such a great time. My fiance and I live in Paulatuk, in the Canadian Arctic and are just about to start a cross-country drive down through the Yukon and the south of B.C. then across to the east. You photos have me even more excited about our vacation.

    • Linda Ly
      March 21, 2013 at 10:53 pm

      Dang, I have the coolest readers EVER! First, I had no idea people lived that far north in Canada… and second, your road trip sounds spectacular! I get goosebumps thinking about all the landscapes you’ll be driving past. Have an awesome trip!!

  • Misti @oceanicwilderness.com
    March 19, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    Beautiful shots! I was in the Seattle in August and it was wonderful up there, did some backpacking in the Enchantments. The bear encounter—that is awesome!

    • Linda Ly
      March 21, 2013 at 10:33 pm

      The Enchantments?! The name alone sounds divine, and now I need to look that up for a future PNW trip!

  • Aimee Fahey
    March 19, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    Gorgeous! I haven’t been to BC since I was a kid. Where did you stay on Vancouver Island? I’d love the name if you’re willing to spill the beans or email me offline 🙂

    • Linda Ly
      March 19, 2013 at 6:43 pm

      My pleasure; I stayed at the Long Beach Haven in Esowista. It’s more like a guest suite instead of a room, and has its own kitchen and living room.

  • Caitlin
    March 19, 2013 at 10:37 am

    I’ve always wanted to go to that area of the continent – it looks unbelievable! Thank you for sharing your great trip with us!

    • Linda Ly
      March 19, 2013 at 6:23 pm

      I would love to start making my way east across Canada… with my next trip being Banff! (Also amazing, I’ve heard.)

  • Beth from Vancouver
    March 19, 2013 at 8:23 am

    Love your blog Garden Betty!! Just one little thing about your visit to Cananda… those weren’t blueberries, they were Salal berries (no worries they’re edible- barely!). Hope you come back to our South Pacific soon!

    • Linda Ly
      March 19, 2013 at 6:20 pm

      Ah thanks for the ID! I had to look them up as I’d never heard of them before, and it turns out that people make salal jam and salal wine with them! They tasted like a cross between blueberry and grape. I definitely hope to come back soon! Still sooo many places to explore in that area!


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