One of the few remaining raised boardwalk communities on Vancouver Island, Bamfield lies in relatively unspoiled wilderness on a sheltered inlet in Barkley Sound, adjacent to Pacific Rim National Park. A small town of under 200 residents, the population swells considerably in the summer from an influx of tourists. If you genuinely want to get away from it all for a true West Coast experience, along with stunning scenery and fresh air from thousands of kilometres of Pacific Ocean, Bamfield should be on your radar.
Bamfield was established as a cable station for the western terminus of the worldwide undersea telegraph cable in 1902. Named for Eddy Bamfield who was the first government agent in the area, the village has been home to commercial fishing fleets and marine research. Today, the primary industry is tourism, including hiking and sport fishing. Marine research continues to be an important part of Bamfield through the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre.
Getting to Bamfield
Located at the end of a rough and winding 76 km gravel road from Port Alberni, the trip always seems epic. You are in no man’s land as you move inland following the long Alberni Inlet, and if you travel the road during a weekday, be on the lookout for not only car swallowing potholes, but also logging trucks. These giant log haulers, designed for west coast timber are not your garden variety, and there is often only room for one of you on the road at a time. Be ready to move onto a pullout and use caution driving around blind corners.
You can also get to Bamfield via Duncan and Lake Cowichan if you are coming from the south. The gravel portion of the trip is about 120km, however, many regular visitors to the area prefer to travel by boat down the Alberni Inlet from Port Alberni. If you don’t own a boat, have no fear. Lady Rose Marine Services has a scheduled round trip run between Port Alberni and Bamfield aboard the coastal ferry and cargo hauler M.V. Frances Barkley that makes for an impressive way to see the famous Barkley Sound, the Broken Group Islands and Bamfield all in one day.
The community of Bamfield retains a distinct character untainted by the urban-hip scene of juice bars, yoga studios and wannabe surfers that have invaded other coastal communities such as Tofino. On the doorstep to some of the best fishing on the west coast and the Broken Group Islands, the town caters heavily to fisherman, boaters of all stripes and hikers. Divided by the Bamfield Inlet into east and west sections, the road ends at East Bamfield. This is the blue collar side of town with marine and builder supply stores plus a small grocery store. You’ll need to hitch a ride by water taxi to get to West Bamfield, which is foot traffic only. Reminiscent of Chicago or New York taxicabs, the brightly coloured Paradise Water Taxis are adorned with yellow and black checkers. They make the trip back and forth across the inlet for a few bucks and out to the surrounding islands for a few more.
The town itself is geared to the outdoors, and in West Bamfield, docks serve as driveways and getting around is by boat, kayak, or canoe. The convenience of walking out the front door and into your boat is reflected by the large number of accommodations along the waterfront catering to fisherman.
One of the best features of the town is the raised boardwalk and gravel path that meanders along the West Bamfield waterfront between the fisheries dock and the government dock. The quirky character of Bamfield becomes apparent as you stroll along the boardwalk backed by rustic cottages and houses, some in disrepair. However, the flavour of the area is starting to change as ongoing restoration efforts to some of the buildings are in progress.
Sprinkled along the boardwalk are a general store and a number of off-beat attractions including Penny Lane—a walkway covered with pennies, the Bamfield Lodge Boardwalk Bistro—a funky eatery where you can grab a bite or a cold beer, and if nature calls, the Tree House Toilets, perched on stilts and taking relief to new heights. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the Cat House—luxury accommodations for the areas wayward felines. Button Alley, a lane paved with buttons, is another quirky Bamfield-only feature.
Bamfield is the northern terminus of the famous West Coast Trail that traverses the southern portion of Pacific Rim National Park. The 75 km long trail runs north from Port Renfrew to Pachena Bay, five km south of Bamfield. Hikers are a common sight—fresh faced and ready to roll, or dirty and tired and seeking the nearest cold beer.
What to do in Bamfield
Bamfield Marine Science Center
A popular East Bamfield attraction is the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, a marine teaching and research centre dedicated to coastal and marine field research for a number of university degree programs. Visitors can join tours that include both indoor exploration and outdoor excursions on field trips ranging from rainforest walks to beach interpretation walks and underwater mysteries of the deep.
Beaches and swimming in the Bamfield area
While you are in West Bamfield, take a walk to Brady’s Beach — a twenty minute stroll along a trail that is well worth the effort. The smooth sand beach is perfect for swimming or summer lounging, and the scenery is spectacular with towering sea stacks and views across to the Deer Group islands. Other beaches such as Keeha are equally striking but are harder to get to, involving several hours of gnarly trails that can be muddy and slippery.
A half hour drive back towards Port Alberni, and just past the 54 km signpost, brings you to Sarita Falls. A short walk into three grand falls, plus splendid swimming holes is worth the trip. Getting there can be a bit tricky, so ask a local for directions before you go.
Hiking in the Bamfield area
One other day trip of note is a combination day hike on the West Coast Trail and a trip to Pachena Bay. The hike along the headlands from the trailhead at Pachena Bay to Pachena Lighthouse is picturesque, moving along steep headlands with views of the water as well as beautiful interior old growth rainforests of large cedar, spruce and fir. This section is relatively easy walking, plus you get a bonus of experiencing climbs up a few of the ladders that help make the WCT famous.
Other activities in Bamfield
If you don’t mind digging a little deeper, there’s a lot more to uncover in Bamfield including a thriving local artist scene on display at the Netloft Gallery in West Bamfield, plus other locations throughout the community. If you are looking for anything, just ask a local. They are happy to oblige.