Drive North to Campbell River, 3 hours from Victoria
Campbell River is the 3rd largest town in Vancouver Island and it sits on the eastern coast facing the Discovery Islands. The Discovery Islands, the most well known of which is Quadra Island, sit in the straight between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island. Campbell River is often referred to as the Salmon Capital of the World as you can find all 5 types of salmon here. We chose to come to Campbell River as it was the jumping off point for our bear tour with Homalco Tours and because it sits adjacent to miles and miles of gorgeous hiking.
From Victoria directly to Campbell River, it takes about 3 and a half hours and a very touristy (but still very worthwhile) stop is Goats on the Roof. It is located roughly halfway along the route and has…surprise! goats on a sod roof. Pretty entertaining and the shop below is a smorgasbord of gifts, groceries, produce, a deli and even a goat donut shop.
We chose to spend our time slightly north of Campbell River at Brown’s Bay Resort. It is simply stunning here. It sits directly on the water and has a floating seaside restaurant, RV sites, glamping tents and luxury waterfront cabins. We stayed at the Deer Cabin directly on the water. It has a large wooden deck with a grill right on the water, room for 6 guests and everything was brand new and tastefully decorated with a log home theme. Seals swam right outside our door and if it was a bit earlier in the season (we visited in October), we would have potentially been able to see orcas from our kitchen! As a bonus, the resort was almost entirety empty as campers had left for the season so we had the coast dotted with pines against the deep blues of the strait all to ourselves. We felt pretty exclusive sipping a cocktail on the deck above still waters and perfect quiet.
Brown Bears with Homalco Tours!
Our main reason for the visit to Campbell River was our bear tour with Homalco Tours. There are a few companies offering bear tours in the area but we chose this company as the the land they visit in Bute Inlet is Homalco First Nation land and they support salmon restoration and bear conservation. The bear season is salmon season beginning sometime in August and finishing at the end of October. The cost is about 500 CAD but It’s an 8 hour tour and they do include lunch and snacks. We’ve pretty much found our bear viewing hobby is quite costly no matter the location! You are up early for the tour, departing at 7:30 and the boat ride there and back does comprise a lot of the day, but you will still have 3 hours on land with an indigenous guide to try your luck with finding bears. The boats are quite comfortable with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating to move about and has that all important restroom!
The Grizzly Bears of Bute Inlet
The ride along the Salish Sea to Bute Inlet is chilly but you can’t really complain when you have that gorgeous Vancouver Island coastline at your side. There will be mini stops for seals and bald eagles en route. Once at Bute Inlet, you get a quick briefing with your team and then hop into a van to find those bears! There are man made spotting towers that the van will drive to so you can climb up and observe bears at a safe distance and the van also made some stops if we happened to stumble upon some bears feeding right along the roadside. Bear tally for the day was 6 along with a herd of caribou. The best part was when a mom and baby cub almost posed roadside for us as we passed through. For photographers, it is nice to have your tripod for the van’s roadside stops, but it was much more challenging to lug them up the spotting towers and have ample space to set them up at the top with other guests. The day concluded with a lunch at picnic tables on the dock before boarding the boat home and an unexpected stop at a sea lion hangout on the way. Our only criticism would be that we felt the time actually out on the bear search was shorter than necessary as we lingered a bit at lunch. We were incredibly lucky with the weather as well and I think that long boat ride would have been a bit unpleasant in inclement weather.
Elk Falls, 80 Feet of Thundering Water
Our final day in the Campbell River was spent at Elk Falls Provincial Park located mere miles from downtown Campbell River. There are miles and miles of forested trails, a salmon hatchery, and the namesake Elk Falls, an 80+ foot thundering waterfall. Elk Falls is spectacular with a jaw dropping suspension bridge that gives a head on view of the falls. Bring a picnic and there is a peaceful spot just above the falls for a lunch. We were back to downtown Campbell River and strolled along the waterfront and note that several vendors sell fresh seafood right from their boats for reasonable prices. My husband got some flavored smoked salmon from Crabby Bob’s that he said was delicious and super fresh. For next time, we also heard that there are some tiny whale tour operators that get you very close to whales in the strait!