• Zac & Ine

Witness annual Salmon Run at Goldstream and Cowichan Bay Sea Lions

Updated: Jun 14

Want to know the best times and locations to watch the Salmon Run at Goldstream and Sea Lion's salmon feast in Cowichan Bay? This article will give you a full overview of these two exciting natural events that occur on Vancouver Island each year. The salmon run in Goldstream Provincial Park and sea lions' salmon feast in Cowichan Bay are doable as a day trip from Victoria and we will show you how to do it. Hop in your car and witness these annual spectacles of nature!

We observed these unique natural wonders this year up close in person and were amazed by these creatures. There are few places in the world where you can see the circle of life unfold in front of your eyes from only a few feet away. Check out our video to see the events from our perspective!

Want to visit all the hidden gems on Vancouver Island? Download our free Vancouver Island bucket list full of secret waterfalls, hidden trails, and open beaches for you to enjoy!

Salmon Run in Goldstream Provincial Park

From mid-late October to late December, the yearly salmon run takes place on Vancouver Island. One of the prime locations on the island to witness the salmon run is Goldstream Provincial Park. For nine weeks or so, about 30,000 salmon migrate from the ocean and swim upstream the Goldstream River to spawn in the gravel beds.

Sadly, after spawning, most of the salmon die as the efforts of traveling for 1000's of kilometers across the ocean, fighting for territory in the river, and digging nests in the gravel wear them out. On the bright side, the salmon life cycle starts over again with newborn fingerlings who spend their early life in the river before swimming out to the ocean.

In Goldstream, there are five different types of salmon to be observed each year. The Chum salmon is the most abundant one, but the Coho and Chinook salmon, as well as the Steelhead and Cutthroat trout can also be found in the river.

The salmon run is not only exciting to watch for humans, but also attracts wildlife such as bears and bald eagles. While black bears usually gather at more remote rivers to fatten up for their hibernation, bald eagles are regularly spotted at Goldstream Park. If you are lucky, you might spot both!

When you get to the parking lot of Goldstream Provincial Park, head towards the bridge. Stay left of the bridge and follow the riverside trail towards the Goldstream Nature House (north). We found the best spots to observe the salmon here and took about 45 minutes to experience this unique natural event. Along the trail, you will also find a few informational boards explaining the salmon life cycle.

Salmon spawning times In BC

Best time to visit: Late October to mid-December

How to get there: Drive about 30 minutes northwest of downtown Victoria, on the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy #1)

You might see a black bear eating salmon!

Cowichan Bay Sea Lions

It's not only black bears and bald eagles that enjoy their annual salmon feast, but also the sea lions! Each year, hundreds of Stellar and California sea lions flock to the estuaries to feast on the waves of salmon returning to the rivers to spawn.

The best spot on Vancouver Island to watch this event is Cowichan Bay. Only a 30-minute drive past Goldstream Park, witnessing these immense sea creatures can be easily combined in a day-trip!

Cowichan Bay is home to the Cowichan Estuary, where the tidal mouth of the Cowichan and Koksilah Rivers meet the ocean. Hundreds of sea lions take over the floating Fishermen's Wharfs docks, barking and roaring. It was easy for us to find them as we could hear (and smell!) them right when we got out of our car at the bay.

It is truly entertaining to observe the sea lions on the docks. We were especially surprised by how near you get to the sea lions, only 20 meters away! From here, you can see how gigantic the Stellar sea lions are. It is not surprising that they weigh up to one tonne.

When to observe the sea lions

Best time to visit: Late October to mid-December

How to get there: From Goldstream Provincial Park, continue driving on the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy #1) until you come to the Cowichan Bay Road intersection. Follow the Cowichan Bay Road towards the ocean, until you reach the little harbor.

Stellar Sea Lions

Do you want to know more about must-see destinations and events on Vancouver Island? Read our Vancouver Island travel guide! Check our destinations page for more places in Canada and the world!

Did you see the salmon run or sea lion feast yourself this year? Let us know what you thought of this annual nature show in the comments below!


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