8 best things to do in Campbell River
Campbell River, on the east coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, is a city of the great outdoors. Amidst stunning scenery including the Discovery Passage, ancient forest groves and Mount Washington, Campbell River offers plenty of opportunities to play outdoors! Located in the middle of the island, Campbell River is easily accessible. If you are planning a road trip to Vancouver Island, you will pass right by Campbell River. So why not plan to stop by, enjoy the smell of cedar and the salty air that stops you, and participate in some memorable Canadian outdoor activities.
Getting to Campbell River, British Columbia
By car: Campbell River is a 3.5 hour drive north of Victoria, British Columbia. Take the Trans-Canada Highway which then turns into Highway 19 to Campbell River. If you prefer scenic drives that follow the shore, join Hwy 19A around Parksville and meander to Campbell River.
By car and ferry from Vancouver: Routes include North Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay) to Nanaimo (Departure Bay); South Vancouver (Tsawwassen) to South Nanaimo (Duke Point) and South Vancouver (Tsawwassen) to Swartz Bay (Victoria).
By car and ferry from Washington State: Routes include Port Angeles WA in Victoria BC and Anacortes WA in Sidney BC.
By plane: There are direct flights from Vancouver and Seattle to the Campbell River Regional Airport. A flight from Vancouver takes approximately 45 minutes.
Here are some great reasons to stop by and take in what Campbell River has to offer.
1. Go whale watching from Campbell River (April to October)
I have to start with my first choice of outdoor activity! Whales trump everything else for me. My daughter and I chose the 6 hour trip with the whale watching tours in Campbell River. The 6 hours included an outdoor lunch on a public pier. There is a small bathroom on the zodiac boat.
I highly recommend this tour. In fact, next time I might even book an 8 hour trip. We were looking for killer whales, resident and transient groups, Pacific white-sided dolphins, humpback whales, sea lions and seals. Of course, we also scanned the treetops and the sky for eagles.
The landscapes of this part of Canada are spectacular. There is a feeling of expansion across the waters with the salty breeze and the sun reflecting off the sparkling water. The islands take on a shade of blue.
We went up the Discovery Passage, which is part of the route taken by cruise ships to Alaska. We cruised through small coves to learn about dead tides and tide differentials.
There were four other tour boats at the same time and the guides all kept in radio contact. What a collaborative way to work so that all clients, regardless of the travel agency chosen, can participate in whale watching. The guides timed it perfectly so that there aren’t more than two boats around the whales.
We were delighted to have three separate humpback whale sightings and to be able to identify one of the six whales as Apollo. Killer whales escaped us that day, but we saw seals and observed a flock of sea lions having a blast.
At the end of the trip, our excellent guide showed us on the map where we had been, which passages and which islands we had seen. It’s pretty addicting. Free water. The search for whales. I wanted to get back on the boat.
- Grizzly bear tours are also available.
- “Eagle Heaven” takes place in May and June when 300 bald eagles come to feed on North Pacific hake. It is known as a spectacular natural wonder to behold.
2. Cross the Elk Falls suspension bridge
Another highlight of Campbell River is the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge. This activity is not on the water but in the air! The walk from the parking lot to the suspension bridge takes about 10 minutes along a forest path and down a few stairs. Elk Falls are more than awe-inspiring, along with the magnificent soaring trees and verdant ferns. Are you brave enough to cross the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge that spans Elk Falls Canyon? Take your time as you cross and enjoy the breathtaking vistas of the falls and canyon.
Pro tip: The suspension bridge is located in the Elk Falls Provincial Park and Protected Area. There are hiking and mountain biking trails and a campground.
3. Go salmon fishing
Campbell River is known as the “Salmon Capital of the World” and for years people have come here for the chance to go out on the water and fish for salmon. Rivers and ocean meet here in Campbell River, so there’s the option to go freshwater or saltwater fishing. Try your hand at fly fishing along the Campbell River for chinook, coho, chum and rose salmon. Or, hire a fishing charter with a professional guide to take you on an inshore fishing experience.
