As the most northern city on Vancouver Island, Campbell River is located on the edge of wilderness.
Ocean and islands form the eastern border, with Strathcona Provincial Park (the Island’s biggest protected area) located to the west. The forest stretches as far as the eye can see inland, interrupted only by lakes and rivers.
The city itself is perched right by the coast, with spectacular views across to the coastal mountains on British Columbia’s mainland. Needless to say, this is a hotspot for outdoor recreation. It’s also a breathtaking place to be on a sunny day.
With this in mind, Campbell River is one of our favourite cities in BC. It’s actually at the very top of our shortlist of places to live when and if we leave Penticton.
In this post, I’m going to share the best things to do in Campbell River.
We visit at least once a year (and previously lived in nearby Courtenay) so we like to think we know this area pretty well. Almost every activity mentioned on this list has been tried and tested by us!
Here’s what to expect:
- 10 BEST things to do in Campbell River
- Visit the free suspension bridge at Elk Falls
- Explore the Discovery Fishing Pier
- Buy fresh seafood at Crabby Bob’s
- Stroll or cycle the Rotary Seawalk
- Eat the tastiest fish and chips at Dockside
- Explore the local beaches
- Join a bear or whale-watching tour
- Hike in Strathcona Provincial Park
- Paddle the Sayward Forest Canoe Circuit
- Go camping
- Other great things to do in Campbell River
- 15+ more ideas
- Where to stay in Campbell River
Last updated September 2023
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Campbell River, Vancouver Island
Campbell River is a city of 35k people located on the traditional territory of the Liǧʷiɫdax̌ʷ First Nation, which comprises the We Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum and Kwiakah First Nations. The first name given to this area was ƛəmataxʷ.
The first industries in the new community of Campbell River, like so many on Vancouver Island, were resource-based – primarily mining, fishing and logging.
Commercial fishing was particularly prevalent, with salmon being a huge draw. Painter’s Lodge, a hotel specialising in sport fishing, was built in the late 1920s and attracted Hollywood stars to Campbell River’s shores.
After the building of a pulp mill in the 1950s, Campbell River gained a reputation for being something of a ‘dirty city’ and consequently wasn’t the most desirable place to live or visit.
We almost couldn’t believe this when we moved to Vancouver Island in 2011.
By then, the pulp mill had closed and all we saw was a beautiful coastal city with the most incredible (and accessible!) outdoor recreation opportunities anywhere on the Island!
Seriously, there is SO much to do in and around Campbell River if you like the outdoors. From hiking, paddling and biking to fishing, boating, skiing and more. We love it and I’m sure you will enjoy your visit to Campbell River too!
Top 10 BEST things to do in Campbell River
We have spent a lot of time in Campbell River over the years. We’ve also brought family here and hung out with friends in the surrounding area. It’s a place that we feel we have explored pretty well.
Given this, the following section features what I believe to be the 10 best things to do in Campbell River.
Use the map below to locate the places mentioned.
Most of the suggestions are completely free and many can be enjoyed all year round. There are a handful that can only be done in a specific season.
The majority of these activities can be fit into a weekend visit. But realistically, I would say it is best to choose perhaps 5 or 6 and take your time. You’re on Island time, there’s no need to rush!
Walk the free suspension bridge at Elk Falls
Plunging 25m into a deep canyon, Elk Falls is definitely one of the most dramatic waterfalls anywhere on Vancouver Island!
A 60m long suspension bridge crosses the canyon above the falls, offering impressive perspectives and is an exhilarating experience in itself.
With the trailhead being situated less than 15 minutes drive from downtown, this waterfall and suspension bridge is a must do when in Campbell River (and it’s completely free!)
The shortest route to Elk Falls is an easy 800m long hiking trail through the forest. There is a wheelchair-accessible viewpoint, with the suspension bridge located down a set of stairs. Another viewpoint is located 600m further up the trail.
Allow 45 minutes for the 1.6km round trip to the falls and a walk across the suspension bridge. If you’re looking for a longer hike, there are longer circular routes to enjoy (2-3 hours).
