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There’s something magical about the stretch of Vancouver Island’s west coast between Tofino and Ucluelet. For one thing, it’s startlingly beautiful, with majestic old-growth forests, dramatic fjords, crashing waves, and long, silky, sandy beaches. More than that, though, there is a serenity here that attracts people searching for inspiration, enlightenment, or inner peace. That, or just a good wave—this is, after all, prime surfing country.

This remote, rugged rainforest is home to some spectacular natural sites, including the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Marine Biosphere Reserve and the pristine Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Canada’s first marine park, established back in 1971. That’s where you will find Long Beach, which is actually four consecutive beaches (Radar, Long, Combers, and Wickaninnish) that total some 30km (19 miles) of surf and sand broken by rocky outcrops. About a million people visit the park each year, and from June through August the single-lane highway between Ucluelet and Tofino is a constant traffic jam. Pack your patience along with your sunscreen if you plan to drive. The crowds are just one of the reasons storm-watching season (Feb–Mar) has become so popular.

The two towns on either end of the park have distinctly different personalities. In the south, Ucluelet was the primary industry town, when industry meant fishing and logging instead of tourism, and it still has a way to go when it comes to amenities for visitors, despite all the new holiday homes. About a half-hour drive to the north, Tofino is prettier, mellower, foodier, and has more amenities for visitors, including most of the area’s top restaurants, accommodations, surfer beaches, and eco-outfitters. The setting is simply stunning, with jagged mountain peaks towering above island-studded Clayoquot Sound.

Visitors come here for the hiking, the boating, the surfing, and the food. They come here to watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, to watch an orca leap from the waters, to listen to the soothing sound of the waves and the haunting cry of a bald eagle soaring over the mist-shrouded cedars. They come here to find a place of unsurpassed natural beauty, and might even leave having found themselves.