Head to Port Alberni for an easy Vancouver Island getaway
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With warm friendly lakes, an ocean inlet, easy hikes and waterfalls, leaning into Port Alberni as a destination - instead of just a pit stop en route to the beaches on Vancouver Island’s West Coast - feels good, especially on the wallet. At just over one hour inland from Nanaimo, it’s an easy, accessible Island getaway. Just ask the locals.
Newcomers to the Alberni Valley (on unceded Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation lands), Sara Weaver and Laurah-Lee Christie both made the move to the area less than a year ago because it was an affordable housing option and a basecamp for adventures. Shortly after setting up camp in Port Alberni, they met and became friends through Alberni’s outdoor scene.
“We sold our house in Nanaimo and bought a house in Port, a boat and a truck,” said Christie, the founder of LL Yoga & Wellness.
“Now we spend a lot of time in the Alberni Inlet and at Great Central Lake. One of my favourite hikes is right up the street from our house, Maquinna Trail by China Creek,” she said.
Port Alberni is an adventure basecamp!
Check out these itineraries to get started on your next Alberni adventure:
Weaver moved from Yellowknife.
“There is no winter here,” she chuckles.
From her first hike in the Alberni Valley, she was smitten, and she’s been regularly ticking off her local trails bucket list since.
“I really like the Lookout, the hike behind the candy shop. You get the whole panoramic view of the inlet. It’s short, but sweet and a big payoff at the end,” Weaver said, adding that she’s on the hunt for a canoe or kayak.
And that is just a taste of the adventure that awaits when you basecamp in Port Alberni. Read on for tips and itineraries that will have you hiking, paddling or just chilling oceanside in your new favourite Island getaway.
HIKING IN THE ALBERNI VALLEY
Avid hiking buddies and longtime Port Alberni residents Annette Clement and Vicki Fadar fawn over their local index of waterfall hikes and day trips like giddy school girls.
“Stamp River, Wiener Falls (pronounced whiner), Stoke Falls, Dyke Walk, Roger Creek Nature Trails, Anglers Trails, Fossli Park Trail… There are so many hidden gems,” they chime.
Clement, the general manager of the Barclay Hotel, and Fadar, Barclay’s marketing manager, say savvy hikers will bookend a trip to Della Falls, Vancouver Island’s tallest waterfall, or the West Coast Trail, with a stay at the hotel.
“We are selling out pretty fast, but there are still openings. The pool is open until October and so is our patio,” said Fadar.
“We have a fantastic hospitable community,” said Clement. She pauses for a moment before committing to a favourite trail:
“China Creek Falls takes an hour to get in, and the waterfalls there are gorgeous.”
Alberni Valley water activities
Water play options abound in the Alberni Valley. From fishing, kayaking, and scenic stand up paddleboarding to windsurfing, kiteboarding, and wakeboarding, there is a reason why the region has been dubbed the “Okanagan of the Island.”
Boaters will want to make a beeline for Sproat Lake Provincial Park (or Kleecoot, which means "wide open” in Nuu-cha-nulth language), about 15-minutes west of Port Alberni.
Sproat is famous for its clear, pristine waters, and on a hot summer day, holds its own against the salty sea. Check out the water sport school Sproat Wake to book a lesson or coach.
For wind enthusiasts, Nitinaht Lake on the traditional territory of the Ditidaht First Nation is a world-class summer windsurfing and kiteboarding spot thanks to consistent thermal wind. For the 2022 season, the Nitinaht Campsite is fully open and the Ditidaht Chief and Council have approved the campsite to allow day visits with no advance booking ($20 per vehicle per day), so if you get skunked on a campsite reservation, Port Alberni is the closest launch pad at 80km away.
Port Alberni's chill scene, tasty dining and hip hangouts
Port Alberni today looks much different than it did a decade ago.
“More and more people are staying in Port and doing a day trip to Tofino. The food scene has changed quite a lot since I’ve been here. The breweries are a big one,” said Brad DeClercq, owner/operator at the Starboard Grill in the Harbour Quay.
DeClerq's award-winning candied salmon chowder is a big draw to the Harbour Quay, next to sipping a coffee and devouring a donut from the Donut Shop, arguably the best donuts on Vancouver Island.
The Spirit Square Farmers’ Market every Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to 12 noon and it’s right beside a playground and picnic area. There is loads of free parking, walking distance to the waterfront.
All told, there’s far more than meets the eye in Port Alberni, with hiking, water sports and a local scene that will have you wondering why drive farther when you can stay here? Perched on one of the world’s longest ocean inlets, Port Alberni is the easy, carefree Vancouver Island getaway you’ve been looking for.
When You Go
Where to stay in Port Alberni
From waterside stays on the lake to cozy spots in town, Port Alberni and the Alberni Valley can set you up with a perfect basecamp.
Visit Alberni Valley Tourism for the full list of local accommodations.
Check out Sproat Wake for lessons, charters and sightseeing tours on Sproat Lake.