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