If you’re looking for a west coast outdoor adventure, Port Alberni is the place to be. This stunning area should be added to your list of must-visit destinations on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
Situated in the middle of Vancouver Island between Nanaimo and Tofino, Port Alberni is surrounded by old-growth forest on the deepwater Alberni Inlet. With its lush nature trails and abundance of outdoor activities, there’s something for everyone in this charming Vancouver Island town.
Whether you’re looking for outdoor experiences, visiting historic sites, learning about culture, or having a taste of local craft beer, we’ve put together a guide to the top things to do in Port Alberni.
So pack your bags and get ready to stay longer, to explore everything this beautiful region has to offer!
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Top things to do in Port Alberni, BC
The Port Alberni area is a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered.
Here are some of the top things to do in Port Alberni and the Alberni Valley on Vancouver Island to take advantage of the breathtaking scenery. Be sure to check the bear safety tips at the end of the article to be prepared for you adventures in the this natural wonderland.
1. Swim in one of the many beautiful lakes in the area
There are several clear water lakes to have fun at in the Port Alberni Valley. The two largest lakes are Cameron Lake and Sproat Lake. For the more adventurous, seek out some of the many dipping pools found along river and creeks or near the waterfalls listed below.
Take a swim or have a picnic at this magnificent fresh water lake. Cameron Lake is popular for fishing, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding and windsurfing. The B.C. Scientific Cryptozoology Club claims there is a creature looming in the clear waters of Cameron Lake.
Cameron Lake is 15 km east of Port Alberni on Highway #4.
Sproat Lake is a popular spot for locals to swim, dive, windsurf, water ski, fish, canoe or kayak. If you are lucky, you will see one of the last remaining famous Martin Mars waterbombers on the lake, once used to help fight forest fires.
Camping is available at the park and reservations are accepted. Download a park map.
Sproat Lake Provincial Park is located off Highway #4, 13 kms. north of Port Alberni on the road to Pacific Rim National Park.
2. Hit the trails at McLean Mill National Historic Site
Take a self-guided walking tour or book an e-bike tour through the McLean Mill National Historic Site. Learn about the history of the logging operation, see the restored sawmill and heritage buildings.
The scenic railway is not operating at this time.
3. Discover Ancient Petroglyphs at Sproat Lake Provincial Park
Port Alberni is home to some of the most stunning provincial parks in British Columbia. Sproat Lake Provincial Park is a must-visit, especially if you’re interested in history.
This park is known for its ancient petroglyphs, which are carved into the rocks near the lake. Created by First Nations people, these panels of prehistoric rock carvings are some of the finest in British Columbia. Find out more.
4. Visit Cathedral Grove Old Growth Rainforest
Experience towering old growth rainforests as you walk among giant Douglas Fir trees that have stood for at least 800 years at Cathedral Grove, MacMillan Provincial Park. In 1997, a huge windstorm swept through the park, toppling hundreds of giant trees.
Look around as you follow the trails and boardwalks through the park and you will see evidence of nature’s powerful blow. The downed trees have become nurse trees. As these trees begin to rot, they provide a nurturing environment to new life and regrowth in the forest. Download a map of the area. This is a very busy place and it may be difficult to find parking. Be very cautious when trying to cross the busy highway or when pulling out of the parking spot.
5. Find Hole in the Wall
Don’t miss this popular man-made wonder. Hole in the Wall trail is located across the highway from the Coombs Country Candy parking lot. CAUTION: Please note it is extremely dangerous to cross the busy highway. Your best bet is to approach this trail from the southwest.
6. Step inside a lighthouse at the Port Alberni Marine Heritage site
The Port Alberni Maritime Discovery Centre is housed inside a lighthouse. The museum is a great place to learn about the history of Port Alberni’s maritime industry.
Be sure to visit the Hutcheson Gallery to discover more about what happened to Alberni and Port Alberni on March 27th, 1964, when a tsunami travelled up the Alberni Inlet, after a 9.2 magnitude earthquake hit Anchorage, Alaska. The succession of six waves caused substantial damage. 65 homes were completely washed away and another 375 were damaged.
The museum is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday and is located at 2900 Harbour Rd, Port Alberni.
7. Mountain Biking
Port Alberni is a mountain biker’s paradise, with plenty of trails to choose from. There are more than 60 bike trails in three different areas, Port Alberni City Trails, Coombs Candy, and Sproat Lake. These great biking trails add to Port Alberni outdoor activities.
The town itself has 18 km of developed trails. Find out more information about these routes.
