The ocean—wild and calm, powerful and alluring—has long been a source of fascination and mystery. And there is no better place in British Columbia to understand this than on the west coast of Vancouver Island. From November to March the coastline comes alive when huge storms whip across the Pacific.
These winter tempests enchant locals and visitors with a mesmerizing display of Mother Nature’s fury. The ocean writhes back and forth while dark clouds hover low on the horizon. Waves hurtle toward the shore and crash thunderously onto beach and rocky coastline. Sheets of rain pour from the sky drenching everything below. And fierce winds rattle even the most steadfast of trees.
Storm watching in Ucluelet is a humbling and thrilling experience.
The Origins of Storm Watching
The concept of storm watching originated in Tofino and Ucluelet in the 90s, and it’s here where your introduction to BC’s wild winter storms should begin.
Starting in October, a low-pressure system moves northward into the Gulf of Alaska in a wide curving arc. As it moves east the pressure rapidly drops, bringing with it 70-kilometre winds that tear through the coast, bringing heavy rainfall and 15- to 25-foot high waves. Every winter these gales hit the coast.
How to Storm Watch in Ucluelet
The laid-back community of Ucluelet is an ideal place for storm watching. You’ll find easy access to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve’s Kwisitis Interpretive Centre with its large observation deck, the even-closer Wild Pacific Trail (one of the best spots to storm watch on the coast – make sure to stay on the trail), as well as wonderful resorts and restaurants to take refuge from the storm in.
Ucluelet, too, means “people of the safe harbour” (also translated to “people with a safe place to land”) in the local Indigenous Nuu-chah-nulth language. While winter storms rage beyond, Ucluelet promises a safe haven.
So, how to do you prepare for a storm watching experience in Ucluelet?
- Plan to visit between November to March. For those who don’t like to leave things to chance and can sneak away at any time, set alerts for storm watch warnings.
- Many accommodation providers in Ucluelet offer storm watching packages and provide complimentary raincoats and gumboots, as well as discounts on your stay. Book ahead and take advantage.
- Bring the right clothes: waterproof jackets, toques, rain pants, warm socks, boots or hiking shoes, and lots of cozy sweaters and pants.
- Don’t forget to plan for indoor activities. A good book or card games will help you pass the time when you’re not watching the show outside. Or treat yourself to a spa treatment.
- Stay Coast Smart. Mother Nature delights and dazzles but she’s best when respected. Make sure you and your loved ones stay safe and practice Coast Smart principles (more on that below).
What To Do In Ucluelet During The Winter
Slip on your gear and venture outdoors to meet the elements head-on. The Wild Pacific Trail is one of the best places on the west coast to take in winter storms. This 9-kilometre trail winds around the rocky coastline revealing dense rainforest shrouded in mist and designated viewpoints close enough to catch the spray from the waves (as tempting as it can be, make sure to stay off the rocks!). In Pacific Rim National Park Reserve’s Kwisitis Interpretive Centre, there are great vantage points inside and with its large observation deck, it’s the perfect location for storm watching. Once the storm has passed, wander miles of sandy shoreline and look for storm-tossed driftwood and bull kelp that has washed ashore. You’ll also find plenty of stores, galleries and boutiques in Ucluelet to explore that offer a reprieve from the rain.
But sometimes Ucluelet winter storms are best enjoyed from the comforts of your room. Curl up by the fire and listen to the meditative hum of the rain outside. Stay dry and warm while you watch the waves thrash about from your front-row window seat.
Explore what else to do in Ucluelet here. www.discoverucluelet.com
Where to Stay In Ucluelet
A comfy room with a king size bed. A fireplace to warm your toes by. Access to a jacuzzi or hot tub to fight off the chill. During storm watching season where you stay is not just a place to sleep; in Ucluelet you’ll find a variety of accommodations, each one adding a different experience to your visit.
Blackrock Oceanfront Resort is perched on the edge of a cliff right above a surge channel, offering luxurious suites with floor-to-ceiling windows. The outdoor hot tubs may just be the farthest you venture outside during your stay.
Over at Wya Point, cedar post-and-beam lodges are surrounded by 600 acres of old-growth forest and feature cozy fireplaces and access to the resort’s private beach. The lodges reflect the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ’s art and stories and feature elements (picture a spiral staircase and animal and mystical motifs) carved by First Nations artisans. For those who truly want to commune with nature spend a night in one of the beachfront yurts.
Similarly, the Cabins at Terrace Beach and Terrace Beach Resort offer an array of cozy cabins in different settings. Stay tucked within the rainforest and seek solace from the storm.
See more accommodation options here. https://www.discoverucluelet.com/stay-in-ucluelet
Where To Eat in Ucluelet
Braving the elements works up a good appetite. The restaurant scene in Ucluelet has grown rapidly in the past few years with the addition of a number of new and acclaimed spots.
Blackrock’s Fetch Restaurant boasts a terrific menu with west coast-inspired cuisine and a deep wine list; like their suites, the views are unparalleled.
The pizzeria, Abbondanza, is where you go for a great pie. The alder-wood-fired pizzas are made with hand-spun dough and as many seasonal toppings as possible.
Heartwood Kitchen is the newest restaurant on the block with fresh takes on global dishes made with indigenous ingredients from the Pacific Northwest. You’ve witnessed the Pacific at its finest but here you’re likely to sample its spoils too.
Zoe’s Bakery and Cafe serves pillowy pastries hot from the oven every morning and is the de facto town-gathering place. Nearby, the Blue Room Bistro turns out a delicious variety of egg benedicts and other brunch favourites.
Gray Whale Deli, their longest running café, offers lovely homemade treats, sandwiches and piping hot beverages and comfy couches to enjoy after your time out on the trail.
Find more places to eat here. https://www.discoverucluelet.com/eat-in-ucluelet
Be Coast Smart
Winter storms can be dangerous and are best enjoyed when you exercise caution. Make sure to familiarize yourself with CoastSmart.ca principles—this local public safety initiative is designed to ensure everyone stays safe when they are on the coast. Stay off the rocks and beaches during a storm; those aren’t the memories we want you to have. Keep yourself safe and familiarize yourself with the water hazards that exist here.
Getting To Ucluelet
Pacific Coastal Airlines offers flights from Vancouver to Tofino and Ucluelet’s Long Beach Airport while Harbour Air flies direct from Vancouver and Nanaimo harbours to Coal Harbour in Tofino from May to October. There are car rentals available from the airport that can get you to Ucluelet.
If driving from Vancouver, take BC Ferries from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo. You’ll head north on Highway 19 until you hit the exit for Port Alberni; now on Highway 4 you’ll follow this road until the highway splits, and you’ll turn left towards to Ucluelet. It’s a five-hour trip from Vancouver, including ferry travel. From Victoria, it will take you roughly four and a half hours.
To learn more about the many beautiful things to do and places to stay, visit DiscoverUcluelet.com.