Witnessing the Adams River salmon run
Leaving the Okanagan, we continued our way north to the broad forested valleys and sprawling lakes of the Shuswap. At the foot of the Monashee Mountains, it's a beautiful country of sweeping meadows, soaring peaks, and seemingly endless expanses of water. You'll find plenty of things to see and do including visiting wineries, hiking nature trails, exploring the many lakes and rivers, or simply strolling the cozy towns and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. It's also home to one of BC's most spectacular natural wonders: the Adams River salmon run.
The Salmon Return
After spending most of their lives in the ocean salmon return to freshwater to spawn, usually travelling back to within metres of where they were born. Each river can present its own unique set of challenges, but it’s hard to imagine a more perilous and improbable journey than the one to Adams River. These salmon travel upwards of 4000km, slowly making their way out to the ocean and to Alaska and then back again, ignoring thousands of other rivers along the rain-scoured coast to hone in on the faint smell of the river they came from. They then swim another 500km deep into the interior of BC, up the swift-flowing Fraser and Thompson Rivers, passing raging rapids, cascades, canyons, mountain ranges, and countless predators, again navigating the web of tributaries to find the very gravel beds from which they came. It’s astonishing. And even more astounding is how many salmon make it: tens of millions of salmon can make the journey successfully, and some years the river seems like it’s almost entirely made of fish. This is North America’s largest Sockeye run.
All salmon make the journey, but there is just something particularly iconic about Sockeye. During their swim up the rivers they don't eat for weeks, their bodies slowly turning from the sleek ocean silver to a striking hump-backed jutting-jawed red and green. And while salmon return every year, every four years they return in particularly staggering numbers. Called a "dominant" year, the quadrennial spectacle draws thousands of people from around the world to witness the bright red flashes of the salmon's long-awaited return.
Salmon are a keystone species, vital to the health of the ecosystem. Every year they bring tons of nitrogen-rich nutrients from the ocean back into the interior, feeding birds and bears and the very forest itself. The annual return has long been a significant occasion for the local Secwépemc First Nations, a time when all the scattered bands would convene on a few select fishing spots, a time for feasting and celebration and preparing for the long winter ahead. It's a significant area, and a beautiful place to visit at any time of year — but there's something momentous about being there in October to see the salmon coming home. You feel like you're bearing witness to the great cycle of the seasons, of life and death and rebirth.
To make the most of our salmon viewing we stayed nearby at the Quaaout Lodge. Owned and operated by the local Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band, Quaaout has some neat design features that call back to traditional First Nation's architecture, as well as interpretive displays to explore on the grounds including a dugout canoe and a seasonal pithouse. With a spa, lakefront golf course, giant beach, and tasty onsite dining at Jack Sam's, if it weren't for the salmon you might be hard pressed to find a reason to leave.
Salmon Arm Wharf & Nature Trail
While in the area, make sure to stop into the nearby town of Salmon Arm. With a cozy downtown full of local shops and restaurants, we were excited to stay a night at the Prestige Harbourfront Resort. Right on the water, we had beautiful views over the lake and quick access to wetland nature trails, bird watching, and the classic wharf stroll. Heading out on a walk, we saw geese flapping by on their long journey south, a family of river otters, and took in plenty of fresh autumn air.
Coinciding with the return of the Sockeye, the Salmon Arm Art Gallery was hosting an exhibit titled Peak Year III: A Climate of Change, featuring 8 local artists exploring the effects of climate change on the Adams River Salmon Run. It's a series they've been returning to for the past decade or so, and it was neat to see how different artists approached it. The space itself is beautiful as well, repurposing the old post office with community-driven workshops and art classes hosted in the basement.
Our last stop was the DeMille's Farm Market. To be honest we were just stopping to peruse their selection of crisp fresh apples, but then we found out they had a corn maze and a whole petting zoo filled with baby goats and piglets and a llama and donkey and a miniature horse and we somehow spent a whole afternoon there. A perfect destination for the whole family.