Named for its location on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, the Pacific Rim National Park encompasses a long, narrow strip of coast that has been battered by the sea for eons. The park comprises three “units,” each very different in nature and each accessed in different ways.
This section covers the Long Beach Unit, named for an 11-kilometer (6.8-mile) stretch of beach accessed by Highway 4 to Tofino . (To the south, in Barkley Sound, is the Broken Group Islands Unit, while farther south still is the West Coast Trail Unit, named for the famous hiking trail between Port Renfrew and Bamfield )
Like the entire west coast of Vancouver Island , Pacific Rim National Park is dominated by littoral (coastal) rainforest. Closest to the ocean, clinging to the rocky shore, a narrow windswept strip of Sitka spruce is covered by salty water year-round. These forests of spruce are compact and low-growing, forming a natural windbreak for the old-growth forests of western hemlock and western red cedar farther inland. The old-growth forests are strewn with fallen trees and lushly carpeted with mosses, shrubs, and ferns.
The park’s largest land mammal is the black bear, some of which occasionally wander down to the beach in search of food. Also present are black-tailed deer, raccoons, otters, and mink. Bald eagles are year-round residents, but it’s the migratory birds that arrive in the largest numbers—in spring and fall, thousands of Canada geese, pintails, mallards, and black brants converge on the vast tidal mudflats of Grice Bay, in the north of the park beyond the Tofino  golf course.
Ensconced between rocky headlands is more than 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) of hard-packed white sand, covered in twisted driftwood, shells, and the occasional Japanese glass fishing float. Dense rainforest and the high, snowcapped peaks of the Mackenzie Range form a beautiful backdrop, while offshore craggy surf-battered isles are home to myriad marinelife.
You can access the beach at many places, but first stop at the Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre (250/726-4212, daily 10:30 a.m.–6 p.m. mid-Mar.–mid-Oct.), which overlooks the entire beach from a protected southern cove. This is the place to learn about the natural and human history of both the park and the ocean through exhibits and spectacular hand-painted murals.
Through summer Long Beach attracts hordes of visitors. Most just wander along the beach soaking up the smells and sounds of the sea, but some brave the cool waters for swimming or surfing. The waves here are reputed to be Canada’s best; rent boards and wetsuits in Ucluelet  and Tofino . In winter, hikers dress for the harsh elements and walk the surf-pounded beach in search of treasures, admiring the ocean’s fury during the many ferocious storms.
The most obvious place for a walk is Long Beach, but other options are worth consideration. From the Wickaninnish Centre, an 800-meter (0.5-mile) trail (15 minutes each way) leads south around a windswept headland, passing small coves and Lismer Beach, then descending a boardwalk to pebbly South Beach. Back up the hill, the Wickaninnish Trail leads 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) over to Florencia Bay; allow 50 minutes each way. The beach along the bay can also be accessed by road off the Wickaninnish Centre access road.
Continuing northwest toward Tofino, the Rainforest Trail traverses an old-growth littoral rainforest in two one-kilometer (0.6-mile) loops (allow 20 minutes for each). Farther north, at the back of the Combers Beach parking lot, is the trailhead for the 1.6-kilometer (one-mile) Spruce Fringe Loop. This trail leads along the beach past piles of driftwood and through a forest of Sitka spruce.
You’re not charged a fee just to travel straight through the park to Tofino, but if you stop anywhere en route you need to purchase a National Parks Day Pass (adult $9, senior $8, child $4, to a maximum of $20 per vehicle) from the information center or fee station.
The park’s one official campground (mid-Mar.–mid-Oct., walk-in tent sites $21, unserviced sites $28) fills up very fast every day through summer. But it’s in a marvelous location behind Green Point, a beautiful bluff above the beach. Facilities include drive-in sites, washrooms, picnic tables, an evening interpretive program, and plenty of firewood ($8), but no showers or hookups. Some sites can be reserved through the Parks Canada Campground Reservation Service (877/737-3783, www.pccamping.ca ) for $12 per reservation.
There are no stores or gas stations in the park, but supplies and gas are available in Ucluelet and Tofino. The Wickaninnish Restaurant in the Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre (250/726-7706, daily 10:30 a.m.–6 p.m. mid-Mar.–mid-Oct., lunches $16–27) overlooks the wide sweeping bay for which it’s named. It’s not particularly cheap, but the views are magnificent; and even if you don’t indulge in a full meal, it’s a great place to sip a coffee while watching the ocean. Sunday brunch is particularly popular.
At the junction of Highway 4 and the roads leading north to Tofino  or south to Ucluelet  is the Pacific Rim Visitor Centre (250/726-4600, daily 9 a.m.–7 p.m. in summer, Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–4 p.m. the rest of the year).