Campbell River: 45km (28 miles) N of Courtenay; 266km (165 miles) N of Victoria
Busy and utilitarian, Campbell River (pop. 33,000) gives the impression of a town that works for a living. For years, it has been known as the "Salmon-Fishing Capital of the World," but it is also home to a large pulp and paper mill. Between Quadra Island and Campbell River, the broad Strait of Georgia squeezes down to a narrow 1.6km-wide (1-mile) channel called Discovery Passage. All of the salmon that enter the Strait of Juan de Fuca near Victoria to spawn in northerly rivers funnel down into this tight churning waterway with 4m (13-ft.) tides. Historically, vast hauls of incredibly large fish have been pulled from these waters; fishing lodges have lined these shores for decades. However, salmon numbers at Campbell River have fallen drastically in recent years, and the days of pulling 60-pound chinooks from the turbulent waters are largely over. Today, you're as likely to take a wildlife-viewing trip on the sound as go fishing for salmon -- and if you do fish, there are numerous restrictions.
Salmon or no salmon, there are plenty of other attractions in and around Campbell River. The city has an excellent museum with a world-class collection of Native artifacts heading the list, and hiking on Quadra Island and in Strathcona Provincial Park appeals to outdoorsy types. Also, the historic Kwakwaka'wakw Cultural Centre has reopened on Quadra Island, which holds a fascinating collection of repatriated First Nations potlatch masks and totems. To reach Quadra Island, take the 10-minute ferry from downtown Campbell River to Quathiaski Cove, on Quadra Island. Trips depart on the hour from about 6am to 10pm (no Sun 7am sailing). Round-trip fares are C$8 per adult passenger, C$19 per vehicle; you can bring a bike for free.