The town of Prince Rupert began as a dream when founder Charles Melville Hays, president of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Company, saw the island on which it sits as the perfect terminus for marine trade, and rail and sea travel.
Unfortunately, on a trip back from Europe in 1912, where he was rustling up money to finance his vision, Hays met with an untimely and tragic death aboard the RMS Titanic.
The Northwest Coast has fed the human spirit for thousands of years. The land and sea has generously supported a vast First Nations population for over 10,000 years. Long before European contact, Prince Rupert’s inner harbour was the most densely populated area north of Mexico. The Tsimshian Nation is the indigenous First Nations in the Prince Rupert area – their traditional territory extending south to Kitasoo, north to the mouth of the Nass River and up the Skeena River just east of Terrace.
Today, the communities of Metlakatla, Lax Kw’alaams (Port Simpson), Metlakatla Alaska, Gitkxaahla (Kitkatla), Gitga’ata (Hartley Bay), Kitasoo (Klemtu), Kitselas, and Kitsumkalum are still vital Tsimshian villages. You’ll find the central offices of the Tsimshian Nation at Chatham House above the Museum of Northern British Columbia. Other First Nations in the northwest include the Haida, Gitksan and Nisga’a people. The cultural centre of the Tsimshian-speaking First Nations people today, Prince Rupert had been surveyed as early as the 1870s, and was incorporated on March 10, 1910, named for the son of Queen Elizabeth and Frederick of Bohemia.
Seventy-five years later, a number of local folks have rekindled Hays’ dream, and by the mid-1980s, Prince Rupert had two major export terminals and a booming local economy. With this newfound prosperity have come culture and tourism. Located on Kaien Island, which was uninhabited a century ago, Prince Rupert is the true Gateway to the North, with travel options as diverse as the spectacular scenery along the way. As a critical transportation hub, it affords access to some of the world’s most remote and admired natural scenery.
Prince Rupert’s natural deepwater harbour handles significant volumes of commercial traffic as well, with ocean-going freighters from all over the world loading cargoes of grain, lumber, pulp, mineral ore, sulphur and coal destined for international markets. The port’s importance will increase as Pacific Rim trade grows.
Location: Prince Rupert is located on the northwest coast of British Columbia at the western end of the Yellowhead Highway 16, 30 miles (48 km) south of southeast Alaska, approximately 90 miles (145 km) from Terrace, and 453 miles (725 km) west of Prince George.
From Prince Rupert harbour, the third largest ice-free harbour in the world, the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system carries visitors up the coast to ports on the Alaska panhandle and farther north. BC Ferries takes vehicles and passengers across Hecate Strait to the breathtaking Queen Charlotte Islands (Ferry to Queen Charlotte Islands). Travellers heading south can hop aboard the ferry for the scenic journey through the Inside Passage to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. Travelling east, you can drive the Yellowhead Highway (Hwy 16) toward Prince George, or hop aboard Via Rail’s Skeena Train for a romantic railroad trip to Jasper, Alberta – with an overnight stop in Prince George.
There is a scheduled commercial service to Vancouver International Airport, with a flying time of 90 minutes between Prince Rupert and Vancouver. The Prince Rupert airport is located on Digby Island, with ferry service between Digby Island and Prince Rupert. Bus-ferry service is provided for regular scheduled flights with drop-off at the Rupert Square Mall. There is float plane, helicopter, ferry and water taxi service between Prince Rupert and most of the smaller communities throughout the region.
View map of the area
Salmon Cannery: Step back in time and enjoy the colour and flavour of life at British Columbia’s oldest surviving salmon cannery. Visit the old canning lines, then stroll the cedar boardwalks and docks along the river’s edge to the messhouse, bunkhouses, cannery store, net loft and offices of the historical North Pacific Cannery in Port Edward. Built in 1889, it was a functioning cannery until 1968, and was declared a National Historic Site in 1985.
View exhibits in the Great Hall of the Museum of Northern British Columbia; displays that portray Northwest Coast history and culture dating back to the last ice age. Witness the legacy of oral history, archaeological discoveries and unique artifacts that depict ten thousand years of ancient lifeways. Located on the oceanfront overlooking Prince Rupert Harbour, the museum also reveals the dramatic history of the more recent period, including the power of the fur trade and the heyday of railway construction.
Kwinitsa Station: Built in 1911, Kwinitsa Station was one of 400 identical rail stations along the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway from Winnipeg to Prince Rupert. Today, this fascinating structure is one of only four surviving stations, and serves as the Kwinitsa Station Railway Museum, telling the story of early Prince Rupert and the role of the railway in its development. The Firehall Museum also awaits those wanting to learn about the past.
First Nation Carving: Visit the First Nations Carving Shed and view some of the finest carvers of northwest First Nations art working on copper, silver, gold, cedar and argillite (carved exclusively by members of the Haida Nation).
Totem Poles: Prince Rupert has one of the best collections of standing totem poles in the north, with excellent examples of both Tsimshian and Haida totem poles. Guided walking tours are available.
Sail through time on an Archaeological Harbour Tour and discover why Prince Rupert has the highest concentration of archaeological sites anywhere in North America. The voyage begins at the Museum for an introduction before setting sail for the First Nations village of Metlakatla, on the Tsimpsean Peninsula. Returning through Venn Passage to Dodge Cove, visitors will hear the incredible 10,000 year history of this engaging cove, from the earliest Tsimshian village to the establishment of a quarantine hospital.
Walking Tour: Explore the colourful history of BC’s first planned city on a Heritage Walking Tour led by a personality from Prince Rupert’s past. This walk, operated by the Museum of Northern BC, includes the telling of local tales and stops at heritage buildings and historic points. Escorted bus tours and totem pole tours to see the wonderful examples of aboriginal art are also available.
Look for the Shoe Tree II – this old western red cedar now bears hundreds of shoes, sneakers, sandals and boots. The quirky footwear-decorated home for lost soles is just four kilometres from town, on the coastal side of Kaien island. Shoe Tree I is located on northern Vancouver Island, west of Port Hardy on the road to Holberg.
VIA Rail Canada runs from Vancouver to Jasper, Alberta in the BC Rockies, and back to the Pacific Coast at Prince Rupert, with an overnight stop in Prince George. VIA Rail Canada connects at several cross-border crossings with Amtrak, for continuing rail travel through North America. Today’s VIA Rail network and services offer outstanding travel options, whatever your budget or destination. Whether you’re on a coast-to-coast adventure or on an Inter-city hop, VIA Rail’s trains will take you there in comfort and style.
Wildlife Viewing: The protected waterways of the island-studded northwest coast offer fine coastal cruising, wildlife viewing, and whale watching.
Ocean sportfishing is available most months of the year in the Prince Rupert area, with the season generally running from late April to late September. Anglers hook chinook salmon averaging 25 to 30 lbs, and some at 40 to 60 lbs, from mid-April to early August. Coho salmon, smaller than chinook but great fighters, come through from mid-July to mid-October. Pink salmon are caught from mid-July to late August and provide excellent angling in years of good returns. The world record chum salmon of 35 lbs was caught in the area in 1995. Halibut fishing is at its peak from May to September, with a complete closure in January. Rockfish are generally available year round, and crabbing for dungeoness crabs is also very popular.
Fishing: Freshwater angling for sport fish is available in nearby lakes and rivers, with the Skeena River peaking from early July to mid-September, depending on the species. Rainbow, cutthroat and dolly varden are caught in the lakes and streams from early spring to late fall.
Princess Royal Island is best known as being home to the legendary white Kermode Bear, Spirit Bear of the North Coast of British Columbia. These magnificent bears are not found anywhere else in the entire world.
Cow Bay: Pop down for a cappuccino to quaint old Cow Bay, one of the oldest parts of the city, and the bustling heart of the waterfront. Formerly Cameron Cove, Cow Bay is named after the historic day that dairy cows arrived in town. The herd swam ashore from a boat to their landing spot in Cow Bay! Many people hang out at the Bay just trying to catch a glimpse of the legendary Cow Fish, Prince Rupert’s Loch Ness equivalent.
Paddling: Flat-water river kayaking or canoeing on various tributaries of the Skeena River is a great way to immerse yourself in some of the most spectacular mountain scenery on the BC west coast. The Ecstall and Kasiks Rivers are both spectacular.
Sea Kayaking: Prince Rupert is establishing itself as a premier sea kayaking destination. Paddling spots include Porcher Island, the Mystery Islands, Melville Islands, Work Channel (paddle with whales), and Khutzeymateen Inlet for grizzly bear viewing. Special spring trips run to the Nass River to paddle with the Oolichan and eagles. Kayaks are a snap to learn and easy to paddle. Guided trips out of Prince Rupert last anywhere from 3 hours to 7 days. Rent a kayak from Cow Bay and explore nearby islands and the inner harbour. Experienced and novice paddlers are welcome, and lessons are available.
The Mystery Islands are a group of magical islands located deep in the heart of the North Coast, offering remoteness and raw beauty: a place that has remained relatively untouched for thousands of years, except by the Kitkatla people who call this area their home. Explore the many small islands that dot this area, paddle the misty veiled inlets, and venture off onto the open ocean in search of forgotten beaches, exposed coastlines and ancient native sites.
The remote and unspoiled Melville Islands are situated right on the border with Southeast Alaska, described by locals as The Last Frontier, and Heavens Pocket. There are literally hundreds of islands, intricate passageways and inlets to explore. Some islands can only be explored at high tide, some are home to seals and sea lions, and others are just covered with white sandy beaches.
