Natural Wonders: 5 Places to View Spawning Salmon in BC

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Fall is spawning season in British Columbia—and 2018 marks a dominant year for this annual ritual. That means you’ll see scores of salmon fighting their way upstream as they take their final journey. Head to the province’s mighty rivers and streams, camera in hand, to witness one of Mother Nature’s greatest spectacles.

1. Goldstream Provincial Park

Ancient trees, waterfalls, and leafy trails make Goldstream a glorious park at any time of year, but in autumn it’s the salmon run that draws the faithful. Here, 30 minutes from Victoria’s city centre, adventurers and naturalists come together to rejoice in an annual spectacle. Where to perch? Riverside trails and observation platforms provide bird’s-eye views of the chum, coho, and chinook salmon fighting their way upstream, and of the bald eagles that swoop down to feast on them.

Best time to visit: October and early November

How to get there: Goldstream Provincial Park is 30 minutes northwest of downtown Victoria, on the Trans Canada Hwy (Hwy #1).

2. Stamp River Provincial Park

Salmon making their way upstream at Stamp Falls

Salmon making their way upstream at Stamp Falls. Photo: @cbradder via Instagram

Stamp River Provincial Park is a landscape of lush forest and river rapids—a peaceful oasis that rewards an afternoon on the trails with waterfall vistas. Beginning in late summer, there’s even more visual splendour, as thousands of Pacific salmon circle the pool below Stamp Falls before climbing fish ladders en route to spawning beds. What’s a fish ladder? Low man-made steps that help the salmon maneuver natural barriers (like waterfalls), enabling them to “leap” through the air while battling upstream. It’s splashy action that draws crowds—and bears.

Best time to visit: Late August to view sockeye; coho, and chinook viewing right into December

How to get there: Stamp River Provincial Park is 30 minutes northwest of Port Alberni on central Vancouver Island. Follow Hwy #4 past Port Alberni and turn onto Beaver Creek Road. Follow signs to the park.

3. Campbell River

Five species of salmon make their presence known in Campbell River, giving credence to the community’s self-proclaimed “Salmon Capital of the World” designation. Campbell River has long lured sportfishers to Vancouver Island’s east coast, but naturalists are equally compelled to seek out the pink, coho, chinook, chum, and sockeye that vie for attention, come fall. There are options aplenty for viewing, but should you wish for a more in-depth look into the life cycle of the mighty salmon, head to the Quinsam River Hatchery, just west of the city. It’s just one of the local hatcheries working to ensure a healthy, robust fish population.

Best time to visit: At Quinsam Hatchery, see pink salmon in September, and chinook and coho in October and November

How to get there: Campbell River is located on the east coast of Vancouver Island. From the BC Ferries terminal in Nanaimo, head north on Hwy #19 for approximately 90 minutes.

4. Capilano River Hatchery

North Vancouver’s Capilano River Hatchery draws more than 225,000 visitors a year. The hatchery was built to reinvigorate the dwindling salmon stocks vital to the Capilano River, and to the Squamish First Nation, who embrace the salmon for sustenance, social, and ceremonial purposes. Capilano River Hatchery has a record of success in coho and steelhead rejuvenation, and provides insight into the species and its place in nature’s circle of life.

Best time to visit: Salmon species in the fish ladder varies throughout the year, but Mid-May to January you may see steelhead, coho, chinook, chum, or pink; February through May is primarily steelhead

How to get there: The hatchery is in North Vancouver, off Capilano Road. Approximately five minutes past the Capliano Suspension Bridge, turn left on Capilano Park Road.

5. Tsútswecw Provincial Park (Roderick Haig-Brown)

Salmon swimming up a rocky riverbed.

Swimming up the Adams River. Photo: Destination BC/Rick Graham

The Adams River is home to one of the largest sockeye runs in North America—a fact that draws nature lovers to Tsútswecw Provincial Park each October. It’s an awesome sight: the river teems with red-and-silver salmon as they make their final journey upstream. Every four years there is a dominant run with millions of spawning salmon, and this fall marks the next apex. Spectators are sure to thrill at the natural wonder, thanks to viewing platforms on site.

Best time to visit: October

How to get there: The park straddles the Adams River, between Adams Lake and Shuswap Lake. Access is off the Trans Canada Hwy (Hwy #1) approximately 45 minutes east of Kamloops. Turn onto the Squilax-Anglemont Hwy and follow signs to the park.

Featured image: @ginabegin via Instagram

Updated from original publication of September 20, 2016