In 1942, after 30 years of construction, the Tofino-Uclulet highway was finally finished in order to build a network of radar stations and military establishments meant to protect the west coast from a potential Japanese invasion. Prior to that, the typical route from Uclulet to Tofino or vice-versa was a treacherous two-day journey over land and sea. The Willowbrae Trail was once part of this journey, beginning from just outside Uclulet and leading to the south end of Florencia Bay.
Today the old road has been converted into a hiking trail and is the southernmost beach access trail in Pacific Rim National Park's Long Beach Unit. Visitors use the short hiking trail to access Florencia Bay as well as Halfmoon Bay just to the west. The trail is wide, flat and easy, passing through beautiful mostly second-growth coastal rainforest for about 1.3 kilometers until it reaches a fork, with Halfmoon Bay to the left and the Florencia Bay straight ahead. Both trails descend long wooden staircases to reach the beaches, which seems to deter many visitors from visiting these southern beaches; other options like Long Beach or Wickininnish are closer to Tofino and have no stairs involved. As a result, the beaches here are much less busy and a good option for those who don’t mind putting in a bit of effort to get away from the crowds.
Florencia Bay is a beautiful, wide-open, mostly sandy beach backed by sandstone bluffs. For the tide pool lovers, the rocky shoreline to the left at the bottom of the stairs will provide endless entertainment. If you’re looking for a place to set up shop and relax, the sandy beach to the right will have plenty of space to spread out. For those who enjoy long walks on the beach (pretty much everyone, according to their online dating profiles), the 5-kilometer stretch of sand to the right will provide plenty of opportunity for a lengthy stroll. It’s important to note that high tide often comes right up to the bottom of the stairs, so it’s best to set off as the tide is getting lower rather than when it is rising just to be sure you can make it back to the stairs before the beach is underwater.