Arriving on the Train from Terrace to Prince Rupert
Our trip starts with a landing on the sun-baked tarmac of the Terrace Airport. From the South Coast where we live, Prince Rupert is far — about 1,500 kilometres — but flying into the area makes quick work of the time and distance. As the gateway to the Northwest, Terrace is a good place to kick off our adventure. Flights are frequent and direct, and the area is home to great outdoor recreation and a vast trail network.
In need of a post-flight stretch, we soon find ourselves strolling the Millennium Trail (also known as the Grand Trunk Pathway), an easy, flat, linear path that follows the highway west from downtown. A recently completed section connects to the community of Kitsumkalum and extends the trail even further. We don’t have plans to make it that far, though. Arriving during a stretch of good weather, the valley is hot and dry, and our thirst is kicking in. Located directly across the street from the path we’re on is the Sherwood Mountain Brewhouse, Terrace’s much-loved and frequented local haunt. Most of the breweries in the Northwest are true havens of community and culture, and Sherwood is no exception. The brewery is lively, with a lineup of dust-covered mountain bikes parked out front and friendly staff and locals milling about. We finish our flight, then get ready for the next leg of our journey.
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The road trip from Terrace to Prince Rupert is arguably one of the most scenic drives in all of North America, but we’ve chosen not to drive in favour of something even better: the train. VIA Rail’s Jasper to Prince Rupert line, which hugs the mighty Skeena River, offers the same incredible scenery as Highway 16, only you don’t actually need to drive. Taking the train is also by design: the reason we’re headed to Prince Rupert is to check out Wheelhouse Brewing’s new space in the town’s former and now-stunningly restored CN Rail Station. It’s only fitting that we experience the legacy of rail travel in the area firsthand.
Standing on the platform in Terrace, we watch as the lumbering VIA Rail train comes to a shuddering stop. Passengers depart, and 15 minutes later, greeted with a booming “All Aboard” by the service manager, we hop on. The train itself is a beacon of 1950s-era design, with its monochrome blue interior and mid-century modern influence. We drop our bags in the main car before quickly making our way up to the viewing platform. This is VIA Rail’s signature class (though any ticket will give you access to it) — a glass-encased top-level car, offering panoramic views from every angle. We’re told this is where we’ll see the best views on the nearly two-hour journey to Prince Rupert and so far that advice is proving right. Even better? There’s bar service onboard and we each crack open a Bridge Brewing Bourbon Blood Orange Ale as we settle in to watch the scenery.
I’ve driven this stretch of the Skeena River dozens of times, but the scenery here never fails to leave me speechless. Eagles swoop overhead searching for salmon in the river. Craggy mountains loom in the distance, making their size known the closer you get. Waterfalls crash down slick granite rock, and the Skeena itself is ever-present with a torrent of water that churns deceivingly below its surface. The train offers no distractions to the view and as we chat with other passengers in the dome car — some of whom are seeing this area for the first time — it’s making me appreciate just how special this part of the world really is.
The other highlight is the service manager, Allan. He keeps us all laughing at his jokes and provides top-notch service and commentary. We mention it’s our first time on the train, and he pulls us into the lounge car to snap a cute Polaroid photo — a fun keepsake of our journey. Back in the dome, the sunset is filtering through the car — a dusky pink-orange that colours the sky as we near Prince Rupert, passing the North Pacific Cannery, Port Edward, and finally into the terminus station itself. While the train doesn’t stop at the old Rail Station that Wheelhouse Brewing is now housed in, we decide to make that our first stop in town anyway. Summer nights are long in the north and with another hour of evening ahead of us, we walk from the Rotary Waterfront Park, past the brewery in its new location, and along the trail to Cow Bay, before turning in for the night at the Inn on the Harbour.
Exploring Past and Present with Wheelhouse Brewing
In the morning, we’re greeted with a spectacular view of the harbour from our hotel room. Despite Prince Rupert’s reputation, the sun does in fact shine here, more than you would think. We plan to take advantage of it before the forecasted rain sets in.
First, food. We head downstairs to the restaurant lounge for a quick continental breakfast. We spot a few familiar faces from the train, who like us, are taking in the view with a side of bagels and fruit. We contemplate grabbing the complimentary bikes from the hotel for a quick spin of downtown but decide to make our way to the pedestrian-only Rushbrook Trail for a slower introduction to the morning. This relatively easy three-kilometre, out-and-back trail runs parallel to a now-defunct rail line that connects Rushbrook with Seal Cove, an industrial neighbourhood on the east side of town.
We start at Rushbrook — largely because we’re looking forward to lunch at Bob’s On The Rocks, a small fish n’ chips stand located right at the trailhead, on our return. The trail starts off gently; we take in the boats from the nearby wharf before coming to the first of three suspension bridges. We pause to watch a small skiff motor past and spot a couple of eagles perched in the trees above. The trail is bordered by hemlock and cedars and skirts steep cliffs at the edge of the water. A few moderate, rolling hills and bridges later and we pop out in Seal Cove.
Seal Cove is home to the town’s seaplane base and a burgeoning neighbourhood of its own, thanks in part to two new restaurants that have recently opened in the area, plus the newly built Salt Marsh Loop which connects to the Rushbrook Trail and extends our walk by another kilometre. We spot picnic tables and table tennis along the loop, and while we’re tempted to hang out for a few hours to watch the seaplanes come and go, lunch is calling our name.
If there’s one meal to have in Prince Rupert, it’s fish ‘n chips. The area is home to some of the most sought-after fishing in Canada which makes seafood high on our list of things to eat. Bob’s on the Rocks operates out of a charming red and white boat-like food stand and it’s the go-to locals spot; even though it is barely even noon it’s already busy. We snag a spot on the sunny patio and tuck into some of the best halibut fish n’ chips we’ve ever had. The menu has an obvious focus on seafood, but you can also get poutine, fish tacos, salad, and even fry bread on Fridays.
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Satiated and full, we’re now thirsty. We head off to Wheelhouse Brewing where we’re meeting up with Craig Outhet, one of the brewery co-owners and its brewer, for a tour of the space. After eyeing up the brewery’s new location last night, I’m especially excited to be stepping foot inside. The building has a long history. It’s one of 150 heritage railway stations left in Canada and one of the few remaining brick buildings in town. Once the terminus for the Canadian National Railway, it operated until the early ’90s when it was shuttered, then fell into disrepair. I have a faint memory of the building and station in operation, but since then, it’s long been held as both an eyesore and the promise of a future space, one that could be restored into a community-oriented gathering spot. I can’t understate just how cool it is to see that promise now realized, and with no better gathering spot than a brewery to boot.
Craig’s awesome. He greets us at the door and whisks us on a tour of the new-ish space because, as Craig explains, it was a feat of engineering to make it functional. The building was restored by the City of Prince Rupert, and they preserved what they could of the timber-and-brick interior. Original elements remain, but the rest is new, like the upstairs sunroom, a glass-walled solarium that brings in maximum light and views. There’s a fireplace, which makes me want to plan a future visit on a rainy day when the drizzle outside calls for sipping beers inside. There’s an entirely new canning and production area, plus a kitchen, complete with a custom-made forno from Italy for churning out woodfired pizzas.
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Even with the new digs, this is the same brewery that I know and love. They’ve done a masterful job of blending old with new, past with present. I spot decor from the former brewery, and there are reminders of the kind of family-friendly, community-oriented space the brewery is known for: there are juice boxes for kids, ample space for bands to play, and the same down-to-earth atmosphere Wheelhouse has always cultivated.
Back in the taproom, we grab ourselves a flight of beer. There are a few I’m familiar with, including the Golden Gillnetter Ale and favourite staples, the Flagship Pale Ale, Foggy Harbour IPA, and Scurvy Dog Spruce Ale. But there are also a few new-to-me brews too. I add on the Latissima Sour Gose, made with locally harvested sugar kelp, to round out my flight. It’s hard to leave, but thankfully we’re headed for Happy Hour at the North Pacific Cannery where there’s more Wheelhouse on offer. (This is a regular weekly event held throughout the summer season.)
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Located in Port Edward, the North Pacific Cannery is the oldest salmon cannery still standing on the West Coast, and it’s a mere 25-minute drive from Prince Rupert. By day, the cannery operates as a museum, with guided and self-guided tours of the cannery, bunkhouses and general store. By night, the historic net loft functions as an event space.
The drive out to the cannery is winding but worth it. We make our way inside where a simple bar is set up and cannery staff are doling out cold cans of Wheelhouse beer. Happy Hour takes place outside on the massive wooden deck. There are long communal tables, a DJ playing music, and food from Arabisk Mediterranean Cuisine, a Middle Eastern-focused restaurant that just opened in town. The smell of delicious food wafting over is hard to ignore, so we get a small sampler to have with our beers, despite having crushed a burger from Breaker’s Pub earlier.
