Best time to travel to British Columbia

Salmon Run

Every four years, sometime in October, millions of migrating sockeye salmon paint the Adams River scarlet-red

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Salmon run is one of the most breathtaking migrations in the world. Amazingly, sockeye salmon crosses 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 gruelling journey, yet they can’t resist this call of nature.

The new generation follows the four-year life cycle. They spend around one year in the freshwater, and continue to the ocean. In their fourth year of life, those who lived through predators, fishing nets, and other hazards, set off to the spawning journey. Only 1 out of 2,000 to 4,000 individuals make it through from hatching to spawning.

Sockeye Salmon Quadrennial Migration to the Adams River 2020
Sockeye Salmon Quadrennial Migration to the Adams River

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. At last, 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 run 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 better leave 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. The binoculars might be useful for pairing your salmon run experience with bird- and other wildlife watching, especially in Tsútswecw Provincial Park.