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Photo by: Ross Bodeman
Photo by: Ross Bodeman

Campbell River

Located in east central Vancouver Island, the youthful community of Campbell River is beautifully located between Strathcona Park and the Discovery Islands. This growing seaside metropolis is surrounded by B.C. wilderness, and is a launching point for eager adventurers. Long famed as “the salmon capital of the world”, Campbell River boasts a host of attractions and eclectic culture waiting to be discovered.

Campbell River is the last large city before heading north on Highway 19. Built on a storied history of forestry, mining, and fishing, the community now hosts a busy art and culture scene as well as a strong tourism industry. Campbell River is home to a range of amenities and interests, including a thriving downtown, shopping along the historical Pier Street, and ferries to nearby islands like Quadra and Cortes.

Fast Facts

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Population:

31,444

You can travel north on Highway 19 for approximately an hour and forty-five minutes (153 kms / 95 miles) to reach Campbell River from Nanaimo. Drive three hours and thirty minutes (264 kms / 165 miles) to arrive from Victoria. Take the scenic route to Campbell River by exiting at the Miracle Beach Connecter on Highway 19, and then continue north along Oceanside Route Highway 19A.

Local Attractions


Architecture:

The Haig-Brown House is a restored farmhouse originally built in 1923, established along the forested shores of the Campbell River itself. Conservationists Roderick and Ann Haig-Brown lived here.


Elk Falls Canyon

Head west on Highway 28 from town to discover the Elk Falls Canyon from the newly built suspension bridge. Hanging 45 metres (150 feet) above the rushing water below, this project (spearheaded by the local Rotary Club) is now in the hands of B.C. Parks and offers an incredible new vantage to a Campbell River classic. Explore the connected trail network to the hydroelectric generating station, the salmon bearing creeks, lush emerald forests, and popular summer fishing spots along the river.


Museum:

Campbell River has an expansive aboriginal heritage that is proudly displayed at the museum in Campbell River. The museum is located on the highway, south of the town center. It features a beautiful collection of Northwest Coast aboriginal art such as masks and ceremonial items.


Totem poles 

Totem poles can be admired throughout Campbell River, including at Tyee Plaza Shopping Centre, Wei Wai Kum House of Treasures, Coast Discovery Inn, Foreshore Park, and the Discovery Harbor Centre. Experience and share your knowledge of First Nations culture by visiting art galleries and museums, take part in cultural tours and activities, festivals, and special ceremonies.


Art Gallery 

The Campbell River & District Public Art Gallery in the Centennial Building on Shoppers Row offers forty-five to sixty minute tours for elementary schools. The tours can include an inspiring talk about the exhibitions on display, followed by an art activity.


Discovery Passage Aquarium 

A great hands-on educational that’s fun for children and adults. Prepare to be amazed by the striking tide pools, kelp forests, and aquatic wonderlands! You can explore the sea stars and moon snails, or be amused by the behavior of the hermit crabs. You can check out the aquarium from early spring until the end of fall. Creatures are collected in the spring and carefully returned to their original habitat at the end of the season.


Money, Money, Money

Within the Campbell River Maritime Heritage Center (across the parking lot from the Discovery Pier), is the restored seine boat BCP45, which was printed on the five-dollar bill from 1972 to 1986. You can explore the decks and cabins and learn all about the boat’s history. The Heritage Center is open Monday to Friday.


Pier House

Built in 1924 and standing at the famous fishing pier, Pier House is known as the oldest house in town. The historical house is the perfect mix of curiosity shop and museum and visitors are welcome to examine the house’s relics.

Outdoor Activities

Golf: 

Three golf courses in the area that include the Sequoia Springs Golf Course, Saratoga Beach Golf Course, Storey Creek Golf Course.

Diving: 

Discovery Passage is beaming with marine life and extraordinary creatures. It has been rated as one of the best cold-water diving destinations across the globe. Clear waters, thriving sea life, accompanied by certified charters, guides, and instructors have contributed to making Campbell River the perfect dive center for all skill levels. Check with local dive shops for more information.

Snorkeling: 

Scuba equipment or not, you can still enjoy an underwater adventure in Campbell River. Enjoy snorkeling from July to September and watch the majestic salmon (some as large as 28 kg) swim through the Campbell River estuary.

