Where: Campbell River, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Lots of people love finning through swarms of Technicolor marine life in warm tropical waters. But there’s a certain remarkable, oft-overlooked, cold-river-borne creature that deserves a closer look with mask and snorkel.

The salmon.

Perhaps you’ve heard of this fish. Maybe you recently spied one beside a lemon wedge or walked right past an entire school of them in the frozen section of the supermarket without batting an eye. But did you know that, as you read this, hordes of salmon are barreling up the Johnstone Strait, fighting their way upstream after years of trans-Pacific migration? Did you know that up to 800,000 of them end this incredible journey in Vancouver Island’s Campbell River to spawn and complete one of nature’s most extraordinary life cycles? And did you know that you can snorkel with them?

“Floating down a river with thousands of salmon zipping all around you is a pretty wild and unforgettable experience,” says Jim DeHart of Destiny River Adventures, a Vancouver Island–based river-rafting company that offers raft and snorkel trips down the Campbell, one of the Pacific Northwest’s most populated spawning grounds. “It’s one thing to see these things in a hatchery or from above,” DeHart adds. “But when you’re in a back eddy with 10,000 pinks bumping against your legs or staring at a three-foot-long, 50-pound chinook coming right at you — well, that’s when our guests start yelling with excitement through their snorkels.”

Destiny River’s three-hour salmon trips run twice daily from Aug. 1 through mid- October, covering more than four miles of fish-filled river. Passengers board a raft and learn all about fish ecology from expert guides before they slip into the water with mask, fins, snorkel and wet suit (all included) and go head-to-head with the salmon on an easy float downstream into the Campbell River Estuary. For the best salmon snorkeling, DeHart recommends coming between late August and mid-September, when all five native Pacific species — pink, coho, chinook, sockeye and chum — are present.

“We often see seals racing upcurrent after the salmon and black bears snacking by the river’s edge, plus eagles and plenty of other birdlife,” DeHart says.

But for once, it’s the salmon that take center stage.

“We get guests coming out of the water saying they’re never going to eat salmon again,” DeHart says. “Not because they’re grossed out, but because there’s a newfound respect. They’ve connected on some level.”

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