Explore the Discovery Fishing Pier
For quick immersion into Campbell River’s fishing culture and coastal beauty, take a walk on the Discovery Fishing Pier in the Fisherman’s Wharf area. Opening in 1987, this was Canada’s first saltwater fishing pier.
The 180m long wooden pier is a great place for a walk, whether you plan to fish or not. The views (and sunsets) are fabulous and marine wildlife can sometimes be seen. A pod of orcas, for example, put on a show below the pier in July 2023.
The pier has an ice cream concession, picnic tables and benches plus built-in fishing rod holders, bait stands and fishing cleaning tables. If you do want to fish but don’t have any gear, there are rod and tackle rentals available in the warmer months.
Buy fresh seafood at Crabby Bob’s
If you like seafood, you’ll love Campbell River! It’s the best city in this area of Vancouver Island to buy fresh seafood. And my favourite place to purchase it is Crabby Bob’s on Fisherman’s Wharf.
In operation for more than 20 years, Crabby Bob’s sells fresh and locally sourced live mussels, clams, oysters and crab. Prepared fish is available too.
The prices are great and the fast, friendly service is top-notch. The staff are super down to earth and don’t mind questions on preparation, storage etc.
Can’t or don’t want to cook seafood yourself? Crabby Bob’s serves all kinds of ready-to-eat seafood and shellfish platters. There’s a small sunny patio just to the side of the main seafood shack.
Stroll or cycle the Rotary Seawalk
For the most scenic stroll around, look no further than Campbell River’s Rotary Seawalk.
This 13km long paved pathway just south of town is bike, stroller and wheelchair friendly and offers incredible views of the ocean and snow-capped coastal mountains. It’s beautiful at any time of year!
The trail is bordered by the highway on one side and the beach on the other. There are picnic tables and benches scattered along the route. Multiple (free) parking lots offer a choice of where to start and end.
FoggDukkers Coffee is a very popular stop for a caffeine hit along the way. There are washrooms in a few different spots such as Simms Creek Pump Station, Frank, James Park and close to Rotary Park.
Eat the tastiest fish and chips at Dockside
Eating fish and chips by the water is such a quintessential Campbell River experience (at least, in my opinion!)
My favourite place to get fish and chips is at Dockside Fish and Chips, which, as the name implies, is located right on the waterfront!
Dockside’s menu is pretty simple, showcasing various fried (and grilled) fish dishes served with hand cut fries. The highlight for me is the fact they serve red snapper, which makes for the best fried fish (light, delicate in flavour).
The chowder is pretty great too. Dockside also makes fresh doughnuts every day (if you have any room left that is). Local craft beer is available for purchase.
Food aside, Dockside’s location is pretty fabulous. The restaurant is situated on a floating platform at the marina next to the Quadra Island ferry. It’s the place to be on a sunny day!
Explore the local beaches
The coastline along the downtown area of Campbell River is quite industrial, with many different marinas, boat launches and even a ferry dock. Head south a little, however, and the ocean views open up.
The beaches along the Rotary Seawalk (such as Rotary Beach Park) are a mix of sand and rock, with driftwood forming a natural border. The views across to Quadra Island and the mainland mountains are fabulous on a clear day.
If you’re looking for a long stretch of sand, head south to Saratoga Beach. There are several public access points to this gorgeous white sand beach from Clarkson Avenue. It’s my favourite in the area – the sand is so fine and soft. And, of course, the views are spectacular.
The next beach along is Miracle Beach, which is protected by a provincial park of the same name. It is more natural (i.e. has fewer surrounding houses) due to this and is a beautiful place to go for a stroll or swim. The park has some short forest trails, washrooms and picnic facilities.
Join a bear or whale watching tour
Whale watching is one of the most popular things to do in Campbell River. And rightly so! Orcas, humpbacks, sea lions, porpoises, seals and dolphins all swim in the surrounding waters.
And, of course, the surrounding scenery is usually breathtaking too. Think waterfalls, huge mountains and more. There are fast currents in this area, so you’ll likely see some whirlpools and rapids too.