Canoeing and Kayaking:

West of Campbell River, The Sayward Forest has a canoe route that covers 50 kms with rivers and lakes. Allow 3 to 4 days to complete the circuit, which begins on Campbell Lake.
You can spend your day paddling at Loveland Bay. Mohun Bay, another tourist attraction, has a section of shoreline lying within Morton Lake and Loveland Bay, which is reached from Hwy 28, west of Campbell River on the John Hart Dam Road, followed by the Camp 5 Logging Road. You can access Mohun Lake with the Mohun Lake East Road.

Sea Kayaking:

The beaches of Discovery Islands and the private waters of Georgia Strait provide a multitude of locations to enchant any visitor. Areas around Nootka Sound on the west coast feature river pools, surf seas and incredible beaches.
With an abundance of wilderness, it’s no wonder this region is becoming a world famous destination for sea kayaking. If you’re looking for easy access for a great day paddle, put in at the Campbell River estuary on the northeast part of town.

Mountain Biking:

There’s a selection of great trails located around Campbell River. Pump House Trails is nestled neatly between Campbell River and Icon River Road. To reach this area of single-track trails, head west from Hwy 19 onto Hwy 28. Follow Hwy 28; go north on Duncan Bay Main, cross the Campbell River. Find the trailhead south of the intersection of Iron River Road and Duncan Bay.

Farther north of Campbell River is a trail that leads from a Loveland Bay Road parking lot to an incredible mountain bike heaven–the Snowden Demonstration Forest. All skill levels of mountain biking are suited for the trails, and the Snowden Forest includes five major routes of the Frog Lake System and the four main routes of Lost Lake Trail System. Trails are approximately 2 to 8 kms long and weave together to create longer rides. Some of the less challenging routes follow the rail beds left from logging in the 1920s. This is some of the greatest intermediate mountain biking on Vancouver Island and is projected to get even better, as Forest Renewal B.C. funds are being used to rehabilitate old logging roads into recreational trails. Detailed maps of the trails in the Snowden Demonstration Forest are available from the B.C. Forest Service district office in Campbell River, 370 S Dogwood Street.

Salt and Freshwater Fishing

Campbell River’s salmon fishing has been getting better over the past couple years. Once famous for its Tyee derby, the salmon numbers dwindled inside Georgia and Johnstone straits for over twenty years, but now we are seeing signs of life again. May, June and early July are the best times to catch a salmon on the ocean here.

The Quinsam River flows into the Campbell River just inland from the Strait of Georgia. The Campbell broadens into the intertidal estuary as it meets the ocean. The fishing calendar here has a summer steelhead run from June to October, and a winter run between November and April. Year-round, you can find Chinook salmon in Discovery Passage, which also hosts coho from June to September, sockeye in August, pinks in August and September, tyee from July to September, and finally, chum salmon from September to November.

There are freshwater lakes dispersed through the North Island that are perfect for freshwater fishing. Most of these areas are only reachable by logging roads that lead east and west off Hwy 19. You can find the best advice on where the fish are biting from the many tackle shops in the area. There’s good char and trout fishing at Morton Lake Provincial Park. Roberts Lake, 32 kms (20 miles) north from Campbell River, also has good fishing close to Hwy 19. McCreight Lake, along with other small fishing lakes, feature areas perfect for rustic camping. You can also find occasional boat launches that are managed by Recreation Sites and Trails (formerly maintained by the BC Forest Service).

Marinas

Although the Campbell River waterfront could pass as one huge marina, there are actually three saltwater marinas and a freshwater marina. Explore Discovery Pier and Government Marina that are located at the south end (South Island Hwy – Highway 19). Discovery Harbour Marina and Argonaut Wharf are found marginally farther north, on Old Spit Road. The Freshwater Marina boasts public parking and a public boat launch, and is located north of the Campbell River Estuary. Turn east of Hwy 19 on Baikie Road to reach it.

Hiking:


Snowden Demonstration Forest 

Snowden Demonstration Forest within the Sayward Forest has 30 kms of easy and enjoyable hiking trails there. Unfortunately, because of logging in the forest from the 1920s to the 1950s, forest is in stages of recovery. West of Campbell River and north of Hwy 28 is where you’ll find the forest.


Strathcona Park

Marvel at the many spectacular Strathcona Park Trails, or even stop to fish trout in a stocked alpine lake. Embark on a mountain bike adventure down the side of a mystical mountain. There are also easy access trails for day hiking, and mountain ranges to challenge the experienced mountaineers.


Seawalk at Willow Point

As you pass through Campbell River heading south through Willow Point, it’s hard not to notice strollers and cyclists meandering along the popular Seawalk. This mostly paved shoreline trail has great beaches and views across to Quadra Island and Mitlenatch Island Provincial Park. Stop into Fudruckers right next to the water for a coffee or snack.

Campgrounds:

Miracle Beach Provincial Park 

Looking for a family-friendly spot to enjoy on a summer day? Miracle Beach Provincial Park is one of the most popular parks on Vancouver Island. It’s located south of Campbell River on Miracle Beach drive. Just ten minutes from the campsite, you can experience the cobblestone and sandy beach where you can see wildlife such as herons, eagles and seals. The beach has a covered picnic shelter with barbeques for your summer cookouts. Camp among the majestic second-growth forest and smell the wildflowers that bloom form spring to summer.

Elk Falls Provincial Park

A beautiful hike located 10 kms (6 miles) west of the junction of Highway 28 and 19A, is an excellent place to begin your exploration of Campbell River. The day-use area is situated near waterfalls on the Campbell River. Campsites are approximately 6.5 kms (4 miles) away on the Quinsam River. Douglas fir encompasses Elk Falls, with hiking trails running from the riverside campsites to Quinsam River Hatchery. The hatchery is open daily for tours.

Strathcona Provincial Park

Established in 1911, Strathcona Provincial Park is the original park in the provincial system. Many tourists and locals are devoted to hiking and exploring the rugged trails and heavily glaciated Vancouver Island Mountains. The park was created for nature-oriented thrill seekers and wilderness enthusiasts.

The routes of Strathcona Park are considered to be very challenging. Although beautiful, be prepared to enter the backcountry when visiting this park. A day trip to Strathcona allows you to admire the natural wonderland of the breathtaking forests, lakes, meadows, and mountaintops.

For roadside camping inside Strathcona Park, there are vehicle/tent campsites in two locations. Ralph River and Buttle Lake can both be reached from Highway 28. The nearest campground is Buttle Lake Campground, just west of Campbell River in a pleasantly forested, riverside location off Hwy 28 at Upper Campbell Lake and Buttle Lake.

Drive 25 kms south from Hwy 28 along prestine Buttle Lake to arrive at Ralph River. The turnoff is well marked so you can’t miss it – off Hwy 29 on the east side of the bridge near Buttle Narrows. Ralph River features great swimming and is peacefully confined by an old-growth Douglas fir forest.
Steep-sided Buttle Lake has two locations in Strathcona Provincial Park with boat launches. Find one at the Auger Point picnic tables in the Buttle Lake Campground; the other is located about 25 kms (15 miles) south of the campground, close to the Karst Creek picnic area. Because Buttle Lake has submerged deadheads from logging along the shoreline, be sure to take extra caution when using a powerful vessel. Buttle Lake has also been known for sudden windstorms and stormy weather that barrels through the mountains. Buttle Lake has incredible wilderness scenery that’s perfect for interesting canoe and kayak experiences.

Bird Watching at Mitlenatch

If you can trek by boat to Mitlenatch Island Nature Provincial Park, you’ll be in awe at the bird watching and wildflower paradise located northeast of Miracle Beach Provincial Park. Mitlenatch is the habitat of a huge, three thousand pair seabird colony on the Strait of Georgia.

The Narrows

Ripple Rock rest area (north of Campbell River on Hwy 19) is a great place to view Seymour Narrows and spend the day picnicking. Learn about the maritime history from an interpretive marker since Captain George Vancouver charted it in 1792. The submerged twin peaks of Ripple Rock were blasted away in 1958, allowing large boats to pass through. However, the rip tides still harass vessels with swirling whirlpools that agitate the surface of the Seymour Narrows.

Ripple Rock Trail (an easy 8 km or 5 miles return) is located at a well-marked roadside parking area about 6 kms (4 miles) north of the Ripple Rock Rest Area. Hike through second-growth forests to a high viewpoint of the strikingly vicious waters below, in Seymour Narrows.

Additional Sites & Activities

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Mt. Cain Ski Resort

Mt. Cain Ski Resort has beginner to advanced downhill and cross-country skiing from December-April depending on snow levels. You’ll find powder that has built up over the week, virtually no lift line-ups, and the welcoming vibe of a family-oriented mountain.

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Wei Wai Kum Cruise Ship

Visitors can learn about Canada’s Aboriginal heritage through the The Wei Wai Kum Cruise Ship. The cruise ship offers a variety of activities that include aboriginal traditions and culture, arts, wildlife viewing, and even sightseeing adventures. Visitors can also enjoy outdoor activities like kayaking, rafting, hiking, golf, and sport fishing.

