Campbell River is a peaceful little city located on Vancouver Islands East coast. This popular fishing destination, known as the salmon capital of the world, is also home to jaw dropping scenery and a number of fantastic outdoor activities. In this post, we will go over all of the best things to do in Campbell River, when to visit, and how long you should spend there!
We have been to Vancouver Island several times, but had never taken the time to include Campbell River into our itinerary until this past spring. As we began driving north of Nanaimo, the traffic dwindled and the rugged coastline grew more and more impressive.
Although technically a city, Campbell River has a small-town feel that compliments the lush forests and coastal views. With stunning scenery and activities around every corner, this is a must visit destination on any trip to Vancouver Island!
First things firsts, lets talk about how to get there.
There are a few options available, the first being to fly. From downtown Vancouver, you can board a small seaplane that will take you directly to the Campbell River harbour for a fairly reasonable price.
The second option is to fly into Victoria, Tofino or Nanaimo and drive to Campbell River. This could be a great option if you want to see other places on Vancouver Island and turn it into a road trip.
With a road trip in mind, you could also drive to Vancouver and take the ferry over to Nanaimo. This will give you a great deal of flexibility while you travel the island.
Lastly, you could take a ferry to Campbell River from Powell River on the Sunshine Coast. This is a popular extended loop if you have more time for an epic west coast road trip!
Onto the next phase of planning, when/how long should you go for?
The best time to visit Campbell River weather-wise is between late April and early September, with June to August being peak season. You can visit in the winter months, as well, but there is a higher chance of rain and a lower daily temperature.
Depending on what you would like to do, anywhere between 2-6 days would be ideal in Campbell River. Keep in mind that most tours take a full day and many of the hikes involve a bit of a drive to access the trail head.
Elk Falls & Elk Suspension Bridge
Elk Falls is without a doubt the most famous and easily accessible waterfall near Campbell River. Only 2 kilometres from downtown, Elk Falls Provincial Park offers a campground, several hiking trails, and, of course, fantastic views of Elk Falls.
The loop trail from the parking area is only 1.4 kilometres and 46m of elevation gain. You begin with a walk through a stunning old growth forest as you make your way to the powerful 25 meter waterfall. Once you arrive, you can view Elk Falls from the suspension bridge and several other lookout points along the trail.
Quadra Island was one of our favourite places to visit in Campbell River and I’m sure you will feel the same way! The ferry is only 10 minutes in duration and runs at least once an hour. We headed over in the afternoon and spent the evening driving around in the van and exploring.
Some of our favourite stops were Rebecca Spit Marine Provincial Park, Cape Mudge Lighthouse, and Main Lake Provincial Park. If you are looking for a hike, the Chinese Mountains Loop is a great option. At 4.2km and 282m of elevation gain, it is fairly moderate with great views over the water.
49 North Helicopters offers a handful of mind-blowing tours that, albeit a bit expensive, would make for a killer addition to your trip! You can embark on a sightseeing tour, a heli-fishing adventure, or a helicopter winery tour, to name a few. You can even book a heli-paddle tour—which is very high on my bucket list—where you get to paddle among some of the oldest glaciers in Canada.
Photos courtesy of 49 North Helicopters website.
Strathcona Provincial Park
Strathcona Provincial Park spans 2,458 square kilometres just southwest of Campbell River. Although you definitely need a vehicle to access it, exploring this area is something you can’t miss! Within its borders, you will find several stunning waterfalls including the highest in Canada, Della Falls, crystal clear lakes, a plethora of trails, and a handful of Vancouver Island’s highest mountains.
There are enough hikes in this area to keep you entertained for weeks, but here is a few to get you started:
- Upper Myra Falls: 7.2km & 280m elevation
- Lower Myra Falls: 1.6km & 52m elevation
- Lupin Falls: 0.8km & 43m elevation
- Ripple Rock Trail: 8.2km & 370m elevation
- Crest Mountain: 11.1km & 1263m elevation
- Lady Falls: 1km & 42m elevation
Fish & Chips
You can’t visit the west coast without grabbing a plate of fish and chips—or 4!—and there are a few places you have to add to your list in Campbell River. Some of the best meals we had were at Dicks and Dockside Fish & Chips. Both of these restaurants are very close to Robert V. Ostler Park which is a great place to enjoy the tasty food with views of the ocean.
Whale Watching Tour
A whale watching tour is an excellent way to spend the day in Campbell River. Especially if you are visiting between May and September. Humpback Whales frequent the area during that time, while orcas are typically around all year long. Tours start at $200CAD per person and range from a few hours to a full day.
Beachfire Brewing Company
Beachfire Brewing Company is a lively little joint on any day of the week. They offer great happy hour specials, wonderful food, and even a dog friendly patio! We appreciated that we could bring Bailey along and enjoy the sunshine, so we spent a fair amount of time there.
The Shops, Street Art, & Pathways
David was working for a few days of our trip which meant that I did my fair share of walking around Campbell River. The shops that line the downtown streets are great to wander through for an afternoon. On many of these buildings, you will find impressive pieces of street art. If you are craving a walk, there is a lovely path that winds along the water beginning at Robert V. Ostler Park.
If you are looking for some extra excitement, Campbell River Whale Watching also offers full-day bear tours! The best time to see these majestic giants feeding on the salmon is in September and October, but they have great sightings in August as well. These tours start at around $420CAD per person. Pricy? Yes. But this unforgettable experience can also double as a whale-watching tour!
With incredible views out over discovery passage and everything you need to spend a few hours fishing, Discovery Pier is certainly worth a stop. You will find this 180-meter pier near Fisherman’s Wharf and downtown Campbell River with a parking lot right off the Island Highway.
On top of having benches, rod holders, and fish cleaning tables, the pier also offers a shop where you can rent fishing gear by the hour. Keep in mind that you will need to purchase a license if you plan to fish. You can do so at most of the local tackle shops or online.
Being the salmon capital of the world, Campbell River is the perfect place to book a guided fishing trip! During these trips, you will float down pristine rivers, remote coastal passages, and inlets of the marvellous west coast. There are too many charter companies to count, so shop around and find the one that feels right for you!