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Discovering Prince Rupert

By Frances Riley

Read time: 5 minutes

It’s an undeniable fact that Prince Rupert, BC is the perfect place for those who enjoy being outdoors. The air is fresh and incredibly clean, the wilderness is literally right here on your doorstep, and best of all, you won’t be fighting hordes of other people as you experience some of the most beautiful scenery BC has to offer. This little coastal gem is located smack dab in the middle of a temperate rainforest, a climactic area defined by heavy and prolonged precipitation, but pack a good raincoat and you’ll be well prepared for all the goodness Prince Rupert has to offer.

You’ll find Rupert (as the locals call it) about 600 km north of Vancouver, on a small island between Mount Hays (named for the city’s founder who unfortunately booked passage on the Titanic’s maiden voyage) and the third largest natural ice-free harbour in the world. This constrained geographic footprint makes Rupert great for walking, especially downtown.

The scenic view of the Prince Rupert waterfront.
The view of the Prince Rupert waterfront

What to See in Prince Rupert

A great destination on any wander in any weather is the Rotary Waterfront Park, a popular outdoor venue during community celebrations like Seafest and National Aboriginal Day. Check out the historic Kwinitsa Railway Station Museum as you enjoy a spectacular summer sunset over the busy harbour, and then make your way north along the Millennium Walkway, a path right along the shore that takes you towards the funky Cow Bay area.

Now a hub for shops, tours, and restaurants, Cow Bay was once replete with fish processing plants and what businesses were there catered specifically to industry. Over the years, the focus has moved towards tourism; for example, the old Atlin Fish Plant now houses the Ice House Gallery, a northern artists’ co-operative, and the quirky buildings perched on pilings above the water are painted bright, cheerful colours.

The Cow Bay Café and Eagle Bluff B&B.
The Cow Bay Café and Eagle Bluff B&B is just one of many quirky buildings in the Cow Bay area

Make sure to walk out onto a recent upgrade to the area, the public breakwater, that shelters the Cow Bay Marina and stretches 600 feet into the harbour. Interpretive wildlife signage and viewing binoculars installed at the end of the breakwater make this a great place to get an up-close look at the whales, harbour porpoises, and seals that often pop up nearby.

Where to eat (and drink) in Prince Rupert

When it’s time for a bite, you’re in luck: Prince Rupert is one of those special towns where the chain eateries are well outnumbered by small businesses offering unique and memorable cuisine. Get your caffeine fix nearby at the whimsically-named and bovinely-decorated Cowpuccino’s, so close to the coast that ultra-high tides can flood the basement at certain times of the year.

If you’re a classic diner fan, the West End has red vinyl seats and a lunch counter. For more substantial fare, Cargo Kitchen sits on the bluff overlooking the busy waterfront next to the world-renowned and informative Museum of Northern BC, serving restaurant staples like burgers and pasta that have been uniquely infused with international flavours.

A cold pint at the Wheelhouse Brewing Company. (©BeerMeBC)
A cold pint at the Wheelhouse Brewing Company (© Jeremy Nemanishen)

On one memorable occasion, I sat on the sheltered, heated deck at Cargo sipping a delicious Dark ‘n’ Stormy and watching a pod of orcas surface in the harbour. Moments like that are hard to beat.

Prince Rupert is also lucky to be a part of the craft brewery revolution currently sweeping the nation; in a few short years, the Wheelhouse Brewing Company has become a singular mainstay of the local pub scene. The cave-like atmosphere of the basement tasting room is simultaneously dimly lit and brightly convivial. It’s definitely the place to be on a Friday night when locals clock off for the weekend and pack the long benches elbow to elbow to sample beers with names like Gillnetter, Blacksmith, and Scurvy Dog.

Urban Art

One of the many murals that adorn Prince Rupert's buildings.
One of the many murals that adorn Prince Rupert’s buildings

As you move around Prince Rupert, you’re sure to notice that many of the buildings have been adorned with skillfully painted murals of local wildlife. There are whales and bears, of course, but also deer, eagles, and wolves. A spectacular mural on the back of the Save-On Foods building features the history of Prince Rupert from its First Nations origins to the current day. When those rainy days do bear down a little hard on the town, these bright splashes of colour and art brighten my mood every time.

Hiking and Walking

In my mind, no visit to Prince Rupert is complete without excursions to some of the nearby walking trails. Rain or shine, they are well worth the extra effort, despite being about five kilometers outside of town.

Butze Rapids is a 5km loop; you walk a wide gravel trail through forest glades and muskeg meadows, eating seasonal huckleberries from the bushes beside the path. Check the tides before you go; Butze Rapids gets its name from an impressive reversing tidal flow between Kaien Island and the mainland. On certain large tides you might even see kayakers surfing the rapids’ standing waves. Further along the trail is Grassy Bay, a semi-sandy beach that is great for picnics on sunny days or rock-skipping competitions on moody ones.

Writer Frances Riley in the rainforest with her dog, Fergus.
Writer Frances Riley in the rainforest with her dog, Fergus

An additional hundred meters or so down the highway from Butze Rapids’s parking lot is the trailhead for the Tall Trees Trail, a 4 km trail that will take you up the side of the mountain and offers beautiful views of the harbour and the surrounding area. Warning: this trail starts out gently but does get quite steep and strenuous (happily there is a bench for recovering at the top).

For a small, remote city, Prince Rupert packs a big punch. Arm yourself with an adventurous spirit and the right jacket, and there’ll be nothing to stop you!

Top Image: The view from Tall Trees Trail 

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