The best way to experience Alert Bay is on foot, either by walking the 13-km (8-mi) shoreline, or hiking and biking the Big Tree Interpretive Trail and the boardwalk into the Ecological Gardens. Along the way, you’ll find local residents friendly with many interested in your story. A guidebook available from the Visitor Info Centre in downtown Alert Bay contains information on each of Big Tree’s 15 interpretive stops, as well as descriptions of the rest of the island’s trails.
The Ecological Park is located at the top of the island next to the Big Tree Trail system. While this swampy, eerie bog is nicknamed “Gator Gardens” it doesn’t harbour alligators; rather, its moss draped pines and buyouts lend a strong resemblance to the Florida Everglades. Boardwalk, chip and dirt trails interweave throughout the first growth timber, ghostly, gnarled trees, and a plethora of bird and plant life.
Alert Bay is an island community rich in First Nations culture. The ‘Namgis First Nations Burial Ground is near the centre of the Village and the world tallest totem pole stands 173 feet next to the Big House. The U’Mista Cultural Centre houses a remarkable collection of historical artifacts depicting the Potlatch Ceremony of the Kwakw a k a ‘wakw people as well their historic and contemporary artwork. The Centre is located at 1 Front Street, about three kilometers along the ocean shore road from Alert Bay Lodge. Tours of the Big House, including demonstrations of native dancing, can be arranged through the U’Mista Cultural Centre. U’Mista is open seven days a week during the summer and from Tuesday to Saturday during the winter.
Several shops in the Village sell indigenous art including the Tourist Information Centre, located in the Village at 116 Fir Street. The Alert Bay Library Museum, next door at 118 Fir Street, displays old photographs of native and settler populations dating back to the 1890s.