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Adams River Sockeye
By Kimberly Walker
Located between Adams Lake and Shuswap Lake and approximately an hour east of Kamloops, Tsútswecw Provincial Park (pronounced choo-chwek) is probably best known as home to one of the largest Sockeye salmon runs in North America – the Adams River run.
Every four years, in October, millions of sockeye salmon return to spawn in the Adams River. In these dominant years, the “Salute to the Sockeye” is organized by The Adams River Salmon Society and provides wonderful opportunities to learn about and view wild salmon as they return home to spawn. 2022 is a dominant year for the Adams River run, so the next “Salute to the Sockeye” will not occur until 2026. However, the year following the dominant run is classified as sub-dominant, with over 300,000 fish returning to the Adams River. This makes 2023 an excellent year as well to visit Tsútswecw Provincial Park as there will be plenty of salmon viewing opportunities and smaller crowds.
In the Secwepemc language, Tsútswecw means “many rivers,” which is an apt description of the many streams and spawning areas you pass as you walk the trails through Tsútswecw Provincial Park. While the park is home to 26 kilometres of trails that are excellent for both hiking and mountain biking, during salmon spawning season, most of the action is centred around the lower trails and the viewing platform just 300 metres west of the parking lot.
In October, a few years back, we had the very unique opportunity to scuba dive in Shuswap Lake, where thousands of sockeye salmon congregated as they prepared to make the final challenging journey up the Adams River. We first learned about the possibility of diving with the salmon at a meeting of our scuba diving club. The photos and videos shown absolutely convinced me that diving surrounded by thousands of fish preparing to spawn was something that I needed to do.
We departed the Fraser Valley early Saturday morning and headed for Tsútswecw Provincial Park. When we arrived at the mouth of the Adams River, I was happy to find that our dive location was just off a beautiful sandy beach on the shores of Shuswap Lake. We hauled our gear down to the beach, set up, and proceeded to submerge ourselves into another world.
The visibility in Shuswap Lake, like a lot of lake diving in British Columbia, was nothing to write home about. Unlike most lake dives, though, the visibility was also significantly impaired by the hundreds, if not thousands, of salmon gently circling for a final rest before pushing upstream. I have travelled quite a lot of places and done a lot of pretty cool things, but this was truly something unlike anything else I have experienced.
Our dive lasted 53 minutes with a maximum depth of 34 feet. The average depth, however, was a mere 18 feet and the best salmon viewing was at the shallower depths as it allowed us to feel truly surrounded by salmon. As our dive came to an end and we ascended back into the bright sunshine, I was blown away by the knowledge that these salmon had travelled over 4,000 kilometres – all the way to Alaska and beyond – before returning home to the exact same location where they had been born to spawn and then die.
Once our dive gear was packed away, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the above water features of Tsútswecw Provincial Park. The autumn foliage was a fiery display of yellows, oranges, and reds as we walked the Phil Rexian Trail, the Viewing Platform Trail, and the Lower Trails. The trails skirt the edge of the Adams River and the Groundwater Spawning Channel and provide plenty of opportunity to see the salmon.
Tsútswecw Provincial Park offers plenty to see both above and below the water.
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Published: October 20, 2022
Last Updated: April 21, 2023
Kimberly is a Special Education, Elementary School teacher in Hope, BC. Previously having worked ten years at the Hope Visitor Centre & Museum promoting tourism in Hope and British Columbia, Kimberly worked on many local history projects in the museum as well as researching and writing articles for the local newspaper. Kimberly loves travelling with her husband Dale and their dog Alpine. In the fall of 2014, they spent the first 78 days of married life travelling and camping their way across Canada - just the two of them and the dog - travelling in a Hyundai Elantra! Kimberly loves various outdoor recreation types and exploring our beautiful province.