Pacific Rim National Park – Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

When You Just Can’t Get Enough of Nature

Head out from the charming, ever-so-British city of Victoria on Vancouver Island’s southern tip and civilization quickly dwindles, replaced by the magnificent Pacific Northwest landscape. The snaking two-lane highway weaves past silver-blue lakes and cuts through high mountain passes and dense old-growth forests whose towering spruce, hemlock, and cedar trees are some of the largest and oldest in North America.

On the island’s rugged and sparsely populated western coast, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is hallowed ground for ecotourists, its famous West Coast Trail hailed by the Sierra Club as one of the most spectacular and challenging hikes on the continent.

In summer, intermediate and experienced hikers arrive from all over the world to follow the 47-mile stretch. Novices can take in the island’s grandeur walking some of the national park’s less demanding segments, or strolling along the 7-mile curve of Long Beach, some 500 yards wide at low tide and the park’s sandy centerpiece.

The area’s rocky shoreline was once known by mariners as the Graveyard of the Pacific for the ferocious winter storms that hit these craggy headlands, but yesterday’s tragedy is today’s tourist attraction, providing a number of historic shipwrecks for scuba divers to explore. Diverse marine life is also a major draw: Clayoquot Sound and the archipelago of the Broken Group Islands in Barkley Sound are unbeatable for sea lions, bald eagles, and large numbers of whales.

Even winter is mesmerizing, with howling winds, sheets of rain, and crashing 20-foot Pacific waves that have spawned the curious pastime of winter storm watching on the exposed western coast around Tofino, the quirkily charming village that serves as the end of the Trans-Canadian Highway and as unofficial gateway to the park.

Four miles south of town sits the stylishly stalwart Wickaninnish Inn, a surprisingly luxurious outpost in these remote parts, providing possibly the continent’s best front-row seats for witnessing nature’s fury.

Each of the handsome rooms has floor-to-ceiling windows and private balconies close enough to the sea that you can hear the waves while you relax beside the fireplace, or in the windowside hot tub. Guests can dine at the inn’s Pointe Restaurant, whose 240-degree views vie with the chefs Northwest specialties for sheer drama.

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