• Harrison River: Salmon Stronghold & Wildlife Paradise Nov 09, 2011

    Photo: Bald Eagles in the thousands descend on the Harrison River every fall. Source: Tourism Harrison Hot Springs.

    As a nature enthusiast, I love the month of November in BC. I love the sights and smells of the autumn foliage, seeing the fermenting berries on the branches, and watching the migrating and wintering birds. It’s one of those underrated months of the year and yet it’s full of surprises… like having 7000 bald eagles congregate in one location, or being able to wrangle a giant white sturgeon out from the depths of a river. All of this exists 90 minutes from Vancouver. That location? The Harrison River.

    The Biodiversity of the Harrison River

    Located 90 minutes east of Vancouver and just minutes from Harrison Hot Springs, the Harrison River is a short but major tributary of the Fraser River. It drains from Harrison Lake, just west of Harrison Hot Springs, passing by the communities of Chehalis and Harrison Mills before entering the Fraser just north of Chilliwack. But what makes the river a nature lover’s dream is its biodiversity and its ease of access to unique wildlife experiences.

    Seal in the Harrison River
    Photo: A curious harbour seal swimming in the Harrison River. Source: Tourism Harrison Hot Springs.

    Simply put, the Harrison River is an amazing biological ecosystem. If you visit in the spring, you can see dozens of osprey pairs nesting on the river pylons.

    Osprey nesting on the Harrison River
    Photo: Pairs of osprey nest along the Harrison River every spring. Source: Tourism Harrison Hot Springs.

    The Harrison River also holds the impressive title of being the first officially designated Salmon Stronghold in Canada, with over 1.1 million Sockeye returning in 2011. As a result of this abundance of salmon, the Harrison River is a hotbed of bald eagle watching opportunities.

    Every fall, thousands of bald eagles congregate at the Harrison River, making it one of the most spectacular bald eagle watching opportunities near Vancouver. In fact, it’s considered the third largest bald eagle gathering in all of North America! But the bald eagles wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the salmon.

    Salmon are often considered the “keystone species” of coastal BC ecosystems, and this includes the Harrison River, for it’s the salmon that keep the biodiversity going. Salmon are food for bald eagles, as well as for the other wildlife in the Harrison, including seals, sea gulls, sturgeon, and bears.

    Black bear swimming in the Harrison River
    Photo: A black bear swims through the Harrison River. Source: Tourism Harrison Hot Springs.

    Without the salmon, the Harrison River simply wouldn’t have this abundance of wildlife. In addition, salmon is the cultural keystone species for the Sts’ailes First Nation who live on the Harrison River. Salmon is simply intrinsic to the livelihoods of those who call the Harrison River home.

    Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival

    Photo: The Harrison River is home to the third-largest congregation of bald eagles in North America. Source: Tourism Harrison Hot Springs.

    For a truly incredible experience, visit the Harrison River this month. On November 19 and 20, the 16th Annual Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival will be happening at various participating venues throughout the Fraser Valley from Mission to Harrison Mills.

    This two day family-friendly event celebrates the annual return of the bald eagles to the region where they can be seen feasting on the millions of spawning salmon. In 2010 there were 7000 bald eagles in an area that covers about 2 square miles, so you can only imagine the kind of abundance we’re talking about!

    Photo: Thousands of bald eagles congregate here every fall. Source: Tourism Harrison Hot Springs.

    In addition to the eagle viewing, there will be a multitude of walks and talks to experience, as well as interactive activities like geocaching. You can also learn about the local indigenous culture first hand with the Sts’alles First Nation. They’ll be hosting salmon lunches, arts & crafts workshops, demonstrations and dances all throughout the weekend.

    For those seeking a private guided tour, Harrison Eco Tours and Shoreline Tours will be operating eco tours and eagle viewing during the festival.

    And for those thinking of making the festival a weekend getaway, the Harrison Hot Springs Resort is currently offering a great eagle package this year. Full details can be found here.

    For more information about the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival, including the festival schedule, visit www.fraservalleybaldeaglefestival.ca.

    Eco Tours & Other Harrison River Activities

    Photo: The Harrison River is famous for both its salmon fishery and its sturgeon fishery. Source: BC Sportfishing Group.

    Of course, November is just one month of the year, but for outdoor enthusiasts and wildlife seekers, the Harrison River provides incredible nature experiences year round.

    For those seeking fishing adventures, the Harrison River's renowned for its salmon fishery but also its sturgeon fishery, with the latter happening year round, slowing down from December to February depending on the weather. For information about salmon and sturgeon fishing opportunities, visit the BC Sportfishing Group website at www.bcsportfishinggroup.com.

    With companies such as Harrison Eco Tours, you can experience wildlife all through the year. It’s possible to see ospreys, bald eagles, salmon, deer, bears, herons, seals, and more, depending on the time of year.

    Or if you prefer self-guided tours or self-paddle experiences, the Harrison River is considered one of the best freshwater kayaking trips in southwestern BC. Kayak tours are offered by Harrison Eco Tours and canoe expeditions offered by Ridge Wilderness Adventures.

    Photo: A Great Blue Heron perches above the Harrison River. Source: Tourism Harrison Hot Springs.

    For more information on the Harrison River and outdoor activities in and around Harrison Hot Springs, visit the Tourism Harrison Hot Springs or give them a call at 1-604-796-5581.


    • Arnold Lightbody
      this is totally amazing, are the Americans going to try and take this from us also.
    • pshea
      Thank you for posting...FABULOUS!!!!!
    • Robyn
      Hi Ericka, The best time for eagles would be right now! Right now there are thousands of bald eagles along the Harrison River. As for the seals, let me get back to you as I'm not sure if there's a particular season for them. Typically harbour seals can be found year round feeding on fish.
    • Ericka
      Hi! Lovely pics! When is the best time to go to watch seals and eagles? All the best, Ericka
    • Brian Chandler
      Beautiful site!Well done! Very evocative!. I have always loved paddling the Harrison river in my lovely hand made boats! The river has always been one of my favorite paddles
    • Linda
      I am from Kitimat, BC Enbridge wants to put a pipeline through the north from Alberta, to transfer bitumen (very dirty tarsands oil) to tankers to China. If we do not stop this there will be no salmon for the eagles to eat no sturgeon no bears and the list goes on. Please help BC stop Enbridge
    • Robyn
      Thanks Doug! You're right about Boundary Bay... it's a great birding destination. We'll likely be writing about it in a future blog post.
    • Doug
      Just as good a place as Boundary Bay for eagles maybe better! Thanks for the informative site!
    • Ian
      Beautifully done - thanks for the great showcase of this beautiful area.
    • Keith Urchuk
      Your web site is well done and shows off our wonderul fraser valley. The pics are great! The Squamish River valley should be another one of your destinations. Keep up the good work.
    • Lori Wikdahl
      I lived in this area for 19 years, and boy do these pictures make me think of home. The first photo of the Eagles in a tree is something I used to see quite regularly. I'm homesick!!!
    • diane duff
      Went out to see the eagles Nov. 10. It is an awesome experience. There were hundreds! Lunch at the Sandpiper was super, too, as we could see eagles from our table.
    • corbett george
      hi - i love bird watching - especially eagles & ravens - also the little birds i see on the ground at home in ahousaht - we use to watch the m0ovements of the smallest birds - seems like they had their own dance. my late buddy hunter was a sparrow dancer - one of the best. someone told me he learned from watching the little birds. i am native canadian - (nuu-chah-nulth) west coast of vancouver island - i am ahousaht 1st nation. my buddy was hesquiaht 1st nation. he stayed with me in ahousaht as we repaired his leaks on his fish boat called the paquolin. eagles, ravens & sparrows are of interest to me as is the owl.
    • jacki ens
      just fricken awesome
    • BeverleeRose
      Wow .. it must be spectacular to see those many eagles in one spot! absolutely amazing! I'd love to make it there for sure sometime after looking at the gr8t pictures.
    • Dehlia
      Please go to our web site to find out what we are doing to protect the Harrison River system and salmon and eagles from destruction
    • Jude
      Wow....what great pictures!! I want to go there now after seeing how beautiful it is. We are so lucky to live on the West Coast of Canada!
    • betteladd
      i love watching the eagles. they are the graceful birds of the sky.

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