Lying along the wild west coast of Vancouver Island, the most accessible parts of Pacific Rim National Park offer visits to two distinct natural environments, close enough to each other to visit on the same vacation, but varied enough to attract people who become entranced with one unit and stay for a few days, a week, or more.
In the northern section of the park, the expansive string of beaches stretches 7 miles (11 km), in a rarely-broken strand of white sand, between the villages of Ucluelet and Tofino.
Long Beach Unit
Along the beach are temporary islands, pockets of trees and underbrush which are raised twenty or thirty feet above the sand floor, made into islands by the high tides and then becoming part of the beach as the ocean recedes. These "air islands" are the result of the constant scouring and washing away of the earth. Standing on the beach, one can only see to the horizon, beyond which lies thousands of miles of Pacific and -- somewhere in the distance -- the islands of Japan.
Some days the horizon is not visible, for this is a truly wild coastline, often buffeted by wind, rain, and high, pounding surf. Walking along Long Beach in the rain is one of the greatest pleasures offered a nature-lover anywhere, as is sitting in the hospitable shelter of the Wickaninnish Center (a marine museum and restaurant), gazing at the storms which frequently roll in, casting huge piles of logs to the back of the beach and creating a surreal backdrop to the gently-sloping sand landscape.
Other beaches flank the main beach. Florencia Bay, to the southeast, has a crescent-shaped beach, the site of many shipwrecks over the past 300 years. To the northwest -- beyond Portland Point -- is another isolated stretch of beach, accessible only by boat. Several stretches of beach are separated by rocky headlands, jutting out into the ocean.
Long Beach -- to the north of the Wickaninnish Centre -- is the most impressive of the Long Beach unit, where the huge piles of driftwood logs are stacked in disarray. Surfing is a popular activity on Long Beach, but my favorite, and less exhausting, pastime is strolling along the beaches looking for razor clams and oysters, and watching the shore birds that dance with the outgoing tides in their constant search for snacks. Along the headlands are tidal pools, whichcontain a wide variety of sea life including mussels, sea stars, limpets, hermit crabs, varieties of seaweed and barnacles.
There is no entrance gate to the Long Beach unit. Parking charges are levied when using the park. The best tactic is to purchase a day ticket from the machines to avoid being caught on a overtime hiking excursion. The day ticket may be used throughout the unit.
Sitting at the verge where Barkley Sound meets the Pacific Ocean is a boaters paradise: the Broken Group Islands. This small, rocky archipelago provides a wide range of coastal scenes including sandy beaches, tidepools, caves, surge channels, and quiet anchorages in sheltered bays between the islands. The islands offer an overwhelming sense of peace and one-ness with nature, available in few other places. Part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, the islands are uninhabited by humans, except for the campers who find their way to the archipelago during the summer months.
The third part of the park is the more remote West Coast Trail, a magnificent hiking trail along the Pacific Coast, accessible only during the summer months, with reservations required months (or even a year) in advance.
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