On the far side of Mount Arrowsmith from Cathedral Grove, Port Alberni lies at the head of the rich salmon fishing grounds of the Alberni inlet.
Cultural and historical explorers are in their element here thanks to three fine attractions: the Alberni Valley Museum, rated as one of the best regional museums in BC; the harbourside Maritime Discover Centre with its fascinating retelling of the town’s 1964 encounter with a tsunami; and the McLean Mill National Historic Site, a vintage lumber camp with working steam-powered sawmill that can be reached by car or on a memorable half-hour steam-train ride from downtown. Hike or mountain bike the Log Train Trail, one of 100 routes in the valley (including a challenging trek by boat and food to Della Falls, the highest waterfall in Canada).
Port Alberni through the eyes of the travellers
Things to do in Port Alberni
- Step aboard a 1929 logging locomotive at the train station downtown, then ride the rails with the Alberni Valley Railway on a scenic route to McLean Mill National Historic Site, Canada’s only steam-powered sawmill. Once there, a troupe of employees in period costume lead tours of the working sawmill, mill pond and camp buildings.
- Explore the Log Train Trail by foot, bike or horseback from Port Alberni as far as McLean Mill. This level trail, accessible at many spots along the way, stretches 25km through second-growth forest.
- Take a self-guided stroll around downtown’s Harbour Quay, the urban waterfront hub of shopping, dining and sightseeing. Climb the clock tower for stellar views of the Alberni Inlet. Wander through the quaint shops and galleries before or after a good meal. And visit the Maritime Discovery Centre, set inside the original 1900 Chrome Island lighthouse, to learn about tsunamis, deep-sea exploration and the harsh reality faced by mariners on the open coastline (aka “The Graveyard of the Pacific”).
- Join the throngs watching kite surfers take flight near the new Centennial Pier, a great spot at Harbour Quay from which to launch kayaks, canoes and SUP boards.
- Tour 18 colourful murals around town that capture the area’s history. Walk the downtown waterfront to the Nuu-chah-nulth Whaling Canoe, a magnificent sculpture originally displayed in Victoria’s Royal BC Museum and now located at Victoria Quay.
- With its forests, rivers and waterfalls, Stamp Falls Provincial Park is a wonderful year-round refuge. View salmon battling their way up and over fish ladders en route to spawning grounds in the fall. The Angler’s Trail follows the Stamp River from the falls for 6km one-way through old-growth forest.
- Learn about First Nations history, art and culture along with the town’s more recent pioneer legacy at the Alberni Valley Museum, headquarters of the Alberni Valley Heritage Network. View exquisite folk art and learn about the origins of the West Coast Trail as a telegraph line and life-saving route for shipwreck victims.
- Meet local farmers and purchase fresh produce at the Port Alberni Farmers’ Market, held every Saturday morning in Harbour Quay’s Spirit Square.
- Art lovers will enjoy the Rollin Art Centre, a heritage property with an art gallery, gift shop, gardens, and terrace where tea is served in the summer.
- Safely watch black bears catching salmon at low tide in their natural Somass River estuary habitat in late summer and early fall.
- Stroll with the kids along the Kitsukis Walkway, a 3km route highlighted by a playground and summer water park. Relax in the shade in Rogers Creek Park or swim in the Somass River at Paper Mill Dam Park.
- Enjoy live productions by the Portal Players Dramatic Society at the Capitol Theatre, a restored vintage movie house that stages a variety of comedies, musicals, dramas and concerts.
Things to do in the Alberni Valley
- Hone kiteboarding and windsurfing skills on the Alberni Inlet and Sproat Lake before challenging the famously gusty conditions at Nitinat Lake.
- Get active with a kayak, mountain bike or SUP (Stand-Up Paddle) board.
- Experience the heart-in-mouth thrills of a flight in a glider after taking off from an Alberni Valley soaring centre.
- Reel in the big one! Port Alberni is known for its fantastic salmon fishing and is a past winner of the World Fishing (TV) Network’s Ultimate Fishing Town contest.
- The Somass Estuary offers excellent birdwatching both in the summer and especially the winter (when trumpeter swans and other waterfowl are present).
- Live the culture at community festivals. The famous Salmon Fest on the Labour Day weekend draws thousands for a fishing derby, entertainment and a huge salmon barbecue. Also on the calendar: The Alberni Fall Fair, Forest Fest and the Thunder in the Alberni Valley drag races.
- Golfers have their pick of two area courses: a friendly and relaxing nine-hole executive course; and a pristine 18-hole championship course.
- Head out to sea on a variety of scenic tours. Options include a freighter trip aboard the MV Frances Barkley to Ucluelet and Bamfield, guided boat trips to remote locations, First Nations canoe tours and chartered fishing trips to the best salmon grounds.
- Explore the Alberni Valley armed with a GPS while tracking down hundreds of geocache treasures.
- Sproat Lake Provincial Park is a popular destination for family vacations. Book a guest house, B&B, rental houseboat or campground space, then relax and enjoy a full range of water sports. Tour the lake on a tug boat departing from Sproat Lake Landing. Check out the ancient petroglyphs, some depicting what many believe are mythical monsters that once inhabited the lake.
- Backcountry adventurers paddle across Great Central Lake to Drinkwater Creek, then hike for 16km to Della Falls, the highest waterfall in Canada as it cascades 440 meters from Della Lake in Strathcona Provincial Park. The hiking trail was originally built by trapper Joe Drinkwater, who named the falls after his wife.