Whitewater Kayaking: Whitewater kayakers will enjoy surfing and hole-riding the reversing tidal rapids at Butze Rapids. Comparable to Skookumchuck Rapids on BC’s south coast, but with more variety. Tides of 15-19 foot offer the best action. Whitewater kayaking can be extremely hazardous, depending on the tides and the paddlers skill level.
First Nations Tours: First Nations guides will lead you on the five-hour Pike Island/Laxspa’aws Archaeology Tour of the 1,800-year-old sites. The scenic, secluded, and forested Pike Island features three village sites and a petroglyph site on the beach.
Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary in the Khutzeymateen Valley is home to one of the largest concentration of Grizzly Bears on the north coast of British Columbia. The sanctuary is the only park in the world expressly preserved for the protection of grizzly bears. Eco-tours are available to the rugged Khutzeymateen Valley, fifty miles by boat up a long inland fjord, which can truly be an experience of a lifetime.
Foch-Gilttoyees Provincial Park and Protected Area on the north side of the Douglas Channel south of Kitimat protects rugged coastal terrain, from sea level to mountain peak. Canoeing, kayaking, wilderness camping, swimming, rock climbing, scuba diving, and wildlife viewing are possible in the park.
Gitnadoiks River Provincial Park in the the Kitimat Range of the Coast Mountains, south of Highway 16 between Terrace and Prince Rupert, offers excellent sport fishing, with at least 13 species of fish, including Pacific Salmon. Canoeing, kayaking, wilderness camping, and wildlife viewing are possible in the park.
Prudhomme Lake Provincial Park provides the closest public campground for those connecting with BC Ferries’ Inside Passage route and the Alaska Ferry. The park is located 16 km east of Prince Rupert, on the small Prudhomme Lake, with a boat launch for anglers and paddlers.
Prince Rupert is also a common jumping-off point for trips to Queen Charlotte Islands as well as to Alaska. The nine ferries of the Alaska Marine Highway System traces thousands of miles of the world’s most sceic coastline. From the verdant rainforests of Northern British Columbia and the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska to the smoldering volcanoes of the Aleutian Chain to the glaciers and fjords of Prince William Sound, the ships glide over crystal seas and plow through ocean swells. You can sail from Bellingham, Washington to Prince Rupert, B.C. north to Alaska, getting off in any Southeast Alaska port town, then catching another ferry going on.
Aerial ‘flightseeing’ tours are available to Prince Rupert’s coastal Icefields, to the Khutzeymateen Valley of the great Grizzly Bear, and to the Alaskan Great Cambria and Salmon Icefields.
Alastair Lake is one of British Columbia’s three known nesting sites for trumpeter swans, the largest waterfowl in the world. Getting to Alastair Lake, though, requires some effort. Charter aircraft from Prince Rupert, or boat travel via the Skeena River, are the best ways to get there.
Golf: Prince Rupert Centennial Golf Course is a public 18-hole golf course located within walking distance of downtown hotels.
Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
For a dip in refreshing water, sunbathing, or a walk along a rainforest nature trail, Diana Lake Provincial Park, adjacent to Prudhomme Lake Park, is a much-frequented recreational area close to Prince Rupert.
The city’s Roosevelt Park was named for the US president, in honour of the 73,000 American servicemen who were stationed in Prince Rupert during the course of the Second World War.
Hiking: Nature walks and hiking trails are found through the area and within the city limits. City trails are one to two kilometres long, and range from gentle wooded strolls to vigorous hikes. The Butze Rapids Trail near the city features a view of reversing tidal rapids, and Kinsmen’s Linear Park offers a system of 10 nature trails in and around the city. Hiking maps are available at the Visitor Centre and the Forest Service office.
Experience a leisurely 3-hour cruise to Ketchikan, Alaska’s first city. Explore the historic charm of the harbour, docks, and streets. Sightseeing and shopping here makes for a unique and marvelous trip to Ketchikan, Alaska.
Prince Rupert is the gateway to Southeast Alaska and neighbouring north coast villages of Port Edward, Lax Kw’alaams (Port Simpson), Metlakatla, Oona River, Gitkxaahla (Kitkatla), Gitga’ata (Hartley Bay), Kitasoo (Klemtu) and Gingolx (Kincolith).
Circle Tours: See the best of Northern BC on one of the Circle Tours that capture the wonders of the north. The Circle Tour of Northern British Columbia incorporates the Alaska Highway through the Rocky Mountain foothills to Watson Lake in the Yukon, linking with the Stewart/Cassiar Highway and Yellowhead Highway 16 in the south. The Inside Passage Circle Tour and the Native Heritage Circle Tour follow the same route, from Port Hardy on Vancouver Island north by ferry to Prince Rupert. Catch another ferry to the Queen Charlotte Islands, or venture east on the Yellowhead Highway to Prince George, and south through the peaceful Cariboo to Vancouver along the historic Cariboo Wagon Road.
Circle Tours in British Columbia.