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Chesterman Beach – 2.7-kilometres of white sand – is home to the luxe Wickaninnish Inn.

JOHN LEHMANN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Frugal vacationers often assume that Tofino is totally out of reach – and for good reason. With its stunning scenery and cozy, fishing-village vibe, the Vancouver Island gem is one of the most magical spots in the country. So it's not surprising that you need $500-plus to rest your head at the famed Wickaninnish Inn in the summer, or that even B&Bs charge $200 for an ocean view and gluten-free scones.

But it is possible to visit the lush wilderness outpost without paying the exorbitant prices. And if you want a fall getaway, look no further: The crowds thin and the dramatic storm season (November to February) begins.

Getting there

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You can fly to Tofino from Vancouver in less than an hour, but the cheap and cheerful route is actually more fun. If you want a window into "Left Coast" culture, book your ticket for the $16 BC Ferries ride. Extreme cyclists, backpackers fresh off a mountain trek, friendly folk musicians – the West Vancouver-Nanaimo route has it all. (Not to mention legendary White Spot burgers onboard.) If small talk isn't your speed, you can always retreat to the ship's wind-swept decks, where you'll be left alone to take in the Straight of Georgia's spectacular views. After docking in Departure Bay, hop a bus to get across Vancouver Island (Tofino Bus; from $83 return). The four-hour drive is guaranteed to be one of the most beautiful of your life, with jaw-dropping vistas of sea, sky and forest. bcferries.com

Where to stay

When it comes to budget-conscious accommodation, Tofino actually boasts great options. The Ecolodge is that rare find that is both well priced and well executed. Energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable, it's run by a non-profit foundation and is located at the gateway to the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The hippie-chic rooms start at $79, and that includes free breakfast (organic oatmeal bar, fruit, homemade muffins), all-day tea service, robes, entrance to the art-filled Tofino Botanical Gardens. The lodge attracts an international, mid-30s to mid-50s crowd, many of whom are game for a chat in the communal room, which features picnic tables for meals and comfy sofas for moments of quiet contemplation. tbgf.org/ecolodge

You could also stay at the local hostel, Whalers on the Point Guest House. It's obviously more of a risk in the noise department – we were kept up to the wee hours by drunk twentysomethings the first night; the second night was completely silent – but don't count it out completely. Beginning in September, the clientele skews toward middle-aged adventurers who rise at dawn, hike Pacific Rim National Park and retire at dusk. The hostel is clean and has a fantastic manager, a communal kitchen and barbecue, a sauna and a killer view of the harbour. It's also able to arrange decent discounts for whale-watching excursions, kayaking trips and hot springs tours. Dorm rooms start at $28, private double rooms at $61. tofinohostel.com

Where to eat

With a little effort, Tofino's food scene can be surprisingly cheap. Meals, sans drinks or dessert, can often be pulled off for $15. Sobo is West Coast cuisine at its finest – think spicy salmon chowder and salads loaded with grated beets and carrots.

Big Daddy's Fish Fry serves up drool-worthy halibut and chips, while the Wild Side Grill has a mouth-watering breakfast sandwich with house sausage. Chocolate Tofino offers otherworldly, handcrafted chocolates, in locally inspired flavours such as Salt Spring Island organic lavender truffle and wildflower honey ganache.

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What to do

Tofino has a number of rugged beaches to roam, free of charge, including Tonquin – reached through a short hike – Chesterman and Mackenzie. (Be sure to stay off the rocks in storm season.) Coastal Bliss offers $10 yoga classes on the beach until Sept. 30. On drizzly days, nothing beats walking out to the Wickaninnish and enjoying a hot chocolate as you gaze out at the waves crashing into the surf. Careful though: One sip in their luxurious, ridiculously scenic lounge and you might be tempted to blow your budget. wickinn.com

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