The most accessible of the park’s components, Long Beach is just what it says: a long tract of wild, windswept sand and rocky points stretching for about 30km south from Tofino to Ucluelet. Around 19km can be hiked unbroken from Schooner Bay in the west to Half Moon Bay in the east. The snow-covered peaks of the Mackenzie Range provide a scenic backdrop, while behind the beach lies a thick, lush canopy of coastal rainforest. The white-packed sand itself is the sort of primal seascape that is all but extinct in much of the world, scattered with beautiful, sea-sculpted driftwood, smashed by surf, broken by crags and dotted with islets and rock pools oozing with marine life.
Long Beach, while a distinct beach in itself, also rather loosely refers to several other beaches to either side, the relative merits of which are outlined opposite. If you haven’t done so already, driving Hwy-4 along the beach area is the best time to call in at the Pacific Rim National Park Visitor Centre.
Long Beach is noted for its wildlife, the BC coastline reputedly having more marine species than any other temperate area in the world. As well as the smaller stuff in tidal pools – starfish, anemones, snails, sponges and more – there are large mammals like whales and sea lions, in addition to thousands of migrating birds (especially in Oct & Nov), notably pintails, mallards, black brants and Canada geese. Better weather brings out lots of beachcombers (Japanese glass fishing floats are highly coveted), clam diggers, anglers, surfers, canoeists, windsurfers and divers, though the water is usually too cold to venture in without a wet suit, and rip currents and rogue lumps of driftwood crashed around by the waves can make swimming dangerous. And finally, resist the temptation to pick up shells as souvenirs – it’s against park regulations.
As this is a national park, some of Long Beach and its flanking stretches of coastline have been very slightly tamed for human consumption, but in a most discreet and tasteful manner. The best way to get a taste of the area is to walk the beaches or forested shorelines themselves – there are plenty of hidden coves – or to follow any of nine very easy and well-maintained hiking trails.
Long Beach walks
Long Beach walks
With an eye on the weather and tide, you can walk more or less anywhere on and around Long Beach. Various trails and roads drop to the beach from the main Hwy-4 road to Tofino, including nine official trails (two are closed), most of them short and very easy – you could tackle a few in the course of a leisurely drive along the road. All the paths are clearly marked from Hwy-4, but it’s worth picking up a guide from the visitor centre. Trail specifics are highlighted below.
1 & 2 Willowbrae and Halfmoon Bay (1.4km and 500m). Linked, level wooded trail that drops steeply onto tiny Half Moon Bay or the larger Florencia Bay to the north.
3 Closed for safety reasons.
4 South Beach (800m). Runs above forest-fringed coves before reaching South Beach, famous for its rock-crashing breakers.
5 Nuu-chah-nulth (2.5km). Follows the South Beach trail for a bit, then passes through rainforest.
6 Shorepine Bog (800m). Wheelchair-accessible boardwalk trail that winds through fascinating stunted bog vegetation; trees which are just a metre or so tall here can be hundreds of years old.
7 Rainforest (1km). Two small loops that follow a boardwalk through virgin temperate rainforest.
8 Combers Beach (500m). Idyllic walk along a sugary sand beach.
9 Schooner Cove (1km). Leads through superb tranches of rainforest to an extremely scenic beach at Schooner Cove.
10 Radar Hill (100m). Steep viewpoint with magnificent sea and mountain views.