The young and vibrant community of Campbell River on the east coast of central Vancouver Island is beautifully set between Strathcona Park to the west and the Discovery Islands to the east, a metropolitan town located on the frontier of a BC wilderness, inhabited by few people but many animals. Long known as the Salmon Capital of the World, Campbell River is a natural destination, in more ways than one.
Campbell River is big as Vancouver Island cities go. The town hosts a busy arts and culture scene, and is completely ringed with shopping malls, yet the city centre still looks and feels as it probably did in the ’50s.
Campbell River is located in a region rich in natural resources. The towering West Coast forests have fostered a growing forestry industry, from logging companies to pulp mills and sawmill operations. Mining is another active industry in Campbell River, with a diverse range of products including zinc, copper, lead, gold, silver and coal.
Long before European explorers entered the waters surrounding Campbell River, the First Nations people had known for thousands of years that this was a special place, living here in harmony with nature and the life cycles of the salmon. They occupied small villages scattered along the coast, and fished salmon, which had spiritual significance and is forever honoured through art and ceremony.
The origin of the name Campbell River lacks absolute proof, but it is probable that the river now designated a BC Heritage River, and subsequently the town near its mouth, were named after Dr. Samuel Campbell, assistant surgeon on the HMS Plumper, a British survey ship that surveyed Johnstone Strait and this part of the B.C. coastline in the 1850s and 1860s.
Discovered by Europeans in 1792 when Captain George Vancouver sailed up Georgia Strait in search of the Northwest Passage, Campbell River is now renowned worldwide for spectacular snow-capped mountains, immense fjords and incredible salmon fishing – normal fare in British Columbia! Campbell River is the gateway to Strathcona Park to the west, the Discovery Islands to the east, and the remote North Island and west coast of Vancouver Island.
One of the four main fishing centres on Vancouver Island, the city is internationally famous for both its ocean and freshwater fishing. The twice-yearly steelhead runs on the Quinsam and Campbell Rivers are as well known as that on the Cowichan River, while the year-round salmon fishing in Discovery Passage is unmatched. Here you’ll find some of the best fishing outfitters on the island.
Location: Travelling north on Highway 19 takes approximately 1.45 hours (153 kilometres / 95 miles) from Nanaimo or 3.5 hours (264 kilometres / 165 miles) from Victoria. See the most of Campbell River by exiting Highway 19 at the Miracle Beach Connector, then continue north along Oceanside Route Highway 19A.
If you prefer a fully serviced highway route, follow the starfish along the scenic Oceanside Route, Highway 19A. Look for the official “starfish” signs south of Parksville and at other exits along Highway 19. Why not travel north to Campbell River on the scenic Oceanside Route 19A, then head home via the Inland Island Highway 19?
To get to Campbell River and the North Island via ferry, take either the Tsawwassen – Duke Point route if you are travelling from south of Vancouver, or the Horseshoe Bay – Departure Bay route if you are coming along the Trans Canada Route 1 from the North Vancouver area.
Private boats and yachts are welcomed at the many local marinas located in Campbell River and other destinations with ocean access throughout the North Central Island region. With the capacity to handle everything up to Alaskan cruise ships, nautical visitors will find plenty of safe anchorages throughout the Discovery Islands, Desolation Sound, or Nootka Sound on the Pacific coast.
Daily scheduled flights arrive at Campbell River Airport from Vancouver International Airport. Seasonal floatplane service is available from downtown Seattle. There are also floatplanes, helicopters and small planes for charter to and from Campbell River. Motorcoach travel to Campbell River is also available.
View maps of the area
Visit Haig-Brown House, a restored 1923 farmhouse set amid forests and gardens beside the Campbell River. This was the home of pioneer conservationists Roderick and Ann Haig-Brown.
Campbell River’s rich native heritage is proudly showcased in the Museum at Campbell River, housed on the highway south of the town centre, which features a fine collection of Northwest Coast Native masks, ceremonial items, and other fine art.