4. Catch a fish at Discovery Fishing Pier in Campbell River
The Discovery Fishing Pier in Campbell River is very scenic. It is the first and longest public saltwater fishing jetty in Canada. It is a popular spot for anglers of all ages. Rod holders dot the wooden railings, tables are provided for cleaning the fish, and the benches are the perfect place to sit and wait for a bite! Equipment rentals, bait, fishing licenses and ice cream are available at the concession stand on the pier. The concession is open from May to October.
5. Mount Washington Alpine Resort
This all-season resort is an hour’s drive from Campbell River. Step into the mountains and enjoy the Canadian winter season. Bundle up and go skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or snowmobiling. Really, you can get your winter activity fix here. During the summer months, Mount Washington Alpine Resort is a mountain biker’s dream. What do you think of the zipline with a breathtaking view of the Comox valley and the landing on the roof of the alpine lodge? If the Eagle’s Flight Zip Tour isn’t for you, there are chairlift rides and plenty of hiking trails. Keep your eyes peeled for the endangered Vancouver Island Marmot, which is making a comeback to this region.
6. Take a kayak trip
Campbell River is an excellent starting point for a kayaking adventure among the Discovery Islands. Protected canals, secluded coves and beaches make a kayaking trip an unforgettable experience. A few years ago I did a 3 night tour package with Coast Mountain Expeditions. Paddle with guides in the waters of the West Coast, sleep on tiny islands and prepare the food for a true West Coast experience.
Pro tip: There are many kayaking outfitters in the area. Or head to Quadra Island and spend a day kayaking around its coves.
7. Beach fire brewery and nosh house
After one of your outdoor adventures, stop by the trendy Beach Fire Brasserie with its very inviting and lively atmosphere. In the middle of the tables for two, there are long wooden community tables perfect for large groups and for meeting other vacationers or locals. Its basic beers are on offer as well as fun flavors like Moscow Mule ale and small batch beers like Pineapple Salsa Blonde Ale. Order a unique beer and a meal, and soak up the laid-back vibe of Campbell River.
8. Rotating sea promenade
For an easy and enjoyable activity in Campbell River, follow the Rotary Beach Sea Walk along the shore. Rotary Sea Walk is a 3.4 mile long paved walkway where walking, biking, and rollerblading are all enjoyed. Marvel at the view of Discovery Passage and Quadra Island. Keep your eyes peeled for seals, killer whales and bald eagles.
Where to stay in Campbell River
Painter’s Lodge (Painter’s Lodge Holiday and Fishing Resort) is a large and charming lodge located directly on Discovery Passage across from Quadra Island. We stayed here and enjoyed the wonderful views. Rent a kayak or play tennis during your stay and dine on site.
April Point is her lodge on Quadra Island which is accessible with a short boat shuttle from Painter’s Lodge pier. It is known for its magnificent views from all angles!
Built in the 1940s as a fishing lodge, the Dolphins Resort offers spectacular views of the Discovery Passage. Rent one of its 13 private chalets for a romantic outdoor getaway! Some cabins have a private hot tub.
Here are two other stops for your road trip.
- Not far from Campbell River, in the town of Courtenay, is the cute little ice cream shop called Blue Spruce. This is a great stop for all the ice cream lovers in the group as it offers gluten free cones and vegan ice cream. I sampled both and gave it a thumbs up!
- A very interesting stop, about a 40 minute drive from Campbell River, is the historic village of Cumberland, right in the heart of the Comox Valley. Cumberland, a mining town from 1888 to 1966, has one of the most scenic main streets I have seen in British Columbia. You might think you are walking around a movie set, passing colorful heritage houses. The street is lined with a bakery, restaurants, bicycle shops, a general store and many cafes. We had a nice cup of java at the Cumberland Grind Espresso & Smoothie Bar and, with a coffee in hand, we explored the village.
Other adventures on Vancouver Island: