The Goldstream River is alive with one of nature's miracles. Too many salmon to count hover in the shallow water. They dart around each other, stopping to rest before pushing upstream again. The river, at this point more like a wide stream coursing over boulders and sand, is so clear you can see the salmon's eyes. Their skin, torn by rocks, tells of the immense effort of this journey upstream from the Pacific. Instinct has drawn them here to spawn and die, three or four years after they left this river to make their way to the ocean.
By the end of December, thousands of chum, coho, and chinook salmon will have swum upstream. Goldstream Provincial Park, 10 miles from downtown Victoria, British Columbia, is the perfect place to see them. Trails and observation platforms along the river make it easy to watch the salmon and to see bald eagles circling overhead or eating fish along the riverbank. The Freeman King Visitor Centre has displays and lectures about the salmon's return to their ancestral spawning beds.
But the salmon are not the only reason to visit this 960-acre park. About 10 miles of well-marked trails meander among 600-year-old Douglas firs, Western red cedars, and arbutus. And you won't want to miss Niagara Falls, a 155-foot waterfall that plunges down a rock face into a clear pool. It's easily walked to along Lower Falls Trail (get a trail map and directions from the visitor center). Gold Mine Trail, on the other side of Niagara Creek, takes you to old mining shafts, remnants of the mid-1800s gold rush here.
If you're up to it, hike to the top of Mount Finlayson. The beauty of the park spreads out below, and Victoria is clearly in view to the south. From here it seems even more amazing that you're so close to a city, yet so far away.
See the salmon
From Victoria, take Hwy. 1 (also called Trans-Canada Hwy.) north 10 miles; look for the Goldstream Provincial Park sign on the right. Freeman King Visitor Centre (250/478-9414) is a 10-minute walk from the main parking lot on Visitor Centre Trail. Tourism Victoria (250/953-2033 or www.tourismvictoria.com) has more information.