It’s salmon spawning season on Vancouver Island. With the changing of seasons marks the return of once-tadpoles to the streams where life began for them. From now until early December, you can bear witness to one of the most exciting natural phenomenons of the year across the Island.
About Salmon Spawning on Vancouver Island
While different species spawn at different times of the year, Fall is one of the most popular and easily accessible times to view it. Salmon spend most of their time developing in small rivers and streams before heading out to sea, where they mature and spend the majority of their lives. Later, they return to the same river where they were born to lay or fertilize eggs of their own. After creating the next generation of salmon, they pass away and their bodies become part of the circle of life.
Getting to their original stream, however, is no easy task. First, they must overcome several obstacles, fighting their way against the currents, through natural barriers, and evading predators.
Between the months of September to November and into early December, you can witness this journey first-hand at streams and rivers across the Island.
Here are the 5 most popular places to see salmon spawning on Vancouver Island:
Goldstream Provincial Park
Only 25 minutes from downtown Victoria is Goldstream Provincial Park, where the Goldstream River meets the Saanich Inlet. Goldstream River is home to one of the richest salmon spawning locations on Vancouver Island, with species including Chum, Coho and Chinook.
Access to the river at Goldstream Provincial Park is only a short trek away from the main parking lot on the northbound side of the highway. While there is parking available on both sides of the road, visitors should know that there’s no safe pedestrian access across the highway, so it’s strongly encouraged to park at the main lot. From there, you can walk so we recommend starting your visit at the Nature House, situated on the east side of the highway. Park in the day use visitors area and walk 10 minutes down the Visitors Centre Trail.
While you’re here, you might want to embark on one of the many trail hikes in the area, ranging from easier wheelchair accessible trails to more rugged, steep terrain.
Stamp River Provincial Park
In the Central Island, you can see the salmon in Port Alberni at the Stamp River Provincial Park. Only 30 minutes northwest of Port Alberni, this park is home to beautiful Stamp Falls with a lush landscape and roaring river rapids. Near the entrance to the park is a fish ladder to help make the journey easier for salmon.
You can catch Coho salmon spawning in August and October and Chinook spawning in September and October. Gather at the pool of Stamp Falls to see the fish circling before fighting their way up the falls, or find a lookout spot along the river to watch the fish make their way up the river to their spawning beds.
Before heading home, stop at the Alberni Harbour Quay in downtown Port Alberni for a selection of waterfront shops and eateries — the donut shop is a must! Or if you want to learn more about the maritime history of the Alberni Valley and west coast, check out the Maritime Discovery Centre.
Quinsam River Hatchery
Popularly known as the Salmon Capital of the World, Campbell River holds true to its title as one of the best locations on Vancouver Island to watch salmon spawn. During the months of October and November, spectators can witness Coho and Chinook make their way upstream at Quinsam River Hatchery.
The Quinsam River Hatchery, located only 5km from downtown Campbell River, has recently modernized its facility and has become one of Canada’s most energy-efficient hatcheries. The Visitor Center offers educational information about the hatchery’s program and the salmon life cycle so don’t forget to stop there before finding the perfect viewpoint along the surrounding river.
There are many wheelchair accessible walking trails along the river but all visitors should exercise extreme caution while wandering, as it’s not unusual for spectators to encounter black bears along the trail.
While you’re in Campbell River, check out Shelter Point Distillery for a taste of local, artisanal spirits and Elk Falls Suspension Bridge for a picturesque photo-op.
Quatse River Hatchery
Along the Quatse River in Port Hardy, you’ll find thousands of salmon spawning. If you follow the entrance to the Quatse River Campground, you encounter walking trails along the river that will take you many different viewpoints. Visit the hatchery before heading to the river to find out the best spots to see the salmon. They even offer group tours year round.
The Quatse River Hatchery is owned and operated by the Northern Vancouver Island Salmonid Enhancement Association (NVISEA) and is also an fun, interactive museum aimed at supporting salmonid enhancement and education. Between June and mid-September, visitors can leap into the world of salmon and learn about their life cycle from small egg to spawning.
While you’re in Port Hardy, check out the Port Hardy Museum & Archives for a glimpse into the history of the area and for a unique selection of First Nations jewelry and decorative items.
Thornton Creek Hatchery
On the west coast of Vancouver Island, located in Ucluelet, is Thornton Creek Hatchery. Thornton Creek Hatchery is a widely-popular destination in the fall for visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the annual salmon run. This hatchery is focused on enhancing Coho, Chinook and Chum in the Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds and offer private tours for school groups and university students.
Entry to the hatchery is by donation and open to visitors from 10am-3pm from September until mid-November. Visitors are requested to walk directly from their vehicles to the fenced area and avoid bringing food, drinks or dogs.
What Know Before You Go
Remember, salmon spawning is not only for spectators, it’s also one of the most important times of the year for bears to stock up on nutrients before the winter ahead. Anytime you’re heading into the wilderness, always prepared and practice safe outdoor behaviours. If you see a bear, remain calm, stay still and do not run. Get your bear deterrent ready and back away slowly without turning your back.
Additionally, the weather on Vancouver Island can be unpredictable so make sure you dress appropriately. Most of the salmon spawning destinations are easily accessible by well-maintained trails, but proper footwear and a warm raincoat can ensure your salmon spawning experience can be enjoyed to the fullest.
Lastly, try to avoid wearing brightly coloured clothing, such as reds, pinks and purples, as it can cause undue stress on the salmon if they spot you. Keep pets on a leash at all times and, if possible, find a higher location for the best view so they’re not tempted to hop in the water.
For more tips and recommendations for how to be best prepared in the outdoors, check out AdventureSmart.ca.