Known as the salmon fishing capital of the world, Campbell River is a haven for outdoor adventure and scenery. It’s located on the 50th parallel of northeastern Vancouver Island, BC, where wildlife and nature are aplenty. While this town isn’t as popular a destination as Victoria or Tofino, it boasts world-class experiences you can’t miss.
Campbell River earned its place on the map for its excellent recreational fishing thanks to writer and conservationist Roderick Haig-Brown. Now, outdoors lovers flock to the coastal town for hiking, kayaking, and of course, fishing. It’s the third-largest city on Vancouver Island with a growing population of all ages. It’s considered a hub of the North Island, servicing over 60,000 people living in surrounding island communities.
While the outdoors really flourish, Campbell River attractions don’t stop at sports fishing. The city has a rich First Nations culture with fantastic carvings, artwork, and tours. There are also great restaurants, charming shops, and gorgeous rugged beaches.
We loved our time exploring this town on our recent visit to Vancouver Island and put together a list of the 12 best things to do in Campbell River.
Best Time to Visit Campbell River, BC
Visiting Campbell River is lovely year-round but the best time to visit is from spring into the fall. September is particularly good for wildlife viewing and mild temperatures during the day and evenings.
During the summer, it can get quite busy thanks to the warm, dry weather. The winter season is much quieter but can be very rainy and see small amounts of snow.
How to Get to Campbell River, BC
Since the town is located on Vancouver Island, you’ll need to take a ferry to get to Campbell River from the rest of British Columbia. You can take a ferry to Victoria and drive 3 hours north or take a ferry to Nanaimo and cut down your drive to 1.5 hours.
It is possible to take a bus to Campbell River, with Island Link Busses. Routes operate from both ferry terminals and other parts of the island.
Flights to Campbell River are also available from Vancouver, Victoria, and Washinton State.
How to Get Around Campbell River, BC
Driving and cycling are the most popular methods of transportation. If you don’t have wheels, you can ride the BC Transit bus around most of the city for CAD $2. Just be sure to plan ahead because bus schedules end fairly early, especially on weekends.
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Top Things to do in Campbell River, BC
Whether you’re craving nature or culture, Campbell River has loads of fun things to do.
Go Whale Watching
Seeing whales is a magnificent sight and Campbell River whale watching is world-class. The waters surrounding the area are teeming with marine life, making it the perfect place for a marine wildlife tour. The area sees year-round transient orcas, along with humpbacks from May-November.
We recommend a half-day tour with Homalco Tours to experience wildlife and culture. Keep your eyes peeled for sea lions and bald eagles too!
Go Bear Watching
For an authentic west coast experience, join Homalco Tours on a scenic boat ride through the Bute Inlet. During the salmon season, from August-October, you’ll get a chance to see grizzly bears in their natural habitat. It’s one of the most unique local tourist attractions!
We particularly enjoyed the Whales, Wildlife, and Culture Tour that combines whale watching, bear watching with fascinating stories of the First Nations communities in this region. If you are short on time and want to see it all, this is by far the best marine safari tour in this town.
Whether you choose to casually cast a few lines into Campbell River or join a fishing charter, don’t miss a chance to experience one of Vancouver Island’s premier salmon fishing destinations. It offers an opportunity for saltwater and freshwater fishing. Fishing charter operators are plentiful and many lodges and adventure tour operators would be happy to help you plan a fishing trip.
Shop at Wei Wai Kum House Of Treasures Ltd
Campbell River is surrounded by diverse neighbouring communities with a strong First Nations presence. Some of the coolest things to see in Campbell River are the First Nations arts and crafts. Pop into Wei Wai Kum House of Treasures to see jewellery, clothing, carvings, and souvenirs made by local Indigenous artists.
Visit the Discovery Harbour Marina
Being the salmon capital, the marina is filled with fishing boats. Take a stroll down to the Discovery Harbour Marina to see rows of boats docked along the coast. You’ll see everything from sailboats to fishing boats and sometimes even yachts! It’s a fun place for a stroll in the afternoon and is particularly picturesque at sunset.
Check out French Creek Collective in Downtown Campbell River
Be sure to check out French Creek Collective for home goods and souvenirs. This cute little shop is locally owned and filled with unique decor and artisanal foods from across the globe.
Have a Beer at Beach Fire Brewing
Named for the beloved beach fires that dot beaches each night, Beach Fire Brewing serves up a tasty pint. Crafted with ingredients from local farmers, they offer a great selection of classic, seasonal, and small-batch brews. They also offer small bites and host trivia, comedy, and yoga events.
Stock up on Tea at Stonehouse Teas
If you are looking for a good cup of tea, don’t miss Stonehouse Teas. It’s definitely one of the top places to visit in Campbell River for tea lovers! The shop boasts over 120 varieties of loose leaf teas, along with locally roasted coffee and fresh pastries. You can take a bag home with you or relax with a beverage inside or on their patio.
Catch a Sunset at Discovery Pier
One of the best things to do in Campbell River is to watch a sunset over the mountains. The Discovery Fishing Pier location is ideal for sweeping views of the mainland and Discovery Islands. Spend the afternoon doing some Campbell River fishing or visit the Discovery Passage Aquarium before settling in for sunset.
Visit Elk Falls Provincial Park
Located just 5 minutes away from town, Elk Falls Provincial Park is an amazing place for an easy hike to see roaring waterfalls. Walking across the suspension bridge is a must. The shaking suspension bridge crosses over the top of the falls offering panoramic views of the canyon and forest. Hike along the trails to see massive douglas fir trees and cedars—you can even walk inside of some of them!
The Campbell River Canyon View Trail, just outside of the park, is the local favourite for hikes near Campbell River.
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Explore Strathcona Provincial Park
This park is the oldest provincial park in British Columbia and home to some of the biggest mountains on Vancouver Island. The park is located 1 hour away from Campbell River and is filled with hiking trails and stunning waterfalls. Cruise along the shores of Buttle Lake before checking out beautiful Lady Falls or hiking to turquoise Lower Myra Falls.
See the Views at Mt Washington Chairlift
Mt. Washington Alpine Resort is a year-round destination located just 40 mins south of Campbell River. The resort is particularly popular in the winter offering access to over 1,700 acres and 505 vertical metres of alpine terrain, 55kms of cross-country skiing, and 25kms of snowshoeing trails along with dedicated lodges, Tube Park and Fat Bike trails.
In the summer, visitors can access hiking and biking trails, zipline adventures and the poplar Mount Washington scenic chairlift that offers rides from mid-June to late September. The chairlift takes you to Mt Washington summit at 1588 meters above sea level offering views of Strathcona Provincial Park, Comox Glacier, Mt Arrowsmith and the Strait of Georgia.
Day Trip to Quadra Island
Quadra Island is the biggest of the Discovery Islands located off the coast of the Campbell River. It has about 2,700 residents and is beautifully remote. The island is rugged and wild, with a vibrant cultural spirit and community.
You’ll need to take a ferry to get there to enjoy hiking, kayaking, and fishing. The ferry is located behind Tyee Plaza, where you can also find the visitor centre and Campbell River Art Gallery. Visiting Quadra is one of the nicest things to do near Campbell River for a fun easy day trip.
Visit Horne Lake Caves
The parks are filled with towering trees and waterfalls, but if you’re keen to explore some caves, head to Horne Lake. The lake is located 1 hour 15 minutes south along the Island Highway, not far from Qualicum Bay. Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park is the perfect place to experience underground adventure on a cave tour. You’ll learn about history and geology while climbing through the caves.
Best Restaurants in Campbell River
Quay West Kitchen
Dine on this amazing scenic waterfront at Quay West Kitchen. The restaurant has a large patio and bright dining room with stunning views of Quadra Island and the sea. They offer a variety of local seafood, burgers, and tasty pasta dishes.
Grab a hot drink and look out over a quintessential West coast backdrop at FoggDukkers Coffee. It’s one of our favourite Campbell River attractions thanks to its cozy atmosphere and great oceanfront location. Sit around the communal campfire on the beach with a coffee and pastry and the waves roll in.
BaBa Gannouj Restaurant
BaBa Gannouj is the place to be for authentic Syrian and Lebanese cuisine. Their menu features local ingredients with excellent vegan and vegetarian options. Their falafels and shawarmas are the perfect handheld snack to take for a picnic on the beach. The food is fantastic and the family that runs it is so sweet, so be sure to stop by!
Crooked Spoon Cafe
If you’re looking for homemade comfort food, head to the Crooked Spoon on Shoppers Row. They’re open for breakfast and lunch and offer tasty favourites like beef chilli and homemade pierogies.
SoCal Restaurant and Lounge
Fresh handmade Mexi-Cali cuisine is the star at SoCal Restaurant and Lounge. They offer a range of protein-packed salads, hearty burgers, and shareable appetizers in South Campbell River. Have a seat on the sun-soaked patio and sip on a margarita after a day on the trails.
Where to Stay in Campbell River
Thunderbird RV Park & Cottage Resort
Close to many of the fun things to do in Campbell River, Thunderbird RV Park & Cottage Resort is a great place to stay. The RV park is a First Nations-owned and operated business located just down the street from the Tyee Spit where you can enjoy the beach and watch for wildlife. They offer several year-round RV sites and 4 self-contained cottages. RV sites start at CAD $45 per night.
Haig-Brown Heritage House
There are many hotels in Campbell River but staying at the Haig-Brown Heritage House is a unique experience. The bed & breakfast was once home to writer Roderick and his wife, Ann Haig-Brown. Now, the charming house welcomes visitors to explore the gardens and learn more about nature conservation. Rooms are private with shared bathroom amenities and start at CAD $110 per night.
Oyster Bay Resort
Oyster Bay Resort, located at the south end of town, offers some of the nicest cabins in Campbell River. All of the 20 cabins have an ocean view, private deck, and spacious living area. The uniquely shaped chalets are iconic to the town and a great launching to explore the Comox Valley.