Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on Vancouver Island’s scenic west coast is a must-do for families visiting Vancouver Island. The park is divided in to three sections: Long Beach, Broken Island Group, and West Coast Trail. The Broken Island Group is off-shore, and accessible only by guided kayak tour if you’re inexperienced (and best for older children of at least 12 years old), and the West Coast Trail is a multi-day backpacking experience, but Long Beach provides less ambitious families with lots to do.
1. Pacific Rim National Park’s K’isitis Visitor Centre: This interpretive center is exceptionally well done, and is located just a few miles into the park at Wickaninnish Beach. With displays on the area’s First Nations history, including whaling traditions, and nature information on the park’s local intertidal and ocean inhabitants, this is a great first stop before exploring the rest of the park on your own. Information about the park’s nature and hiking trails are also found here, as well as a nice First Nations gift shop and cafe (open seasonally). Wickaninnish Beach is steps away, where families can picnic and kids can watch the surfers and build forts out of driftwood.
2. Willowbrae Trail: Willowbrae is a good hike for young children that leads through old growth forest to (another) spectacular beach. Located south of the visitor center on Highway 4 toward the town of Ucluelet, you’ll find the Willowbrae trailhead up a dirt drive off the right-hand side of the road. Park adjacent to campground parking, and head down the 2.8 km round trip trail. It’s only slightly steep (both up and down) but there are steep steps at the end, when you’re descending to the beach. The beach itself has moderate surf, but the draw here is the abundance of driftwood to play on, climb, and create with.
3. Rainforest Trail: Families actually get two for the price of one on this interpretive trail of two loops, each with different signage teaching kids about the temperate rain forest. Loop A explains forest life cycles and Loop B emphasizes forest inhabitants such as the salmon who spawn here.
4. Meares Island: This First Nations maintained island right off the coast of Tofino sports a cedar-plank boardwalk winding its way through the tangled forest, leading families to some of the oldest cedar trees in the area (800-1600 years old). To access the island, it’s necessary to hire a boat ride to Meares with Remote Passages or other Tofino water taxi operations.
What to skip: While all of Pacific Rim is beautiful, the trail to 3rd Beach is slightly less scenic than others, and locals let me know that visitors frequently get lost on Radar Hill. (More information on Pacific Rim National Park hiking trails.)
Tip: Be sure to purchase a park pass when entering the park. It will be good for 24 hours (3 day passes are also available), but less advertised is the option of a 4-hour pass. If you think you’ll only be passing through the park with one or two stops, this might be for you!