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It’s officially Fall and the absolute perfect time to explore both the Big and Little Qualicum River hatchery trails!

From mid-September until mid-November, Chinook and Pink salmon return to the hatchery and spawn. Consequently, the rivers and channels are full of active fish (and dying fish) which attract all types of birds and wildlife.

The trails are also surrounded by beautiful maples, which, when timed right makes for a very colourful walk!

Big Qualicum River hatchery trails
The leaves were just starting to turn when we were there

Big Qualicum River Hatchery Trails

The trail starts at the Big Qualicum Hatchery and follows the 10 kilometre-long, gravel hatchery service road the length of the river. The level path makes for a great cycling route too!

There are many side shoots which meander off the main service road, that help make the route even more beautiful as you walk under the canopy of trees.

Head across any of the small hatchery bridges (if open) and explore the many nature trails until your heart’s content.

At this time of year, expect to see people fishing along the banks of the river, as well as plenty of raptors and other birds looking for an easy meal. Black bears also frequent this area, so please be bear aware.

There are also lots of dog walkers on the trails. It is especially important during the fall to keep your pooch on a leash as to not disturb the sensitive river shoreline.

Fisherman on the Big Qualicum River

The Hatchery

The Big Qualicum Hatchery has a number of natural and artificial enhancement techniques to help increase the population of Pacific salmon. It was the first hatchery to use modern enhancement projects in BC and has since provided a model for others.

During normal times (pre-COVID), you could book a guided tour of the facility or even take a self-guided tour. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, this isn’t currently available. Hopefully, it will be again in the near future.

The trails, however, are most definitely open!

Channel of the Big Qualicum River

Getting There

From the Inland Island Hwy (19), take the Horne Lake exit (75) (but head away from Horne Lake). Follow Horne Lake Road until you pass the railroad tracks and take the next left (continuing onto Horne Lake Road). On your immediate left (you will see a Big Qualicum Hatchery sign), turn onto the gravel road (River Road). Follow that down to the hatchery parking lot.

From the Island Hwy (19A), take the exit on Horne Lake Road. Take the first right onto a gravel road (River Road) and continue until you reach the hatchery parking lot.

The official address is: 215 Fisheries Road, Qualicum Beach

Please note: The gates are currently only open from 8:00 am – 3:00 pm daily. And this is strictly enforced! If you arrive after this time (or don’t wish to leave before 3:00 pm) you will need to park outside the gate and walk down the gravel road to the hatchery.

Little Qualicum river

Little Qualicum River Hatchery Trails

The Little Qualicum River hatchery trail provides a beautiful and interesting loop of approximately 5 km’s.

Once parked, follow the gravel service road putting the water channel on your right-hand side. Before you start out, however, you’ll want to walk through the underground viewing room to hopefully see some salmon up close.

As you walk down the service road, enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the glassy stream and tree canopy. You may even see salmon jumping!

At around the 2 km mark, the gravel road passes through a locked gate. Follow the road to the right where you’ll pass by the area where they control the water entering the channels.

Continue the loop by following the smaller dirt-road access road back to the hatchery. Take advantage of the few benches along the way to stop and admire the view. Or for a great vantage point and photo op, head across the metal bridge (if open).

It’s also worth exploring some of the grassy peninsulas and pebble shorelines along the channels and river if so inclined.

Qualicum River in the Fall

The Hatchery

Built in 1963, the Little Qualicum hatchery is part of the Canadian Salmon Enhancement Program. This program includes 18 government facilities in B.C. dedicated to improving the freshwater survival of salmon and trout. Seven of these facilities are located on Vancouver Island!

Little Qualicum hatchery is one of only two water flow-control facilities in the province.

Guided tours are not available at this hatchery, however, the public is welcome to walk around the site during working hours.

Salmon in the Qualicum river

Getting There

From the intersection of the Old Island Highway (Hwy 19A) and Laburnum Road, drive south to Claymore Road and turn right. Follow Claymore Road to the entrance of the Little Qualicum River Fish Hatchery.

If you expect to leave later than 4:00 pm, you’ll need to park outside the gate.

The official address is 1391 Claymore Road, Qualicum Beach


Have you been? What time of year do you enjoy visiting the Qualicum River hatchery trails? Let us know in the comment section below.

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