The salmon run of B.C. is one of the most breathtaking migrations in the world. Amazingly, sockeye salmon cross hundreds of miles from the ocean upstream the Fraser and Adams Rivers of British Columbia to spawn at their birthplace and die in the ultimate sacrifice. Many don’t survive the grueling journey, yet they can’t resist this call of nature.
The new generation follows a four-year life cycle. They spend around one year in freshwater, and continue to the ocean. In their fourth year of life, those who lived through predators, fishing nets, and other hazards, set off on a spawning journey back to their spawning waters. Only 1 out of 2,000 to 4,000 individuals make it through from hatching to spawning.
Best time to see salmon run
Salmon spawning season takes place yearly in early to mid-October. However, you'll see the largest schools of millions of sockeyes in the dominant years only, which occur once in four years. The last dominant year was 2018, and the next one is expected in 2022. During sub-dominant years (2019, 2023), you will also see substantial returns or salmon in the rivers of British Columbia, but only hundreds of thousands, which is less impressive.
Post-subdominant years (2020, 2024) have the fewest returns of salmon, only hundreds of fish, and usually in the last three weeks of October. Lastly, pre-dominant years (2021, 2025) see slightly growing numbers—tens of thousands. Sadly, the overall quantity of salmon returning tends to decrease consistently, even in the dominant years.
Best place to witness migration
The top place to observe sockeye salmon running is the Adams River at Shuswap Lake. In the middle of fall, the river's gravel beds turn scarlet-red with fish. The most prominent location is Tsútswecw Provincial Park, formerly Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park. The viewing platform west of the parking lot provides incredible views of the natural spectacle. Besides, in the dominant years, the park holds Salute to the Sockeye Festival dedicated to the fabulous migration. Note that the park doesn't provide any camping facilities, so plan your lodgings carefully beforehand.
More locations close to Vancouver
The Fraser River is a less popular destination with a more vague season, yet also possible if you prefer to take a glimpse of the salmon run close to Vancouver. Normally, sockeye returns to the Fraser between late June and October. At the mouth of the Fraser River, at Garry Point Park in Richmond, you'll be able to spot the fish jumping as it's still fresh, just from the ocean. Other famous locations nearby include Ladner Harbour Park in Delta, Westminster Quay of New Westminster, Island 22 Regional Park in Chilliwack, and also Capilano River Hatchery in North Vancouver.
Tips for viewing the run
Watch the migration responsibly to eliminate extra damage to salmon. If you come with a dog, keep your pet on a leash and out of the river, but consider leaving your canine friend at home. Approach the river bank quietly, do not step into the river, and do not throw rocks or sticks into the water.
Also, bring polarized sunglasses for the best views, as well as polarized lens covers for your camera to take the best shots. Binoculars might be useful for pairing your salmon run experience with bird and other wildlife watching, especially in Tsútswecw Provincial Park.
When can one see sockeye salmon running in British Columbia, and how often do the dominant years occur?
Millions of sockeye salmon run upstream in British Columbia from late September to mid-November. The best time to see them is in early to mid-October. Dominant years occur once in every four years, and the most significant salmon returns happen during these years. The next dominant year is in 2022. Show more
Where can one go to watch the sockeye salmon run in British Columbia, and are there any events held during dominant years?
Tsútswecw Provincial Park, formerly Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park, at the Adams River is the best place to witness the sockeye salmon run in British Columbia. The park hosts the Salute to the Sockeye Festival to celebrate the salmon run during dominant years. Garry Point Park, Ladner Harbour Park, Westminster Quay, Island 22 Regional Park, and Capilano River Hatchery are other popular locations to observe the salmon migration. Show more
What is the frequency of dominant years during salmon migration in British Columbia, and when is the next one?
Millions of sockeye salmon return to rivers in British Columbia for spawning and die-off, and this event happens once every four years during the dominant years. There were approximately forty million fish in the 2018 migration, which was the last dominant year for the sockeye salmon. The next dominant year is 2022, while sub-dominant years see hundreds of thousands of salmon and post-subdominant years see maybe only hundreds. Show more
What is the Salute to the Sockeye Festival, and when does it take place in British Columbia?
The Salute to the Sockeye Festival in British Columbia is held at Tsútswecw Provincial Park during the salmon migration's dominant years. It celebrates the arrival of millions of sockeye salmon and is a cultural event with delicious food, art, and music. The next dominant year is in 2022, and the festival is expected to occur during that time. Show more
What impact does watching the salmon run in British Columbia have on the ecosystem, and how should visitors minimize their impact?
While exploring the salmon migration in British Columbia, visitors should avoid disrupting the ecosystem and harming the sockeye salmon population. It is recommended that visitors keep pets on a leash and away from rivers. Throwing rocks or sticks into the river should be avoided, and visitors should approach the riverbank quietly without stepping into the river. Binoculars and polarized gear could be used for better observation without disturbing the ecosystem and the salmon population. Show more