Homalco Wildlife and Cultural Tours is an Indigenous-owned and operated company providing half day whale watching tours. These include the chance to land on the beach.
The tour offers the chance to not only see incredible wildlife, but also learn about the culture, language, and customs of the Homalco people and contribute to local conservation efforts.
While Campbell River may be located on Vancouver Island, it is actually relatively close to the mainland (around 25km as the crow flies). For this reason, the city is also a jumping-off point for grizzly bear-watching tours in Bute and Toba inlets.
Homalco also runs combination boat/bus excursions to Bute Inlet, where grizzly bears gather to eat salmon in the fall.
An incredible experience in its own right, it’s a particularly good option if you don’t plan to spend much time on the mainland (and hence less likely to see a grizzly).
Hike in Strathcona Provincial Park
Strathcona Provincial Park is BC’s oldest provincial park and is also the largest on Vancouver Island. It protects the Island’s highest peak (Golden Hinde, 2,195m) and also Canada’s tallest waterfall (Della Falls, 440m).
Needless to say, Strathcona offers endless opportunities for hikers looking to explore the alpine. It has some great paddling opportunities too.
Visitors to Campbell River have the choice of two main access points to Strathcona Park – Buttle Lake and Paradise Meadows.
Buttle Lake is a long narrow turquoise lake surrounded by mountains. It is located to the west of Campbell River, accessible via a 45 minute drive on Highway 28.
There are a number of trailheads starting on the shores of the lake, ranging from easy nature walks (Lupin Falls, Lower Myra Falls) to strenuous day hikes (Flower Ridge, Bedwell Lake) and multi-day backpacking trips (Cream Lake, Augerpoint Traverse).
The Paradise Meadows trailhead in the Forbidden Plateau area of the park is also 45 minutes drive from Campbell River. As with Buttle Lake, there is an impressive network of alpine trails in this area.
The easy Centennial Trail Loop (2km) is perfect for families or anyone with mobility issues as it features a completely flat boardwalk with no barriers.
The Helen Mackenzie Lake Loop is an ideal option for those looking for a longer (8km) hike. The summit of Mount Albert Edward (2093m) is a popular objective for overnight trips.
Paddle the Sayward Forest Canoe Circuit
Most people have heard about the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit. But did you know that Campbell River has a canoe circuit of its own?
And better yet, it’s completely free, with no reservation needed. Intrigued? You should be!
The Sayward Forest Canoe Circuit consists of a 47km continuous loop of lakes, waterways and portages. The route is located just northwest of Campbell River.
Paddlers spend an average of three to five days transporting their canoe and camping gear in a counterclockwise direction around the circuit, finishing at the exact same place they started.
There are a number of free and low-cost campgrounds situated around the loop, most allocated first come, first serve.
We have paddled the Sayward Forest Canoe Circuit twice now and love it! While the setting is not as remote or pristine as Bowron Lakes, we love the ‘accessible wilderness’ feel.
Check out our Sayward Forest guide for all the details you need to plan a trip. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Campbell River.
In my opinion, the Campbell River area has the best choice of campgrounds of any place on Vancouver Island.
And many of them are low cost (less than $25) or are completely free! Choose between camping beside lakes, rivers or even the ocean.
Quinsam Campground in Elk Falls Provincial Park is a great option for camping near town, offering 120+ vehicle-accessible sites in a second-growth forest next to the Quinsam River.
The nightly fee is $22 per site, with around 40% of the spots allocated via a first come, first serve system. The rest are reserved via the BC Parks website.
The Sayward Forest (northwest of Campbell River) is host to an incredible number of campgrounds. Many are completely free, like the Upper Campbell Reservoir campground at Strathcona Dam. To locate others, I’d recommend buying a Vancouver Island Backroad Mapbook.
The best beach campground in the area is situated in Kitty Coleman Provincial Park. This volunteer-run park has beautiful oceanfront spots (no reservations!)
Miracle Beach Provincial Park is host to the most popular local campground (fun fact, I used to work here!) Set in a beautiful forest, the 200+ sites are within walking distance from the eponymous beach.
