The Getaway
Top Things to Do in Port Alberni

Port Alberni is surrounded by mountains and named after Captain Don Pedro de Alberní, a Spaniard who commanded Fort San Miguel circa 1790. This small city of 18,000 people is nestled in the heart of Vancouver Island, and makes much of its money from forestry, commercial fishing, and tourism. It also serves as a gateway to the Pacific Rim National Park. No matter how chilled out or active you like your outdoorsy vacations, you'll find something to adore about Port Alberni.

Advertisement

01 Exploring the natural beauty

Beautiful fall colors by a lake. Taken on Vancouver Island, Canada, but suitable for a wide variety of uses. A canoe on the beach adds a bit of outdoor recreation feel to the image.

Sproat Lake Provincial Park is a wonderful spot for camping and RVing. You can swim or go kayaking, and when the lake is low enough, you can also view the ancient petroglyphs carved by First Nations peoples from a floating deck. Cathedral Grove within MacMillan Provincial Park, is home to an awe-inspiring mossy old-growth forest. These are some of Canada's tallest and most ancient trees that have survived centuries of change. Hug a red cedar or Douglas fir and meander along the boardwalk. Port Alberni offers diverse hiking opportunities for all skill levels. Popular trails include the Log Train Trail and the path to Della Falls. The latter is free of snow between May and September.

Advertisement

02 Adventure and recreation

You'll find world-class salmon fishing in the Alberni Inlet. The Sockeye salmon arrive in June, the Chinook show up early in August and they are followed by the Coho. The Salmon Derby and Festival is held every Labor Day weekend—reel fun in the Salmon Capital of the World! Top angling areas include Lone Tree and the Coulson Mill, but if you book a fishing charter, you'll get a great guided experience with prime spots on the itinerary.

If you enjoy mountain biking, you'll love the extensive network of MTB trails around Port Alberni for beginners and experts alike. Try the creek-crossing Fir Baby trail for its fast turns. More advanced riders can combine Citizens Climb and Resurrection. Contact Riders of Alberni Valley (ROAV) for more recommendations.

In terms of water sports, you can go paddleboarding and boating in the area's lakes and rivers. Cameron Lake and Great Central Lake are popular choices for SUPing, as is Sproat Lake. Local guides at Sproat Lake can supply you with gear and equipment. You'll see lots of wakeboarding and water skiing here. Barkley Sound is a premier dive spot if you're more into what lies beneath the surface.

03 Cultural and historical attractions

view of mill at Mclean Mill National Historic Site, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Alberni Valley Museum's exhibits on local history, First Nations culture, and the area's natural environment are edifying and will easily grab your attention for an hour. The McLean Mill National Historic Site is another must-do for history buffs. The steam-powered sawmill operates in summer, making a terrific outing for kids and their minders. You'll also want to stop by the Nuu-chah-nulth Whaling Canoe Sculpture, a public art installation celebrating Indigenous heritage. Artworks like the Tseshaht First Nation mural at Harbour Quay add to the milieu.

Advertisement

04 Family-Friendly activities

Harbour Quay is a bustling area with shops, eateries, and the Maritime Discovery Centre with its replica lighthouse and changing summer exhibits. The Donut Shop is famous, so grab one for noshing while you stroll down the pier and absorb the views. When it comes to local parks and playgrounds for outdoor relaxation, the summer spray parks with picnic facilities are a hit—head to Kiwanis Park, Blair Park, and Roger Creek for a splashing good time. Waterfront Park has a beach volleyball court and pirate ship-themed play area. You might also want to go river tubing with your crew near the Paper Mill Dam and Stamp Falls.

September 19, 2018: Port Alberni Maritime Discovery Centre is a nautical museum re-constructed from a real lighthouse on Vancouver Island. Chase Clausen / Shutterstock.com

05 Extreme adventures

Port Alberni's dry, warm weather is ideal for kiteboarding and windsurfing. The Alberni Inlet and surrounding waters get afternoon winds that make these water sports a breeze. You'll see folks going with the flow at Harbor Quay and Canal Beach. Ziplining requires less skill, but can still get your heart pumping faster. Ziplining at the Kennedy River Canyon is a thrilling overwater experience for all ages, offering bird's eye views of the stunning scenery and a less intimidating adrenaline rush than, say, bungee jumping at Whistler. More of a scrambler? There are loads of rock climbing and bouldering opportunities in the region. Climbing enthusiasts can tackle Mount Arrowsmith.

