An ancient settlement on the northern edge of Barkley Sound, Ucluelet takes its name from the Nuu-chah-nulth phrase, Yu-clutl-ahts, the people with a good landing place for canoes.
Until the early 1870s, Ucluelet was a First Nation village with the main reservation at the entrance of the Inlet on the east side, just as it is today. As far as is known, the first settlers here were fur sealers, who established a trading post at Spring Cove, located at the southern tip of the Ucluth Peninsula.
The Village of Ucluelet was incorporated on February 26, 1952, and later changed its status to the District of Ucluelet in 1997, to reflect the increasing population of the community. In August 1959, the long awaited road from Port Alberni was finally opened, with the subsequent steady growth of Ucluelet to its present population of approximately 1,900. Now a logging, fishing and tourist village at the south end of Pacific Rim National Park, Ucluelet is a base for commercial and sport fishing, as well as wildlife and whale watching excursions.
Ucluelet is situated in the Long Beach of Pacific Rim National Park, located between the villages of Tofino and Ucluelet – the most accessible and most developed component of the Pacific Rim National Park. Named for its 12-mile stretch of surf-swept sand, Long Beach is open year-round and offers outstanding beach hiking, surfing, storm watching and whale watching. The open sea stretches off unbroken and vacant, while the elemental forces at play here, the winds and tides, the sun and rain, excite within visitors a deepseated resonance, a sense of belonging in this place.
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.
Location: Ucluelet can be reached via Pacific Rim Highway 4 that starts in Parksville and winds across the spine of the Vancouver Island Mountains to Port Alberni and the open ocean at Ucluelet and Tofino.
View map of the area
You can also board the MV Frances Barkley in Port Alberni and sail down the Alberni Inlet to Ucluelet. The route leads through the Broken Group Island 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.
Amphitrite Point is a good venue from which to enjoy the splendour of summer sunsets. Amphitrite Point Lighthouse, built in 1905, commands a stunning view over Barkley Sound and the open Pacific Ocean. There are excellent views of migrating grey whales in March and April, and Amphitrite Point is a perfect spot for storm watching in winter. The Wild Pacific Trail leads along the coastline from Amphitrite Point towards Ucluelet.
Ucluelet Aquarium offers visitors an an up-close and personal encounter with a diversity of local marine life by providing a stimulating hands-on learning environment for children of all ages. The aquarium is literally part of the local marine ecosystem, with water from Ucluelet harbour flowing directly through the tanks. All display specimens are gathered in local waters right outside the aquarium’s doorstep, and the creatures seen on display are later released back into the wild. Ucluelet Aquarium is located at Whiskey Dock, right on the Ucluelet Harbour promenade.
Ucluelet Government Dock and adjoining seawall promenade offers good viewing of sea lions, seals, and eagles.
Thornton Creek Hatchery is best visited from mid-October to mid-November, when adult spring and coho salmon return to the hatchery waters after three to four years at sea. The hatchery raises chinook, coho and chum salmon.
Scuba diving: Ucluelet is a gateway to some of the best scuba diving in the world, with a vast array of intertidal life, underwater life and fascinating historical shipwrecks that provide great artificial reefs for marine creatures. The clear waters of Barkley Sound and the Broken Group Islands offer a maze of islands, islets and reefs that offer a variety of exciting diving opportunities.
Bear Viewing: Nearby Tofino provides an exciting opportunity to observe black bears in their natural habitat along the shoreline of the neighbouring sheltered channels, inlets and sounds. The bears emerge from the rainforest at low tide to feed on a smorgasbord of shellfish, crustaceans and seaweed. Dry suits provided by the tour company keep you warm aboard the comfortable Zodiac vessels as the knowledgeable and experienced guide locates the bears and provides information on the area and the local wildlife. You may also see other marine mammals and birds, and perhaps even a lone wolf on the shoreline if you’re lucky. Bear watching tours run from April to October. Be sure to bring your camera … and your biggest smile. Bear Watching Tour Operators in Tofino.
