Here are some of our favourite public spots to view spawning salmon on Vancouver Island. We’ve included family friendly locations with clearly marked trails and viewing areas. If you have a favourite spot to share, email us!
Species: Chum salmon, with some coho, chinook and steelhead
Best Times: Adult chum spawn in November; coho in November and December; chinook in late October and early November; steelhead spawn early in February.
Goldstream Provincial Park is 25 minutes from downtown Victoria on Highway 1. Goldstream River runs through the park and is one of the richest salmon spawning locations on Vancouver Island, with species including chum, coho and chinook spawning. You can start your visit at the Goldstream Park Nature House where there is information on spawning salmon. The trails in the area range from wheelchair accessible to more rugged terrain.
Species: Chum, coho and chinook salmon, and steelhead trout
Best Times: Adult chum and coho spawn November-December; chinook, October-November; steelhead, February-March.
This trail system and viewing area is about 12 km past Qualicum Beach. From mid-September until mid-November the rivers and channels are great spots for salmon viewing and seeing all types of birds and wildlife. The Big Qualicum River Trail is a service road that starts at the hatchery and runs 10 km along the side of the river. There is also a 5 km loop trail that starts at the Little Qualicum River Hatchery that has an underground viewing area and several side trails.
Species: Sockeye, coho and chinook and steelhead
Best Times: Adult sockeye in mid-July; coho in August and October; chinook in September and October.
In the Central Island, you can visit Stamp River Provincial Park near Port Alberni to see salmon spawning. Beginning in August, thousands of sockeye, coho and chinook salmon circle in the pool below Stamp Falls before ascending the fish ladders on their way to their spawning beds. Sockeye salmon begin running in August and the run continues with coho and Chinook right into December. The salmon are a draw for black bears and eagles, so bring your binoculars for extra wildlife viewing.
Species: Pink, coho, chinook and steelhead
Best Times: Pinks in September; coho and chinook, October- November; steelhead, November-April.
Campbell River is known as the “Salmon Capital of the World” and has many streams and rivers that are ideal for salmon spotting during spawning season. One popular spot for viewing is the Quinsam River area. While you are there, visit the Quinsam River Hatchery, located 5 km west of downtown Campbell River. The hatchery facility has an excellent interpretive centre for salmon and the surrounding rivers offer excellent opportunities to view salmon in their natural setting.
While we don’t recommend this as a fall or winter activity during spawning season, we did receive a few recommendations from our salmon friends suggesting that anyone truly looking for a unique salmon experience will want to try salmon snorkeling in the summer! On Vancouver Island, a few popular hot spots to do this are the Puntledge River in Courteney and the Campbell River in Campbell River. There are snorkeling tours available during the summer that would help navigate waters if you are unfamiliar with the area. Please be aware of weather and water conditions and don’t try this unless you are experienced.