03/14/2015 05:28 EDT | Updated 05/14/2015 05:59 EDT

National Geographic highlights Tofino as whale watching destination

National Geographic has named Tofino whale-watching as one of its best spring-trips for 2015.

The publication's "Best Spring Trips 2015" on-line article, says up to 20,000 gray whales pass by the waters off Tofino each year, and advises whale watchers to come prepared for the weather.

While viewing opportunities are numerous, it says tourists should "bring a tuque" as "it can get cold, wet, and windy on whale-watching tours."

The article comes as the 29th Pacific Rim Whale Festival kicks off today.

It's meant to celebrate returning gray whales as they migrate along the coast, something that remains a marvel for Kati Martini, who has operated a whale-watching company for more than two decades.

"It was like meeting a creature out of time and space," said Martini of her first encounter with a gray whale.

"There's just a connection that happens, a respect, and an appreciation for a creature that knows its environment so well."

The festival begins today with a parade of floats decorated by locals that will run through Tofino.

The celebration continues until Mar. 22 with scientific panels on whale conservation but also a chowder cook-off to end the festival.

Whale advocates like Martini say being recognized by National Geographic is thrilling.

"It recognizes that Tofino as a destination has a lot to offer. But especially, that one of the highlights is to experience wild whales in their natural environment."