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Happy Hour in Prince Rupert is guaranteed to come with a view, and this one is especially spectacular. We’re on the deck of a 19th-century cannery, overlooking the mouth of the Skeena River, surrounded by the wild North Coast scenery. Thanks to today’s sun, we’re also offered a gorgeous evening show. We would linger, but needing to make the drive back, we finish our beer, take in one last drink of the sun, and toast to a great day.
Hiking the Metlakatla Wilderness Trail and Pizza at Wheelhouse Brewing
Today is an early start and for two good reasons. First, we need to catch the morning ferry over to Metlakatla, located across the harbour from Prince Rupert, where we’ll be hiking 20 kilometres along the Metlakatla Wilderness Trail (MWT). Second, we’re on the hunt for croissants — from Saltwater Bakery, to be exact.
Located in the heart of Cow Bay, this recently opened spot comes with much buzz. Having heard whispers of it the day before, we’re told the croissants sell out fast and we should get there right when the bakery opens. Sure enough, there’s a lineup at 7:30am, half an hour before opening, so we join the queue. Once inside, we’re immediately hit with the smell of freshly baked croissants, sausage rolls, and yeasted breads. We patiently wait our turn before snagging the last pain au chocolat and a classic croissant.
Pastries in hand, we drive over to the Metlakatla Ferry Dock and park. The passenger-only boat is set to leave at 9:30am and we join a handful of other hikers who are also planning to tackle the trek. Like me, they’re excited. For the past five years, the trail has been closed for repairs due to a severe windstorm. Since it just reopened to hikers a month ago, our timing couldn’t be better.
The ferry pulls into the dock and we board. The trip over is quick, taking no more than 15 to 20 minutes. For now, the weather looks to be holding, but this is the North Coast and rain is never far off. We disembark, sign a waiver (this is rugged terrain, after all), and board a charter bus, which takes us straight to the trailhead. En route, a Metlakatla Elder gives us a quick briefing and hands out a map for us to take. Both the ferry and charter bus are free, and there are no trail fees either — it’s a generous gift from the Nation, allowing us access to their traditional lands and what is sure to be a special area. (Note: this service is offered in the summer season only. Anyone looking to access the trail off-season should contact firstname.lastname@example.org directly.)
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I’m already familiar with the trail’s stats — this is a 20-kilometre return hike, with three engineered suspension bridges, one forest canopy tower, and plenty of scenery — but I’m taken aback by just how mystical and awe-inspiring this place really is. As a former local, I’ve never been “across the water,” so to speak, and I assumed this trail might feel similar to others I’ve hiked in the area. So far, it rivals any hike in B.C. I’ve ever done. The mossy forest floor and dense tree canopy absorb sound in a way that feels reverent. It’s low tide and there are sharp, volcanic-like rock formations, likely moulded and shaped by the tides and saltwater over millennia. Lichen hangs like a spiderweb from branches overhead. Soon, the rain sets in, lending an even more atmospheric feeling. This is the rainforest after all, and what’s a hike here without rain? Green in every shade and hue forms a coastal backdrop, a colour palette driven in part by the moisture that’s now soaking us thoroughly.
The trail itself is moderate and flat, with a few rolling hills, until we get to kilometre six and we’re met with a sign: “Hike at your own risk.” Here on out, it’s dense and thick, and we decide to hike only another kilometre before turning around and heading to the beach for a light picnic. The ferry to Prince Rupert is at 4:30pm, and we’re soon picked up by the bus, then shuttled across the harbour. Sufficiently soaked, tired and happy, we’re in need of a quick shower and dinner.
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We freshen up and head to the Wheelhouse. Tonight’s dinner is one we’ve been waiting to try: pizza! We’re lucky to get a sneak peek of the goods — the brewery’s opening night is the day after we leave — but tonight they’re slinging a few pies for us as a special treat. And what a treat it is. We start with the arugula and fennel salad, bright and refreshing and topped with crispy prosciutto. For pizzas, it’s a hard choice. We order the prosciutto burrata and the fig. The crust is tender and chewy and perfectly charred. The burrata is creamy and drizzled with local honey, while the fig comes with goat cheese and caramelized onion — how can you say no to that? By the time dinner is done, we’re officially done. It’s early to bed for us tonight.
