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COMPLETE Guide to Visiting Port Alberni, BC +15 Things to do

COMPLETE Guide to Visiting Port Alberni, BC +15 Things to do

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While exploring the stunning Vancouver Island, we stopped in Port Alberni. This small town sits right in front of a mesmerizing inlet. It’s a little corner of Vancouver Island that is so full of life and color!

It’s a great destination all year round while you’re exploring the best places to see in British Columbia. With its many parks, rivers, and mountains nearby, Port Alberni is an escape from the city into the scenic landscapes this part of Canada is famous for.

Because of its location so close to the water, this is also an excellent place for fishing and eating fresh seafood. In fact, it’s known as the “Salmon Capital of the World” as all five types of Pacific salmon can be found in the waters around here.

From watching the salmon run to magical hikes and fantastic restaurants, Port Alberni has so many things to do! You may end up staying around here longer (or coming back!) to take them all in.

To fuel your travel inspiration, here are the top things to do in Port Alberni as well as other essential travel info to know before you go. This is your complete guide to visiting Port, Alberni on Vancouver Island.

About Port Alberni, BC 

The waterfront in Port Alberni, BC
Where the coast meets the mountains!

Located one hour away from Nanaimo in the Alberni Valley, this town makes a good home base while traveling around Vancouver Island. It’s also a good stop if you’re planning to drive from Victoria to Tofino. It’s a small fishing town with a lot of charm and neat places to check out.

With a population of 19,000 people, Port Alberni offers a slow-paced lifestyle that attracts travelers from all over the world who want to get away from the big city.

Port Alberni’s name comes from a Spanish commander, Captain Don Pedro de Alberni, who was in charge of the fort on the west coast of the island in the 1790s.

This area is the traditional territory of the Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations. These are 2 of the 14 different nations of the Nuu-chah-nulth people on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

Fishing, mining, and forestry are the main economic activities in Port Alberni, but the beauty of the Alberni Inlet and the Alberni Valley keeps drawing more tourists every year. New pubs, cafes, restaurants, and breweries have been opening up in the area as its popularity grows.

The BEST Things to do in Port Alberni

1. Explore Sproat Lake Provincial Park 

The beach in e Sproat Lake Provincial Park outside of Port Alberni
This is one of the best lake beaches on Vancouver Island!

Sproat Lake Provincial Park is a great introduction to this area with a beautiful beach that’s great for swimming. At the lake is also excellent fishing and incredible views, and the best part is that it’s located only 15 minutes from Port Alberni.

One of the best things to do here is to see the amazing history of this area up close by hiking to see petroglyphs carved in the rocks. To get to these ancient carvings, follow the trail on the east side of Sproat Lake. There’s a well-marked path to a viewing platform and it’s only a short walk from the picnic and beach area. These carvings, known as K’ak’awin, are considered one of the best examples of prehistoric petroglyphs in the entire province!

This is also a popular spot to camp and spending a night under the stars here sounds pretty great to me! Camping fees are also affordable at $13 CAD nightly per party in the winter and $25 CAD per party in the summer.

Like other spots on Vancouver Island, summer is the most popular season with thousands of visitors. But don’t discount visiting or camping in the off-season, you’ll have huge sections of the park to yourself!

Related Read: Checking out petroglyphs is also one of the top attractions in Nanaimo, BC!

2. Wander Harbor Quay 

Bailey with the totems at rbor Quay in Port Alberni, BC
It’s so cool that the ocean travels this far inland!

With any fishing town, the center of all the action is the harbor, and Port Alberni is no exception. Make sure you set aside time to explore Harbor Quay with its cute waterfront restaurants and shops.

If you’re hungry, this is the place to find some good eats! There’s a lot of choice from Turtle Island Fish and Chips – known for their HUGE portions (you won’t be hungry after!) or the fresh maple sprinkle donuts from The Donut Shop.

On our first visit, we headed straight to The Starboard Grill. The menu is extensive with everything from burgers to ramen and poutine! I asked the waiter for a recommendation and that’s how I tried the salmon chowder – SO good. Now it’s a must-order every time we stop in. The restaurant sits right on the water, so the view is great too.