8. Experience some of the best fishing in Canada
If you’re looking for something a little more relaxing, Port Alberni is home to some of the best fishing in Canada for salmon and trout. The Alberni Inlet is renowned for its salmon fishing and attracts fishers from around the world. There are plenty of charter boats and guides available to take you out on the water. Some will take you into the Barkley Sound on the west coast. The best time to fish is from June through September.
The Alberni Valley provides great fishing all year. Fish for a rainbow trout in Sproat, Cameron or Great Central Lake. Anglers like the Stamp and Somass rivers for catching salmon and trout. Check the Anglers Atlas for more details.
9. Spend the afternoon on the Port Alberni waterfront
There are two waterfont areas to visit. The city of Port Alberni is in the process of connecting these two neighbourhoods, Alberni Harbour Quay and Victoria Quay with a 4 km multi-use pathway.
Alberni Harbour Quay
Harbour Quay on the Port Alberni waterfront is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. The quay boasts a variety of shops, galleries and places to eat. It is home to the Spirit Square Farmers’ Market on Saturdays and a children’s park. Enjoy views of the inlet and boats in the marina. Catch a scenic cruise on MV Frances Barclay passenger freighter to Bamfield and Ucluelet from the quay.
Be sure to stop at the Donut Shop, known for the best donuts on Vancouver Island. And they are pretty delicious!
Visit the Victoria Quay located along the Somass River to see the Nuu-chah-nulth Whaling Canoe Sculpture and a chance to view wildlife.
10. Check out the public art, murals and galleries
Port Alberni is home to a number of beautiful public art installations and murals celebrating the area rich history and Indigenous culture of the Nuu-chah-nulth, Hupacasath and Tseshaht First Nations.
There are more than 24 murals throughout the town and several art galleries worth a visit.
Nuu-chah-nulth Whaling Canoe
The Nuu-chah-nulth Whaling Canoe sculpture represents the cultural importance of whale hunting along the west coast of Vancouver Island for the Nuu-chah-nulth. This sculpture, once exhibited at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, is now exhibited at Victoria Quay.
A traditional dugout canoe is carved from red cedar and is built to navigate the wild waves of the Pacific Ocean. This mode of transportation has been used for thousands of years.
If you plan to head out to Tofino for a visit, learn more about the traditional way of life with First Nations Canoe Tours.
Traditional Pacific Northwest Art
Visit the Ahtsik Gallery, Gordon Dick Studio and an outdoor carving shelter, located next to Port Alberni, on the traditional Tseshaht First Nation lands.
See the work of master carver and Tseshaht/Nuu-chah-nulth artist Gordon Dick along with the traditional works of coastal artists of the Pacific Northwest.
11. Learn about Salmon
Visiting a fish hatchery is a great place to see salmon up close. This hatchery offers self-guided tours, as well as educational programs for school groups. It’s a fun and informative way to learn about the local ecology and fishing industry.
Robertson Fish Hatchery
Take a self-guided tour of the Robertson Fish Hatchery. The hatchery, a coho and Chinook salmon enhancement facility, was once North America’s largest pink salmon spawning channel.
The Chinook salmon is the largest species of salmon in the Pacific. Adult Chinook and coho can been seen from September to November. Large steelhead salmon can be found in February, Small steelhead and coho salmon can be spotted year-round.
Stamp Falls Provincial Park fish ladders is the perfect place to view salmon by the thousands, returning to their spawning grounds. Starting in August and running through December, sockeye, coho, and Chinook salmon swarm the pool of water below Stamp Falls. Black bears can often be seen along the river during this time, trying to make an easy catch.
12. Wildlife Viewing
There are plenty of opportunities to see wildlife in the Port Alberni valley. Keep your eye peeled for black bears, deer, elk, eagles, whales, seals, mink, otters and sea birds.
Look for bears along the Port Alberni Boardwalk
If you’re lucky, during the late summer and into early September, you may see bears from the Port Alberni Boardwalk at the Victoria Quay. These black bears try to catch salmon along the banks of the Somass River. This spot is also great for birding. There are almost 160 different varieties of birds here. The boardwalk offers great views of the harbour and surrounding mountains.
13. Take a tour down the Alberni Inlet
Take a wildlife tour down the deep ocean waters of the stunning Alberni Inlet for a chance to see sea lions, seals and migrating whales. Along the coast you may also view bears, otters and minks along with soaring eagles and other sea birds. Tours are offered by Lady Rose Marine Services. You can even purchase a round trip ticket on a working freighter to voyage down the inlet from Port Alberni to Bamfield, on the west coast and back.
14. Zipline through Kennedy River Canyon
Take an epic zipline adventure through the steep, narrow Kennedy River Canyon and old-growth rainforest. Learn about the history and culture of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation traditional territory as you are guided through six platforms. Allow at least two hours for this experience. Find out more at Wild West Coast Zipline.
