Fall on British Columbia’s south coast means many things … cooler days, changing leaves, visits to pumpkin fields and corn mazes, but my favourite fall activity is watching the phenomenon that is Pacific Salmon spawning.
British Columbia is home to five species of salmon, Spring (or Chinook), Coho, Sockeye, Pink and Chum, and arguably, there is nothing more epic than the voyage these fish take to return to their spawning grounds. Many travel over thousands of kilometres, guided primarily by smell as they return to their birthplaces.
There are lots of great places around the region to see the salmon fight their way upstream, and many of the locations provide educational information about the life cycle of the salmon. Every fall (usually from September to January), the salmon put on a show that delights and amazes all ages as they make their way up the spawning channels and rivers, swimming and jumping what appear to be insurmountable barriers of rocks, rapids and man-made fish ladders. And humans aren’t the only spectators drawn to the salmon spawn. In more remote areas, it’s not uncommon to spot bears gathering on the riverbanks to feed on the salmon, and in the Fraser and Elaho Valleys, hundreds (sometimes thousands) of Bald Eagles are drawn to the rivers to feast.
Click here for a complete list of salmon spawning view spots in the province, and below are a few of our favourites.
Capilano River Hatchery, North Vancouver
Located in North Vancouver along the Capilano River in Capilano River Regional Park, the Capilano River Hatchery is one of the closest to the city of Vancouver and is definitely among the more popular with visitors. An interpretive centre explains the life cycle of the salmon and viewing windows allow visitors to see salmon fighting their way up the fish ladders. Plan to spend a couple of hours as the park has great (and easy) hiking trails and viewing spots for spotting salmon and checking out the base of Cleveland Dam.
The Harrison River was the first designated Salmon stronghold in BC and is the only river in BC to have the good fortune of hosting all 5 species of Salmon and Steelhead Trout. And all of this salmon attracts the attention of up to 10,000 Bald eagles every fall. The spawning salmon are best viewed by boat, with boat tours available from Harrison and in November the area celebrates with the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival.
Weaver Creek Spawning Channel, Harrison Mills
Another very popular spot to watch the salmon is at the Weaver Creek Spawning Channel near Harrison Mills. This man-made offshoot of Weaver Creak provides the salmon a safe path and a protected spot to lay their eggs. The channel is designed in such a way that visitors can get very close to the edge of the creek for great viewing.
Mamquam Spawning Channel, Squamish
Popular with hikers, fisher-people and bikers the main trail at the Mamquam River in Squamish, leads to the salmon spawning channels and although it’s not marked, it is the most well used of the trails and pretty easy to find. Between August and November, the channel is home to Coho and Chum salmon and in the winter months, hundreds of wintering bald eagles are visible feasting on the salmon after they spawn.
Chapman Creek Hatchery, Sechelt
The Chapman Creek Hatchery in Sechelt is operated by the Sunshine Coast Salmonid Enhancement Society and is open Monday through Saturday. Take a self-guided tour of the hatchery and learn all about the life cycle of the salmon and the work that the society does to ensure that salmon and trout stocks are sustained on the Sunshine Coast. Be sure to take time to walk the forested nature trail to the edge of Chapman Creek. You’ll find a beautiful viewing platform, perfect for a picnic lunch.
Hoy Creek Fish Hatchery
Located in the Hoy Creek and Scott Creek watersheds within the Coquitlam River watershed system, Hoy Creek Fish Hatchery was originally established in 2002 to help rebuild the population of coho in Hoy Creek. Volunteers release young salmon fry in the Spring and after a few years those same salmon return to spawn. Celebrate the release and return with the Hatchery’s annual Salmon Leave Home and Salmon Come Home events. Walk or ride your bikes along Hoy Creek and watch the salmon struggle as they make their way back up the creek. The hatchery building is quite small but there are interpretive signs and often volunteers available to answer questions.
Little Campbell Hatchery
The first all-volunteer hatchery in British Columbia, the Little Campbell Hatchery is located on the banks of the Little Campbell River in Surrey. A fish fence has been installed across the river in front of the hatchery and volunteers count and identify species before releasing them to spawn up river. The hatchery is surrounded by lush forest and a wheelchair accessible nature trail provides great opportunities for watching the salmon spawn.
For more details about how to get to the channels and hatcheries throughout the region, and when the best viewing times are, the Department of Fisheries & Oceans have produced a pamphlet called ‘Where and When to See Salmon’.