I booked a night for our family in the little town of Ucluelet because Tofino, our planned destination, was sold out. I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for Ucluelet, because having Tofino as a neighbour must be tough. Tofino wins all those travel and foodie awards, and even has a name that is easier to pronounce (unless you call Ucluelet “Ukee” as the locals do).
That said, I was really glad that we were going to get there for two reasons. I had read about Ucluelet’s fantastic aquarium on the bay and I had discovered that it might also be a great place to spot black bears (without having to go on an expensive tour). During our short stay we found it to be a great little town just teeming with nature (in less than 24 hours we saw eagles, otters, a raccoon, black bears, and salmon jumping in a creek). Watch this one minute video of our adventure, or just read on to learn about what we loved in Ucluelet for kids.
Things to do in Ucluelet
The Ucluelet Aquarium
The aquarium in Ucluelet is, as far as I’m concerned, exactly what a modern day aquarium should be. All the creatures on display are found in the waters close by, and it is run more like an educational facility than an attraction. Creatures are carefully collected and kept only for a short period of time, with members of the community getting involved for ocean release days. My kids spent ages marveling over the wonderful touch pools and we were lucky enough to time our visit with the octopus feeding (be sure to ask about this because it is quite exciting in a brutal, National Geographic, kind of way).
The aquarium itself is built right on the water. There is almost as much going on outside the building as inside. Before our visit, I sat on the dock and watched four otters playing and searching for food. The little rascals were eventually scared off by a raccoon also searching for some good eats with the extremely low tide (it was a super moon). For more information: See the Ucluelet Aquarium Website.
The Thornton Creek Fish Hatchery
When the salmon return to spawn at Thorton Creek (during roughly a 3 week period in October), you can often see bears fishing. The Thornton Creek Hatchery has build a safe viewing platform for guests (surrounded by an electric fence). Although we visited before the salmon began their run in force (mid-Sept), we were still lucky enough to see a black bear beside the river and one actually wandered across the road in front of us on our drive towards the hatchery.
This hatchery does great work (the salmon you had for dinner may just be because of them), and a lot of work has gone into keeping the access to viewing the bears open. Please keep in mind that this is not a tourist attraction, but a working hatchery with people kind enough to let you have access. Be respectful of the rules (no dogs, no food etc.) and don’t forget to make a donation while you are there. For more information: See the Thornton Creek Hatchery Facebook Page
The Wild Pacific Trail
As a family, we are a little lazy when it comes to hiking, but we thoroughly enjoyed doing a little loop on the Wild Pacific Trail that took us by some giant trees and then on to a wild and beautiful rocky coastline. The trails are well groomed (most are stroller friendly) and you can choose from three loops; The Lighthouse Loop (2.6km); The Artist Loops (4-7km) or the Ancient Cedars Rocky Bluff Loop (a 15-20 minute stroller perfect for the non-hiker). For more information: See the Wild Pacific Trail website.
Ucluelet has much more to offer than this however (fishing, kayaking, whale watching etc.). Be sure to check out other options on the Tourism Ucluelet website.
Top Ucluelet Restaurants
Ucluelet has a number of great places to eat, just be sure to check their hours as some are only open for the summer season. We enjoyed very good coffee at the Barkley Cafe, nice fish and chips at Jiggers (food truck) and had a very enjoyable meal with an incredible view at the Black Rock Resort’s Float Lounge (has a good kids’ menu too). We also heard that Abbondanza makes a great pizza (take out).
While in Ucluelet we stayed at the Water’s Edge Shoreside Suites. The accommodations there are very suitable for families (we had a large two bedroom suite and were able to bring our dog). The resort is built onto a little peninsula and is just a short walk to town. We had a fine stay, but were a little disappointed that our room was not ready at check-in time (we had to wait until 5pm).
I really enjoyed Ucluelet and would absolutely tie it in with a visit to Tofino. I could also easily book a room at the Black Rock Resort and stare out the window all weekend (oh, right….I have kids).
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