15. Chase Waterfalls
There are seven waterfalls accessible from Port Alberni. The trails to the waterfalls vary in length and range from easy to difficult. Trails can be slippery during wet weather. If it is a windy day, don’t go. Trees can be unstable and fall across the path.
Stop at the Alberni Valley Visitors Centre to check the latest weather and water conditions, current road conditions and more detailed directions for locating trailheads before heading out. Always be prepared to meet wildlife on the trails. Learn more below about what to do if you see a bear.
This is the most accessible waterfall of the seven waterfalls in the area. Stamp Falls is an easy, short hike from the parking lot near the Stamp Falls Provincial Park entrance. Here is a map. Beginning in August, a parade of nearly half a million sockeye, coho and chinook salmon pass through the fish ladder on the way to their spawning beds.
Journey to the southside of Sproat Lake, west of Port Alberni, on Stirling Arm to view the Fossli waterfall along Saint Andrews Creek. The easy walking trail through the undeveloped parkland is 2.5 km in length. The route crosses over a small suspension bridge. The trail also provides access to a pebble beach on Sproat Lake. Find out more.
Hike to Della Falls, the tallest waterfall in Canada
If you’re looking for a challenging hike, consider hiking to Della Falls. This waterfall is the tallest in Canada, and it offers beautiful views of the surrounding wilderness. The falls drop nearly 1,445 vertical feet (440 m).
Access to Della Falls is a little difficult. The trailhead can only be accessed from the west end of Great Central Lake. The Della Falls Water Taxi service operates from the Great Central Lake RV Resort and Marina located just outside Port Alberni. The hike to the falls from the trailhead is about 16.6 kms. Water Taxi reservations for the 2022 season opens on March 1.
China Creek Falls
The moderate hike to China Creek falls is a little steep. The round trip journey is is 4.6 kms. On a hot summer day, there are swimming pools to cool off.
This 40-minute hike to Weiner Falls is for the more experience hiker and uses ropes in some areas to get access to the falls. The view of the waterfall is worth the trip. In the summer, if you dare, take a dip in the cold plunge pool. Find our more
Kitsuksis Falls and Railway Trestle
This easy trail is located in the middle of the town. The trip to Kitsuksis waterfall will take about one hour round trip on the mostly paved loop. Follow along the Kitsuksis Dyke along the Kitsuksis Creek. The waterfall can been seen near the railway trestle.
Cold Creek Waterfall
Beautiful Cold Creek Waterfall tumbles 60 feet (18 m.) There are three different routes to choose from to get to the falls depending on your time. There is a short 1 km trail, 5 km medium walk or a 9 km round trip outing. The difficulty rating is easy to moderate.
In the warmer weather, sunbath on the rocks near the icy swimming area.
16. Alberni Valley Museum
The Alberni Valley Museum is another great option for those looking to learn more about Port Alberni’s history.
It is considered one of the best community museums and contains a large collection of historic artifacts. This small museum tells the story of the region’s settlers and First Nations people, and it’s a great place to learn about Port Alberni’s unique culture. Take a virtual tour of the musuem.
17. Take a historic walking tour
There are three historic waling tours to take in Port Alberni. Download self-guided walking maps of the Southport pioneer community, Northport the old town, and the Southport business and industrial areas.
18. Taste local craft beer
If you’re a beer lover, Port Alberni has a thriving craft beer scene, and there are several local breweries worth checking out. Port Alberni Brewing Company, Dog Mountain Brewing and Twin City Brewing are on the BC Ale Trail on Vancouver Island.
Grab a bite to eat while you are there. Each one offers plenty of delicious food options to choose from! Before visiting, be sure to check the opening hours.
Dog Mountain Brewing
This cozy brewery offers great atmosphere and a large rooftop patio with amazing views of the Alberni Inlet. There is an excellent selection of 12 brews on tap including, IPA’s, lagers, sours, stouts, porters, spiced and experimental batches. The brewery also serves 16 varieties of hand crafted ciders from Cowichan Valley’s Valley Cidery.
There are plenty of food options if you are hungry, with many of the choices braised or infused with beer from their tap list. Try the pulled pork and crunchy slaw or the Dark Tower Donair. Dog Mountain Brewing claims their Donair is the best Donair west of Halifax.
The brewery is located at 3141 3rd Avenue, and is closed on Mondays.
Twin City Brewing
This busy, popular brewery has up to 11 beers on tap and a selection of cocktails. Twin City Brewing also offers a good assortment of food choices. Consider ordering one of their hand-stretched pizzas made from a dough fermented in a three-day process giving it more complex flavours, or the Bulgogi Brisket, which is smoked onsite. Dine-in or take out. When we went, we could not get a table. Next time we will make a reservation.
