Who can forget the first time they walk onto the endless sands of Long Beach? In 1970 hordes of hardy hippies, draft dodgers, and surfers would make the drive over a long dirt road to a glorious tent city on the west coast of Vancouver Island. We were there in our paisley shirts, with two naked toddlers in tow. Beach camping in driftwood shelters, drag races on the hard-packed sand, huge bonfires – forbidden now by Parks Canada regulations, and firewood costs seven dollars for a little bundle. Can two old hippies go with the flow?
In 1970, the beach settlements were evicted for the new national park, Pacific Rim. The cross-island road was paved in 1972, but Tofino, the end of the road, was still a sleepy fishing village (Census population 600) when we lived there from 1980 to 1982. (map)
Today Tofino equals Tourism. The area sees one million visitors annually, and Long Beach is highly regulated. Does the laid-back vibe remain? 2017 is a good year to check it out, because park entry fees are waived in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday. The next good time could be 2018, when the new multi-use trail is built. Visitors will be able to cycle from Tofino to Ucluelet, safely separated from the cars and recreational vehicles that whiz by.
Long Beach Challenge
The electronic tracking stations and timing chips are not working, but our time is not hashtag boast-worthy, anyway. In fact, we spend two days completing the Long Beach Challenge, a 10-km (20 km, return) hike along the surf-swept beach that is the most famous feature of the Park.
There is no fixed route, and this easy beach walk can easily consume a day or two. There are surfer dudes and shorebirds to observe, rocky islands to climb, Sandhill Creek to cross (with shoes off), gray whales to watch, sand patterns to investigate, and an interpretive centre to visit at the Wickaninnish end of the Challenge.
Come rain or come shine
In 1271, when Marco Polo set off for the Orient, there were saplings in the west coast rainforest. A rainy day? What a perfect time to visit the short hiking trails that feature the rainforest environment.
Gigantic cedar and hemlock trees reach up to the sunlight on Rainforest Trails A and B. Moss and ferns hang from the branches of these huge, long-lived trees. Look down – the forest floor is dark, home to ferns, fungi, moisture-loving creatures like banana slugs, and nurse logs (decaying trees that provide nutrient-rich nurseries for other plants).
Nu-chah-nulth Trail also passes through rainforest and provides a glimpse into the Nuu-chah-nulth culture. This 2.5-km trail traverses the headland that separates the south end of Long Beach from Florencia Bay. Signs explain natural history and legends, such as why snails are blind, and eagles can see.
Ebb and flow
Just like us, camping at Long Beach has changed a lot since 1970. Green Point is now the only place where camping is allowed in the Long Beach Unit of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. With hot showers, flush toilets, electricity, cell phone coverage, and a two-page list of rules, Green Point campground is civilized, and these comforts cost $32.30 per night for a drive-in campsite.
Although pricey, Green Point’s sites are spacious and private, and we were lucky to snag a view site (#70) on the forested bluff above the beach. Compared to the good old days, camping today is tame and quiet. The roar of the Pacific Ocean remains much the same, however, and it’s a comfort to know that this special place and its heritage are being protected for all time.