Campbell River is a place where the modern world meets the untamed wilds of Vancouver Island. From the coastal waters off it’s eastern shores to the rugged beauty of the iconic Strathcona Park. From the soaring eagles to the majestic orca. Planning a visit allows the outdoor enthusiast to step through a gateway to a special wild place. A wild place rich in culture with a connection to a sense of freedom we long to explore, enriching in our daily lives.
I had the opportunity to learn more about the history of the region recently as well as explore and experience the sights and sounds over a period of 4 days. Elated and feeling truly fortunate to be immersed into such a special place.
Wiwek̓a̱m ( Campbell River ) – A Region of Culture
Wiwek̓a̱m is the name given to the city by the Kwakwaka’wakw first nations people whom’s territory is where the now commonly referred to Campbell River sits. When you first visit the region you will immediately notice the connection of the two worlds coming together and the tribute to the original people of the area.
One of the greatest treasures of Vancouver Island may very well be the wild places. That being said, the Coastal First Nations peoples is the rich spiritual culture upon who’s unceded lands we call home. We had the chance to visit the Carving Shack in Campbell River owned by Bill Henderson of the Weiwaikum Tribe.
Bill is the son of Late Chief Sam Henderson , a great man that escaped the cultural pressure of early Canadian Culture to become a protector and preserver of their heritage. Now his son Bill carries on that legacy alongside his family of carvers including his cousin Greg who gave us a tour of their carving workshop.
The Henderson’s carve with traditional hand made tools in the methods passed down from family member to family member. The masks, totems, paddles and more that they create speak to the strong connection to the land, water and animals we share this region with.
Discovery Passage is a vital waterway that stretches across the shoreline of Campbell River connecting the Salish Sea to Johnson Strait. Across the passage lie the Discovery Islands and most notable Quadra Island. With added trips through Surge Narrows and Seymour Narrows, a circumnavigation of Quadra Island takes you into a whole new world.
Spending time on the water amongst coastal regions of British Columbia has created the stories and experiences that have made countless visitors make Vancouver Island their destination. Campbell river with its white sided dolphins, orcas, humpback whales and world renowned salmon fishing is the cream of the crop for these experiences on the water.
Local tour and charter companies on the trip allowed us to see exactly what I described above. A sensory escape into a marine world full of visually stunning locations and experiences with wildlife that leave you speechless.
I had the please of being on a salmon fishing charter boat when a large group of dolphins played in our wake. It was surreal and left me smiling, Night Bite Fishing Excursions not only provided a great trip but told terrific stories on the region. Many consider Campbell River to be the salmon fishing capital of British Columbia.
The full navigation of the shores of Quadra Island was thanks to Discovery Marine Safaris . Both our driver and naturalist provided insight, history and pleasant company while we explored the small islands, inlets and watched for wildlife. A highlight was going through the massive power of the flooding tides through Seymour Narrows. ( check out more history on Seymour Narrows and the explosion of Ripple Rock ) The tour would have me once again get to see the playful nature of the Pacific White Sided Dolphins playing in the boat’s wake and this time speeding in front of the bow. To round off our tour we were graced with a visit by a majestic Humback whale in Surge Narrows as we moved south along Quadra Island.
No trip to Campbell river would be complete without getting right close to the water. A sea kayak let’s you slow down and peacefully glide through the water with a front row seat to the ocean. Our guides for the day were the great guys at WildCoast Kayak located on Quadra Island. We would paddle along the shores of Rebecca Spit Marine Park , making our way to Heriot Bay and back.
Often people say they feel connected to a place and for me that would be Strathcona Park. This rugged and breathtaking park is the oldest Provincial Park in British Columbia, created in 1911. It is the home to a pristine wilderness that has seen next to no development and is void of roads and structures. A special conservation zone home to towering peaks, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, glaciers and abundant wildlife.