Easy Strolls, Delicious Food, and the Outdoor Container Market
It’s Monday and that means it’s cruise ship day. Prince Rupert serves as a Canadian port-0f-call for cruise ships headed to and from Alaska, and on days when a ship is docked, the town’s population can swell by as much as three thousand people, bringing with it a slew of new people, exciting pop-ups, and sightseeing activities like trolley buses.
We plan to be in the thick of the activity this afternoon, but first, we gear up for the day with a quick grab-and-go breakfast at Cowpuccinos. Despite having trekked the day before, we’re not done wandering the rainforest so we motor 25 minutes out of town to Diana Lake Provincial Park to stretch our legs on a short nature walk. This small provincial park is home to a man-made lake that is popular with locals, a salmon-bearing creek, and two hikes, including the Diana Creek Nature Trail and the MacDonald Trail. We opt for the former, and even though the three-kilometre trail isn’t long, it’s exactly what we need to refresh our bodies and minds.
Back in the car, we set our sights on a smash burger at the Ocean View Hotel’s new Burger Bar. Located on First Avenue, just up the road from our hotel, this unassuming spot is home to some seriously delicious smash burgers. We don’t hold back. We order a double-smash with the house sauce plus a spicy chicken with pickled jalapenos, poutine drenched in sous vide bone broth gravy, classic fries with dipping sauces, and coleslaw.
Post-meal, we’re — naturally — feeling the need to stretch our legs once more. In keeping with today’s theme of light strolls, we head to the Sunken Gardens, a hidden and colourful oasis in the heart of the city, located just behind the courthouse. At the Sunken Gardens, we pause to take in the gorgeous blooms before making our way to the outdoor container market.
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It’s impossible to miss the cruise ship. It looms over the port — visible even as far as the top of McBride Avenue — while a throng of people wander the waterfront. It’s exciting to be a part of, and on our way to the outdoor container market, we stop and chat with some passengers. The Lax Süülda Container Market is only open on cruise ship days. Made up of a series of freight containers, all painted in dopamine-inducing colours that correlate to districts in town, they house a rotating selection of local vendors.
The only permanent vendor is the North Coast Ecology Centre, which puts the area’s diverse ecosystems and marine life on display. We wash up at the bio-wash station before dipping our hands in the touch tank, a cool way to experience the wildlife of the North Coast up close and personal. I snag a couple of souvenirs at another vendor/container, then stop in at the Visitor Centre booth, where I chat with the friendly staff and become seriously tempted by their cute Prince Rupert merch.
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This being our last day, we’re not in the mood for general sightseeing. We decide against a tour of the town in a streetcar trolley, and instead, wander up to the impressive Museum of Northern BC. This is not my first visit to the museum, but I’m having fun checking out the exhibits among a group of fellow tourists and seeing the Northwest Coast art through fresh eyes.
Afterwards, we head back to Seal Cove to indulge in a Mediterranean spread at Arabisk. Our small sampler at the cannery wasn’t enough; we knew we needed to try more, and we are not disappointed. The space itself is warm, intimate, and slightly moody, with its dark leather bench seating and chairs and ambient light from the overhead chandeliers and tabletop candles. The menu is extensive, with everything from sharable mezes including hummus, fried kibbeh, and burek, to biryanis, kebabs, and shawarmas. We order the bulgur salad, which comes with pomegranates and a housemade dressing, and a classic chicken shawarma, accompanied by rice, hummus, and Greek-style salad. The portions are generous and the drink list is exciting. Switching things up from beer, we try the cocktails, all of which come with Middle Eastern flair. We order the sumac spritz, an Aperol- and gin-based drink that leaves a tangy, citrusy finish, and the Za’atar sour, infused and rimmed with Za’atar spice.
It feels like Arabisk is yet another example of the exciting shift that’s happening in Prince Rupert. This is an area with deep history — more than 10,000 years of Indigenous culture, an industrial transformation precipitated by the railway, with decades of boom-and-bust that came after. Today, new markets, bakeries, and restaurants are all popping up, ushering in what feels like a new era for the town.
Still, some things remain unchanged. Here, in this place that has always felt like home to me, it’s about community and connection. We can’t resist popping back into the Wheelhouse for one last pint, perhaps the best example of this. Familiar faces, a new space. It’s good to be here.
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A surprisingly cosmopolitan hub on British Columbia’s wild and beautiful Northwest Coast, Prince Rupert is a vibrant port town where nature, history, and personalities are larger than life.