Awesome is a word that gets thrown around a lot. A surprisingly traffic-free commute, a fresh new haircut, fish tacos—these are all things that regularly get called “awesome.” You want to see something truly awe-some, as in awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, eyebrow-raising, “Honey, get the camera!”-worthy? We have two more words for you: “storm watching.”
You could be outdoors with the wind and sea spray hitting your face, witnessing the fury and power of waves pummelling the beach, or inside an oceanfront cabin, tucked up all cozy-like by the fire as the storm rages across the skyline outside your windows—this is storm watching.
What makes the Pacific Northwest ideal for such an activity, is that this exposed coastline isn’t buffered by any landmasses, so it’s nothing but roiling Pacific Ocean between here and Japan. Which equals big winds, waves and storms. As long as you’ve got the right gear to keep you warm and dry (i.e. gumboots, hat, thermal base layers and fleece under waterproof pants and jackets), the West Coast will show you a whole new world of natural wonders. Here are a few of our favourite spots:
We’re headed up, way up, to Haida Gwaii, an archipelago off B.C.’s West Coast of Canada. One of the great aspects of a place like Haida Gwaii (and all of these destinations along the West Coast), is that the Pacific Ocean moderates temps year-round, so the summers are cool and the winters are mild, not miserable. The sweet spot for storm watchers is November to January, when at least a third of the days are considered windy (40 kilometres per hour and up). A bracing experience awaits storm watchers on the driftwood-covered beaches like North Beach (where they host annual surfing competitions), but who says you can’t enjoy the show from inside with an Irish coffee?
(Photo: Courtesy Tourism Tofino. Credit Sander Jain)
This city on the Western side of Vancouver Island might have invented storm watching in the Pacific Northwest. It’s home to many long, wind-whipped beaches because of its peninsula shape, where epic 20-foot waves are a boon to local storm watchers and surfers alike. Chesterman Beach has an almost double-exposure of wind hitting it from two different bays, so it’s the most fun to walk along as the fighting wind gusts push you around. Farther south, the scenic Cox Bay is where you’ll get the biggest waves (watching surfers is fun too!).
This small coastal town (population 1,700) is around a 40-minute drive south from Tofino, but its rocky shores offer the storm watcher something totally new. Winds can get up to 70 kilometres an hour, and the area gets 10-to-15 big storms a month during November through to March. One of the best places to see storms is from the Black Rock Oceanfront Resort (which sits on a giant rocky outcrop above churning waves) and on the Lighthouse Loop trail, part of Ucluelet’s Wild Pacific Trail. This hiking path is an easy walk and there are a bunch of little tree-shielded alcoves to watch the high drama below in Barkley Sound. Plus you’ll get to see waves crashing around the charming old Amphitrite Lighthouse. Ucluelet Bonus: It’s less busy and accommodation is often less expensive than its more well-known island neighbour, Tofino.
Cape Flattery at Neah Bay, Washington, U.S. (Photo: Gabriele Giuseppini)
Right at the northernmost tip of the south-of-Alaska United States, is the stunning (and fabulously named) Cape Flattery. After taking an easy wooden plank path that snakes through the rainforest to Neah Bay, you’ll arrive at an ocean scape right out of National Geographic. From a wooden platform built high on the cliffs, you can see the rocky bay of aquamarine water protects a dozen or so tree-topped sea stacks, and there are holes eroded into the cliffs so deep they look like mysterious sea caves. Even the most jaded city slickers in your crew could come here and the blasé would just fall right off ’em. Nature Bonus: Visitors might see bald eagles, seals or a whale or two.
It’s hard to look at Haystack Rock without becoming instantly besotted—and this iconic jagged rock formation parked in Cannon Beach’s front yard looks even more majestic rising out of the mist with the waves crashing at its craggy base. The beach here seems to stretch out forever, so it’s perfect for long contemplative walks and beach-combing, and you never know what shipwrecks or treasures might wash up on the flat sandy shores. If you’re feeling a chill, you’ve got two fantastic options. One, get cozy inside one of the beachfront luxury suites (Stephanie Inn, we’re looking at you). The 180-degree views can’t get more sweeping, so the sunsets here are unreal. But your other great option is to start a fire right on the beach—day or night (you can source dry firewood at your hotel or the local market). Pro Foggy Tip: If the fog is so omnipresent you can’t see two feet in front of your face—head to Devil’s Cauldron. It’s a short 15-minute drive south of town and you can walk up to its cliff bluffs and marvel at the churning ocean caught in a spin cycle in the cove below.
For any of these destinations, make sure you’re prepared with the right outerwear (a flimsy windbreaker isn’t going to cut it!) and check the weather and tide reports before venturing out to make sure there won’t be any extreme wind surprises or floods.