One of the only ways to get to and from Tofino without a car is to use Tofino Bus.
Tofino Bus is a private motorcoach company that transports people from the major cities on Vancouver Island (like Victoria and Nanaimo) to Tofino. They also do drop offs and picks ups in Ucluelet.
I took Tofino Bus back in December 2003. At the time, their vehicle was a large van, not a bus. I think they've grown quite a bit since then and have been purchased by Greyhound Canada, although they're still keeping their Tofino Bus name.
They picked me up from the Nanaimo ferry terminal and dropped me off at the main entrance of the Long Beach Lodge Resort just outside of Tofino. There was only one bathroom/smoke break at Port Alberni at the local gas station there - but the gas station has a little store that sells snacks and drinks.
You must make reservations to take the Tofino bus because seats are limited. They only depart 2-3 times per day.
When you call to make reservations, they will write down where you'd like to be picked up. They won't pick up/drop off anywhere, but as long as it's along their route, it shouldn't be a problem. They do pick-ups from most ferry terminals but also most hostels.
One crucial thing to consider is how you're going to travel around once you get to either Ucluelet or Tofino. Between these two towns is 40km of coastline which is home to the Pacific Rim National Park and many beaches and trails. It's too far to walk and public transit to the beaches is very, very limited. There is a designated bike trail and hitch hiking is common.
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Driving to Tofino
You can either fly to Tofino from Vancouver or drive. We did the latter as our visit here was part of a driving holiday. Allow plenty of time for the drive across Vancouver Island on Highway 4 – partly because the road is slow and winding, and partly because the scenery is fantastic and you’re sure to want to stop to take photos or just admire the views. I loved these dark green forested mountains with the low cloud swirling around them.
Also worth a stop is Cathedral Grove in Macmillan State Park where you can see some of the largest trees left standing on the island – give yourself enough time to do one of the boardwalks through the rainforest to really appreciate the majesty of these great trees.
- National/State Park
If you're going to Tofino, you have to find your way onto Vancouver Island first. Since there are no bridges connecting Vancouver Island to the mainland, you have to either take a ferry, a plane or a helicopter. Most people take ferries because, although slower, they're a lot more affordable!
The BC Ferries are the only ferry system connecting Vancouver Island to the BC mainland. Most people use Vancouver as the departure point. However, there are no ferry terminals in Vancouver itself - they're both located outside of the city. From Vancouver, you'd have to get yourself to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal, which is a 45 minute drive south of Vancouver, or you'd have to get to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, about a 30 minute drive north-west of downtown Vancouver. Both terminals can be accessed by public transit as well.
From either ferry terminal you'd have to take the Nanaimo-bound ferry. Prices vary on the season and whether or not you have a car. In general it costs $11 per person, and a car is often an extra $40. This is one way fare only. There is no round-trip fare.
The schedules for the ferries change depending on the season, but it takes 2 hours to travel from Tsawwassen to Nanaimo, and 1 hour 35 minutes to travel from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo. Most Nanaimo-bound ferries leave every 2-3 hours, from around 7am in the morning until about 9 or 10pm at night. Check with the BC Ferries website for an up-to-date schedule.
While reservations are not mandetory, if you're planning to travel on a weekend or during a holiday, then reservations are recommended. They cost an extra $17.50 for one car, but are worth the piece of mind. Walk-on passengers do not need to make reservations.
All in all, the BC ferries are half the fun of getting to Tofino. While the Nanaimo-bound ferry may not be as scenic as the Victoria-bound ferries, Nanaimo is a lot closer to Tofino (3 hours drive) vs Victoria (4.5 hour drive). And you may be lucky, for you might spot some orcas along the way!
Fly to Tofino!
Most people drive to Tofino - if you have the money and opportunity, try a flight! The cost is around $130 one way, so it's not cheap, but the flight is gorgeous, and interesting. The plane only seats 6-8 people, so it's strange, and your time there from Vancouver is about 45 minutes, instead of a gruelling 5-6 hours! Yay!
I believe the airline used is Regency, and it flies out from the south terminal of the Vancouver International Airport.
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Unlike most places, hitch hiking in Tofino is very commonplace. It's safe to hitch, or to pick up hitchers in this area. I'd be wary of the drunk looking natives, though, but I'm sure they're harmless enough.
I've done long-distance hitching from the ferry to Tofino and back (granted, it's easier hitching to the ferry, than to Tofino) a few times with no problem.
Hitching to town from Ucluelet, or if you're staying out of the town itself, is pretty easy. Same deal if you just want to get to an out-of-the-way spot, like Long Beach or Florencia Bay. Go for it - you meet some cool characters, too.
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Tofino itself is a pretty small town and you can pretty much walk anywhere you want.
However to get to a lot of the beaches to watch the storms or to go surfing walking is not an option.
This is also the case to get to the National Park.
There is no bus service, I don't believe there is a taxi service either.
Hitchhiking is very common though and safe. It's one of those places were lots of people would not be able to get around if hitchhiking were not an option. Therefore it has become a normal means of transportation for lots of folks.
- National/State Park
Strangely, while the rest of North America is paranoid about hitch hiking, in Tofino, as well as many other places on Vancouver Island, it's a common method of transportation. Everyone hitch hikes in Tofino.
My first hitch hiking experience was here in Tofino in December of 2003. I was with my friend who I was visiting, so I didn't have to do it alone. However, she always hitch hikes solo in Tofino, and it's never been an issue for her. I felt completely safe, though wary at first.
We were staying a short drive south of town, but because we lacked a car, we'd hitch hike into Tofino for something to do, movies to rent, or groceries to buy. We normally didn't have to wait long for someone to pick us up. It didn't hurt that we were two smiling females. It also didn't hurt that it was cold out, sometimes snowing. This worked to our advantage.
Our first ride was in a van with two French-Canadians from Quebec and their dog. They had moved to Tofino for a lifestyle change. They picked up two more hitch hikers while we were in the van. The hitch hikers were two girls also visiting from Quebec.
During another ride, we got picked up by a First Nations Tofino woman who had previously picked up my friend earlier that week. As a local, she was interested in where my friend was working. They discussed the benefits of working in the local resorts.
Another time out of Tofino, as snow was falling and it was getting dark, a woman pulled over and said that she never picks up hitch hikers, but we looked like nice people, and it was dark and cold, so she wanted to help us out. She wasn't from Tofino but was visiting from the eastern side of the island.
I can also recall the time when we got picked up in a newer model SUV with Washington state licence plates. The two men were visiting from Seattle and spent Christmas at a Tofino resort.
So in conclusion, while I wouldn't normally don't hitch hike, I wouldn't hesitate to do so again in Tofino. It was a positive experience!
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Getting to Tofino
Driving to Tofino is probably the best transportation. Once you get there you can use the car to access more remote locations or just hike. The natural beauty of the area makes it extremely popular with hikers. If you take the ferry over to Vancouver Island to either Victoria or Nanaimo you will have to take the highway to Port Alberni. It's about a 3 hour drive from Nanaimo on highway #4 west until you see the ocean again on the other side! You'll want to make stops along the way. The road is winding and very scenic.
- National/State Park
- Jungle and Rain Forest
Arrive by air
I drove to Tofino...but I saw an ad that said you can fly here for $149 from Victoria. The airport was actually in my campsite. Looks like a pretty spectacular place to be in the air!