I sip on a glass of wine on my room’s balcony overlooking the waters of the Georgia Strait, the mountains of Quadra Island reflecting off the surface. Tiny tugs pulling their heavily loaded barges pass by. The lapping of the waves from the wake of the ferry boats and tugs is the only sound except for the cries of the seagulls and fluted sounds from the song birds. This peace is just minutes away from a thriving town and a multitude of outdoor experiences.
A scenic three-and-a-half hour drive north from Victoria to Campbell River on the eastern shore of Vancouver Island makes this an easy addition to your Island Road Trip or for a weekend getaway.
My husband and I spent a week and could only begin to enjoy all the area has to offer. We enjoyed a comfortable stay, close to restaurants and shopping with easy access to activities all surrounded by ocean and mountain views.
With the Above Tide Motel as our home base, these are just some of the experiences worth exploring in a wonderful destination which we wish to return to soon.
Explore Campbell River’s Nature
Campbell River is situated at the beginning of the Discovery Passage, the narrow channel between Vancouver Island and the Discovery Islands along the north coast of the Georgia Strait. The vista is ever changing as the clouds and the tides move in and out. The mountain backdrop sometimes shrouded with clouds or mist, the sun breaking through, the occasional rainbow and the constant flow of sailboats, tugs, ferries and fishing boats all set the scene.
Famous for its salmon fishing, the city has bloomed into a tourist destination with all the creature comforts of a clean modern city and just minutes away from forests, rivers, and the ocean.
Denise Sevier-Fries, the friendly manager of Above Tide Motel commented “People mostly come for hiking, and whale and grizzly tours. We are a temperate rainforest zone — different from almost any place in the world. It’s very rare to have these giant redwoods and it’s a huge attraction.”
The Rotary Club in Campbell River through its Service Projects has initiated and implemented several of the area attractions and have brought a change in the life of the community. These include the Campbell River Heritage Centre, the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge, Discovery Fishing Pier, numerous trails and the Rotary Sea Walk. It’s a great example of community involvement in tourism and economic development.
Dive into History at the Museum at Campbell River
The Museum is just a short walk from the motel across from the Sequoia Park with its giant totem pole and Japanese gate. The exhibits lead you through the early history of the First Nations, interactions with the settlers, and on through the industries and lives of the settlers to modern day. Sitting in the darkened theatre, an evocative sound and light show brought to life a traditional story using masks and the voice of an elder chief. As the narrator told the story the masks lit up to illustrate the story bringing you back to the past.
Displays and interactive exhibits highlight the area’s history of fishing and logging along with stories of the settlers and Aboriginal culture. Outside of the museum a traditional cod fishing boat and a Thunderbird totem pole should figure into your visit along with other traditional machinery. The museum gives a sense of how the area evolved. Note the historical plaques as you stroll along the nearby Pier Street to learn more of the history of landmark buildings.
Elk Falls Suspension Bridge
A 10-minute drive from town brings visitors to the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge. This suspension bridge, built in 2015, is easily reached through a lovely, well-maintained forest trail. Walking through the quiet forest, we would catch glimpses of the waterfalls and inhale the scent of warmed cedar and fir in the air. As you get closer, you see several falls and hear the thundering roar of the falling water. The final part of the trail to the bridge is 69 steps down to a lookout area and onward to the bridge.
The waterfall with the mist above and surrounded by the green forest of firs, cedar and ferns is awe inspiring. On the other side of the bridge, the clear green river flows below. A network of trails with varying levels of difficulty lead to different views of the falls, forest areas and salmon fishing spots along the river. The Interpretive Centre provides information on the history and trails.
Maritime Heritage Centre
Brian Kyle, a long-time volunteer at the Maritime Heritage Centre, showed us the Venus Project of Ocean Networks Canada. We could see the sea floor through remote underwater cameras and learn how life at great depth is monitored using robots and advanced technologies. This project shows how scientists around the globe can collaborate remotely on the exploring the ocean, the last frontier of exploration.
Looking back into the past through replicas of ships from the 1700s, we pictured how 600 men would sail from Denmark with farmers and their cattle in the lower deck. The 600 passengers made up of officers, sailmakers, carpenters, fishermen, gunners, runners, cooks and all the trades needed to sail for months on end while fighting battles and exploring new lands.
