Back in November, I decided to knock an item off my bucket list – storm watching in Tofino, on the west coast of BC’s Vancouver Island.
I needed a vacation badly.
My last “real” vacation (you know, the kind where you are away from all work related things for more than 2 days in a row?) happened before I quit my full time job back at the beginning of 2010. So, at the very least, seven years earlier.
I was burnt out. Not only that, but coming off the heels of FBC’s annual conference in October and a lot of work related speaking and networking travel in September, this introvert was ready for serious hermit mode.
Like… serious “leave me alone, don’t talk to me, don’t text me, don’t email me, don’t call me, go away unless you are my dog” hermit mode. I wanted to go away somewhere secluded, quiet, with good food, a beach, wild waves, storms and comfy cozy luxury. A fireplace would be pretty great too.
And oh yeah… my big, slobbery, 80lb shedding machine (aka SamTheDog) had to be just as welcome as I was. Because he was the only company I was interested in keeping.
So it was time to take my first attempt at a pet friendly vacation!
Despite being a Labrador and a sweet soul, Sam is rarely welcome anywhere. Most “dog friendly” places are only friendly if your dog is less than 30lbs. More than that and it’s a no go. Sam pretends he doesn’t mind this discrimination but he does. And so do I – it seriously puts a cramp in our style.
Tofino during storm watching season (November – February) has long been on my bucket list. With nothing between you and Japan but the stormy Pacific ocean, be prepared for torrential rain, wind that can whip right through you and crashing waves.
It can sound a little scary, not to mention extremely wet but, there’s something about all that wild energy being unleashed that is tremendously soothing, settling and healing. It must be all those negative ions being released into the air with all that wave activity!
My first though when I was researching places to stay was the famous Wikkaninnish Inn. Friends had stayed there before and reported it was very dog friendly but, the price, even in the off season, was still way out of my budget. Although storm watching season is during the off season on BC’s west coast, it’s become so popular with tourists and surfers alike that off season rates are no longer as low as they used to be. But they’re still a bargain compared to the summer high season!
Then I remembered friends had stayed at Long Beach Lodge Resort on their honeymoon and loved it. When I checked it out, it looked like it had everything I was looking for: private cottages, immediate beach access, good food and the cozy luxury I wanted.
They have multiple packages available based time of year, length of stay and how you’re traveling – and they’re very, very dog friendly! (big dog friendly!). I chose the Become a Friend package by staying more than 5 nights, which also got me an additional 30% off my off season rate. They have a number of rooms in the resort that are set aside just for dog owners as well as a number of private cottages.
Tofino is located on the west side of Vancouver Island – (I was actually born on “the Island” as most British Columbians refer to it). To get to it from the mainland requires catching a BC Ferry to Nanaimo and then driving the Pacific Rim Highway (Hwy 4) to the west coast of the Island.
The drive itself is beautiful – stopping at Cathedral Grove to view the old growth redwoods cedars is a must. You also need to see the goats on the roof at the Old Country Market in Coombs (and stop for ice cream during the summer!)
The road is a very winding, narrow mountain highway in sections, and winter tires are required by law from mid fall through to early spring (I didn’t know this until I saw the signs and I’m pretty sure my rental car did not have snow tires – something to check if you do rent a car).
Dogs on BC Ferries
But your first hurdle with a big dog is the ferry. BC Ferries is pet friendly to an extent. Dogs are not allowed on the passenger decks, which means they’re essentially restricted to the car decks and must be leashed at all times when not in your car. If you’re a walk-on traveller they do have a pet area on the car deck where you can sit with your dog. I’ve never done this but by all accounts, it can be very chilly in the winter months!
We opted for staying in the car. I know a lot of people who “sneak” their little dogs up on to the passenger decks in gym bags and the like but that’s not an option with a Labrador and to be frank, it’s not something I would have done with a smaller dog anyway. More info on taking your pet on BC Ferries read their pet travel tips.
I stayed with Sam in the rental most of the time because this was all so new to him and he didn’t really know what to make of it. He was quite agitated!
Dogs And a Rental Car
Just a few notes here on dogs in a rental car. Sam, like most labs, sheds a lot – especially when he’s excited. We were also going somewhere where he was going to get muddy, covered in sand and probably be soaking wet most of the time. In my beat up pickup truck, I don’t care. But in a brand new rental… ugh! I didn’t want to get dinged with extra charges when I returned the car!
So I planned ahead and brought an old sheet to cover and protect the back seat from fur! I also brought a stack of old towels to dry him off and get rid of most of the sand before he got in after each beach stop. They can also add extra protection to the seat and stop it from getting wet (and grabbing on to that “wet dog” smell).
Almost all the beaches had either a hose or a rigged up shower for rinsing off dogs (and wetsuits) before leaving. I strongly recommend using them each time. You may not notice it as you leave the beach but as soon as you get the heat on in the car or get back to your hotel, you’ll really really wish you had (dead fish, smelly ocean etc). You don’t want the smell permeating your rental (or hotel room!) during or after your vacation.
