11 Fun Things to do in Port Alberni, British Columbia
Last Updated on May 29, 2023
Port Alberni is more than a quick stop for food on the way to Tofino! I hope to convince you that this small town at the head of a long inlet of the Pacific Ocean has plenty to invite you to stay awhile and learn about the history of the area and enjoy some great food and scenery.
- Where is Port Alberni?
- How to get to Port Alberni
- When is the best time to go to Port Alberni?
- Visit a waterfront park
- Go for a hike
- Grab candy at the Coombs Country Candy Store
- Wander among ancient trees at Cathedral Grove
- Go for a swim or have a picnic at Sproat Lake or Cameron Lake
- Watch salmon swimming at Stamp River Provincial Park
- Go back in time at the McLean Mill National Historic Site
- Visit the Port Alberni Maritime Discovery Centre
- Buy First Nations made gifts at the Tseshant Market
- Take the Frances Barkley (Lady Rose) boat trip
- Ride the Alberni Pacific Railway
- Where to stay in Port Alberni
- Where to eat in Port Alberni
Where is Port Alberni?
Port Alberni is located at the head of Alberni Inlet on Vancouver Island, about halfway between Nanaimo and Tofino.
Port Alberni is the land of the Tsheshant and Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations.
How to get to Port Alberni
You’ll need a car to get to Port Alberni. Most people go to Port Alberni while they are driving between Nanaimo and Tofino. It’s a fantastic stop about halfway through the road trip with plenty to explore and the best place to get some food along the route.
Related: The Ultimate Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary
When is the best time to go to Port Alberni?
You can visit Port Alberni any time of year. As a working mill town, most businesses are open all year (except those that cater to visitors). Summer brings the longest, warmest and driest days.
Things to do in Port Alberni and the Alberni Valley
Visit a waterfront park
There are several places to explore the waterfront in Port Alberni. Canal waterfront park is a beautiful park next to the inlet with picnic tables, restrooms and a big firepit.
Closer into town, Harbour Quay and Victoria Quay offer walking paths along the inlet (Harbour Quay) and the river (Victoria Quay).
Go for a hike
If you’d like to get out and stretch your legs on a hiking trail during your visit, there are plenty of options for doing so.
Hole-in-the-wall is a popular short walk to an interesting, well, hole in a wall of rock! It’s less than a mile but there are roots and areas of unstable footing. The China Creek Falls trail is short (less than 2 miles) with a couple hundred feet of elevation gain, however access is on a logging road (stick to weekends) and involves plenty of unstable footing on rocks, roots and mud including a short steep section with boulders close to the falls.
If you’re looking for a longer hike and solitude, try the Alberni Inlet Trail. While this is a 20 mile trail with nearly 4000 feet of elevation gain that you can do one way, you can go a shorter distance out and back on this trail. This option is much more suitable for a day hike. Make sure to set a turnaround time since there’s not a clear end point (until the end of the trail in 20 miles!). Big views are the norm along this trail.
Grab candy at the Coombs Country Candy Store
Indulge your sweet tooth and this fun store with chocolate in every possible form! A wide variety of candy made in the store as well as ice cream options make this a super fun stop. They have everything from fudge to toffee, chocolate bars to caramel apples, chocolates, kettle corn and more.
Wander among ancient trees at Cathedral Grove
Cathedral Grove is about 20 minutes from Port Alberni towards Nanaimo.
Cathedral Grove is one of the most stunning groves of old growth Western Red Cedar and Douglas Fir trees in the Pacific Northwest. Some of these trees are more than 800 years old!
Some of the trails here (mainly the boardwalk on the north side of the highway) are wheelchair accessible. The Old Growth loop trail is a boardwalk that is flat and has handrails throughout. The Living Forest Loop on the other side of the highway is also flat, but often has deep mud.
Go for a swim or have a picnic at Sproat Lake or Cameron Lake
Sproat Lake is about 15 minutes from Port Alberni towards Tofino, and Cameron Lake is about 30 minutes away towards Nanaimo. Both lakes provide ideal conditions for a picnic and also for swimming when they warm up a bit in late summer.
Both lakes are also open to fishing, and you’ll see kayakers, canoes and paddleboards when it’s calm, along with wind surfers when the wind comes up.
Watch salmon swimming at Stamp River Provincial Park
In summer, salmon navigate a fish ladder in Stamp River Provincial Park on their way upsteam to spawn, it’s a terrific place to see salmon up close.
You can also often see them in the river above and below the ladder and there are a few short hiking trails along the river here as well. There is also a lovely waterfall even if the salmon aren’t running.
The drive from Port Alberni is short (15 minutes) but the road is quite rough.
Go back in time at the McLean Mill National Historic Site
The McLean Mill provides an opportunity to learn all about the sawmills and logging operations of 100 years ago. Logging remains an important part of the region’s economy even today and this provides a glimpse into what it was like in the past.
There are historic buildings and logging equipment to explore as well as trails and interpretive signs and as well as a restaurant and gift shop.
When it’s operating (not currently) you can even take a steam train here! See below about the Alberni Pacific Railway for more details.
Visit the Port Alberni Maritime Discovery Centre
The Maritime Discovery Centre is located in a historic lighthouse and gives visitors the opportunity to learn all about the colorful maritime history of the west coast of Vancouver Island.
From shipwrecks to tsunamis to historic boats, this is the place for anyone who’s interested in boats or maritime culture.
Buy First Nations made gifts at the Tseshant Market
The Tseshaht Market is a fantastic place to buy all kinds of supplies including gas. It is also a fantastic place to buy gifts as they specialize in a variety of gifts by First Nations artists and companies. From clothing to mugs, stickers and even beautiful jigsaw puzzles, this is one of the best gift shops on Vancouver Island.
The market is located about 15 minutes beyond Port Alberni going towards Tofino.
Take the Frances Barkley (Lady Rose Marine) boat trip through Alberni Inlet to Bamfield
Lady Rose Marine Services offers a boat trip on the Frances Barkley that travels the entire length of Alberni Inlet to the roadless town of Bamfield. This beautiful and unique trip allows visitors to travel alongside residents and cargo for a day trip (or longer).
Ride the Alberni Pacific Railway
As of this writing, the Alberni Pacific Railway has not reopened since the pandemic. I’m keeping it here in the hopes it will reopen! A must do for train lovers, you can take a ride behind a historic steam engine as well as tour the train yard.
Where to stay in Port Alberni
There are plenty of vacation rentals and hotels in Port Alberni, and if you are experiencing sticker shock for prices in Ucluelet and Tofino, definitely consider staying here instead, or staying here on the way there or back. There’s plenty to explore in the area and you can be in Tofino is less than 2 hours.
Where to eat in Port Alberni
My favorite food stop in Port Alberni is Twin City Brewing. They have good beer, a lovely covered patio and amazing pizza. They have plenty of other pub style food too. You can’t go wrong with seafood here and especially fish and chips. You’ll find fish and chips lots of places including the Clam Bucket, Barebones and Turtle Island. All are amazing! If you’re looking for a drive-thru, there’s a Tim Horton’s here too.