For families, there’s the Waterfront Park and Playground, or climb up the iconic Waterfront Clocktower for the best view of the harbor.

If you’re here on Saturdays, pop into the Spirit Square Farmers’ Market for fresh baking, produce, and handmade items. The market runs from 9 am to 12 pm, so it’s a great spot for breakfast, lunch, or to grab something to go – like a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin!

I love the feel of this place and the sound of the water going under the piers is very relaxing. It can get quite breezy, so bring a sweater along just in case.

3. Hike to the Hole In The Wall 

Bailey with the famous Hole In The Wall near Port Alberni
Hole In The Wall in Port Alberni

One of the best hikes in the area is the Hole in the Wall trail which takes you to literally what you’d expect – a huge hole in a rock wall!

This hole was actually carved years ago for a pipeline to pass through the solid rock. Once the pipeline was removed, it left a gap for the creek to flow through – creating this little waterfall with a pool of water underneath.

To get here, you’ll start at the Hole in the Wall trailhead, across the highway from the Coombs Country Candy store (a great stop for a treat after your hike!). Parking is really limited for this trail, so you’ll be looking for a safe spot along a pullout on the highway or in the lot by the candy store.

The hike itself is short – about 20 minutes – and fairly easy. It can get muddy and slippery if it has rained recently, so make sure you have good hiking shoes. Once you arrive, you can swim here in the clear water, but fair warning that it can be chilly – even in the summer!

The area around here is stunning and like this little forest oasis. It’s also filled with inukshuks – little statues made from balancing stones on top of each other. I actually made my own little one before leaving!

Related read: Check out our list of the best easy day hikes in Vancouver for more beautiful trails to explore!

4. See the giants of Cathedral Grove 

Daniel stands underneath the largest tree at Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island
This tree is HUGE!
Bailey walks along a boardwalk in Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island
Be sure to explore all the trails and boardwalks.

One of the best Port Alberni activities is hiking through Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park. The “giants” here are some of the oldest and tallest trees in the entire country!

This forest is actually movie famous too as scenes for Star Wars: Return of the Jedi were filmed here. The towering trees made the perfect background for the Ewoks planet known as Endor.

You’ll definitely feel like you’re on another planet and appreciate why this is called Cathedral Grove as you wander through here. The sunlight filtering through the tree canopy and the peacefulness here has the feel of a cathedral in nature.

Cathedral Grove is located about 20 minutes from Port Alberni with a parking lot right beside the highway and the main entrance to the park. It’s really walkable with a wooden path that’s in great shape.

We took the Big Tree Trail the first time we visited and got to see some of the 800-year-old trees in this spectacular old-growth forest. The trail is really short at .5 km (.3 miles), so it’s a hike that’s good for families and you can bring your dog along too!

Hot tip: If Cathedral Grove is too busy, consider walking the Ancient Cedars Trail near Ucluelet, BC instead.

5. Alberni Valley Museum  

The Alberni Valley Museum is a lovely little venue featuring a large collection of artifacts. There are items showcasing First Nations culture, local history, and folk art.

Some of the exhibits are interactive, and ideal for kids. Also, the countless fun facts about the artifacts all over the museum will keep you immersed as you tour around. This museum might be small, but it has hundreds of interesting things to look at. Plus, there are traveling exhibits that change constantly, so you can return if you visit Port Alberni again in the future to see something new.

There’s no entrance fee, but the suggested donation is $3 CAD. The staff members were super welcoming and attentive. The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm and until 8 pm on Thursdays.

6. See the salmon run at Stamp River Provincial Park 

A salmon jumps up a waterfall in almon run at Stamp River Provincial Park
Seeing the salmon jump up the waterfall was so cool to watch.
A bear hunts salmon in almon run at Stamp River Provincial Park 
We even saw two black bears!

Seeing the annual salmon run as thousands of salmon swim upstream and jump out of the water is one of nature’s most mesmerizing spectacles, and a Port Alberni activity everyone should experience!

To see this, you’ll need to head 20 minutes from Port Alberni to Stamp River Provincial Park. Follow the gravel road to the parking area and then there are signs pointing you to the Stamp Falls Trail that goes to the “fish ladders” and waterfalls.