I also highly recommend a seatbelt harness. Sam always wears one in my truck. We drive a lot of very twisty, windy roads and it makes him much more comfortable. I prefer to have him crated for long drives to be totally honest but, his crate didn’t fit into the RAV4 rental unless it was collapsed. If you don’t know the exact dimensions of your rental prior to picking it up the harness can be really useful.
Long Beach Lodge Resort and Sam
I was so happy with my choice of accommodation! Long Beach Lodge Resort is located on Cox Bay and borders Pacific Rim National Park on one side and shares the beach with Cox Bay Resort. As I mentioned, I chose the Become a Friend package and chose to splurge and stay in one of the self-contained Rainforest Cottages (they have several set aside for dog owners). I wanted total solitude and space for both of us to move around and for me to make art. I also wanted a kitchen so I could cook!
The cottage was actually a duplex so we did have somebody right next to us (also lab owners) but despite being literally 30 steps from the road (with a raised boardwalk path so you don’t have to walk to the front door through mud in the rainy season), the unit felt very secluded and private, nestled amongst the pines. I wasn’t worried that if Sam barked he’d disturb people!
Our cottage was all ready for us – the light just inside the door was already on so we didn’t walk into a dark, empty house (4pm on the west coast in the forest is DARK). There was a big stack of white fluffy towels right by the door clearly marked as “pet towels” – very handy when going in and out of the rain multiple times a day. They were full sized bath towels, perfect for a big dog, and the stack was refreshed every day – thankfully – because they got well used and dirty!
The main floor of the cottage (except for the main bedroom) was laminate flooring so no worries about muddy paws or wet boots getting the carpet dirty or wet.
By the gas fireplace in the living area was a welcome package for Sam with supersize food and water dishes so no need to bring your own and seriously – they were huge. A little dog could have swam laps in them! There was a cute pet friendly blanket which could be used on the furniture so Sam could lounge appropriately after a long day of digging holes on the beach.
A note was left for us with some dog treats and info on where Sam could go on the property (everywhere except the resort’s dining room!), how to book a dog sitter and what kind of behaviour was expected of good doggies and their humans.
Sam was beyond excited when we arrived as well as very curious, nervous and unsure of things all at the same time. Because he’s a big dog, he’s so rarely welcome anywhere that being indoors somewhere that’s not home is very outside of his comfort zone! He ran everywhere sniffing and checking things out although, oddly, he wouldn’t go upstairs to the second floor of the cottage without my permission and encouragement!
I set up his crate but he showed zero interest in it and didn’t sleep in it at all (he normally sleeps in his crate and he uses it often at home during the day when he wants a break). Instead, once he realized I wasn’t going to abandon him, he quickly made himself at home sleeping on the kitchen window seat, the sofa (with the pet blanket) and the bed (if I was in it).
I knew he’d finally made himself at home when, on the third night, I went to have a shower and when I came out of the bathroom and didn’t see him anywhere (normally he’ll lie right outside the bathroom door until I come out). I called him and his head popped up from the sofa. He also wouldn’t hop onto the sofa till that point unless I gave him permission so, it took him a while but he got there!
The resort’s beach, and in fact virtually every beach we visited, was dog friendly. The walk to the beach from our cottage only took about 2 minutes and was dotted with stops along the way where you could get doggy waste bags, so NO excuse for not picking up after your dog on the beaches, which let’s face it, is terrible dog owner behaviour.
Dogs are supposed to be leashed but that was one rule nobody paid attention to. Sam was leashed because he was still rehabbing from a bad leg injury and wasn’t allowed to run but he was the odd dog out on a lead! Coming back up from the beach, there is a hose to rinse dogs off, which Sam hated but learned to begrudgingly accept.
Tofino and Dogs
This part of the world may be the most dog friendly place I’ve been in my life. The town is full of dogs – big dogs! In fact, we didn’t even see any little dogs! When people stop to chat, they don’t ask about you or where you’re from, they ask about your dog.
Our first stop was the grocery store in torrential rain. Sam stayed in the car and while I waited in line, a pup came in from outside and made himself at home on the mat by the door waiting for his owner. Nobody batted an eye. When I left the store, I was greeted by 6 or 7 dogs all patiently waiting right outside, under cover, for their owners.
I’m pretty sure I could have taken Sam anywhere with little protest but I kept him out of shops, cafes and restaurants with the exception of the original Tacofino truck where he patiently waited for a tuna taco with me.
There are hikes and beaches and trails everywhere waiting to be explored and if you’ve got an active dog, they’ll love it. Sam dug so many holes on every beach we visited and he was game for every adventure we embarked on. (Don’t forget to drive south to Ucluelet for more hiking and trails and beaches). And at the same time, he was more than happy to come back to our cottage and zonk out in front of the gas fireplace or on the window seat in the late afternoons and evenings.
The only thing I didn’t like was having to leash him up at 11 every night for his last trip outside for the night. It was invariably pouring! At home, with the luxury of a fenced in yard, I can just send him out while I stay inside!
We’ll definitely be heading back, for another season of storm watching!
This post is not sponsored. This was our vacation and there are no third party affiliations.