The Campbell River & District Public Art Gallery in the Centennial Building in Shoppers Row offers 45-to 60-minute tours for school children and community groups throughout the year. The tours include a talk about the exhibitions on display, and an art activity afterwards, and can be modified to meet each groups needs.
The Campbell River Maritime Heritage Center, located adjacent to the Discovery Pier, showcases the fully restored seine boat BCP45, which graced the $5 bill from 1972 to 1986. Walk her decks, explore her cabins and learn about her long history. View many marine artificates on display. Open Monday to Friday.
Discovery Passage Aquarium offers fun and unique hands-on educational experiences for people of all ages. Check out the wonderful diversity of life within the rocky tide pools, kelp forests, and eel grass beds. Gently explore the amazingly different textures of sea stars, cuddle up to a moon snail, or simply delight in the antics of hermit crabs as they compete for food and new homes! The Aquarium is open from spring until fall each year. Specimens are collected from the marine environment in the spring and returned to the area of collection at the end of the season. Located at the entrance to the Discovery Fishing Pier.
Built in 1924, Pier House is the oldest house in town and stands at the entrance to Campbell River’s famous fishing pier. This building is a charming mix of old curiosity shop and museum, where you can examine the many relics.
Totem poles can be viewed at various sites throughout Campbell River; Tyee Plaza Shopping Centre, Foreshore Park, Coast Discovery Inn, Wei Wai Kum House of Treasures and the Discovery Harbour Centre. Visitors to the region have many opportunities to share and experience First Nations culture, by visiting museums and art galleries, or taking part in cultural tours, festivals, and special ceremonies provided in the region.
Film Production: Hollywood has discovered Campbell River’s scenic locations for film making. The Scarlett Letter and Eaters of the Dead (released as 13th Warrior) were filmed here.
Festivals: With dozens of festivals and annual events in Campbell River, there is always something to do. Don’t miss the annual Transformation on the Shore (Driftwood Carving Contest) that lines the 4.2-km Rotary Beach Seawalk, as well as Aboriginal Day, the Bald Eagle Festival, and Canada Day Celebrations.
During the Salmon Festival in August, the town is abuzz with famous and ordinary sports fisherfolk. Some of the more popular annual celebrations include the Logger Sports in August, and The Haig-Brown Festival in September.
Boat Cruising: Campbell River makes a good base from which to charter boats to prime cruising areas such as the Discovery Islands and Desolation Sound, one of the most beautiful and varied cruising areas in British Columbia.
Woodhus Slough offers exceptional birdwatching about 12 miles (19 km) south of Campbell River. Viewing trails lead out into the slough from the parking lot in Oyster River Regional Park. To reach the park, turn east on Glenora as it follows the north side of the Oyster River.
Sightseeing: Take a whale watching tour during the summer, a flight-seeing tour over the outer islands, or a bear watching tour to world-famous Knight Inlet. Campbell River is a magical place, with such a broad spectrum of natural attributes, allowing visitors to choose from almost any activity they might be interest in.
Golf: Campbell River caters well to golfers, with three golf courses in the area; the Storey Creek Golf Course, the Sequoia Springs Golf Course, and Saratoga Beach Golf Course. Vancouver Island Golf Vacations.
Kids Adventure: Take the kids to the beaches south of town; Oyster Bay, Saratoga Beach or Miracle Beach. Check out the sandy beaches on McIvor Lake, a favorite local swimming spot. Visit nearby Strathcona Provincial Park and sign the children up for kid’s outdoor education classes at Strathcona Park Lodge, or take a course with the whole family. A trip to the top of Mount Washington on the chairlift – winter or summer – will keep them occupied for hours. How about renting bicycles and hopping aboard a ferry to visit Quadra Island for the day?