From late August to December, thousands of salmon are swimming here and make the leap up the fish ladders to where they will lay eggs in the spawning beds. There are some great viewpoints along the river to watch the determined salmon make their way up the falls.

The type of salmon making the impressive trek will differ depending on when you visit. It’s Sockeye salmon in late August and then Coho and Chinook salmon from late September to early December.

If you hang around the area long enough, you may even get to see bears here. We actually got to see a couple of black bears trying to catch their dinner along the river! 

There is also a first-come-first-serve campground here that looks lovely. The next time we pass through we will definitely stay here!

Related Read: One of the best things to do in Tofino is spotting bears, too.

7. Eat and drink at Mountain View Bakery 

The counter at Mountain View Bakery in Port Alberni
Ain’t that the truth!
Coffee and food at Mountain View Bakery in Port Alberni
So yummy!

We haven’t talked a lot about food so far, but Port Alberni has some great little spots to eat. One of our favorites was Mountain View Bakery. The coffee is excellent, but the pastries and donuts … now that’s what will make you want to come back!

Everything we’ve tried was delicious, from the fresh donuts and cakes to the strawberry tarts and cinnamon buns. They open at 7:30 am and close at 6 pm. I do recommend you go there early though before all the best goodies are gone! 

Related read: One of the best ways to experience all the delicious eats in this part of the country is on a Vancouver Food Tour!

8. Hike up to The Lookout 

If you’re only going to do one hike in the Alberni Valley, this is the one to do! The Alberni Valley Lookout Trail is a loop that will take you to “The Lookout” with a sweeping view of the city, the inlet, and the surrounding mountains.

The trail is a 5 km (3 mile) loop that takes around 2 hours – although you can spend even longer while enjoying the views from the top. We got lucky and even spotted an eagle flying over the forest beneath us. 

There are a few different routes up to The Lookout, but the main path is well-marked and follows a logging road. You’ll leave from the trailhead here, but the road to the trailhead can be pretty rough and muddy, you’ll definitely need a 4×4. The alternative is parking near the candy store and walking to the start of the trail. Once you’re hiking, there are some steep and challenging sections, but it’s still a doable hike, even if you’re not a regular hiker.

9. Eat fresh seafood 

fish and chips and clam chowder at The Starboard Grill in Harbor Quay
Fish and chips never disappoint!
fish and chips at The Starboard Grill in Harbor Quay
Seafood with an ocean view? Yes, please!

One of the best parts of visiting a fishing town is the delicious seafood. You’re so close to the water, you know it’s going to be fresh and cooked to perfection. Pretty much every restaurant you go to in Port Alberni will have fish and chips on the menu, but there are a few standout places for dining in town.

Bare Bones Fish House & Smokery has a ton on the menu, nice portions, but a little bit pricey. We had a perfectly made, super fresh halibut and a salmon burger. The fries were really good and I must say everything we saw going to the tables around us smelled fantastic. 

Next up is The Clam Bucket and if it has the word “clam” in the name, I’m ordering a clam chowder. It was very tasty and it came in less than 10 minutes. The popcorn shrimp was delicious too, and the one time we ordered the bucket of mussels we couldn’t finish it because the portion was too big (which is a great thing if you ask me!). 

The Fish and Duck Pub has a great view of the water from the outdoor patio and the sunsets look amazing. They have a classic pub menu and we ended up having fish and chips and a shrimp wrap. This is one of our favorite spots to have a drink in the afternoon (if you go on a Friday or Saturday, they’re open until 10 pm). 

I also mentioned The Starboard Grill in Harbor Quay above which has fantastic halibut and salmon! Their candied salmon chowder is my favorite.

10. Go fishing 

A man fishing in Stamp River Provincial Park
With so many salmon around, how hard can it be?

In a fishing town known as “The Salmon Capital of the World” we had to take a fishing trip, and I must say it was one of the best experiences we had in Port Alberni. It started early in the morning on board a 25-foot Sea Ray with our experienced captain teaching us all about salmon fishing and steelhead fishing in fresh or salt water.  