The Maritime Heritage Centre was built as a special project of the Rotary Club of Campbell River and handed over to the city and to the non-profit Maritime Heritage Society that now manages it. More than a museum, it has now become a community centre for events, education, and research. It’s alsodsa an example of eco-recycling with a community room decked out in recovered wood.
Discovery Passage Aquarium
This tiny marine aquarium packs in a lot of information and intriguing sea creatures all sourced from the area. Sabrina Jordan, a second-year biology student, gave us a tour. Her knowledge and obvious love of marine animals made this a memorable afternoon visit. We even saw an octopus being tested to see if it could learn to take the screw top off a bottle that had a fish inside. It was not successful on this first attempt, but octopuses are smart so we will have to stay tuned to see how that turned out.
We learned from Sabrina that the Sunflower Sea Star is an important part of the ecology chain with sea urchins as part of its diet. In the past when the sea stars were affected by a disease, the urchin population exploded and this resulted in the decimation of the kelp forest that the urchins feed on. Sabrina explained, “Without that predator to control them [the urchins] were mowing down the kelp forest because that’s their food. With too many urchins, there weren’t enough kelp forests, and kelp forests are a super important part of the ecosystem. We are really, really glad that we are seeing the comeback of the sea stars.”
In September the marine animals are returned to their ocean habitat as part of their preservation. The aquarium has a mission to learn more about marine animals, to educate the public on the ecology and interdependence of species.
Discovery Fishing Pier
Enjoy a big scoop of ice cream on this 600-foot-long pier, and if you have a fishing license, you can rent a rod and reel to try your hand at fishing. The pier, the longest public and saltwater pier in Canada, is custom built with holes to support your rod while you pull in a salmon or other fish. Cleaning stations stand at the ready to clean your catch. It is a great spot to view the boats in the marina, Quadra Island across the Georgia Strait, and watch families hoping to bring in the big one.
Across the street is Dick’s Fish and Chips. The cod and halibut pieces are tender, perfectly cooked and delicately seasoned. The baked oysters were tender and delicious. Everything is prepared fresh when you order. No wonder this place has won awards. Enjoy the casual environment or take out for your picnic wrapped in paper.
Visitors to Campbell River in June should keep an eye out for the Royal LePage Salmon Derby. At this year’s event, Kevin Brown brought in a winning 26.2-pound salmon. Spectators cheered on the contestants at this family-friendly event at Robert Ostler Park, which brought in over $50,000 for local charities.
The Rotary Sea Walk begins at Willow Point, just 10 minutes south along the South Island Highway. Start at Foggdukkers Coffee for a relaxed and homey cabin welcoming to visitors and locals. Sip on a latte and enjoy locally-made pastries while taking in the ocean view with the salty sea air and fragrance of the campfire.
The Sea Walk continues for 10 miles along Highway 19A with a wide sidewalk, giving easy access to ocean views and beach combing. Of course, you could also spend the time relaxing on the huge driftwood logs too.
Ferry to Quadra
An hourly BC Ferry from Campbell River will take you on a quick 10-minute trip to Quadra Island. Viewing Campbell River from the ocean gives a perspective of the layout of the city with its backdrop of greenery and mountains. You can go as a foot passenger but taking a car or bicycle is necessary to visit the artists and to soak in the vistas on the far side of the island. Cape Mudge Lighthouse on the southern tip of the island is the southern entrance to the Discovery Passage and is visible from the Above Tide Motel.
Visitors here for a weekend may need a return visit for whale and grizzly watching, snorkelling with the salmon or checking on the Quadra artists.
Useful tips and maps from the helpful staff at the Campbell River Visitor Information Centre are a short walk from the BC Ferries dock. The “What’s On Digest” includes itineraries for what to do if you have three, four or six hours, and up to several days in the area.
Above Tide Motel
With balconies giving a front-row seat to the tiny tugs pulling their enormous loads of lumber and the sailboats and cruise ships in the Discovery Passage, the Above Tide Motel is both scenic and central. Managers Denise and Peter have a wealth of information welcoming visitors from BC (and as far away as Europe) looking for a taste of the outdoors.Check availability »
Renovated rooms attract guests looking for an extended stay with full kitchens and desks. As recent transplants to Campbell River, the motel’s hosts are keen to share their tips for a visit to the old growth forest and places to eat nearby.
Campbell River is a modern city with all the amenities and creature comforts but with easy access to nature and the out of doors. It’s the best of two worlds.
Feature photo courtesy of Destination BC by Boomer Jerritt. Photos by author unless otherwise noted.