Other great things to do in and around Campbell River
If you have more time to spend in this area, I would recommend these activities as the ‘next best.’ Some are located very close to already mentioned places, making it easy to combine activities.
Browse the independent shops and cafes of downtown Campbell River
As well as all the big box names and national chains you may expect, Campbell River is also host to many different independent stores and eateries.
Shoppers Row is the main destination for local shopping, with clothing boutiques, gift shops and gourmet food stores nudging up against cafes and bistros.
For a decadent snack, head to Freyja for the most delicious croissants on the Island (a bold statement I know). The homemade fillings range from salted caramel, pistachio and yuzu lavender to passionfruit, chocolate and raspberry jam. So good!
Sip locally made craft beers
Campbell River may just have one local craft brewery at this time but it’s a pretty good one!
Situated close to Shoppers Row, Beach Fire Brewing Company usually has at least half a dozen benchmark craft beers on tap as well as seasonal varieties. There is a food menu too, with all items made from scratch.
The High Tide Pale Ale seems to be a local favourite, but I would recommend looking for the weekly small-batch specials (released every Tuesday).
Session Taproom + Kitchen is another great drinking destination. They have 12 rotating craft beer and cider taps, usually showcasing BC-based breweries.
Session’s patio looks out across the highway to the park and ocean. It’s a little noisy but the view is fabulous!
The pizzas are the highlight of the menu here, with some unusual and creative options including the ‘Tropic Like It’s Hot’ (pulled pork, pineapple and banana peppers) and the ‘Wal-Not Sausage’ (featuring homemade vegetarian sausages).
Hike to the Ripple Rock lookout
Ripple Rock is an underwater mountain in the narrows between Vancouver Island and Quadra Island. It was a marine hazard until 1958 when it was partially destroyed in one of the largest non-nuclear planned explosions ever.
While there is a Ripple Rock lookout right on the highway, you can get a much better view from the Ripple Rock Trail. This 4km long pathway has several scenic ocean viewpoints on the way to the final lookout over the site of the explosion.
Allow 3 hours to complete the full 8km route (easy/moderate rating). Full disclosure, I haven’t done this hike yet but I really need to as it’s been on my list for SO long!
Go salmon fishing
Thanks to the sheer abundance of salmon and a long history of producing record-breaking salmon catches, Campbell River is known as the ‘Salmon Capital of the World.’
Sportfishing for salmon is very popular, with many outfitters and tour companies providing assistance.
Of course, it is also possible to go salmon fishing independently. It is also more accessible than you may think, with some local anglers catching surprisingly big salmon from the Discovery Pier!
Salmon fishing is possible on the ocean and also on local rivers, as the salmon make their way up to their birthplace to spawn.
Watch the salmon at the Quinsam River Hatchery
To get a taste of why Campbell River is the ‘Salmon Capital of the World’ without fishing, head to the Quinsam River Hatchery.
Pink, coho and chinook salmon return here in the fall to spawn. The hatchery has several displays explaining the process and a unique glass ‘fish floor.’
There are several short trails along the river where salmon can be viewed from. Please keep in mind that black bears may be present as well.
Take a trip to Quadra Island
Quadra Island is an idyllic day trip or overnight destination just a 10 minute ferry ride from Campbell River.
Rebecca Spit Marine Provincial Park, a narrow hook of land on the east side of Quadra, is a fun place for a stroll or picnic. The views of the coastal mountains on the mainland are beautiful too.
The grounds of the Cape Mudge Lighthouse are worthwhile to visit. The lighthouse looks out to Discovery Passage and Campbell River.
My favourite place on Quadra Island is Main Lake Provincial Park. The main feature is a large intricately shaped lake that is perfect for exploring by kayak or canoe. There are a number of $5/night backcountry campgrounds scattered around the lake.
Go skiing or snowboarding at Mount Washington Alpine Resort
Mount Washington Alpine Resort is Vancouver Island’s premier skiing and snowboarding destination and it is located just 45 minutes south of Campbell River. I worked here for three seasons and lived in the village for a while too.