Gateway to Strathcona Park
“Gateway to Strathcona” is a term I often have used over the years from my countless trips to the park such as my climb of King’s Peaks . As one enters the park they first pass the historic Strathcona Park Lodge on the shores of Upper Campbell Lake.
Strathcona Park Lodge was founded in 1959 and is known for it’s commitment to outdoor education and stewardship. Aside from it’s accommodations, day activities and restaurant it is home to the COLT program. The COLT program is Canada’s premier outdoor training program developed at the Lodge in 1977.
Don’t worry if you aren’t a rugged outdoorsman as a visit to the Lodge can be as relaxing and worry-free as our stay was. A deep slumber overnight in the rustic rooms you wake to a serene morning along the water. Start the day enjoying a terrific breakfast buffet inside or on the deck of the main lodge. After breakfast wander down to the docks to take in relaxing guided canoe paddle on the lake with a friendly and knowledgeable experienced guide.
Venturing on day trips or driving in the region you can take in countless stops deeper in the park such as Lupin Falls. A short 5 minute hike off the road leads to a beautiful small waterfall.
Another must see stop would be a waterfall on a much grander scale. Located just outside of Campbell River on your way to Strathcona park is Elk Falls Provincial Park. A powerful and roaring waterfall lies along the Campbell River as it heads to the Ocean. Great views around the falls are possible on the many trails. Fortunately now with the addition of the large suspension bridge a whole new view & experience is possible.
Campbell River Seen From Above
As a hiker and climber I spend a majority of my time hiking through the forest and then climbing to the top of the tallest peaks. It would then be no shock that an opportunity to get an eagle’s eye view of the many trails and summits visits on trips past would be a special experience.
49 North Helicopters arranged to take us on a sunset flight over Strathcona Park. Our very skilled pilot soared amongst the many peaks and dipped through the valleys below. Eventually setting down on an alpine ridge just outside of the park boundary to watch the sun drop behind the distant peaks. What an amazing must do way to see the area in a whole new perspective.
Relax and Refuel For Your Adventure
Exploration & adventure are words that are tiring just saying them, so make sure that you are fueled up to tackle your day. Everywhere you looked their were countless options in Campbell River and Quadra Island during our visit for meals, coffee (my chosen refreshment always) and snacks.
A truly unique place that we ate was Crabby Bob’s right down on Fisherman’s Wharf. Here you can enjoy fresh mussels, clams, prawns and crab that are dropped off literally from the back of Fishermans boats. A Campbell River must do.
Just north of the city is Dolphin’s Resort, established in 1940 is the home to Anglers Dining Room. Rich with history tucked along the trees on the shore of Discovery Passage, the charming log and wood cabin is home to this memorable dining experience. As they say on their website, a truly unique intimate west coast culinary experience.
When on Quadra Island a highly recommended stop is Gowland Harbour Resort . Attention to detail and presentation, each plate leaves a memorable impression on both your eyes and palate. Enjoy your meal inside in the spacious west coast themed dining room or outside on the large patio overlooking the water.
Of special interest is the relationship Gowland Harbour Resort has with WildCoast Kayaking. Together the two businesses have teamed up to offer a unique experience with the Orca Camp Excursion.
A Legendary Guided Tour
Lastly taking in a whirlwind tour of the entire region by road would be done with Legendary Tours. This amazing tour takes you to the local wineries in the region as well as two distilleries. Of particular interest was the stop at ShelterPoint Distillery as a profound experience of a truly artisan island operation. The larger than life distillery is much like a work of art with attention to every detail.
Truly a mosaic of what west coast life represents is a closing way to describe Campbell River. Taking the time to slow down and savour life is of the utmost importance in our modern society. Allow yourself time to learn about the past and making new connections for the future. Enrich your inner spirit by understanding what the first Nations have taught for generations, value the land & water while honouring the wild creatures we share this space with.
Consider traveling to Campbell River for your next trip. Immerse your self in the natural beauty and remember the traditional law of the Kwakwaka’wakw: “All of creation can live without Man, but Man cannot live without all of creation.”