Story Ideas

Experience the “salmon run of the century” in British Columbia.

Millions of sockeye salmon are set to return to the Adams River this fall, creating an incredible, colourful natural spectacle.

27 August 2014

Suggested tweet: Where to see the “salmon run of the century” this fall in British Columbia #explorecanada

What do four million wild sockeye salmon look like? Picture a mass of brilliant crimson, thrashing and heaving steadily upstream, fighting through currents and leaping up rapids. Finally, the salmon reach a stretch of calm shallows and pack the riverbed bank to bank, home at last to spawn.

This was the scene in 2010 along the Adams River in interior British Columbia, site of one of the world’s most celebrated salmon runs. Each fall, salmon return here from the Pacific, swimming for 17 straight days and nights up the mighty Fraser River, bound for their spawning grounds. Runs are always impressive, but every four years—during “dominant runs”—the turnout numbers in the millions. 2010 was a dominant year, and, if expert predictions are right, 2014 could be the run of the century.

The epicentre of salmon-watching is Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park, situated along the Adams River in the Thompson-Okanagan region, roughly a 40-minute drive from the historic fur-trading and gold-rush city of Kamloops. Set up alongside the river are walking paths and viewing platforms, which fill with wildlife lovers each October for the three-week Salute to the Sockeye festival, when literally millions of salmon swim by.

Just as exceptional as the numbers of salmon in the Adams River is the epic journey they take to get back home. After hatching, young fish spend one to two years in the river and nearby freshwater lakes. Eventually, “fingerlings” migrate down the length of the Fraser River and enter the chilly waters of the Pacific Ocean. Here, they spend another one to two years growing to maturity, travelling as far north as the Alaska Panhandle.

Ultimately, these same salmon return home to spawn. The sockeye churn back up the Fraser River, turning the river bright red en route. In a process that still baffles biologists, they find their way back to the very spot where they were hatched four years earlier. Here, the sockeye lay eggs in nests and die shortly thereafter, fertilizing the river with nutrients. The entire round trip can measure more than 4,000 km (2,485 mi).

This year’s Salute to the Sockeye Oct. 3-26 promises to be impressive, as media and visitors from around the world gather for perhaps the largest salmon run ever recorded here. (The run generally peaks around Canadian Thanksgiving, celebrated this year Oct. 13.) Special interpretive displays are set up to shed light on the sockeye’s extraordinary life cycle, while walking paths inside Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park offer access to riverside viewing stations.

The park itself is situated in beautiful lake country in the heart of British Columbia. Nearby Shuswap Lake is home to sandy beaches and multiple provincial parks and is a popular holiday destination for vacationers with house boats. Meanwhile, the city of Kamloops offers wildlife lovers a variety of unique itineraries that integrate salmon-watching with visits to wildlife parks, farmers markets, heritage railways, First Nations museums and more.

Looking for more visual inspiration from British Columbia’s great outdoors? Browse our Brand Canada Library for thousands of images and videos from all over Canada.

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