Bamfield, a tiny resort hamlet nestled quietly in a protected inlet on the south shore of Barkley Sound, is best known for its superb salmon fishing adventures. This tiny fishing and harbour village, heavily populated by marine biologists, is a quiet, unassuming village where the love of the land and sea prevails.
The Bamfield community, with a population of around 200, is surrounded by Crown land, Indian Reserves, and portions of the Pacific Rim National Park, ensuring protection of unspoiled marine environments from excessive development.
Being part of the Pacific Rim, Bamfield offers a challenge for the explorer, nature lover and experienced hiker. Despite its size, Bamfield boasts a variety of well-equipped shops, restaurants, galleries, equipment rentals and accommodation, and is an enchanting place to begin kayaking, canoeing or scuba diving.
Bamfield is divided into two sections, separated by about 200 yards of the Bamfield Inlet. The west side of Bamfield is linked by a waterfront boardwalk that connects all the homes and docks on the harbour side. The east side of Bamfield contains most of the businesses, including a pub, a market and café. To cross between the two sides of town, you can call a water taxi.
The Nuu-chah-nulth people occupied large villages in the Broken Group and Deer Group Islands and at Execution Rock, Cape Beale and Grappler Inlet. Prior to contact with Europeans, the native population of Barkley Sound is estimated to have been between 3000 and 5000. Village sites, middens, fish traps, culturally modified trees, lookouts and fallen longhouses remain as part of the rich cultural heritage.
Bamfield had its beginnings as an outpost for fur trading and a fishing community in the late 1800s. Shortly thereafter the Pacific Cable Board chose Bamfield as the Eastern terminus for their trans-Pacific cable, sponsored by the Commonwealth governments who wanted a reliable and secure means of communication. The Bamfield Cable station was constructed in 1902, with an underwater cable laid in October of the same year, spanning nearly 4,000 miles of the Pacific from Bamfield to Fanning Island, a tiny coral atoll in the mid-Pacific. From there the cable ran to Fiji, New Zealand and Australia.
In 1926, a second building was constructed (which now serves as the main laboratory for the marine station), and at the same time, a duplicate cable was laid to Suva, Fiji. In 1953, the two cables were extended up the Alberni Canal, and on June 20, 1959 after 57 years in operation, the Bamfield Cable Station was closed. In 1965, the old wooden buildings and surrounding houses were demolished leaving only the concrete cable station (designated a historic site and monument in 1930), two cable storage tanks and adjacent building.
The West Coast Trail runs for 77 kilometres along the west side of Vancouver Island between the hamlets of Port Renfrew in the south and Bamfield in the north, and lies within the southern boundaries of Pacific Rim National Park. The trail was originally created in 1907 to assist in the rescue of shipwrecked passengers and crews who ran aground in an extremely rugged area that has deservedly earned the reputation as one of the graveyards of the Pacific, with more than 60 ships lost over the past two centuries.
As harsh today as then, less-endangered people willingly subject themselves to this legendary trail’s test of endurance. Such a reputation adds a wild spice to adventuring here. Venture with care and you’ll come away with wonderful memories of your time spent by the shoreline, where many creatures live in splendid harmony with the ocean’s deep rhythms.
Location: Bamfield is located in the heart of the Pacific Rim National Park on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, 56 miles (89 km) from Port Alberni and 77 miles (123 km) from Lake Cowichan. Bamfield is reached from either of two directions, both of which require several hours drive on gravel logging roads. You can drive to Bamfield on black top as far as Port Alberni, and thereafter over 56 miles (89 km) of well-maintained gravel roads south of Port Alberni to Bamfield, or along a 77-mile (123-km) route west of Lake Cowichan via Nitinat Lake. The gravel logging road takes about two hours to travel, and is mostly used by logging trucks during the week, so caution is required.
Visitors can also fly to Bamfield by chartered floatplane from several locations on Vancouver Island, including Port Alberni, Nanaimo, Victoria and Vancouver on the mainland.
View map of the area
The most scenic way to get to Bamfield is to travel on board the MV Frances Barkley in Port Alberni and motor down the Alberni Inlet to Bamfield. The route leads through the Broken Group Islands in Barkley Sound to the fishing ports of Bamfield and Ucluelet. In the course of a day’s trip the sturdy wooden packet freighter drops mail, groceries, supplies, and the occasional passenger along the way at float homes and the Sechart Whaling Station.
Bamfield Boardwalk: Take a pleasant stroll along the boardwalk that runs along Bamfield Inlet, passed old weather-beaten houses and native plant gardens, and visit what the locals call downtown – the General Store, the Canadian Coast Guard Station, the Post Office, and a Cappuccino Bar. From the Boardwalk you can watch the boat traffic on the waterway, the main street of Bamfield.
Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre is a biological research station and training centre with scientific and historical displays. The centre is open for tours on summer weekends and a variety of drop-in lectures and classes where you can explore the world of marine biology. The marine station was established in 1972 by a consortium of five western Canadian universities.
Cape Beale Lighthouse, southwest of Bamfield, and Amphitrite Point lighthouse near Ucluelet guard the entrance to Barkley Sound. Captain Charles William Barkley, of the Imperial Eagle, named Cape Beale after his purser, John Beale, who was killed by First Nations people when he went ashore close to Destruction Island (named as such by Barkley after this incident).
