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Tofino may be tiny and remote, but it is world-famous for three reasons: storm watching, whale watching, surfing, and incredible wildlife. This charming little town sits at the end of the Trans Canada Highway on Vancouver Island where the mountainous coastal rain forest meets the pounding waves of the Pacific.

Bears, bald eagles, and cougars mingle side by side with grey whales, sea lions, killer whales, and sea otters, making Tofino one of Canada’s top wildlife-watching destinations. Most of the people visit to go whale watching in Tofino, bear watching, surfing, and to visit the hot springs in Tofino. Aside from this, you’ll find plenty of activities to do in our things to do in Tofino post. You won’t get bored in this incredible place!

Killer whale breaching off the coast of British Columbia

Killer whale breaching off the coast of British Columbia

Each March, the town holds its Pacific Rim Whale Festival. For 26 years, the locals have celebrated the arrival of the Grey Whales who are migrating from Mexico in great numbers. They are on their way to the summer feeding grounds along the coast of Alaska. 

Dozens of activities from photo contests to documentary presentations bring the whole community together to see the whales gliding along the coast.  The festival fundraiser is one of the main events. The Wickaninnish Inn’s Gala Dinner and Silent Auction is a sold-out yearly event where they present the finest local cuisine and west coast treasures made by local artists, to support whale education and research.

Fishing boats in Tofino harbor

The harbor (start point of whale watching in Tofino trips and bear watching trips) sits beside incredible green rain forests

What Type of Whales Will You See In Tofino

When you go on a whale watching tour in Tofino you have a chance to see humpback whales, grey whales, and orca whales. You are most likely to see grey whales, chances are fewer with killer whales (orca whales are technically not whales!). 

Humpback whales are in the Tofino area from June to September. If you see a whale during your tour, will you be able to tell them apart? Check out our post How to Identify a Grey Whale post and make the most of your outing. Hint: Grey whales don’t have a dorsal fin.

What Other Wildlife Will You See?

The Tofino area (Clayoquot Sound included) is one of the top wildlife destinations in Canada. And you’ll see why when you take your whale watching trip. On your whale tour, you can also see steller sea lions, sea otters, and harbor porpoises among other sea mammals, as well as a wide variety of sea birds and bald eagles.

whale safari boat

Whale safari boat

Bald eagle on top of a tree

You might get lucky and see a bald eagle hunt

Some times of the year are better than others if you want to see other wildlife in this pristine wilderness. 

For example, if you want to see bears in their natural environment, April to October is the best time. And during low tide is better, as you’ll find black bears foraging on the beaches. We saw the black bear in the photo below flipping huge rocks looking for lunch. 

If you want to see Tufted puffins, time your tour from June to the end of August. We didn’t get to see Tufted puffins as our trip was in September and we had just missed them. 

Black bear on a rocky beach

Black bear foraging on a beach

So, if I was visiting again and I could choose the best time of the year, I’d probably go during the summer months, even better in late July, to make sure I get the most wildlife sightings out of the trip.  

Whale watching in Tofino

A gray whale dives down to feed off the coast of Vancouver Island

Our Tour

We took out tour with The Whale Center, and while it wasn’t a private tour, ours was one of the small groups that went out that day. There were maybe 8 people on it. 

Their 2.5-hour whale watching trip takes you to the unsheltered bays surrounding Tofino where the open Pacific Ocean can be a bit rough. A small price to pay to watch Pacific gray whales feeding and lobtailing. It was pretty rough seas out there in the open ocean when we went but we got to see some resident Stellar sea lions. 

Steller Sea Lions haul out on a wave-battered island near Tofino. Sighted on whale tour with The Whale Centre.

Steller Sea Lions haul out on a wave-battered island near Tofino. Sighted on whale tour with The Whale Centre.

Then we had a few magical whale sightings with a couple of Gray whales and Humpback whales. That’s all you need to forget seasickness. 