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. Every spring, Ucluelet co-hosts the Pacific Rim Whale Festival, to celebrate the incredible west coast migration of close to 20,000 gray whales! For an even more exhilarating, close-up view of these magnificent animals, one can venture onto the open Pacific aboard local charter boats offering scheduled whale watching excursions from either Tofino or Ucluelet.
Whale Watching and the Pacific Rim Whale Festival.
Boating day trips to the Broken Group Islands offer great opportunities for day trip exploration of the more than 100 rocky islands and islets. Contact the Long Beach Visitor Centre for more detailed assistance.
Offroad Touring: Exciting raincoast backroad adventures are offered out of Tofino and Ucluelet in the comfort and safety of 4 x 4 vehicles. View the newly formed Clayoquot UN Biosphere, pristine mountain lakes, streams and waterfalls, with magnificent vistas of Barkley Sound and Clayoquot Sound. Walk nature trails through ancient forests with huge old-growth cedar trees, see bears, birds and waterfowl. Full or half day trips.
Offroad Adventuring on Vancouver Island.
Storm watching near Ucluelet 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!
Beaches: You can spend days walking the beaches between Ucluelet and Tofino, and in the process discover why some folks spend their whole lives caught up in the surf and tidal rhythms here. Radar Beach, Long Beach, Combers Beach, and Wickaninnish Beach run successively from north to south and stretch for 25 kms between Cox and Quisitas Points.
Ucluelet has two beaches in particular that welcome picnickers. A trail leads from Bay Street to Big Beach. You’ll find picnic tables near the trailhead and then a lengthy walk to the beach. A much shorter approach leads through He-Tin-Kis Park to Terrace Beach near the Amphitrite Point lighthouse at the south end of Peninsula Road.
The Kwisitis Visitor Centre, formerly the Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre, is a definite highlight for visitors of all ages. You’ll find telescopes mounted on an observation deck at the centre, plus numerous displays inside that introduce visitors to the geographical and natural history of the Pacific Northwest. The centre’s purpose is to provide an understanding of the north Pacific Ocean and its influence on man and nature. The history of the North Pacific coast is illustrated by a collection of artifacts used by Nuu-chah-nulth Indians, the traditional inhabitants of the area. The Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre is open during the day, from late spring to fall.
Kayaking: Experienced kayakers enjoy the challenge of Barkley Sound and the Broken Group Islands, and for the novice, take a half-day trip by kayak or canoe to discover the wild side of the inner habour, to observe bears along the shoreline, or otters, seals, eagles, and a myriad of cheerful songbirds.
Canoeing & Kayaking on Vancouver Island.
Sea Kayaking around Vancouver Island.
In the centre of Barkley Sound, east of Ucluelet, 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.
Golf: The Long Beach Golf Course, on the Pacific Rim Highway between Ucluelet and Tofino, is surrounded by the ancient rainforest of the Pacific Rim National Park, one of the most scenic golf courses in BC. The 9-hole championship course is also known to be one of the most challenging courses on Vancouver Island. Vancouver Island Golf Vacations.
Hiking: The Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet skirts the rugged cliffs and shoreline of the westcoast. Overlooking Barkley Sound and the Broken Group Islands to the east and the open Pacific Ocean to the south and west, it offers spectacular shoreline panoramas and seaward vistas through ancient cedar and spruce-framed viewing platforms constructed on the best headlands along the route.
The first segment of the trail is a 30-45 minute loop off Peninsula Road, using the adjoining He-Tin-Kis Park boardwalk, and passing Amphitrite Point Lighthouse. The trailhead for the main part of the trail is at Terrace Beach, with the trail hugging the coastline all the way to Halfmoon Bay in Pacific Rim National Park.
