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The best things to do in Campbell River, Vancouver Island, BC

The best things to do in Campbell River, Vancouver Island, BC

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If you’re looking for a weekend getaway from Vancouver and have already visited Tofino, Harrison Hot Springs, Whistler or Salt Spring Island, then why not check out these things to do in Campbell River, BC?

When our friends from the UK were visiting, we took them over to Vancouver Island with the promise of seeing doing some whale watching on Vancouver Island. Campbell River and the north of Vancouver Island are some of the best places to go whale watching in BC (we sure got lucky!). It’s also much quicker to get to Campbell River than Tofino which is never a bad thing.

Of course, it’s not all about whale watching in Campbell River. There are so many things to do in Campbell River, Vancouver Island that will keep you entertained for a weekend or longer.

Where is Campbell River?

Best things to do in Campbell River, BCCampbell River is about 1.5 hours north of Nanaimo on the eastern side of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. It’s easy to get to from downtown Vancouver since ferries to Nanaimo leave from both Tsawwassen  and Horseshoe Bay.

About Campbell River

The city of Campbell River is on the traditional territory of the We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum people. It’s surrounded by possibility for nature based adventures. There are waterfalls, Provincial Parks, forests, rivers, the Discovery Islands and the Discovery Passage.

Best Campbell River things to do

Check out these fun Campbell River attractions and things to do.

Campbell River map

Download this map of Campbell River, BC to make finding the activities I’ve mentioned easier.

Campbell River whale watching

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This was the main reason for our trip to Campbell River. I’d yet to go whale watching in Canada and had heard this is one of the best places to do it from.

The whale watching trips in Campbell River tend to take you down what’s known as the Discovery Passage. This area is made up of lots of islands (The Discovery Islands) between Vancouver Island and the mainland. It’s pretty narrows (when compared to the ocean) which makes it easier to spot those infamous whale blows. And, when you’re not watching whales there’s the beautiful scenery to take in too.

We opted to whale watch with Campbell River Whale Watching and had the best day (all 8+ hours of it!) out at sea. We saw Orcas, humpbacks, sea lions, dolphins, porpoise and even a bear with her cub.

I’d highly recommend Campbell River Whale Watching and Adventure Tours. Take a look at my Campbell River Whale Watching review for more information.

Have a beach fire

beach fire in campbell river bc

Unlike in Vancouver (for obvious reasons), you’re allowed beach fires in Campbell River. With the fire ban having been lifted just before we arrived, we were excited to be able to enjoy a campfire again and make s’mores.

We weren’t the only ones, there were quite a few groups at the beach with a fire while we were collecting wood.

Just make sure to leave no trace and follow fire safety practices.

See Elk Falls and the Suspension Bridge

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We camped in Elk Falls Provincial Park and so were super close to the Elk Falls suspension bridge. We headed over one evening to take in the views and do one of the more famous Campbell River hikes.

If you visit Campbell River in September or October, keep you eyes open for the salmon in the river below. We saw plenty chilling out in the little pools.

The waterfall is impressive and is one of the top Vancouver Island attractions too – you know I love a suspension bridge!

Go mountain biking in Campbell River

Campbell River has plenty of mountain biking trails to try out. It may not be as renowned for it as nearby Cumberland, but there’s enough mountain biking for a weekend whatever your experience.

Beginner mountain bikers should check out the Beaver Lodge Forest Lands trails whilst those of you with more experience should head to Radar Hill or the Snowden Demonstration Forest.

If you’ve not been mountain biking before, make sure to download the app TrailForks which has all the trails listed along with their difficulty.

Go for a hike

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Elk Falls Provincial Park is a popular place for a hike in Campbell River. Besides the suspension bridge, there are trails that take you to more waterfalls. And don’t worry if it’s raining and you’re wondering what to do in Campbell River, forest walks are fun no matter the weather!

Head to Quadra Island

This is something we didn’t quite have time for during our few days in Campbell River but that’s just a reason to go back! Quadra Island is one of the islands in the Discovery Islands archipelago and can easily be seen from the waterfront in Campbell River. On Quadra there is stunning natural beauty, beaches, parks, wildlife and endless adventure.

Hiking to the top of Chinese Mountains for an incredible view is just one of the things to do on Quadra Island.

Campbell River camping

Camping in Campbell River is a great idea! There are plenty of Campbell River campgrounds to choose from and, as I mentioned, we stayed at the campsite in Elk Falls Provincial Park. This campsite is tucked away in the wood and has pretty big spaces.