Gray whale watching in Tofino

Watching Gray Whales near Tofino

A humpback whale heading for the sky

I shouldn’t forget about the cutest sea otter we saw floating in the ocean!

Sea otter on its back

Sea otter floating on the ocean

After some time in the open ocean, the tour retreated to the more sheltered inland bays. This is where you normally go on a bear-watching tour.  The water is calmer than in the open sea, so photography and video work are much easier. Black bears emerge on the rocky beaches at low tide to search for crabs under the barnacle-encrusted stones. (Grizzly bears are only very rarely spotted on Vancouver Island, in the rare occurrence that a grizzly swims over from nearby islands.) Watch how easily they flip huge rocks over and how effortless it seems! The bears don’t seem to be bothered by boats near the shore, but they will leave if another bear approaches their feeding area.

Bear watching in Tofino

Bear watching from the water is non-intrusive

 

Wildife watching in Tofino, bear watching in Tofino

Black Bears lift up rocks along the shore and search for crabs

Whale Watching Tours in Tofino

There is a number of tour operators in the Tofino area. We used The Whale Center and we recommend them, but here’s a list with others in case The Whale Center is booked up. Some of these outfitters will arrange a private charter too.

Weather conditions will affect whether your tour is a go or not. Normally, tours are not canceled if it’s raining. They’ll only cancel if the ocean conditions are too rough and unsafe. Most of the outfitters will give you a ‘rain check’, meaning you can come back another day and use your ticket. Check with your tour operator. 

A zodiac with passengers wearing red vests.

Private whale watching tour group.

Whale Watching with Kayak

It is possible to see whales while on kayaks. For that, of course, you’ll need to book a sea kayaking tour. Majestic Ocean Kayaking offers day trip and multi-day kayaking tours. While whale watching is not the main focus of this tour company, you have chances to have an unforgettable adventure and a close encounter while kayaking. Note that these tours operate from Ucluelet. 

Kayakers around Broken Islands

Kayaking in Vancouver Island

Where to Stay in Tofino

There are many types of accommodation in Tofino, from camping to motels to cabins in Tofino to more upscale establishments.

Now that you have seen whales and bears, you need to check out the beautiful North Pacific tidal pools. Colorful sea anemones, shy hermit crabs, and the many-legged sunflower stars, all live in these pools and the best place to see them is at the Wickaninnish Inn. The beaches in Tofino and mudflats around the inn are also vital for shorebirds like the Western Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Short-billed Dowitcher, and the Semi-palmated Plover who stop in the area to feed and rest during their annual migration. We stayed here for a night and it was a great place to put your feet up after a hike, you can check out our Wickaninnish Inn review here.

The Wickaninnish Inn, classy accomodation in Tofino

A group of starfish at low tide by the Wickaninnish Inn

It does get wet around the pools as the tide comes back in, but don’t worry about getting your feet soaked. The Wick (as the inn is locally known) has rain boots for you to borrow, as well as raincoats, and umbrellas. If you do climb on the rocks, make sure you don’t step on top of the barnacles and mussels. They are much more fragile than you’d expect.

After your busy day of wildlife watching and hiking, settle down in your cozy room, where you can storm watch by the warmth of your own fireplace, or enjoy a world-class dinner at The Pointe Restaurant with panoramic oceanfront views.

Oystercatchers silhouettes during a stormy evening

Oystercatchers in front of the Wickaninnish on a stormy evening

Other incredible places to stay in Tofino include the Pacific Sands Tofino and the Ocean Village Beach Resort where their cute cabins are right on the beach. Or how about staying in the equally cute Ucluelet village? Check out these Ucluelet cabins, just a few miles down the road from Tofino.

If your budget is tight we recommend the Green Point campground at Long Beach in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve (open May 1 to mid-October). If you ever wanted to camp with gnomes, this is probably the best place!

Camping at the Green Point campground

Camping in Green Point campground

 

Have you been to Vancouver Island? Share your wildlife adventures in the comments below! And don’t forget to PIN IT!

orca whale breaching