In Ucluelet (also known as Ukee), the song of the sea is ever present and time is measured by the tides. Beachcomb, hike the Wild Pacific Trail, and enjoy fresh seafood in this friendly, coastal village.
Where Karen enjoys a magical sunrise on a private, secluded beach & the kids see sea stars and sea anemones for the first time.
I wake in the gray predawn light to the sound of waves lapping the shore. The ocean’s quiet voice tells me the tide is out, so I slip out of the tent, barefoot, to see what treasures have washed ashore in the night. Cool, damp sand squelches between my toes mere metres from my campsite.
Kelp and seashells mark the high tide line. Tiny crabs scuttle for the safety of rocks unaware that I only eat their larger kin (cooked and with butter no less). I discover a half-buried mussel shell, pick it up, and turn it over in my fingers, noting barnacles on the outside and mother-of-pearl sheen inside.
The low purr of a fishing boat trolling for salmon draws my gaze back out to sea. As if on cue, an eagle dives from a towering Western hemlock. Its talons plunge into the dark waters and emerge grasping a wriggling silver fish. With powerful flaps of its wings, the eagle is out of sight as quickly as it appeared.
A pair of otters ply the waters. They cavort in the kelp; rolling, splashing, and dipping out of sight before popping up and doing it all over again. Are they fishing, courting, or simply enjoying the sunrise like me?
Rocks that were submerged at high tide beckon. I approach with bated breath and let out a silent cheer when I see bright splashes of colour on the dark stone. The whole, long drive (and ferry ride) from Calgary, my husband and I had promised the girls they would see sea stars and sea anemones. Now we could make good on that promise!
Minutes later, all four of us are racing to the beach to check out the sea critters. Breakfast can wait, but the tides will not. As the girls squeal with glee, counting sea stars and stroking their bumpy backs, my husband and I agree it was worth the drive.
The Wild Pacific Trail
Where we roam the rugged coastline and watch the roaring sea
Lighthouse Loop: 2.6 km, easy with minimal elevation gain, stroller friendly
Late morning finds us at The Wild Pacific Trail’s Lighthouse Loop, a short drive from Ucluelet. In contrast to the rugged coastline, the trail is easy, so we can watch the waves as we walk (plus, the sun has chased the slugs away). Surf smashing against the rocks remind us to stay on the trail.
Here, at the southern end of the peninsula, it is open sea in most directions, so we are treated to sweeping views of Barkley Sound and the Broken Islands Group. As we take in the turbulent seas and wave scoured rocks near Amphitrite Point Lighthouse, we wonder how it has stayed standing for over a century (built in 1906 after a shipwreck, then rebuilt in 1915).
Brown’s Beach to Big Beach and Artist Loops: 2.75 km one way, moderate with some hills and stairs, some sections stroller friendly (stroller loop)
Big Beach, Interpretive Display at Big Beach, Artist Loops
The rest of the Wild Pacific Trail is accessed from town. Starting from Big Beach Picnic Park, we check out the interpretive displays and Children’s Interpretive Trail and notice how high the water is now that the tide has come in. Next, we walk through wind twisted trees to Brown’s Beach.
Continuing west, and gradually gaining elevation, we reach the Artist Loops. We keep an eye out for “Painter’s Perches”; platforms perfectly situated at the most scenic viewpoints. I ask my family if we should return for sunset and my oldest daughter says, “Our beach is pretty nice, Mama.” It’s true, and we’ve hiked a lot already (almost 9 km!), so we plan to have an early dinner then return to camp.
There are two more sections of the Wild Pacific Trail to explore:
- Ancient Cedars Loop: 1 km loop, easy-moderate with one short, hilly section
- Rocky Bluffs: 1.5 km one way, easy-moderate with one short, hilly section
For more information on the Wild Pacific Trail, voted the number one thing to do in Ucluelet on TripAdvisor, visit www.wildpacifictrail.com.
Dining in Ucluelet
Ukee boasts an array from dining options from casual to fine dining. Here are a few places we tried:
Gray Whale Ice Cream & Deli makes a great après-hiking snack spot with several flavors of ice cream!