The extensive network of trails in the Pacific Rim National Park is provided for hikers only – no bikes or horses are permitted, and motorized vehicles are not allowed on the park’s beaches or trails. The hiking trails are designed to expose visitors to the miles of quiet sandy shoreline and to the truly wonderful forests of the region – whilst preventing any damage to the fragile environment.
The Willowbrae Trail to the beach is accessed from a parking lot off Highway 4, 2 km south of the Ucluelet/Tofino Junction. Part of the original land route between Ucluelet and Tofino, the trail ends with a steep decline to the beach at the southern end of Florencia Bay. A Boardwalk, stairs and handrails are provided to assist hikers on the trail. The first section of Halfmoon Bay Trail is the same as Willowbrae Trail. A fork to the left takes you down a steep, winding staircase to Halfmoon Bay, a small secluded cove to the south of Florencia Bay.
Fishing: Open-ocean fishing occurs far offshore from Ucluelet and Tofino. The continental shelf runs west of the two ports for almost 20 miles (30 km) to La Perouse Bank, an undersea plateau that forms the leading edge of British Columbia’s coastline. This is where the action happens, where the currents, swells, and weather combine. It will take you almost two hours of bucking the swells to reach the nutrient-rich waters, so prepare yourself with warm clothing and antinausea protection.
The Barkley Sound offers more tyees than anywhere on the west coast! Salmon aren’t the only fish in the ocean – halibut and cod also promise thrilling catches. 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 Spawn: In February and March, herring gather in large numbers to spawn on the northern shore of Barkley Sound, particularly in Vernon Bay, drawing resident feeder chinook into the deep-water holding areas.
Pacific Rim National Park is the only national park on Vancouver Island, providing 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. This unique park encompasses nearly 50,000 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.
Long Beach: Located between the villages of Tofino and Ucluelet, the Long Beach unit is the most accessible and most developed component of the Pacific Rim National Park and is open year-round. Named for its 12 mile stretch of surf-swept sand, Long Beach offers outstanding beach hiking and much more. The Broken Group Islands : A pristine archipelago made up of more than 100 rocky islands and islets in Barkley Sound, the Broken Group Islands can only be reached by boat. Eagles, sea lions, and marine life abound, and tide pools and dozens of sandy pocket beaches beckon the nature enthusiasts and photographer. West Coast Trail: This 48 mile trail between Bamfield and Port Renfrew along the southwestern coast of the Island was constructed at the turn of the century as a lifesaving trail for shipwrecked mariners. Hikers are required to cross deep gullies on fallen trees, negotiate steep slopes, ladders, and cable cars, and follow an irregular slippery trail. The entire trail takes a minimum of 5 days to complete, requires preparation for total selfsufficiency, and is definitely not for beginners.
Kennedy Lake is the largest body of fresh water on Vancouver Island, offering campers, canoeists and kayakers a paradise to explore. Kennedy Lake is located on the west side of Highway 4 as you approach the Tofino/Ucluelet junction.
The Edge to Edge Marathon is hosted by Ucluelet and Tofino in June. Runners will run a slightly undulating course through the Pacific Rim National Park between Tofino and Ucluelet – a perfect marathon distance on a beautifully natural course.
Annual Events: In July, bring the family to Ukee Days – featuring a salmon BBQ, the Whiskey Dock Run, logger sports, children’s shows, activities and all the charm of a small town fair.
The annual Van Isle 360 Yacht Race circumnavigates Vancouver Island, designating Ucluelet as one of layover ports for the race, with scheduled activities for both racers and spectators. The start/finish line for this leg of the race can be viewed from Amphitrite Point Lighthouse in Ucluelet. The highlight of the event will be boat viewing and the scrumptious West Coast salmon barbecue.
Northwest of Ucluelet is Tofino, a pretty village at the tip of Esowista Peninsula near the entrance to Clayoquot Sound. Once a timber and fishing town, Tofino has become a favoured destination for travellers from around the world.
The Pacific Rim is a magical stretch of coastline (80 miles / 140 km) on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. The Pacific Rim 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.