Things to Do Storm Watching

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The force of nature is on full display in the fall and winter months in Tofino. Watch and listen for a complete symphony: the wailing wind, the tympany of waves crashing on rocky shores, and the percussion of rainfall.

The power of a winter storm is awe-inspiring. Witnessing one from a safe vantage point is captivating, but confronting the lashing rain and billowing sea foam on the beach is unforgettable. Plan your visit for winter and experience the contrasts of the storm season with the warmth of cozy fireplace vignettes and welcoming locals.

Beach safety

There are no lifeguards on the beaches in Tofino or Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Before you visit the beach, learn how to stay safe from potential hazards like riptides and unexpected waves. 

People watching on the beach with surfboards and large waves in the background
People with yellow rain slickers walking on the beach on a rainy day

The home of storm watching

An exposed coastline, with no landmasses between here and Japan, allows the wind to build up the size and power of the waves, producing gigantic barrelling deep blue waves that will roll in at up to 20 feet in height. You can see these forces in the landscape too: even on calm days, the beautifully bent krummholz-shaped trees are reminders of past storms, making the most exposed trees hanging from rocky cliffsides look windswept. 

Know before you go

While heading to the beach is the obvious choice for viewing stormy seas, there are some things to look out for. 

Safety tips
Mother and child walking along the beach, splashing in the surf

Tides

The winter months regularly bring higher tides due to storm surges. You can expect particularly high tides, known as “King Tides,” during the full or new moon phases. The water can rise so high that it meets the trail to the entrance of the beach and can be unsurpassable or may be closed by the District of Tofino for safety reasons. Time your walks around the low tides of the day for the best chance to safely enjoy the beach.

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Aerial view of surf next to the shoreline of an island

Rocks

Avoid standing on tidal rocks. While this might be a vantage point, rogue waves - also known as sneaker waves at the shore - are unpredictably large waves in a set that could sweep you off the rocks and out to sea. Staying well back from sea spray areas and above high tide lines is safest. Not to mention, rocky surfaces in the rain are extra slippery!  

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Piles of driftwood logs on the beach

Driftwood

While it is fun to wander in between driftwood logs during low tide, searching for elusive glass ball fishing floats, driftwood presents an extra hazard during storm season. Only a few inches of water is needed to pick up huge logs or woody debris and toss them up on the foreshore. Be wary of incoming waves carrying driftwood that could cause bodily injury. 

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Ready, set, action

As the skies darken into dramatic coal-grey cloud banks, it’s time to pull on your rainboots for a beach walk. How do you decide where to go? Here are a few recommended locations. 

People walking on a path down to the beach

Chesterman Beach

Linked by a tombolo to Frank Island at low tide, Chesterman Beach (north and south) is a beautiful place to feel the wind and ocean spray on your face. This beach typically has smaller waves due to the shape of the bays, but the rocky outcrops at the north end make for a crescendo of dramatic fireworks of foamy spray from breaking waves. Storm watch in a comfortable (and dry) setting at the Wickaninnish Inn, purpose-built for witnessing the fury of this natural phenomenon.

Surfer catching air off a wave in the distance

Cox Bay

Taking in the breaking waves from the beach on Cox Bay as they explode in foamy white spray against Pettinger Point is one of the best ways to understand the scale of these behemoths. Warm up after with a hot chocolate at the Beach Shack or while continuing to enjoy the view from the Great Room at Long Beach Lodge Resort.

Large waves against a sunset

Long Beach

With a 16-kilometre stretch of sandy shoreline, it's no wonder this is one of the most iconic beaches on the West Coast. The large volcanic rock formations at Incinerator Rock and Lovekin Rock are mesmerizing in the large waves. At low tide, a bench on top of Incinerator Rock gives a better vantage for viewing the swell. 

Person in a motorized wheelchair with another person walking along a boardwalk on a cloudy day

Wickaninnish Beach

This beach faces southwest and typically gets some of the largest waves as it is a massive expanse of uninterrupted shoreline. There is a wonderful viewing deck at the Kwisitis Visitor Centre, accessible even at high tide. 

Surfers carrying boards down to the beach on a set of stairs in the forest

Florencia Bay

There is a viewing platform just 200m down the trail from the parking lot at Florencia Bay, giving a bird's eye view of the bay. From here, if you journey further down the path to the staircase, you may also get a great opportunity to view the waves rolling in. Keep in mind to stay out of this wooded path on high-wind days. 

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