The northern terminus of the world-famousWest Coast Trail is located at Pachena Bay, 2 miles (3 km) south of Bamfield. The trail is a 7- to 10-day adventure trek, and a sought-after trophy that draws hikers from around the world. The challenging journey is more often begun from Port Renfrew to the south in order to clear the steepest sections first. However, for those who wish to sample a smaller section of the trail, you can hike from Pachena Bay to the Nitinat Narrows (strenuous; 40 miles/64 km return) and back in three days. Transportation from Bamfield to Pachena Bay is also arranged through the Huu-ay-aht (Ohiaht) First Nation Administration office in Bamfield.
Boating: Bamfield has two government wharfs that provide boaters with amenities and services. Bamfield is also home to several sport fishing lodges.
Camping: There is wilderness camping on the open beach at Pachena Bay Campground, about 3 miles (5 km) south of Bamfield. Fashion your own rough campsite here on the sandy surf beach at the north end of the West Coast Trail. Be sure to bring a tarp or two (plus plenty of rope) to help create a dry shelter for yourself. The campground is operated by the Huu-ay-aht (Ohiaht) First Nation in Bamfield.
Hiking: Several other great hiking trails lead to incredible beaches in the Bamfield area. Enjoy the short walk to Brady’s Beach or hike father to Cape Beale Lighthouse or to Keeha and Tapaltos beaches. Venture with care and you’ll come away with wonderful memories of your time spent by the shoreline, where many creatures live in splendid harmony with the ocean’s deep rhythms.
Broken Group Islands: In the centre of Barkley Sound, 12 km west of Bamfield, are the Broken Group Islands – over 100 of them – home to killer whales, gray whales, porpoises, seals, sea lions, sharks, river otters, cormorants and eagles. The popularity of these islands with paddlers and boaters has soared over the past decade. One of the main reasons that the Broken Group Islands are so popular for ocean kayaking is that they provide a true west coast experience in sheltered water. Barkley Sound is not normally subject to the extreme ocean conditions farther west in the open waters around Ucluelet and along the west coast of Vancouver Island. The ease with which less-experienced sea kayakers can reach the Broken Group Islands on the MV Frances Barkley from Port Alberni and Ucluelet contributes greatly to their allure and charm.
Scuba Diving: The clear waters of Barkley Sound and the surrounding waters reward scuba divers with shipwrecks and abundant intertidal life. The many old shipwrecks in the area provide great reefs for marine life.
Whale Watching: Grey whales, Humpback and Killer whales migrate the coastal waters, and porpoises, seals, sea lions, and elephant seals are viewed along the coastline.
Fishing: The waters of Barkley Sound offer more tyees than anywhere on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Salmon aren’t the only fish in the Pacific Ocean – halibut and cod also promise thrilling catches. The Broken Group Islands and Bamfield Harbour also offer good angling for salmon, rockfish and halibut. In general, the Alberni Inlet and Barkley Sound offer year-round fishing.
Salmon school in the inlet before ascending to the spawning grounds. Large runs of sockeye from the Stamp/Somass River system and Henderson Lake, and chinook from the Robertson Creek Hatchery, swim past Bamfield on their way to Alberni Inlet rivers. The Alberni Inlet on Vancouver Island is a long, narrow flute that leads 25 miles (40 km) inland to Port Alberni from the open ocean of Barkley Sound and the Pacific Ocean.
Herring: In February and March herring gather in large numbers to spawn on the northern shore of Barkley Sound, particularly Vernon Bay, drawing resident feeder chinook salmon into the deep-water holding areas.
Bird Watching: Bamfield is renowned as a bird watching area, with a wide variety of birds, including bald eagles, ospreys, and herons, and the endangered marbled murrelet and spotted owl.
Mushroom aficionados and wild mushrooms newbies alike won’t want to miss the annual Bamfield Mushroom Festival, a treat for all ages. Bamfield’s annual celebration of all things fungal is held in October.
Storm Watching near Bamfield in winter allows visitors to experience the raw power of the mighty Pacific Ocean, as ferocious waves roll in from Japan and pound the shores of the rugged west coast – nature in all it’s fierce majesty!
Pacific Rim National Park is the only national park located solely on Vancouver Island. The Gulf Islands National Park incorporates land on the island, but consists mainly of islands and bays in the BC Gulf Islands. The magnificent Pacific Rim Park provides protection for substantial rain forests and an amazing marine environment on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The full force of the mighty Pacific Ocean mercilessly pounds the constantly changing shores of this rugged coastline.
The territory now occupied by the park has a significant history, having been inhabited by the Nuu-chah-nulth people for thousands of years. A rich natural heritage evolved as Vancouver Island became isolated from the mainland, retaining a great diversity of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish species. This unique park encompasses a total area of 49,962 hectares of land and ocean in three separate geographic units – Long Beach, the Broken Group Islands, and the West Coast Trail. Features of the park include long sandy beaches, an island archipelago, old-growth coastal temperate rainforest, and significant Nuu-chah-nulth archaeological sites.