If you’re planning on visiting British Columbia, make sure you take an extra day or two and head over to Vancouver Island to take in some of the magnificent scenery. I had the opportunity to drive out to Ucluelet and experience the coast line, and it is quite something.
The only way to reach the western side of the island is to take Highway 4, which starts at Qualicum Beach on the east coast. The drive here isn’t too bad, but make sure you stop and visit Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park, which is roughly 20 minutes from Qualicum Beach. Here, you’ll be treated to centuries old Douglas Fir and cedar trees that tower into the sky. There are trails that weave in and out of the massive trees and you can see a living forest at work where fallen trees give birth to new saplings. The highway divides the park, so there’s no need to take any side roads to visit.
The city of Port Alberni is located mid-island on an inlet that stretches out to the Pacific Ocean. Nearby Sproat Lake is home to the two largest firefighting air craft in active service, the Martin Mars Water Bombers. Before leaving, take some time to stop and have lunch and check out some of the stores. Also, ensure that your car has a full tank because there are no gas stations until you reach Ucluelet or Tofino.
The winding drive to the coast
The 2½ hour drive is not for the faint of heart as the road climbs to grades of almost 18% and winds precariously around steep cliffs and valleys. However, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the mountains and Kennedy River. Be aware that there may be snow on the roads, so have snow tires equipped (usually between October 1st and April 30th).
After coming down from the mountain pass, you’ll end up at a junction: Ucluelet on the south, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and Tofino on the north. Since Ucluelet was closer, I decided to visit the town instead. However, check out Pacific Rim National Park Reserve if you can and step out onto Long Beach. There’s a staffed Parks Canada information booth at the junction between Ucluelet and Tofino where you can purchase permits to visit the park.
The shores of the Pacific Ocean
Ucluelet is located on a peninsula that juts southward into the waters of the Pacific. There are a few beaches and a number of trails which provide rich views of the ocean. The Wild Pacific Trail meanders along the coastline around the Amphitrite Point Lighthouse where the rugged rocky terrain gives way into the chaotic waters.
There’s a number of resorts, artisan shops and eateries in Ucluelet, so stop by before making departing to take in the local atmosphere. It’s well worth the visit.