Bamfield is a tiny boardwalk community nestled in a sheltered inlet in Barkley Sound. It’s accessible via a long drive on rough logging roads, by floatplane, or by boat, which is the preferred method. No matter how you get there, with its natural beauty and incredible history, it’s more than worth the effort.
A Bit of History
Prior to contact with Europeans, the quiet, unassuming village of Bamfield was originally populated by the Huu-ay-aht First Nation. Then, in the late 1800s, settlers founded a small fishing community and established a government, with the first government agent being William Eddy Banfield.
Rumour has it the “m” in Bamfield comes from either how the local First Nations pronounced William’s last name or a mistake made by the post office. Regardless, Bamfield was the name established for this small fishing village.
Some important builds happened in the early 1900s that are still in place today:
- In 1902, a telegraph station was built and used as the western terminus of a worldwide undersea telegraph cable. By 1926, a concrete building was added and it still stands today being used as the Bamfield Marine Science Centre. It is now registered as a Historic Site.
- In 1907, a lifeboat station was established and Bamfield received the world’s first motorized lifeboat. Today, the spillway is the last working boat launch in the Canadian Coast Guard.
- A Red Cross outpost was established in 1939 after two serious cases of pneumonia hit the village. It opened in a house, where the on-duty nurse lived and worked 24/7. This practice still exists today in a more modern-day clinic.
- The boardwalk was built just after WWII and made of lumber that was mistakingly left behind from a shipment meant to go another coastal community.
Things to Do While in Bamfield (West Side)
Walk the boardwalk, of course! A short walk along the historic boardwalk will take you to and through several points of interest. And there are plenty of interpretive signs to give you more details about the history of the area. Bamfield is divided by a beautiful inlet and the boardwalk is found on the west side, which is only accessible by boat.
The west side is also where you find Brady’s Beach, said to be one of Vancouver Island’s most beautiful beaches. From the dock you arrived at, head straight up over the hill and follow the signs. You can’t get lost, for there’s really only one road to the beach. To walk from the dock to Brady’s Beach takes approximately 20 minutes.
Rent a kayak from Bamfield Kayak Rentals and explore the inlet! They also offer shuttle services to a few different locations.
If you arrived in Bamfield by car, you will be on the east side of the village. From there you can take a water taxi over to the west side to explore. Please note, water taxis are only offered during the peak season (June until early September).
Things to Do on the East Side of Bamfield
Visit the Bamfield Marine Science Centre*! As mentioned above, the site is that of the historic telegraph station. Today, it’s a renowned marine biology research station run by five western Canadian universities. Students and researchers are on-site year-round, but tours only happen during July and August.
*Unfortunately, due to Covid, tours of this facility are not available this summer season (2021).
Explore the ancient village of Kiixin, the only known remaining complete traditional First Nations village on the southern BC Coast. Now a National Historic Site, the local First Nations have created an immersive tour for visitors. Tours typically run from July until the end of September; however, when publishing this article, their website doesn’t mention if tours will be operating this season. Please visit their website for up-to-date information.
Places to Stay
As small as Bamfield is, there’s actually a fair amount of lodging available.
- Vacation Rentals (tons of choices here!)
- Hacas Inn (Bamfield’s only motel)
- Upnit Lodge (waterfront lodge)
- Wood’s End Landing (cottages)
As mentioned, you can either drive to Bamfield, take a float plane, or get there by boat (the preferred method).
If you are coming from anywhere south of Duncan, you’d drive to Bamfield via Lake Cowichan. If you are north of Duncan, I suggest going through Port Alberni. The benefit of driving is seeing wildlife such as bears and elk, something you’d miss out on if boating there.
Important things to note if you plan on driving:
- The road is narrow and winding, and you will most likely encounter logging trucks along the way as they work 7 days per week. Logging trucks ALWAYS have the right of way, so please remember to yield to them.
- After leaving either Lake Cowichan or Port Alberni, there are no rest stops or gas stations, so ensure that your gas tank is filled before you embark on the logging road.
- Ensure that your tires and vehicle, in general, are in good working order and that you have a spare tire.
- It’s always a good idea to have water and snacks with you, just in case something happens.
- Although there is cell coverage along the way, it is intermittent and very weak.
Just north of Duncan and off Hwy #1, turn left onto Hwy 18, travelling west to Lake Cowichan. Passing through Lake Cowichan, you will enter a network of gravel logging roads. Follow the signs for Bamfield. The logging roads on this end are approximately 120kms in length.
Via Port Alberni
From Hwy 19, turn right at the Hwy 4 exit for Port Alberni. Once you arrive in Port Alberni, follow the signs for Bamfield and the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. You will enter a gravel logging road that is approximately 76 km long.
Getting There by Floatplane
Pacific Seaplanes offers flights directly from Vancouver to Bamfield, as well as from Port Alberni to Bamfield.
Getting There by Boat
If you have your own boat, I highly recommend making the 1.5 – 2 hour trip to Bamfield via the Port Alberni inlet. This way, you get to control where you stop, what you see along the way, and how long you spend in Bamfield. And there is always something great to see along the inlet route, plus the fishing is typically pretty darn good too! This is especially so right outside of Bamfield.
Otherwise, you can take the Lady Rose. If you only plan on making it a day trip, please know you will only have one hour in Bamfield. This IS enough time to walk the boardwalk, but it may not be enough time to walk the boardwalk AND get to Brady’s Beach (unless you are really moving fast). So you might have to choose one over the other.
Have you been to this small boardwalk community on the West Coast of Vancouver Island? If so, let us know about your adventure in the comment section below.
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