The west coast of Vancouver Island is a magnificent area of old-growth forests, stunning fjords (or "sounds" in local parlance), rocky coasts, and sandy beaches. And although Pacific Rim National Park (www.pc.gc.ca) was established in 1971, it wasn't until 1993 that the area really exploded into the greater consciousness. That was when thousands of environmentalists from around the world gathered to protest the clear-cutting of old-growth forests in Clayoquot Sound. When footage of the protests ran on the evening news, people who saw the landscape for the first time were moved to come experience it firsthand. Tourism in the area has never looked back.
Three units make up the park. Along the southwest coast is a strip of land that contains the 75km (47-mile) West Coast Trail, which runs between Port Renfrew and Bamfield . Though considered one of the world's great hikes, the grueling 5- to 7-day journey -- with frequent dangerous river crossings and rocky scrambles -- is not for the inexperienced. Broken Group Islands is a wilderness archipelago in the mouth of Barkley Sound, and a popular diving and kayaking spot. Long Beach fronts onto the Pacific between Ucluelet and Tofino. Long Beach is more than 30km (19 miles) long, broken here and there by rocky headlands and bordered by tremendous groves of cedar and Sitka spruce. Park entry is C$7.80 adults, C$6.80 seniors, C$3.90 youths, and C$20 families.
The town of Ucluelet (pronounced "You-clue-let," meaning "safe harbor") sits on the southern end of the Long Beach peninsula, on the edge of Barkley Sound. Though it has a winter population of only 1,900, thousands of visitors arrive between March and May to see the Pacific gray whales.
At the far northern tip of the peninsula, Tofino (pop. 1,600) borders beautiful Clayoquot Sound. Hikers and beachcombers come to Tofino simply for the scenery. Others use it as a base from which to explore the sound -- it's the center of the local eco-tourism business. No small number of travelers arrive here with eating in mind: This remote town is noted for its excellent restaurants.
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