• Ine Vandenwyngaert

Witness annual Salmon Run at Goldstream and Cowichan Bay Sea Lions

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

Are you looking for exciting fall outdoor activities around Victoria, BC? Watching the salmon run in Goldstream and sea lions at Cowichan Bay should be on your fall activities' list!


In this article, we 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 multiple times up close in person and are every time 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


Best time to visit


During the fall, 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.


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About the salmon run


In Goldstream, there are three different types of salmon to be observed each year. The Chum salmon is the most abundant one, but the Coho and Chinook salmon can also be found in the river. It is interesting to watch as these salmons jump and swim their way upstream the river.


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.


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!


The best spots to view the salmon run


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 near the bridge on the left side 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. After learning about these interesting creatures, it might also be worth it to check out the right side of the bridge. There are usually fewer people here, so you have a little more space to watch the salmon.


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Salmon viewing tips


It is important to not disturb the salmon during this essential time of the year! Please keep in mind the following:

  • Don't throw rocks or sticks into the river

  • Keep cameras out of the water. You don't want to poison the salmon!

  • Try polarized sunglasses to see beyond the surface. Especially the daylight on the river makes it hard to observe the salmon in the river.

  • Keep dogs and other pets away from the water. Unfortunately, this is something that we see every time... be respectful!


How to get to Goldstream Provincial Park


Drive about 30 minutes northwest of downtown Victoria, on the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy #1). Park on the right side of the highway, right where the hike to Mount Finlayson starts.


Bear eating salmon at salmon run
You might see a black bear eating salmon!

Cowichan Bay Sea Lions


Best time to observe the sea lions


it's not only black bears and bald eagles that enjoy their annual salmon feast but also the sea lions! The salmon run brings hundreds of sea lions to Cowichan Bay each year during the fall, from late October to mid-December.


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About the seal lion's salmon feast


Both Stellar and California sea lions flock to estuaries around the Island to feast on the waves of salmon returning to the rivers to spawn. Yet, the best spot on Vancouver Island to watch this event is Cowichan Bay.


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.


How to get to Cowichan Bay


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. Park your car there and walk towards Fisherman's Wharf. You'll see and hear them from far away!


Travel tip: As Cowichan Bay is only a 30-minute drive past Goldstream Park, it is best to combine both events in a day-trip!


Stellar Sea Lions Cowichan Bay
Stellar Sea Lions

Vancouver Island Bucket list download

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!


More articles about destinations on Vancouver Island:


Are you looking for more fall outdoor activities? Check out our list of 20 outdoor fall activities that will inspire you to keep exploring outside!


Nature hoodie for travelers

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!

about zac and ine

Hi! We are Ine & Zac. An international travel couple from Belgium and the US. We created World Wild Hearts to inspire life-changing travel experiences like we've had. Use these tips, stories, and guides to inspire your next adventure of a lifetime!

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