06 Culinary experiences

Local dining tends to involve copious amounts of fresh seafood and locally sourced ingredients. Brie and Barrel is owned by the mayor and helmed by skilled chefs, Wildflower Bakeshop & Cafe's pastries are melt in the mouth, and Bare Bones Fish House & Smokery is gluten-free and satisfying as can be. Ice cream connoisseurs must seek out Coombs Country Candy for amazing frozen treats and handmade sweets. Port Alberni has a thriving craft beer scene, and the tables at the Saturday Farmers' Markets (yup, there are two of them) are laden with organic and handcrafted goodies. The Port Alberni Farmers Market is on Cherry Creek Rd, and the Spirit Square Farmers' Market is located at Harbour Quay. Both have a quaint community atmosphere. Tap your foot to the live music and fuel up for your next adventure.

07 Unique experiences

Grizzly Bear running in British Columbia

How about a bit of bear-watching? If you answer with a resounding "yes!", you're in the right place, and fall is the right time. This is bear country, thanks to all the salmon in the area, and your first stop is Victoria Quay for some glimpses of black bears stocking up for winter hibernation. Always keep respectful wildlife viewing practices in mind, follow the signs, and maintain a safe distance.

You'll also find many cultural tours for a deep dive into Indigenous heritage and various interests. Self-guided historic walking tours of Northport and Southport allow you to explore the town at your own pace. Save some time for local art galleries showcasing works by regional artists, including Indigenous art and crafts. Ahtsik Native Art Gallery & Gordon Dick Studio, and "The Grove" are good places to start perusing.

Advertisement

08 Outdoor exploration

Gather your Graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolates, because the Alberni Valley is a fantastic region for camping. Arrowvale is a private riverside campsite for tents and trailers, and if you don't want to rough it, you can go glamping in a luxury cedar cabin. The campsite is not far from Collins Farm, a lovely place with a petting zoo, organic products for sale, and seasonal pick-your-own-produce events. RVs also converge at China Creek.

Consider hopping aboard the heritage ship MV Frances Barkley to explore the remote village of Bamfield. The 4.5-hour trip is as much about the journey as the destination. You could also take a boat from Great Central Lake to see Della Falls, the 16th tallest waterfall in Canada.

09 Planning your visit

Hotel prices are the lowest in March and during fall if you're looking to get the most bang for your buck, and they peak between June and August when the weather's warm and the town is at its busiest. Port Alberni has a range of accommodation options to hit the right notes for your stay, from the Best Western Plus Barclay Hotel and Sproat Lake Landing Resort to excellent public and private campgrounds. If you plan on trekking in the backcountry, you might want to procure some bear spray and bells and be sure not to store food in your tent. Research your route and current trail conditions, and check the weather.

The city of Port Alberni on Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada on a beautiful spring day. TamasV / Shutterstock.com

10 Additional attractions

cougar looks you in the eye

Discover the region's biodiversity and landscapes with West Coast Edge Adventures. You could spot elk, wolves, cougars, grizzlies, and other fascinating creatures on land. Look to Alberni Charters for a marine safari—they don't just deal in fishing trips. You can go on a private 8-hour eco-voyage where you'll likely encounter whales, porpoises, otters, sea lions, and other aquatic wildlife.

Bird watchers will find joy at Somass Estuary and Kitsuksis Dyke. When you've gotten in a healthy dose of nature for the day, delve into the architectural heritage of Port Alberni. The City Hall was built in the International style, and its lawns display interesting civic items. Half an hour away in Qualicum Beach, Powerhouse Museum has an association with prolific architect Karl Branwhite Spurgin.

Advertisement

11 Seasonal activities

During summer and fall, several annual events liven up Port Alberni's calendar. The Okee Dokee Slo-Pitch Tournament pits eighty softball teams against each other over the Canada Day weekend. Proceeds go to various charities. The Sproat Lake Regatta, aka Lightning on the Lake, dates back to 1928 and takes place the weekend after Canada Day. It's a water sports festival for racers of all kinds. The 5 Acre Shaker Music Festival is an August highlight with a late-night after-party for those over 19. The Toy Run and the Port Alberni Fall Fair are beloved family occasions, and the Fishing Derby also takes place in September. In winter, you can use Port Alberni as a base to go storm-watching in Tofino, Ucluelet, and Bamfield. Winter sports enthusiasts can begin snowshoeing at Ship Creek Trail or skiing at Mt Cokely.

Share

Scroll Down

for the Next Article

The Getaway Badge
Sign up to receive insider info and deals that will help you travel smarter.
Advertisement
Advertisement