There are some camping spots along the Quinsam River although these go quickly! If you’re visiting in summer then make sure to book in advance, the rest of the year it’s first come first served. We had no trouble finding a spot on a Saturday in the middle of September.

You can book and find out about other camping spots on DiscoverCamping.ca 

Campbell River bear watching

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If you want more wildlife than just whales you can do a whole grizzly bear tour in Campbell River. Campbell River Whale Watching (the company we used for whale watching) also offer bear spotting trips.

The Campbell River Grizzly tours that went the day we were there sounded like they had great luck spotting some grizzly bears and then they got to see the orcas we were watching on their way back too!

Best things to do near Campbell River

When you drive from Nanaimo to Campbell River or Victoria to Campbell River make sure you don’t miss out on these things to do on Vancouver Island, BC. These Vancouver Island things to do are pretty unique and help break up the drive too.

Horne Lake Caves

horne lake caves things to do near campbell river

This is one of the coolest Vancouver Island points of interest along the way to Campbell River. This lake and cave area is just outside of Parksville and Qualicum Beach north of Nanaimo and offers you the chance to step inside one of BC’s biggest cave networks. We took the 3 hour multi-cave spelunking adventure and got to check out three caves with a tour guide, go down a cave slide and do some squeezing through narrow gaps.

You can visit some of the caves on your own but the tours show you things you’d otherwise miss.

Strathcona Provincial Park

Strathcona Provincial Park is another place I’m saving for the next trip over this way. The park looks absolutely beautiful and is the oldest provincial park in BC. There’s plenty of hiking, kayaking and general adventuring to do here.

Village of Coombs & goats on the roof

When Thom googled for things to do on the way to Campbell River from Nanaimo he came across goats on the roof. We weren’t convinced they were real goats until we arrived in the quirky village on Coombs and saw for ourselves. There were really goats (looking a bit miserable in the rain) up on the roof of the Old Country Market.

Coombs itself also makes a fun stop. There are unique galleries, colourful shops and strange statues. It’s a slight detour off the main route, but one that’s well worth it!

Where to stay in Campbell River

We camped whilst in Campbell River but if you’re looking for a Campbell River hotels then check out these places. I’d happily stay in any of them!

  • Above Tide Motel: A budget friendly motel with great reviews
  • Painter’s Lodge: This mid-range hotel has an outdoor pool and hot tub as well as great views.
  • Campbell River Hostel: The best closest hostel to Campbell River is the Riding Fool in Cumberland.
  • Dolphins Resort: These Campbell River cabins look absolutely gorgeous, perfect for staycation ideas or a romantic weekend getaway from Vancouver.

Where to eat and drink in Campbell River

If you fancy a lunch or dinner out check out these suggestions for some of the best restaurants in Campbell River. These Campbell River BC restaurants will help keep you fuelled for your adventures.

  • Beach Fire Brewing & Nosh House
  • Shot in the Dark Cafe
  • Crabby Bob’s – for some of that famous Campbell River seafood
  • Java Shack
  • Foggdukkers Coffee Bar

How to get to Campbell River from Vancouver

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By ferry & car

Getting from Vancouver to Campbell River is easy. Simply pick your departure point, either Tsawwassen or Horseshoe Bay and book your crossing with BC Ferries. It’s ever-so slightly quicker and cheaper to get the ferry from Horseshoe Bay, but these boats tend to book up a bit quicker than those from Tsawwassen.

You can sail into Nanaimo or Victoria. From Victoria you’re looking at a drive of just over 3 hours on the BC 1-N and then the BC-19 north bound towards Campbell River.

From Nanaimo the journey takes about half the time (roughly 1.5 hours) and you just head north on the BC-19 all the way.

By seaplane

You can also enjoy a seaplane flight to Campbell River from downtown Vancouver. HarbourAir fly from downtown Vancouver to Comox

Best time to go to Campbell River, Canada

I personally think the autumn is one of the best times to go to Campbell River. It wasn’t as busy as I’m sure it is during the summer, and the Campbell River weather in September is usually pretty good.

The weather in Campbell River, BC doesn’t tend to get too cold or too hot. Think an average low of 5 degrees celcius in the peak of winter and mid 20s in summer.

Useful links for your Campbell River trip

If you decide to go Campbell River then check out these useful links for further information and help planning your trip.

Want more Vancouver weekend getaway ideas?