Salmon Smorgasbord – Kayak the Harrison River


Eagles feasting on salmon Photo: Rob Weiss

Against all odds, each and every fall, millions of BC salmon fight an epic and awe-inspiring battle.  These fish courageously make their way from the mighty Pacific Ocean to travel upstream on their quest to spawn.  Rivers and spawning channels across the province team with life.  Like the salmon, paddlers, photographers, and fishermen also flock to the rivers to partake in this natural phenomenon.  My paddling partner and I find ourselves joining this annual migration and our destination of choice is the Harrison River.


Kayaking on Harrison Lake, only 90 minutes from Vancouver Photo: Rob Weiss

Only 90 minutes from downtown Vancouver, the Harrison River is an ideal location to view this west coast miracle.  We decided to launch our kayaks from the Village of Harrison Hot Springs and paddle along the Harrison River to Kilby Provincial Park.  We were not alone.  Several paddlers from a variety of Vancouver paddling clubs were also on the water.  I found myself wondering if the salmon were as enthralled with us as we were with them.  Needless to say, there was excitement in the air as paddlers of all ages began their journey downstream.


Fall foliage along the Harrison River Photo: Rob Weiss

Paddling along we noticed numerous seals popping their heads up.  It seemed strange to observe them this distance from the ocean, but over the years, we have learned that where there are fish, there are seals.  As we approached Chehalis Flats, activity definitely increased.  Salmon were jumping all around us.  It was mesmerizing and thrilling to watch!  Fascinated, we found ourselves totally absorbed in the action below the water.  With great difficulty, we took our eyes off the salmon and glanced up to the sight of at least twelve eagles perched in the branches above.  Of course, an abundance of salmon attracts not only fishermen and paddlers!  The river becomes a virtual smorgasbord for the Eagles. We were careful to keep our distance from these magnificent birds as to not disturb them.  They appeared content to just watch us drift by.


Eagles perched along the river bank Photo: Rob Weiss

Ironically, the wildlife viewing on this trip is so sensational that folk can become complacent and forget to absorb the natural beauty of the area.  Stunning fall foliage, views of snow-capped mountains, picturesque coves, beaches, waterfalls and elaborate First Nations petroglyphs are there for your viewing enjoyment.  Of course, you will be required to take your eyes off the salmon, and trust us, that can be difficult to do!


Eagles on the Harrison River Photo: Rob Weiss

Getting There:

We launched from the scenic waterfront beach in the Village of Harrison Hot Springs.  Access to Harrison River is a short paddle across Harrison Lake. Glacier fed and 60 km in length, Harrison Lake is extremely cold and prone to high winds.  Inexperienced paddlers are best to join an organized eco-tour with a local tour operator.


Launching kayaks on Harrison Lake Photo: Rob Weiss

Where and When to Spot Salmon:

Not interested in paddling? Fisheries and Oceans Canada produced a pamphlet describing where and when to see the salmon run throughout the province.

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