Twin City is located at 4503 Margaret Street in Port Alberni, BC and is closed on Mondays.
Alberni Brewing Company
The Alberni Brewing Company offers up to 16 hand crafted beers on tap, including rotating guest brews, wine cider and non-alcoholic drinks.
The menu includes infused food items and kids meals,a wide selection of appetizers, mains and desserts.
Centrally located, Alberni Brewing is at 4630 Adelaide Street. The brewery is usually open on Mondays.
19. Take a ride on a steam train
Train enthusiasts will welcome a ride on the Alberni Pacific Steam Train. When in operation, this historic steam train takes passengers from to the train station in Port Alberni to the McLean Mill National Historic Site. Check for the latest updates regarding the operation of the train.
You can also book a tour of the roundhouse and railyard.
20. Explore the Industrial Heritage Centre
If you like historic trucks, machinery and equipment, take a tour of the Industrial Heritage Centre.
21. Be a kid in the Coombs Country Candy store
Port Alberni is a great place to stock up on local goodies, and Coombs Country Candy is one of the best places to find them. This sweet, delightful candy store offers an impressive selection of treats made with fresh local ingredients. Be sure to try their melt-in-your-mouth Chicago Mix popcorn. You’ll be hooked and craving more.
Fast Facts about Port Alberni, British Columbia
- Port Alberni is at the terminus of Vancouver Island’s longest inlet. The Alberni inlet extends 25 miles (40 km) inland from the Pacific Ocean at Barklay Sound on the west coast.
- A tsunami, caused by the 1964 Alaskan earthquake, destroyed parts of Port Alberni.
- Port Alberni lies within the territory of two Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, the Tseshaht and the Hupacasath.
Where to stay in Port Alberni
There are a variety of accommodation options in Port Alberni, from camping and RVing to hotels and bed and breakfasts. For those who prefer to be close to nature, there are several campgrounds located just outside of town.
Search for more accommodation ideas using Booking.Com and any commissions earned will go back to us to help keep this website running.
Camp at nearby Sproat Lake or Cameron Lake Provincial Parks.
Download The Visitors Guide to BC Provincial Parks Camping during COVID-19.
Getting to Port Alberni, BC
Take the ferry to Nanaimo from Vancouver leaving from either Tsawwassen or Horseshoe Bay. Then drive north on the Island Highway towards Parksville, taking Highway 4 exit west to Port Alberni. The drive from Nanaimo to Port Alberni will take about 2 hours without stops. The ferry to Nanaimo from Horseshoe Bay takes 1 hour and 40 minutes. The ferry from Tsawwassen to Duke Point takes 2 hours to cross. Check BC Ferries schedules. Reservations are suggested.
Driving from Victoria to Nanaimo will take about 1 hour and 40 minutes without stops taking the Trans-Canada Highway BC1 North. There are some spectacular sights along the way. Find out more here on what to see along the way.
Bear Safety Tips
This is bear country. Be prepared if you go out exploring in the woods of B.C. Chances are you won’t run into bear, but you should know what to do. If a bear has recently been spotted on the trail, there is usually a sign at the trailhead. Download a handy guide to tell you how to identify a black bear or a grizzly bear. Be sure to check out the Wild Safe BC website.
- Use bear bells to jingle and make some noise as you journey along the trail.
- Carry bear spray and know how to use it. (If you are flying, you can not transport bear spray)
- Stay calm. Do not run or climb a tree.
- Do not turn your back to the bear. Back away slowly and do not make eye contact.
- If you are with a group, act as a group. Pick up and carry small children.
- Stay at least 7 metres away.
- Do not feed the bear.
- Make sure the bear has a clear escape route.
- If you are camping, never store food in your tent. Sleep with a flashlight and make sure your bear spray is within reach.
- Research other safety tips here, especially if you are traveling in an area known for grizzly bears, cougars, wolves, coyotes, deer, moose, and elk.
Bear Safety tips for traveling in B.C. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©
Looking for more incredible adventures of a lifetime in BC? Be sure to check out these articles to help start planning your trip:
– Road Trip – Top things to do driving from Victoria to Pacific Rim National Park
– Discover some of the best prehistoric rock carvings found in BC
– Explore the Sea-to-Sky Highway, one of the most scenic drives in North America
– BC Travel Guide: 21-day road trip Part 1 – Vancouver, Jasper, Banff and Okanagan wine country
– BC Travel Guide: 21-day road trip Part 2 – Vancouver, Jasper, Banff and Okanagan wine country
– Top 10 things to see and do in Victoria, BC – a city guide
Have you been here? Want to go or have other tips or comments. We'd love to hear from you.