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Quadra Island

This is one of the most populated Discovery Islands, and is a short, ten-minute ferry ride from Campbell River. Tourists from around the globe visit Quadra because of its natural beauty and unbelievable wilderness. You can enjoy a wonderfully mild climate, friendly locals and the refreshingly rural lifestyle. Rebecca Spit Provincial Park and the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre are two highlights here.

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Cortes Island 

Tranquil and friendly Cortes Island is an impressive extension of the Discovery Islands with glistening lakes and rugged ravines. Cortes Island can be reached by the ferry from Heriot Bay on the east of Quadra Island. Have a drink or a meal at the charming Heriot Bay Inn while you wait for the next boat.

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Gold River

Gold River, located at the west end of Hwy 28, is just an hour’s drive from Campbell River. It’s the perfect base to branch off from to explore the surrounding nature and wilderness trails. Use Gold River as a starting point for your Nootka Sound adventure!


Just For Kids

For a kid-centered adventure, take them to the beaches south of town: Saratoga Beach, Oyster Bay, or Miracle Beach. McIvor Lake features sandy beaches and is a favorite local swimming spot just west of Campbell River. Visit nearby Strathcona Provincial Park and sign the kid’s up for outdoor education classes at Strathcona Park Lodge, or choose a family-friendly course.

Kids can learn about cool fish stuff at the Quinsam Salmon Hatchery. Add to the learning experience with a family fishing trip down to Discovery Pier (you can even rent poles by the hour!). On weekends, Saratoga Speedway is a fun place to check out up-close stock car racing or go-carting all summer long. Don’t forget to check out the popular Puppet Theatre at the Campbell River Museum!


Film Production

Hollywood has noticed Campbell River’s breathtaking scenery and unique locations for filmmaking. The Scarlett Letter and Eaters of the Dead (released as the 13th Warrior) were filmed here, as well as many other small budget films.


Climate

Campbell River has a mild climate between -2°C (28°F) and 23°C (73°F) throughout the year. January often sees the most snow, 152 millimeters (6 in), however only 10 millimeters (3/8 in) can actually be witnessed accumulating in the downtown area. In the winter months, visitors can feel the Arctic bursts from the interior of British Columbia that blow through the coast, occasionally bringing temperatures below zero. The largest snowfall recorded in Campbell River was 53.3 centimeters (1 ft, 9 in) in 1978.

History & Early Settlement

First Nations people have understood how special this area is for thousands of years, living in harmony with nature and the life cycles of the salmon. Before European explorers made their way here, First Nations people occupied small villages located along the coast catching salmon, which had and still do have cultural significance. Salmon are still celebrated to this day with ceremonies and art. The first settlers known in the area were members of the Island Komox and were related Coast Salish peoples. A migration of Kwakwaka’wakw people of the Wakashan cultural and linguistic group migrated south during the 18th Century from the Fort Rupert and established themselves in the Campbell River area. At first enslaving the Komox, they became infamous as raiders of the Coast Salish peoples farther south, known in history as the Euclataws, which is also spelled Yucultas.

The origin of the name Campbell River is not completely known, but it’s thought that the river was named after Dr. Samuel Campbell. He was an assistant surgeon on a British survey ship on the HMS Plumper that surveyed Johnstone Strait in the 1850s and 1860s.

In 1792, Captain George Vancouver sailed up the Georgia Straight searching for the Northwest Passage, and discovered what is now known as Campbell River. Renowned for spectacular snow-capped peaks and incredible salmon fishing, Campbell River is truly a one-of-a-kind destination.

Travel/ How To Get Here

diving iconDriving:

For the fully serviced highway route, follow the starfish that are placed along the scenic Highway 19A. Look for the official “starfish” signs, south of Parksville and at other exits along Highway 19. You can travel the scenic north route to Campbell River, then choose take the Inland Island Highway 19 home.

sidney ship iconFerries:

To get to Campbell River and the North Island by ferry, you can take either the Tsawwassen/Duke Point route, or if you are travelling from south of Vancouver, take the Horseshoe Bay/Departure Bay route. From North Vancouver, the most direct route is to take the Horseshoe Bay/Departure Bay passage.

cortes plane iconFlights:

Daily scheduled flights make their way from the Vancouver International Airport to the Campbell River Airport. You can experience the seasonal floatplane service from downtown Seattle.

cruise iconComing by Boat:

Private yachts and boats are welcomed at local Campbell River marinas and other destinations with ocean access in the North Central Island region. Nautical visitors can find safe anchorages through the Discovery Islands, Desolation Sound, or Nootka Sound on the Pacific Coast.