West Coast River Charters offers year-round fishing tours with all the equipment required to reel in some great catches. Their experiences take between 4-8 hours and the price depends on how many people will be fishing and the fish you want to catch. You can go salmon fishing in freshwater for $525 CAD for two people or try your hand at sockeye fishing in salt water for $600 CAD for 2-4 people. All tours don’t include taxes or a fishing license, so you’ll need to factor that in.

On the other hand, if you have your own fishing gear, you can spend a day at Stamp River Provincial Park, the same park that has the salmon run. There are a couple of well-known fishing spots where professionals and beginners can go.

Just be aware that fishing is closed for a distance above and below Stamp Falls (look for the boundary markers on the trees along the river) from June 15 to November 15 to protect the salmon. Make sure you also get a fishing license before heading here on your own!

11. WestCoast WILD Zipline  

WestCoast WILD Adventures zipline
Photo credit: WestCoast WILD Adventures

We never miss an opportunity to go ziplining! West Coast WILD Adventures offers some exciting tours that will have you soaring through the forest canopy in the wild Kennedy River Canyon.

To get here, you’ll head about 45 minutes west from Port Alberni along the Pacific Rim Highway. As long you’re in the area from March to October, it’s ziplining season!

Flying through steep canyons over 6 different platforms, we learned a lot about the history of the valley. Our guides were constantly checking our gear (which made us feel safe at all times) while telling us one fun fact after the other about the area. Every member of the staff seemed extremely well-prepared, and I loved the fact that they seemed to be having as much fun as we were the whole time. 

It’s $130 CAD per person for a 90-minute guided zipline adventure. Tours leave twice in the morning (10 am and 11:30 am) and twice in the afternoon (1 pm and 2:30 pm) and they are open every day during the operating season.

12. Hit the beach in Parksville 

Bailey and Daniel take a selfie at the beach in Parksville, Vancouver Island, BC
Welcome to Parksville!

On a sunny summer morning, we drove 45 minutes east of Port Alberni to the little beach town of Parksville. It has some of the most beautiful beaches on the island!

We headed to the main beach here where we spent half a day relaxing under the sun, swimming for a bit, and walking along the shore with stunning views all around. There’s also an awesome playground and spray park for the kids. Parking for the main beach is really easy in this main parking lot, with plenty of spots even during the high season.

If you’re here during the summer, make sure you take in the Parkville Beach Festival. It’s over 5 weeks long (from mid-July to late August) and features a super cool sand sculpting competition on the beach!

We always try to hit up Mount Arrowsmith Brewing Company while in town. They have excellent craft beer and really good pizza.

The second time we visited Parksville, we went to one of the best minigolf courses we’ve ever been to at Riptide Lagoon. There are two 18-hole courses and you can play both for only $15.50 CAD! Plus, there are bumper cars and an arcade too.

If a spa day instead of a beach day seems more your speed or it’s too chilly to swim outdoors, head to the mineral pool at Grotto Spa at Tigh-Na-Mara. The pool has a two-story waterfall and the natural minerals make for a really relaxing soak.

From Parksville you can also visit a couple of other nearby towns, too. Coombs is famous for it’s market where goats graze on the grass roof. Or, head to Qualicum Beach where you can wander the cute downtown area complete with local shops, tasty cafes, and our favorite, Q Burger!

Related read: One of the best things to do in Kelowna is soak up the sunshine at the beach. I lost count of all the beautiful beaches we went to, there are that many choices!

13. Drink craft beer 

A beer at Twin City Brewing, Port Alberni
Photo credit: Twin City Brewing
A beer at Twin City Brewing
Photo credit: Twin City Brewing

There are several breweries in and around Port Alberni, so we decided to try and visit as many as we could while we were here. After brewery hopping, we discovered a few local favorites.

Sitting on Port Alberni’s main drag, Dog Mountain Brewing is a cozy brewery that not only features deliciously crafted beers but really good food as well (you’ve got to try their pulled pork!). We loved their wide selection of beers including the unique Apricot Wit Beer and their very attentive staff. Plus, if you have a four-legged companion along, they have a huge dog-friendly rooftop patio!

Alberni Brewing Company is an award-winning brewery that also serves the best cocktails in town (try the blueberry mojito!). They are always coming up with new flavors and new ways of making beer so we like to try something new every time we go. If you want to taste something you’ve never tasted before, ask for the Lemon Drop Wheat Beer.

Our favorite brewery so far is Twin City Brewing. When you are in there, let the staff know what kind of beer you usually like and I guarantee they will make an on-point recommendation. For me, the best beer in Port Alberni is Twin City’s Munich Helles Lager. 

14. McLean Mill Historic Park 

Around 15 minutes north of Port Alberni, there’s a historic site you can visit that feels like a trip to the past. The McLean Mill is an old sawmill that closed in 1965 and it’s been a beautiful park since then.

Everything was left as it is, from old cars to even older machinery from the early 1900s. Just like the rest of the Alberni Valley, this park felt really peaceful. We went through the old sawmill where it was fascinating to see the steam-powered mill and all the original machinery. We also took a walk around the park on a couple of short trails to see some majestic old trees.

We stayed there for 2 hours following an info pamphlet we took at the entrance, but the whole tour can be done in 1 hour (or less). If you do a self-guided tour like we did, it’s completely free! Guided tours are available for about $18 CAD per person.

15. Play a round of golf 

Alberni Golf Club
Photo credit: Alberni Golf Club

For a relaxing round of golf in the middle of your vacation, the Alberni Golf Club is the place to go. You can play surrounded by tall trees and incredible views while you follow a salmon-rich stream hole after hole. This course has one of the calmest and most tranquil atmospheres I’ve ever witnessed and it’s a really fun stop whenever we visit Port Alberni.  

We always try to book a tee time the minute we arrive just in case. It’s quite a popular course and they host all sorts of events throughout the year.

It’s $40 CAD for 18 holes and $25 CAD for 9 holes. If you are already there, you can’t miss the opportunity to have lunch at the club, the food is amazing! 

Where to Stay in Port Alberni, Vancouver Island

Best Western Plus Barclay Hotel room
Photo credit: Best Western Plus Barclay Hotel

Okay, now that I’ve convinced you how much there is to see and do in Port Alberni, it’s time to find a great place to stay! While you can get here on a day trip from Nanaimo, it’s nice to stay in town to really get a feel for the place and have extra time to explore.

Luckily, there are quite a few options for places to stay. These are our top picks for a variety of budgets!

Best Western Plus Barclay Hotel – $$$

While this tops our list for price range, it’s still decently affordable when it comes to a major hotel. The Best Western Plus Barclay Hotel has rooms for around $150 CAD per night. You’ll have a great location to act as your home base to explore the area and spacious guest rooms. If you’re here in the summer, there’s a huge outdoor pool! Check availability and book your stay online here.

Hummingbird Guesthouse – $$

Just outside town on the Pacific Rim Highway, the Hummingbird Guesthouse is an easy-to-find location perfect for a pit stop on a road trip across Vancouver Island. You can really create a little home here with the cozy rooms that all include either a kitchen or kitchenette. Breakfast is superb and there’s a beautiful patio and landscaped garden to enjoy. Rooms here start at $115 CAD per night and can be booked online here.

Char’s Landing Hostel – $

Right in the center of town, Char’s Landing Hostel is a budget-friendly accommodation for travelers to Port Alberni. Every room has a private bathroom and you can use the full kitchen and common area. It’s a great place to meet fellow travelers and it’s not just for young people either! Rooms here start at $99 nightly. Check availability and book a stay at this hostel online.

Related Read: While on Vancouver Island be sure to also visit Duncan, BC!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey and Daniel take a selfie in Port Alberni, BC
Thanks for reading!

There you have it, some of the best things to check out in Port Alberni! It’s definitely a worthwhile stop while you’re on Vancouver Island. The town is right on the edge of the wilderness this island has to offer with towering trees, mountain views, and rivers full of salmon. We absolutely loved the charm of this place … and the fresh seafood!

If you’re planning a trip out to British Columbia, make sure to check out our Vancouver Island blogs before you go. We have tons of ideas on things to see, places to eat, and more. We hope it will help make your trip to this beautiful part of Canada even better!

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Wednesday 26th of April 2023

There is new Food Market at the Harbour Quay each Friday 4-8pm