Kids can spend some time learning about fishy stuff at the Quinsam Salmon Hatchery, and then go for a family fishing trip down to Discovery Pier, where you can rent poles by the hour. On weekends, try Saratoga Speedway for some up-close stock car racing in the evenings, or go-carting in the afternoon all summer long. The Museum also offers daily programs, including the popular Puppet Theatre.
Diving: Discovery Passage teems with marine life. The Jacques Cousteau Society rates it the “second best cold water diving destination in the world, after the Red Sea.” There’s no wreck like an old wreck, and that’s what the HMCS Columbia is fast becoming. The vessel was scuttled by the Artificial Reef Society of BC near Maud Island in Discovery Passage, just north of Campbell River. Crystal clear waters, abundant sea life, plus certified charters, guides, and instructors have made Campbell River a major dive centre for beginners and experienced divers. Check with local dive shops for information and locations.
Snorkelling: You don’t actually have to dive in order to enjoy an unusual underwater experience on the Campbell River. Snorkelling here from July to September provides an opportunity to watch from the surface as salmon- some as large as 50 pounds (28kg) – school in the Campbell River estuary in advance of spawning.
Canoeing and Kayaking: West of Campbell River, the Canoeing & Kayaking: Sayward Forest Canoe Route covers almost 30 miles (50 km) of lakes and rivers connected by a series of portage trails. Allow 3 to 4 days to complete the circuit, which begins on Campbell Lake.
Rustic Loveland Bay Provincial Park offers paddling at Loveland Bay on Lower Campbell Lake, although the main attraction in these parts is Mohun Lake, with a section of its shoreline lying within Morton Lake Provincial Park. Car-top boats can be launched at Morton Lake and Loveland Bay, and there’s a boat ramp on Mohun Lake. Loveland Bay is reached from Hwy 28 west of Campbell River on the John Hart Dam Road and then the Camp 5 Logging Road. Mohun Lake is accessed via the Mohun Lake East Road.
Sea Kayaking: The bays and beaches of the beautiful Discovery Islands and the sheltered waters of Georgia Strait provide a multitude of different locations to enchant any visitor. Areas around Nootka Sound feature river pools, surf, and incredible beaches. With such an abundance of stunning locations and wilderness, it’s no wonder this region is fast becoming a world famous destination for sea kayaking. Sea Kayaking around Vancouver Island.
Saltwater Fishing: The closer you get to Campbell River, the better the salmon fishing becomes. Tidal flows in Discovery Passage churn up clouds of nutrients that sustain a complex food chain, which includes tasty salmon near the top of the chain. You’ll find a boat launch at Pacific Playgrounds Resort & Marina in Campbell River, at Saratoga Beach in the town of Black Creek to the south, and another at aptly-named Salmon Point in Black Creek.
The Quinsam River flows into the Campbell River just inland from the Strait of Georgia. As it meets the ocean at the north end of town, the Campbell broadens into an intertidal estuary. The fishing calendar here has a summer steelhead run scheduled from June to October, with a winter run between November and April. Chinook (king) salmon are in residence year round in Discovery Passage, which also hosts successive runs of coho (June to September), tyee (July to September), sockeye (August), pinks (August and September), and finally chum salmon (September to November).
Almost as many salmon are caught off Discovery Pier that juts out into Discovery Passage as farther offshore. Local ritual requires that at the cry of ‘fish on,’ all other anglers reel in and stand aside as the lucky soul manoeuvres the salmon ashore.
Tyee Club: The wealth of the salmon fishery in Discovery Passage between Campbell River and Quadra Island is so legendary that a special ritual has grown up around it over the past century. Called tyee fishing, this method has stringent requirements, but success buys instant membership in the exclusive Tyee Club, BC.’s oldest and most prestigious fishing fraternity. Tyee is the appellation given a chinook (king) salmon when its weight exceeds 30 pounds (13.5 kg). Anglers must abide by regulations that stipulate a minimum catch weight of 30 pounds, hooked with an artificial single-hook lure fastened to a maximum 20-pound (9-kg) test line. Oh, and you have to be in a rowboat. Considering the size of an average tyee, make sure it’s a big rowboat! The official weigh-in station is at the Tyee Club House, beside the boat launch on Tyee Spit, east of Hwy 19 on Spit Road in Campbell River.
Freshwater Fishing: Dozens of small, freshwater lakes are scattered throughout the north island. Many lakes can be reached only by the logging or gravel roads that lead off east and west from Hwy 19. Stop at one of the many tackle shops and marinas in Campbell River for advice on where the fish are biting. You’ll find good trout and char fishing at Morton Lake Provincial Park (Morton Lake and Mohun Lake). Roberts Lake, 20 miles (32 km) north of Campbell River, also has good fishing close to Hwy 19. Car-top boats can be launched from the sandy beach, a short walk from the road on a maintained trail. Many small fishing lakes such as McCreight Lake feature rustic campsites and the occasional boat launch – managed by Recreation Sites and Trails (formerly maintained by the BC Forest Service).
Marinas: The waterfront in Campbell River appears to be one massive marina. In fact, there are three saltwater marinas, as well as a freshwater marina at the mouth of the Campbell River. Government Marina and Discovery Pier are located at the south end of the harbour on South Island Hwy (Highway 19). Discovery Harbour Marina, the commercial hub of Campbell River’s harbour, and Argonaut Wharf lie just slightly farther north off Hwy 19 on Old Spit Road. Freshwater Marina, with public parking and a public boat launch, is located on the north side of the Campbell River Estuary. Turn east of Hwy 19 on Baikie Road to reach it.
Snowden Demonstration Forest lies within the Sayward Forest and provides alternative recreational activities, including hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and wildlife viewing. The forest is located west of Campbell River and north of Hwy 28 near Loveland Bay Provincial Park. You’ll find almost 19 miles (30 km) of easygoing hiking trails here. Logging was carried out in this forest from the 1920s to the 1950s, and the forest is in various stages of recovery.
Mountain Biking: There’s some good biking around Campbell River. Nestled in a nook between Iron River Road and Campbell River itself is an area known as the Pump House Trails. To reach this easygoing network of well-marked single-track trails, turn west off Hwy 19 in Campbell River onto Hwy 28. Follow Hwy 28, then turn north onto Duncan Bay Main and cross the Campbell River. A trailhead is located just south of the intersection of Duncan Bay and Iron River Road. Another trailhead is located west of Duncan Bay Road on Iron Bay Road.
Farther to the north and west of Campbell River on Hwy 28, a trail leads from a parking lot on the right of Loveland Bay Road (on the way to the Loveland Bay Provincial Campground) and into mountain-bike heaven, the Snowden Demonstration Forest. Trails here are suited to all levels of mountain-bike riding skills and include the five major routes of Frog Lake System and the four main routes of Lost Lake Trail System. Trails run from 1 to 5 miles (2 to 8 km) in length and frequently feed from one into the other to create longer rides. Some of the easier-going routes follow the railbeds left over from logging shows here in the 1920s. This is some of the finest intermediate mountain biking on Vancouver Island, and is a sign of things to come, as Forest Renewal BC funds are channelled into rehabilitating old logging roads as recreational trails. Detailed maps of the trails in the Snowden Demonstration Forest are available from the BC Forest Service district office in Campbell River, 370 S Dogwood Street.
Embark on one of the many spectacular Strathcona Park Trails, stopping to fish in a trout-stocked alpine lake, or mountain bike down the side of a magnificent mountain. There are easy access trail systems for day hikers as well as mountain ranges to challenge the most experienced mountaineers and backpackers.
Miracle Beach Provincial Park is one of the most popular parks and family vacation spots on Vancouver Island, located 14 miles (23 km) south of Campbell River beside Hwy 19. It’s a 10-minute walk from the campsites to the extravagant expanse of cobblestone beach that gives way to hard-packed sand flats at low tide where herons stalk, seals bark, and ravens and eagles call. What a chorus! The beach seems to stretch forever in each direction. From the covered picnic shelter (featuring two gas barbeques), visitors look east out onto Elma Bay. Watch for harbour porpoises, Steller sea lions, California sea lions (much smaller), harbour seals, and killer whales.
The campsites are located in a second-growth forest of gnarly Douglas fir, western red cedar, and western hemlock. Wildflowers bloom throughout the park from early spring to the end of summer. Black Creek flows through the park and past the Miracle Beach Nature House, which has natural history displays. Beachcombers will find a tide chart posted here daily from late May to September. Pick up a brochure here and take a self-guided nature walk through the park.
Elk Falls Provincial Park, located 6 miles (10 km) west of the junction of Highways 28 and 19A, is a great base camp for exploring the Campbell River region. The park has two distinct sections. The picnic/day-use area is located near the waterfalls on the Campbell River as it enters John Hart Lake. Campsites are situated 4 miles (6.5 km) away on the Quinsam River. A large stand of Douglas fir surrounds Elk Falls, which present a lively sight during spring runoff. A 1.5-mile (2.5-km) hiking trail runs from the riverside campsites to the nearby Quinsam River Hatchery, which is open daily for tours.
Oyster Bay Shoreline Regional Park: As you pass through Campbell River, it’s hard not to notice strollers and cyclists meandering along Oyster Bay Shoreline Regional Park, a shoreline bike-and-walking trail with gravel beaches and great views across to Quadra Island. Pulverized oyster shells speckle the gravel with a bright, white hue. The trails wind for much of the distance from the town’s southern perimeter to the central harbour, passing the new museum on the hillside above the beach. The occasional picnic table and park bench invite travellers to pull over and join the fun.
Strathcona Provincial Park was created in 1911 and is the original park in the provincial system. At the time, the 544,000 acres (200,000 hectares) seemed like a fabulous amount of land to set aside. It still does, especially to those who like to hike in the middle of the rugged, heavily glaciated Vancouver Island Mountains. The park was created for those who seek adventure in remote wilderness surroundings.
It may be easier to reach the trailheads today, but the routes still remain as challenging as ever. To really experience the beauty of this park, come prepared to explore the backcountry. A day trip to Strathcona gets you into an unparalleled natural wonderland of vast forests, great lakes, alpine meadows and challenging peaks.
Strathcona Park Camping: There are vehicle/tent campsites in two locations in Strathcona Provincial Park – Ralph River and Buttle Lake – both reached via Highway 28. The closest campground to Campbell River is Buttle Lake Campground, about 28 miles (45 km) west of Campbell River, in a pleasantly forested, riverside location just off Hwy 28 at the junction of Upper Campbell Lake and Buttle Lake.
Ralph River Campground requires a 15.5-mile (25-km) drive south from Hwy 28 along the east shore of Buttle Lake (Westmin Mine Road). You’ll find the well-marked turnoff from Hwy 28 on the east side of the bridge that spans Buttle Narrows, where Buttle Lake merges with Upper Campbell Lake. An old-growth Douglas fir forest shelters the peaceful setting of the campsites at Ralph River. There is good swimming, in season, at both campgrounds.
Camping on Vancouver Island.
Boat launches are situated at two locations on slender, steep-sided Buttle Lake in Strathcona Provincial Park. One is located beside the Auger Point picnic tables in the Buttle Lake Campground; the other is located about 15 miles (25 km) south of the campground near the Karst Creek picnic area. Buttle is a flooded lake, and along the shoreline submerged deadheads are an ever-present threat. Beware of the sudden winds and storm conditions that can quickly channel through this mountainous region. Boaters can head to four wilderness marine campsites on the western shore of Buttle Lake, as well as a site on Rainbow Island just offshore from the Buttle Lake campground at the north end of the lake. Buttle Lake also features a sandy beach and several hiking trails ranging from 30 minutes to 6 hours in length. Buttle Lakes offer outstanding wilderness scenery and interesting canoe and kayak routes, with camping along the way at Wolf River Canyon, Phillips Creek and other special wilderness sites.
If you can arrange to journey by boat to Mitlenatch Island Nature Provincial Park, you’ll find a bird-watching and wildflower paradise 8 miles northeast of Miracle Beach Provincial Park. Mitlenatch is home to the largest seabird colony on the Strait of Georgia, principally 3,000 pairs of glaucous-winged gulls.
Ripple Rock rest area just north of Campbell River on Hwy 19 offers a fine view of Seymour Narrows, and a great picnic spot. This is a harbinger of the vistas along the Inside Passage from here north to Prince Rupert. An interpretive marker here describes the maritime history of the region since it was first charted by Captain George Vancouver in 1792. Despite the blasting away in 1958 of the twin peaks of Ripple Rock, which lies underwater directly east of the viewpoint, large boats are still harassed by the rip tides, swirling currents, and whirlpools that constantly agitate the surface of the Seymour Narrows. The tidal rip offshore is so vicious that when viewed through binoculars it has the appearance of a writhing mass of snakes.
The trailhead for the Ripple Rock Trail (easy; 5 miles/8 km return) is located at a well-marked roadside parking area on the east side of Hwy 19, about 4 miles (6 km) north of the Ripple Rock Rest Area. The trail leads hikers through abundant second-growth forest (with a few spectacular examples of old-growth Sitka spruce and Douglas fir on the east side of Menzies Creek) to a viewpoint of the treacherous waters in Seymour Narrows.
Mt. Cain Ski Resort offers beginner to advanced downhill and cross-country skiing during winter. You’ll find untouched powder which has built up over the week, virtually no line-ups for lifts, and the friendly, welcoming atmosphere of a family-oriented mountain.
The Wei Wai Kum Cruise Ship Terminal introduces visitors to Canada’s Aboriginal heritage, and offers a variety of shore excursions, including Laichwiltach aboriginal culture and traditions, arts and culture, wildlife viewing, sightseeing adventures, and outdoor activities like rafting, kayaking, hiking, golf, and sport fishing. When booking your next Alaska Cruise, be sure to select one that includes a stop in Campbell River.
A ten-minute ferry ride from Campbell River takes you to charming Quadra Island, the largest and most populated of the Discovery Islands. Quadra is a popular destination for visitors from around the world, and is best known for its natural and beautiful wilderness scenery, mild temperate climate, rural lifestyle, and friendly people. Visit Rebecca Spit Provincial Park and the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre (formerly Kwagiulth Museum and Cultural Centre).
Nestled at the entrance to enchanting Desolation Sound, tranquil and friendly Cortes Island is one of the most impressive of the Discovery Islands, with its placid lakes, beaches, and rugged gorges. Cortes Island is accessed via ferry from Heriot Bay on the east coast of Quadra Island.
Gold River, located at the west end of Hwy 28, is a scenic hour’s drive from Campbell River. Many visitors use it as a base for exploring the surrounding wilderness and rainforest trails, or as a starting point for their Nootka Sound adventure.
South of Campbell River, the rural community of Black Creek beckons to visitors passing through the rolling farmlands set off the Island Highway, lulling the traveller with fresh fragrances, lush greenery, and quaint farmyard scenes. The Black Creek Country Market signals your arrival in Black Creek at the northern end of the Comox Valley.
The Black Creek area is a great place to return to and relax in after a day of skiing at Mt. Washington Ski Resort on Mount Washington. Mount Washington has long been known for having good snow conditions from early in winter to well past Easter. This accounts, in part, for Mt Washington being the second-busiest winter recreation destination in BC, behind Whistler Blackcomb.