The town of Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island holds a special place in our hearts. This small surf town with hippie vibes, beautiful scenery and amazing food is one of the coolest places in British Columbia. While this is a beautiful place from sea level, it gets even more spectacular when you climb the Cox Bay Trail and get an aerial view of the surrounding beaches, mountains and waterways.
The viewpoint at the top of the Cox Bay lookout hike is one of our favourite places in Tofino. Usually, hikes that offer scenery this good are full of people, but this is another reason we love this trail. It is one of the hidden gems in Tofino and it’s rare to see more than a couple of other people on the trail, even on busy weekends.
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Cox Bay Trail Overview
How to Get to Cox Bay
Cox Bay is located on the Pacific Rim Highway, approximately a 10-minute drive from Tofino’s town centre. The car park can be quite easy to miss as it isn’t that well signposted. If you are driving from Tofino it is the turnoff just passed Pacific Sands Beach Resort on the right-hand side. There are often cars parked along the highway as the small car park gets full early in the day with local surfers trying to catch some waves.
Once you have found a spot to park your car, you can follow the wooden boardwalk down to the beach at Cox Bay.
Cox Bay Trail
One thing to mention about this trail is that it is extremely muddy all year round. It doesn’t seem to matter if it hasn’t rained in weeks, the trail will still be muddy almost the whole way up. Make sure you bring hiking boots or some shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty.
Once you walk down the boardwalk and reach the beach, you need to turn left and head to the south end of the beach. It is a few hundred metres walk along the beach which is usually busy with families, dog walkers and surfers.
Once you reach the end of the beach, the trail can be a little tricky to find as it isn’t signposted. There are actually several ways to access the trail but the easiest one to find is about two-thirds of the way up from the water. Look for an opening with a small stream with a beaten earth path next to it. This is the easiest entrance to the trail and you can follow the stream upwards to begin your hike.
After a minute climbing up the stream, the trail takes you into the trees. There can be a bit of bushwhacking here and some cobwebs to contend with but that’s all part of the experience. The trail goes up and down for the first few minutes so it can make you feel like you are going the wrong way but you are on the right track.
You don’t get much of a view on the way up as you climb up through the dense forest. You’ll be climbing under and over fallen trees and walking through some deep mud as you climb your way to the top. This isn’t a particularly difficult hike in terms of elevation gain but you just need to keep an eye on the terrain as there are so many rocks and tree roots you can trip on.
After hiking for around 25 minutes you will start to get some small glimpses of the views out along Cox Bay. Part of the final ascent to the lookout is up a steep rock face that has a rope hanging down it which you will need to use to climb up. Once you climb this rock face it is just a few more minutes to reach the viewpoint.
Cox Bay Lookout
As you reach the top of this hike, the trees open up and you get an incredible view out over Cox Bay, Chesterman Beach and Clayoquot Sound with Lone Cone mountain in the background. Tofino is such a uniquely beautiful part of the world and we aren’t sure there are many better ways to take it all in than at the top of this hike.
You also get a cool view right down to the ocean below and there are often surfers riding waves right below you. Watching the surfers from this almost top-down perspective is really cool. It’s easy to spend a ton of time up here admiring the views and watching the surfers.
The lookout is also an epic place to catch sunset as the hike down is so short that you can watch the sun go down and be back on the beach by dark. We have seen some seriously magical sunsets in Tofino.
We have completed this hike on a handful of different occasions and have only ever run into a couple of people on the trail which is awesome!
While the most spectacular part of the hike is looking out towards the town of Tofino, you can actually get a south-facing view towards Ucluelet as well. The trail goes up into the trees just passed the viewpoint and you can follow it for a few minutes to reach the second viewpoint.
This viewpoint, while not quite as jaw-dropping, is still worth seeing. You can see the whole way down the coast and you get a cool view deeper into Clayoquot Sound. After taking in the views at both viewpoints you can make your way back down the trail along the same route.
To complete the trail from the main car park at Cox Bay you will need close to two hours and if it is a nice day you’ll probably want to hang out and spend some time at the beach after your hike.
Where to Stay in Tofino
Budget: Tofino Hostel or Bella Pacifica Campground – Staying in Tofino on a budget can prove to be quite difficult, especially in summer. Tofino Hostel is an award-winning place where you can stay for relatively cheap right by the town centre.
Another fantastic option is camping by the beach at Bella Pacifica Campground. We have camped here with friends before and loved waking up to the sound of the ocean and having breakfast on the beach.
Value: Tofino Resort + Marina – One of the most amazing views in any hotel anywhere. We have stayed here a couple of times and enjoyed the views of the surrounding mountains, waterways, and islands from the balcony. It is located right on the edge of town making it easy walking distance to some of the great restaurants.
Luxury: Long Beach Lodge – Our top pick for Tofino. The lodge is situated right on the beach at Cox Bay offering incredible views of the surfers as the waves roll in. The lounge here is one of our favourite places to enjoy happy hour and catch the sunset. If you are looking for the ultimate accommodation in Tofino, then this is it.
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The Cox Bay Trail is one of the best things to do in Tofino and the short and relatively easy hike makes it accessible for people who aren’t serious hikers. Tofino is a special part of the world and if you want to see it in all its glory (without paying hundreds of dollars to take a seaplane flight) then take a trip to the Cox Bay lookout.
Planning a trip to Vancouver Island? Check out our other blog posts on the area: