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You may not have heard of Ucluelet before, but this hidden gem on BC’s West Coast should definitely be on your travel bucket list.
Ucluelet is on Vancouver Island close to the surfer paradise of Tofino, but it’s smaller and far less touristy. It’s perfect for those who are looking for a more relaxed vibe and want to get an authentic small-town experience in British Columbia.
However, like Tofino, Ucluelet is still within easy reach of Pacific Rim National Park – one of the best places to visit in BC! There are SO many amazing hikes and natural wonders to enjoy.
We absolutely loved Tofino, but for some travelers, Ucluelet may be an even better fit. And if you’ve got time, then you should definitely visit both! You can either take a day trip to Ucluelet from Tofino or vice versa.
Make no mistake: just because Ucluelet is small does not mean that it’s lacking in things to do. In fact, we’ve got 17 awesome things to do in Ucluelet so that you can make the most of your time in this hidden gem of a town. We’ve also include other important info – this is your ultimate guide to visiting Ucluelet, BC!
About Ucluelet, BC
Located on Vancouver Island, Ucluelet is about a 40-minute drive from Tofino and 2.5 hours from Nanaimo. There are around 1,700 people who live here.
The name Ucluelet means “People of the Safe Harbour” and is a Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation word. It is pronounced “you-clue-let”, but if you want to blend in, call it Ukee (you-key) like the locals!
You can visit Ucluelet all year round and expect a stunning coastline, rainforest, beaches, and epic hikes along the Wild Pacific Trail. Its low-key and friendly vibe will have you feeling like you found a little piece of home on the island.
Stay a while to take in the hiking, surfing, and all the little places to eat, drink and shop around town. It’s a great base to explore the West Coast and fall into the easy-going lifestyle here. You may never want to leave!
Things to do in Ucluelet, BC
1. Visit the Amphitrite Lighthouse
The Amphitrite Lighthouse was originally built in 1906 after a shipwreck, and it’s a popular spot for photographers at both sunrise and sunset.
You can either park at the lot along Coast Guard Road and walk to the lighthouse, which is about 5 minutes away, or you can walk the Lighthouse Loop.
The Lighthouse Loop is 2.6 kilometers (1.6-miles) long, and it’s an easy walk that shouldn’t take you more than 45 minutes. From the parking lot, walk clockwise and head into the rainforest, which will take you to the coastline. Follow the path to see the lighthouse and enjoy excellent views of the craggy rocks and surrounding ocean.
While this is an easy walk with wonderful views, remember to stay on the trail. The rocks can be slippery and dangerous, so don’t be tempted to clamber onto them.
Related read: Get another epic view of this part of Canada by enjoying the sights from above with a seaplane flight from Vancouver!
2. Walk the Wild Pacific Trail
The Wild Pacific Trail is one of the most popular things to do in Ucluelet, and it’s easy to see why. It’s sometimes known as “The Whale Trail” because of its excellent whale-watching opportunities.
The trail stretches for 8.8 kilometers (or 4.5 miles) in its entirety, but you can do it in sections if you don’t fancy tackling it all at once.
The trailhead is located just north of the Amphitrite Lighthouse, which we talked about above. In addition to Lighthouse Loop, the other sections are Big Beach and Brown’s Beach to Ancient Cedars.
From Big Beach, start at the intersection between Marine Drive and Matterson Drive. It’s a 1-kilometer (0.6-mile) trail and there’s a picnic area that’s ideal for families, as well as an ancient shipwreck that you can learn all about.
Brown’s Beach to Ancient Cedars is 3 kilometers long (1.9 miles) and starts at the parking lot next to the Blackrock Oceanfront Resort. This is also the most challenging section of the trail, but it’s still accessible to anyone with a basic level of fitness. There’s an additional tangent called Artists Loop which will take you closer to the shore if you’ve got an extra 30 minutes or so to spare.
The Wild Pacific Trail is one of the top Ucluelet attractions, so you should definitely tackle at least one section while you’re here!
3. Wander the waterfront and pier
Ucluelet waterfront is not only scenic, but it’s also nice and quiet, too – perfect for a relaxing stroll!
Grab a coffee (Zoe’s Bakery and Cafe is our fav!) and take the time to amble along the waterfront. You’ll see this little fishing town in action and it’s a great introduction to Ucluelet, so make sure to do this on your first day here.
The waterfront is also a great place to pop into local attractions like the aquarium, catch a fishing charter or seaplane, or do some shopping at the unique clothing and jewelry shops here.
You can even stroll out along the pier, which is not super long, but is still a great spot to enjoy the peace and quiet – and even snap a photo or two. The waterfront is also the perfect place to catch a colorful sunset on a clear evening!
4. Check out the ancient cedars
The Ancient Cedars Trail is a loop trail only 3 minutes from central Ucluelet, so you absolutely have to do it while you’re here! It’s a convenient alternative to Cathedral Grove which, while beautiful, is a couple of hours away and can get super busy.
It’s pretty much a straight drive out of town and if you drove to Ucluelet, you will have passed the trailhead on your way in. The only downside is that there is no parking lot, so you have to park on the side of the highway to access the trailhead. Be careful!
The trail itself is only 800 meters (0.5 miles) long. It’s an easy walk and takes around 15 minutes to complete … which might have you wondering: why bother?
Well, because this walk is an amazing place to see huge, old-growth giant cedars. Looking at these massive trees is a humbling experience, and it makes you feel very small!
If you’re after a more challenging hike, you can also add the Ancient Cedars Trail to the Wild Pacific Trail. However, this quick walk is great if you’re short on time but keen to see some majestic, centuries-old cedars.
Related read: If you do want to explore Cathedral Grove to see some of the oldest and tallest trees in the country, basing yourself in Port Alberni puts you within a 20-minute drive!
5. Indulge in the local cafes and bakeries
One thing we really loved about Ucluelet, BC was the amazing baked goodies on offer in the quaint local cafes!
We fell in love with Zoe’s Bakery because of its decadent cakes, freshly baked bread, and amazing flatbread. In addition to the delicious baked goods, it’s also a lovely spot to sit and relax for a while. There’s a huge indoor seating area, plus some outdoor tables and a cute patio area if the weather is nice.
Another great place to pop into is The Barkley Cafe. If you can get one of their fresh muffins, it tastes just like something your grandma would make – so good! This is one of the cafes in town that opens the earliest at 7 am, so you can easily grab a breakfast sandwich and coffee before heading out on an early morning hike.
6. Day trip to Tofino
While there’s no shortage of things to do in Ucluelet, BC, you should definitely take a day trip to Tofino. Tofino’s a surf town with lots of great activities to enjoy, and there’s more hustle and bustle there than in quiet Ucluelet.
Keen hikers should definitely make the trip up to Cox Bay Lookout, which is a beautiful spot where our best friends got engaged! Hiking to the Canso Plane Crash is also an amazing, unique experience that takes you off the beaten path, despite being an easy hike.
If you visit on a Saturday, you can’t miss the farmers’ market, and you should definitely take some time to browse through all of the town’s independent boutiques. We found some seriously cute items here, including my new favorite earrings!
There’s a small museum that’s definitely worth checking out to learn more about Tofino’s history, and there are plenty of amazing restaurants where you can fill your belly. The Tacofino truck always hits the spot, or if you’re after a bigger meal, the SoBo eatery was our personal favorite.
Tofino has beaches galore so you’ll have a ton of choices for surfing or just beautiful beach walks. Long Beach, as the name suggests, is very long, so it’s easy to find lots of room to relax. It’s best for experienced surfers, but there are also rocks that you can climb on and tide pools to explore.
Wickaninnish Beach is one of the most popular beaches and a starting point for lots of trails within the Pacific Rim National Park. It’s also a fantastic spot for storm-watching in the winter!
If you’re only going to do one thing in this part of BC, it has to be surfing!
With some of the best surfing beaches only a quick drive away, it’s easy to grab a board and catch a few waves. It’s also an ideal place for beginners to learn to surf, but the pros love it too!
Best time of year
Ask any Vancouver Island local and they’ll tell you that the fall is the best time of year to hit the waves. This is when the water is at its warmest, the winds are just right and there are fewer crowds than in the summer months. For this reason, many surf events are held in the fall, such as the Women’s Canadian Surf Championships.
The summer is also a great time for beginners to surf, as the waves are generally gentler. Ucluelet and Tofino are busier at this time, but it doesn’t tend to get overcrowded.
Best surf beaches
There are three main surf beaches all within a half-hour’s drive of Ucluelet: Cox Bay, Chesterman Beach, and Long Beach.
Cox Bay is THE place to surf and is a great spot for beginners. It’s a beautiful bay that’s popular with pretty much everyone, from beginners to pros. There are a handful of surf schools and rental shops around here, so you can grab a lesson or any gear you need.
There are actually two Chesterman beaches: north and south. North Chesterman tends to be the more reliable of the two – there’s always a wave to be caught here. South Chesterman can be great, but the conditions need to be just right, so it’s best to check the weather report before you make your way here. In general, though, both beaches have gentle waves that are great for beginners.
Long Beach is the closest of the three to Ucluelet and it’s very beautiful. There’s also a parking lot where you can hang out for a while and watch the waves roll in. As the name suggests, the beach is very long, and you should be careful if you’re surfing close to Lovekin Rock because the rip can be dangerous. This beach is better for more experienced surfers.
8. Visit the aquarium
Ucluelet may be small, but it still boasts an impressive aquarium. The Ucluelet Aquarium focuses on marine life found in the waters around Vancouver Island.
It is also Canada’s first collect-and-release aquarium, which means that the fish and other marine creatures do not spend their entire lives in captivity. For this reason, the aquarium’s displays change with the seasons.
Some of the things you might see during your visit include octopuses, urchins, anemones, crabs, and juvenile salmon.
Between March and November, the Ucluelet Aquarium is open from 10 am until 4:30 pm every day, with the last entry at 4 pm. It closes in the off-season. Admission costs $16 CAD per adult, or $9 CAD for children, and under 3s go free.
Related read: If you’re planning a visit to another epic aquarium, check out our complete guide to visiting the Vancouver Aquarium. It’s huge with 65,000 different creatures to see!
9. Relax at the local beaches
Beautiful beaches are one of the main Ucluelet attractions. Not only are they pretty, they’re quiet too, since the town doesn’t get that many tourists.
Little Beach is a small and sheltered beach along the Pacific Wild Trail. It’s a secluded spot where you can chill out and admire great views of the coastline.
Big Beach, meanwhile, is a sandy beach scattered with volcanic rocks. It’s also an ideal place to watch the sunset because it’s west-facing. Again, this beach is along the Wild Trail and there’s even a picnic area where you can enjoy a bite to eat with a view.
Terrace Beach is another tranquil spot that is sheltered by trees. Here, you can simply enjoy some peace and quiet, or go for a swim if the weather is warm enough.
Related read: You can tour a couple other beautiful Vancouver Island beaches on the short drive from Courtenay to Campbell River. Also, enjoy all of the fun activites on offer in Campbell River when you’re done the road trip!
10. Stay in a cabin near the beach
One of the best things about Ucluelet is its proximity to nature. If you want to really make the most of this, then consider staying in a cabin by the beach.
The Cabins at Terrace Beach are gorgeous, airy, and surrounded by trees. They’re just a 2-minute walk from the beach, so you can enjoy the sound of the waves crashing as you drift off to sleep at night.
You can also opt for a sea-view cabin if you want to wake up to the sight of the ocean.
Each cabin comes with its own kitchen and balcony, as well as modern furniture and super comfy beds. If you want to feel like you’re in a little world of your own, then this is the perfect stay for you.
11. Visit Thornton Creek Fish Hatchery
Thornton Creek Fish Hatchery is one of the top Ucluelet attractions, and not just for fishing fans, either. The salmon here really are a sight to behold, and it’s great to learn about the work that goes into keeping them healthy and ensuring that they can return to spawn.
The hatchery also happens to be an amazing spot to see black bears in the wild! We saw one during our visit, which was super exciting!
Entry to Thornton Creek Fish Hatchery is free, but donations are welcomed. Opening times change throughout the year, so it’s best to check the website before you go.
You do have to follow the safety rules at the center due to the number of black bears that visit the river near the hatchery trying to catch salmon. You should never walk down the driveway from the main road either, and since it’s not suited to extra large motorhomes you may have to give this one a miss if you’re traveling in one.
12. Whale watching
Whale watching is one of the best Ucluelet activities on offer because there really aren’t THAT many places in the world where you can see these majestic creatures up close.
By far, the most reputable tour company around is Jamie’s Whaling Station, which is a super ethical and eco-friendly operation. The crew’s local wildlife knowledge is second to none, and they’re passionate about educating visitors about the importance of conservation.
You can either opt for a cruiser or zodiac boat for your tour, depending on how adventurous you’re feeling! Tours usually leave multiple times per day, seven days per week, but they do book up fast during peak season. You can check the schedule and book in advance via the website.
Whale-watching tours cost $129 CAD per adult and last for around 3 hours. Jamie’s operates tours from mid-March to early October each year, although exact dates depend on weather conditions. Grey whales, humpback whales, and orcas can be seen throughout this time, and you’re also likely to spot other creatures such as sea lions and eagles.
Related read: Whale watching is also one of the top tours to check out when visiting Victoria, BC!
13. Shop at Cedar House Gallery
Located right near the dock and Jamie’s Whaling Station, the Cedar House Gallery is one of the top places to visit in Ucluelet.
It’s a native art gallery that stocks beautiful works by local and Indigenous artists. If you’re looking for authentic Canadian souvenirs to take home with you, then this is the place to purchase them. It’s also an amazing opportunity to learn more about the local culture and to support Indigenous artists.
As well as paintings, Cedar Gallery sells jewelry, sculptures, carvings, pottery, and textiles. You’re sure to find something that catches your eye!
If you’re lucky, you might visit the gallery when the artist Tlehpik Hjalmer is there carving and be able to watch him work. Cedar House was actually opened by Hjalmer and his family, and he has won several notable awards during his career.
Kayaking is one of the best Ucluelet activities for nature lovers, as it’s a great way to explore the coastline and get up close to wildlife. You have the choice to either rent your own kayak or take a tour. Both of these can be done through Paddle West Kayaking, and you’ll depart from Jamie’s Whaling Station, which we mentioned above.
There are several kayaking tours available and they run throughout the day. However, going in the early morning means you’re more likely to encounter calmer waters, which is always a bonus.
The Ucluelet Harbour kayaking tour is a perfect option for beginners and lasts for around 2.5 hours. For a truly adventurous experience, more experienced kayakers might want to opt for either the Ucluelet Barkley Sound or Ucluelet Coast tours.
15. Go fishing
The Barkley Sound waters are teeming with Pacific salmon, ling cod, and bottom fish, so it’s no surprise that fishing is one of the top Ucluelet activities. Plus, the beautiful and rugged coastline makes for some pretty spectacular views.
You also don’t need a fishing license for angling in tidal waters in British Columbia, which makes things nice and easy.
There are plenty of spots to fish from the land, but if you’re a keen angler then this 8-hour charter would be an amazing experience for you. It includes all of your gear, bait, and cleaning and bagging services. You’ll also have a private guide who will give you tips and help you to spot wildlife while you wait to feel a tug on your line.
Up to 5 people can join the charter, so it’s perfect for families or a group of friends.
16. Enjoy local craft beer
Ucluelet is home to an awesome brewery where you can taste some amazing local craft beer. It’s very easy to spend an afternoon or evening in their tasting room, and they’ve also got perfect bar bites on offer in case you get hungry.
The Ucluelet Brewing Company is known for their unique flavors and they’ve got 8 of their own signature beers on offer, as well as wines and spirits from other local companies. Even their soft drinks are locally sourced – you won’t find any Pepsi here!
The inside of the tasting room is rustic and relaxed, but there’s also a really nice patio area to enjoy when the weather’s good. The whole philosophy behind this brewery is to drink slowly and savor the flavor, and that’s exactly what we did.
The tasting room is open from 4 pm until 10 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays – it closes on Tuesdays, so don’t try to visit then. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday it opens at midday and closes at 10 pm if you want to sneak in some afternoon beers.
Related read: There are also some awesome brewiers and distilleries to check out in Courtenay, BC!
17. Eat locally caught fish and chips
Is there anything better than getting local recommendations when you travel? A Ucluelet resident told us about Jiggers Fish & Chips, and it turned out to be an absolute gem.
Jiggers buy all of their fish directly from the local fishermen, so eating here not only means that you’re supporting local businesses, but you’re also getting the freshest fish and chips around. Honestly, it’s absolutely delicious and definitely worth seeking out!
Where to Stay in Ucluelet, BC
Now that you know how much this gorgeous coastal town has to offer, you might be sold on spending a night or two in Ucluelet. It’s a great base for exploring the beaches and trails nearby and has that perfect laid-back atmosphere that you crave on a vacation.
While the town might be small, there are still quite a few options for accommodations. Here are our top picks!
Black Rock Oceanfront Resort – $$$
Wake up to stunning views of the ocean from your balcony at the Black Rock Oceanfront Resort. The location puts you only a 2-minute walk from Big Beach or about a 10-minute stroll to some of our favorite cafes and restaurants. The rooms are comfy and feature a huge rain shower and a cozy fireplace. There’s also an outdoor pool and hot tub featuring those incredible ocean-front views. Book a luxurious getaway by checking the hotel availability here.
Bayshore Waterfront Inn – $$
Located near Ucluelet Harbor, a stay at the Bayshore Waterfront Inn puts you in the heart of town. You’re close to some of the top attractions and can enjoy the view overlooking the water without leaving your room. You can even hear the sea lions barking every so often! The suites here offer plenty of room and even full kitchens so you can easily make breakfast in your room (or store treats from the local restaurants). Secure your room here on Booking.com.
Canadian Princess Lodge & Marina – $
A quaint hotel on the shore of the harbor, the Canadian Princess Lodge & Marina is a nice budget-friendly option. The rooms are more affordable and put you in the middle of the action within walking distance of the best sights in Ucluelet. Book a room easily online here.
Thanks for reading!
Ucluelet is a great little stop on your Vancouver Island getaway, whether you choose to spend an afternoon here or stay even longer. This small town is a perfect escape from the crowds and an incredible place for hiking or just grabbing some lunch at a cute cafe.
Hopefully, this guide to Ucluelet was helpful and you have lots of ideas for what to do once you arrive. If you need more ideas for your trip to British Columbia, make sure to look around at our other blogs. We have lots of tips and neat places to discover to help you plan your visit.
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