Top-rated Ravenlady Oyster Forte (food truck) has fresh shucked oysters for the adventurous, and smoked/steamed/fried oysters. We recommend the Oyster Trio with a side of rosemary fries for a delectable snack. Save an oyster shell, write a message on it, and hang it in the Wanderer’s Tree!
Fishfull Thinking Fish Market is your place for the freshest fish. We picked up a fresh sockeye salmon filet, mussels, smoked salmon, and candied salmon (the best thing ever) to cook a seafood feast at camp.
We will miss dining on board the 65-metre long Canadian Princess in Ucluelet Harbour. The ship that served as a Ucluelet landmark for over 30 years was dismantled in late 2016.
Sunset at Wya Point
The sunset is just as beautiful as the sunrise, but cuddlier and noisier with the whole family in tow. When we ask the kids what they liked best today, they shout “everything!” They are upside down, attempting handstands in the sand, reminding me of the otters. We stay up until lights turn on in the yurts across the beach, then wander to our tent where we will dream mermaid dreams as the tides turn once more.
More Things to Do in Ukee
Based on a First Nations Longhouse, Kwisitis Visitor Centre is full of interesting displays on Kwisitis First Nations culture. The building and location are beautiful. Walk down to the beach if you have time. 15 km from Ucluelet.
The Ucluelet Aquarium is a fun stop on a rainy day as they have touch tanks where you can touch local sea life. Allow 30-60 minutes for your visit. 180 Main Street.
Learn about the salmon life cycle, see fish spawning, and if you’re lucky, see bears and birds catching fish at Thornton Fish Hatchery. 12 km from Ucluelet.
There are tons of beaches around Ucluelet! Read about some of our favorites in my story: Vancouver Island’s Best Seaside Campgrounds.
Surfing, kayaking, fishing, nature and wildlife tours, and whale watching are also popular in Ukee. Research tour operators before you go for the best experience.
Ucluelet is located on the west side of Vancouver Island. If driving from Calgary, book the Horseshoe Bay – Nanaimo ferry in advance to reduce your wait time at the ferry terminal (passengers without reservations may have to wait for the next ferry if the first one is fully booked). If flying, the closest airport is in Comox (unless you charter a float plane from Vancouver); from there, it is a 2.5 hr drive to Ucluelet.
Where to Stay
As an Expedia affiliate, I earn a commission on qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting our small family business!
Wya Point Resort has lovely chalets with kitchens, seaside yurts, and walk-in camping PLUS a gorgeous private beach. Book your chalet now on Expedia!
Canadian Princess Lodge & Marina has spacious, beautifully-decorated rooms on the harbour. Book on Expedia!
The Bayshore Waterfront Inn has standard rooms plus 1 bedroom units with balconies and harbour views. Book on Expedia.
What to Bring
This section includes affiliate links through which I earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting our small family business!
- It’s almost always breezy by the shore, and it can be rainy in spring, so a windproof-waterproof jacket or fleece-lined rain jacket is a must year-round.
- While Vancouver Island boasts a milder climate than most of Canada, it’s still cool in early spring (high or 11 C and low of 1 C) and feels colder when the humidity is high, so bring a fleece jacket or down jacket.
- Vessi waterproof shoes (I love the high top Stormbursts! So comfy!) are recommended so you don’t need to bring multiple pairs of footwear.
- The road from Parksville to Tofino and Ucluelet is winding, so if anyone in your family gets motion sickness, you should bring anti-nauseants. We like chewable ginger Gravol for road trips, and regular Gravol or Dramamine for whale watching.
More to Explore on Vancouver Island
- Our Favorite Vancouver Island Campgrounds
- Exploring the Victoria, BC’s Inner Harbour with Victoria Harbour Ferry & Clue Solvers
- Dallas Road Waterfront Pathway and Breakwater Lighthouse, Victoria, BC
- Exploring The Butchart Gardens with Kids
- Vancouver Island’s Best Seaside Campgrounds
- Backpacking the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail with Kids
- 10 Tips for Backpacking the West Coast Trail