This approachable mid-sized resort has five chairlifts and more than 80 runs over 1700 acres. It has a well-earned reputation for huge amounts of powder.
Mount Washington is an ideal destination for beginners as it has an expansive learning area called ‘Easy Acres.’ The mountain has regular ‘Discovery Days’ providing free lessons, tickets and rentals to complete beginners.
The thing I really love about Mount Washington, however, is that skiing here offers the chance to see the ocean from the summit. The rugged peaks of Strathcona Provincial Park are visible in the other direction as well.
Not into downhill skiing? Mount Washington has a separate Nordic area with excellent cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails.
In the summer months, it’s possible to ride the highest chairlift to the summit. There’s a zipline route too.
Even more ideas of things to do in Campbell River
Here are 15+ more ideas of things to do in Campbell River and the surrounding area:
- Visit the Campbell River Museum and learn more about the city’s First Nations and settlement history
- Go indoor bouldering and climbing at On the Rocks Climbing Gym in Campbell River
- Visit the Maritime Heritage Centre at Fisherman’s Wharf
- Attend one of many local events, such as the National Indigenous Peoples Day celebration (June), Campbell River Salmon Festival (August), Haig-Brown Festival (September)
- Visit the Weiwaikum House of Treasures, a band-owned and operated Indigenous art gallery and shop
- Go mountain biking in the Snowden Demonstration Forest
- Check out the downtown Campbell River Farmers Market and Arts Faire (Sundays 10am to 2pm)
- Shop for technical materials at Discovery Fabrics, the only store of its kind in BC!
- Take in a show at the Tidemark Theatre (the unique exterior is worth seeing too!)
- Enjoy free, live music in Spirit Square – Wednesday evenings from June to mid July, Friday evenings from late July to early September
- Explore the Campbell River Art Gallery – there’s a gift shop too
- Drive scenic Highway 19A to Black Creek (it follows the coast!)
- Take a tour of Shelter Point, an artisanal distillery
- Cool off in the Oyster River potholes
- Hike the forested trails in the Beaver Lodge Lands
- Paddle a canoe on Buttle Lake in Strathcona Park
- Take a day trip to the Comox Valley, just 40 minutes south
- Walk the Salmon Point Trail (also known as the Pub to Pub Walk)
- Play the themed course at Miracle Beach Mini Golf (seasonal)
- Watch intense racing action and monster trucks at the Saratoga Speedway (seasonal)
- Try some locally made fruit wines at Coastal Black Estate Winery
- Take a trip to Cortes Island, via Quadra Island (two ferries)
Where to stay in Campbell River
Without a doubt, our favourite place to stay in Campbell River is the Above Tide Motel. While not fancy, the oceanside location of this property is incredible and the prices pretty reasonable.
Each room has a balcony, offering views of Discovery Passage and Quadra Island. The motel is within easy walking distance of Discovery Pier.
Anchor Inn and Suites is a nearby alternative to Above Tide. It has an on-site restaurant (with ocean views) as well as an indoor swimming pool and fitness centre.
Painter’s Lodge is Campbell River’s most iconic (and historical) hotel property, situated next to the ocean just north of town. The upscale property features cabins as well as suites and lodge rooms.
Guests enjoy access to tennis courts, an outdoor swimming pool, gym and hot tub. Breakfast is included with every stay. The hotel runs whale-watching and fishing excursions right from the private dock.
Looking for campgrounds? I’ve mentioned my favourite local spots in the ‘go camping’ section above. Campbell River has a lot of choice!
Other Vancouver Island posts you may find helpful:
Nanaimo to Campbell River Road Trip Guide: 16 Great Places to Stop
23+ of the Best Things to Do in Courtenay
Nanaimo to Tofino Road Trip Guide: 15 Amazing Places to Stop
25+ Amazing Vancouver Island Waterfalls You Must Visit
Cape Scott Trail, Vancouver Island: Complete Hiking Guide
Where to Find Big Trees on Vancouver Island
Pacific Marine Circle Route: Best Places to Stop, Road Trip Itineraries
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One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada