Ucluelet may just be the best kept secret on the west coast of Vancouver Island, even despite its proximity to Tofino. The small town of 1600 people contains the history of a number of First Nations groups, including the Toquaht, Ucluelet, Tla-o-qui-aht. It is said that the First Nations have been in the area for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived, which first happened in 1787. Aboard the Imperial Eagle, Charles William Barkley and is young bride, Francis Barkley, arrived in what is now Barkley Sound. They were in search of new lands and sought after the highly in-demand sea otter pelts. With the later establishment of a fur trading post, a church and plenty of other add-ons, Ucluelet began to grow. Fishing became the name of the game, and one of the top things to do in Ucluelet today is tied into this popular pastime.
Once the road from Port Alberni was paved to both Ucluelet and its world-renowned neighbor, there was no stopping its growth! Today, it is a great destination that still offers the seclusion and R&R of the past, without the bustle of Tofino’s packed summer streets. It’s best to take advantage of it before the word gets out, so check out what there is to do in Ucluelet, B.C. below!
Deeply tied into its history is a reputation of fantastic fishing. The top catch are massive chinook salmon known as tyees, but there are numerous other fish to go for during your time. Coho salmon, deep lying halibut, grotesque yet tasty lingcod and rock cod are just the tip of the iceberg. Once you’ve filled your freezer, you can keep an eye out for plenty of beautiful creatures like otters, whales, soaring eagles and sea lions.
Available nearly year-round, whale watching is a very enticing activity to do in Ucluelet. Humpbacks in the Summer and Spring, Gray whales in the winter and even orcas can be spotted off the coast. Aside from whales, you can spot porpoises, dolphins and numerous other ocean critters. If you come for the winter, you’ll be delighted by the Pacific Rim Whale Festival – a weekend dedicated to the 20,000 Gray whales that pass by the coast on their way up north. It’s one of the largest mammal migrations on earth and the festival is shared between Tofino and Ucluelet.
One of the top things to do on Vancouver Island is located in Ucluelet itself. The Wild Pacific Trail is the legacy of one man who wanted to create a free public trail in Ucluelet that showcased the rugged beauty of the coast. It started with the Lighthouse Loop in 1999 and has slowly expanded into an incredible network of 8 kilometers, stretching through federal, provincial district, park, private and First Nations land. Although it was met with initial doubt, the Wild Pacific Trail has expanded into one of Ucluelet’s greatest treasures, and is a must while in the area.
To learn more about the Wild Pacific Trail and its wild history, check out this blog post: www.ucluelet-info.com/history-wild-pacific-trail/
There are also tons of other hikes and you can check them out on this website’s hiking page: www.ucluelet-info.com/hiking-trails-ucluelet-bc-canada
Coming to the coast, you’d naturally expect at least a couple beaches to visit. While the most famous of the west coast’s beaches lie within the Pacific Rim Provincial Park, Ucluelet still has access to some fantastic stretches of sand. The others aren’t far away, either, so you can enjoy the full span of what the coastline has to offer. In town, Big Beach, Little Beach and Terrace Beach are great for a quick doggy play, to have a picnic, or to embark on a SUP board or kayaking adventure. Fifteen minutes away lie Florencia and Wickininnish Beach, which are go-to’s for local surfers. Both are beautiful and Florencia offers a sheltered cove and beautiful forested descent, while Wickininnish offers endless sand, an interpretive center and a layer of sand dunes.
Check out the top beaches on the coast here: www.tofino-info.com/beaches-tofino-bc
While most people picture beachy places as more of a summer destination, one of the top things to do in Ucluelet actually takes place in the winter. When the days grow shorter and the storms and wind start to pick up, so do the waves, creating a fantastic display of mother nature. People are starting to come from all over the world in the winter just to see these massive waves crash into the rugged coast. The best part? Most accommodation at this time of year is not only available, but it’s often close to half price. Visiting in the winter is a great way to not only save a few bucks, but partake in an amazing natural phenomena and enjoy the real, local’s Ucluelet, as most tourists have disappeared until the sun comes out again in the late spring.
Departing on a kayaking trip from Ucluelet will take you into Barkley Sound, a stunning expanse of ocean located in close proximity to the Broken and Deer Group Islands, there are hundreds of coves, islands and islets to explore by boat. You can also just take a quick paddle around the harbour, which is scenic on its own. Whether you’re enjoying a multi-day excursion, or a couple hours of an interpretive tour, you’ll quickly realize that you’re kayaking in one of the top kayaking destinations in B.C.
Learn more about kayaking on Vancouver Island here: www.discovervancouverisland.com/kayaking/
For un-outdoor-inspired rainy days, Ucluelet has the ultimate indoor activity: the Ucluelet Aquarium. Running on a catch-and-release type program, aimed to educate visitors about the fragile nature of our stunning coast, it replenishes its locally fed tanks each spring, and releases the now grown-up creatures every winter. Creatures are housed in tanks that mimic their natural environments to a T, and the critters are prepared for their wild homes when they are released.
Check out more about it on this blog post: www.ucluelet-info.com/ucluelet-aquarium
Tofino is self-proclaimed as the Surf Capital of Canada, and yet Ucluelet, as its neighbor, definitely gets to share the coast. Florencia and Wickinninsh, just fifteen minutes away, are two fantastic surfing beaches that many locals pursue when the surf is good – especially when they don’t want to drive to Tofino. There are a number of great surf shops and places that provide lessons in town, giving the historical fishing village a wholesome dose of that surfer-town flair.
Surprisingly, a town as small as Ucluelet actually is home to some decent restaurants. Less surprising is that a lot of them do seafood really, really well. Although Tofino has more options and more notorious restaurants, there are some treasures to find within Ucluelet. The Blue Room is a go-to for breakfast (they serve it all day!) and their caesars come with maple-candied bacon – a must for anyone that loves, or is yet to try, the famous, Canadian beverage. Zoe’s Bakery and Solidarity Café are excellent go-to’s for lunch, with Zoe’s providing incredible treats and coffees, and Solidarity offering comforting soups and delectable sandwiches for a killer lunch combo. Finally, the biggest surprise comes in the form of Norwoods Restaurant, an under spoken fine-dining establishment that provides Ucluelet with arguably some of the best dishes on the entire Island. While dinner comes at a bit costlier price than the other restaurants in town, it’s well worth it for their mouthwatering, edible masterpieces.
There are plenty more activities to do in Ucluelet, and those who visit will find little things that make their trip unique. If you’re convinced you want to visit and are keen on finding a place to stay, check out www.accommodationucleulet.com. For some incredible vacation rentals, www.vancouverislandvr.com is the place to look.