6 mins

The 7 best places to see the salmon run in Canada

Every year in Canada salmon swim upstream to spawn in the place they were born. Here's where to see one of the greatest spectacles in nature, often in the company of bears.

A bear feasting on salmon (Shutterstock)

1. Adams River, British Columbia

Sockeye Salmon on Adams River (Shutterstock)

Sockeye Salmon on Adams River (Shutterstock)

Originating high in the Monashee Mountains and emptying into Adams Lake, Adams River is one of the largest salmon breeding grounds in North America. So come the annual salmon run, things get pretty congested. The swift water rapids on Fraser Canyon is the best place to see them jump.

The salmon here are sockeyes, so they turn a startling shade of red as they make their way up the river and lose their reserves of body fat. The males also develop a distinctive hooked nose.

The river is also noted for its ‘dominant years’ where the number of salmon making the run increases massively. The next dominant year is 2022, with a special ‘Salute to the Sockeye’ event planned to celebrate.

2. Knight’s Inlet, British Columbia

A bear fishing for salmon (Shutterstock)

A bear fishing for salmon (Shutterstock)

It’s not just humans who take an interest in the annual salmon run. The local grizzly bears are big fans too. They converge on the spawning channels to do a little fishing and fatten up for the long winter ahead.

One of the best places to watch bears swipe salmon as they swim upstream is Knight’s Inlet on the Glendale River. Dozens of grizzlies gather here to pick off their fill of pink salmon on their way up the Inlet and into the river.

Most of the lodges in this area offer tours to see the bears, with some building viewing platforms to offer the best and safest viewpoints. It is not uncommon to see ten to fifteen bears at a time, happily fishing the river, channels and estuary.

3. Humber River, Toronto

Salmon jumping up a barrier on the Humber River (Shutterstock)

Salmon jumping up a barrier on the Humber River (Shutterstock)

You don’t have to venture deep into the wilds of Canada to see the annual salmon run. You can witness this incredible phenomenon on a river in the country’s biggest city – the Humber in Toronto.

It’s actually a pretty cool place for watching salmon as they migrate from Lake Ontario. Hundreds of people gather to cheer the salmon on as they jump over constructed barriers on their journey upstream, taking selfies as they picnic beside the river. 

And any doubts that you may have that this is a distinctly urban experience is dispelled when you spot racoons feasting on salmon instead of bears.

4. Goldstream River, British Columbia

A Bald Eagle feasting on salmon on Goldstream River (Shutterstock)

A Bald Eagle feasting on salmon on Goldstream River (Shutterstock)

For a variety of salmon and the chance to maybe pan for a little gold, head to the Goldstream River in the north western part of Victoria on South Vancouver Island. This river was an important source of gold during the Gold Rush of the 1860s. So much so that it was simply known as the Gold Stream.

Today it is part of Goldstream Park and in October, one of the best place to watch salmon migrate from the northwest Pacific to spawn. Most of them are Chum, but you’ll typically spot Chinook and Coho salmon too. Drop by the Information Centre to learn more about the salmon run and the other wildlife here, including the Bald Eagles that descend on the river to catch salmon.

5. Exploits River, Newfoundland

An Atlantic salmon on the move (Shutterstock)

An Atlantic salmon on the move (Shutterstock)

While the west coast of Canada is rightly famous for its salmon runs, the east coast has its fair share of spectacularly migrations too. Exploits River in Newfoundland is arguably the best, especially around Grand Falls.

The salmon run starts a little earlier here, with fish first appearing at the end of August. There’s a Salmon Interpretive Centre here too, with an underwater observatory where you can watch the salmon jumping up a salmon ladder.

6. Campbell River, British Columbia

A young black bear looking for salmon on Campbell River (Shutterstock)

A young black bear looking for salmon on Campbell River (Shutterstock)

Calling itself ‘The Salmon Capital of the World’, Campbell River in British Columbia is unsurprisingly a great place to watch the annual salmon run. The temperate rainforest that surrounds it is also teeming with bears, so it’s ideal for watching bears feasting on salmon too.

Tucked away on the south end of Discovery Passage, the area offers a multitude of inlets, creeks and spawning channels that make excellent viewing sites. Local tour operators offer tours to the most stunning and remote coastal inlets for bear viewing from mid-August through to the end of October, including First Nation-led tours to Toba and Bute Inlets.

7. Highland Creek, Toronto

A farmer's market in Toronto (Shutterstock)

A farmer's market in Toronto (Shutterstock)

Should you find yourself in Toronto on the first weekend in October, catch the #116 bus to Morningside Park for the annual ‘Highland Creek Salmon Festival.’

The festival is organised by the local Conservation Authority  and includes guided nature hikes to see the salmon running upstream as well as wildlife displays, live performances, and environmental displays. There also food trucks and a farmer’s market, so it’s a truly hipster salmon run experience.

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