Driving north away from Nanaimo the next day, on Vancouver Island's north coast, I eventually reach Campbell River after many hours of empty highways and beautiful views. Here is the Canada I recognize from countless nature documentaries: wide-open vistas, achingly sharp snow-tipped mountains, and salmon runs so thick you can almost walk from one side of the river to the other.
Campbell River is often called “Salmon Capital of the World” and has long attracted anglers with the promise of reeling in all five species of Pacific salmon: Coho, Sockeye, Chum, Chinook and Pink. Every Fall, millions of mature fish return to the the rivers of their birth here on the coast of British Columbia and massive runs swim up the Campbell River to their freshwater spawning grounds.
A bizarre experience here is to snorkel upstream with tens of thousands of salmon as they throng upriver to spawn in the dying days of summer. Canadian writer and conservationist Roderick Haig-Brown first had the idea in the late 1950s and it is now a popular activity from early July to mid October. The river varies from a meter to three meters in depth and snorkelers float with the current, surrounded by thousands of fish in crystal-clear water. The swim ends in a large tidal pool in the estuary, where harbor seals can also often be seen.
While a wetsuit is not essential, it will protect against both cold and knocks while providing extra flotation. Wetsuits, mask, snorkel and fins can be hired from several companies in the area who will also offer advice on how not to disturb the salmon in their spawning grounds.
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