Campbell River – Here We Go (I hope you go, too)!

Vintage drawing of the property and cabins at Dolphin’s resort!

First, let me say we lucked out! The weather was very cold but beautifully sunny nearly all the time we spent in Campbell River, BC. Because of that – the roads were clear, the scenery was out in all its spender and we had lots of daylight to explore. This was probably one of the most outstanding few days away we have ever had (and, we have had many outstanding ones as this blog attests!). Quite accidentally, this adventure became a bit of an interesting foodie experience as well!

This trip was so strikingly beautiful: snow-capped mountains, deep-blue shimmering water and deep-green forest accented the beauty of our travels through the Gulf Islands to Vancouver Island. Everywhere you looked there was something to see! Farmland, water views, birds and wildlife! This is restorative nature at its best.

The ride getting to Campbell River is an interesting one and there are a few different ways to go – we chose the little over 6 hour drive from Seattle with a great hour and a half BC ferry ride from Tsawwassen (you do not pronounce the “T”) to Nanaimo (Duke Point) in the middle of it. I had kinda dreaded it; but, when the time came and the sun shone – I have to admit: the ride was exciting and spectacular – so much to see and enjoy.

We left Seattle after a great breakfast and that full pot of French-pressed coffee at Tenth West on Queen Anne. This is one of our go-to breakfast spots now…especially on a get-away day because we can justify that large piece of cinnamon-pecan coffeecake with melted butter poured on top. We usually sanctimoniously eat our veggie omelets with fruit instead of potatoes and Jon enjoys their wonderful coffee…but, today we had it all: coffee, French baguette toast and homemade raspberry jam, veggie scramble, country scramble, potatoes and coffee cake with melted butter on top – the works….we are on vacation!

After the usually good and reasonably priced breakfast, we headed out – Jon driving and my brother Paul navigating; and, adding colorful commentary all the way. He has had 25 years of doing this trip as a yacht manager both on the water and on land. He was an excellent guide for the entire trip!

Entrance Island Lighthouse is one of the sights from the ferry!

The ride is pleasant and we had lots to see on the way. Reserve your ferry ride, though; and, you must arrive a half hour before the boat leaves to insure you make it. Settled on the ferry, we went upstairs and experienced the BC ferry system…what a gem. The boats are large, spotless with many interesting areas to sit and watch the scenery. They have a great gift shop on board…with lots of year-end sales and the exchange rate was the lowest in years – $1.26 cents to the American dollar. Mostly, it is just a quiet time to take pictures from the deck, get a Starbucks, sit, read and daydream out the window. We were getting our vacation-mode on quite easily.

When we arrived on Vancouver Island, we had time to explore Nanaimo, (home of the famous Nanaimo Bar – you gotta do it!) – its nice waterfront marina and getting fish and chips were on my brother’s to-do list! There is a great fish and chip shop on the water open in the spring and summer Troller’s. In winter though, you have to go to Pirate Chips (cute name!) a block above the waterfront. Their panko breaded cod and local oysters (huge) were fantastic! We tried their traditional breading as well…skip it…get the panko! The coleslaw interestingly tasty…we did not get the fries (we were on vacation…I am not sure why we did that) – so you will have to check that out yourself. We had splurged on the whole catastrophe breakfast with coffeecake merely hours ago. But, this was perfect timing for lunch and stretching our legs. The décor of this place is a hoot! The menu extensive and the service, with only one waitress working, was (believe it or not) very good.

We meandered the streets full of little interesting shops and then headed for the Resort. The two-hour drive passed quickly as we saw eagles (so many of them), farms and many tiny little towns on the way.

Our first stop, since it was dark by the time we arrived, was Save on Foods to get some supplies – for happy hour at the cabin. My brother had said the grocery stores up there were fantastic and he was right. Maybe just Paul and I but we appreciate a great grocery! Pomegranate habanero, the sharpest cheddar I have ever had and a salami wrapped in herbs were only part of the fun. We all selected our favorite junk food and treats to share, made a quick stop at the liquor store across the way for bloody Mary supplies and peppermint schnapps for our cocoa – then onward.

The front office person, Kerry, was waiting and welcoming! We got our key, drove about 20 feet away, parked, unloaded; and, saw that our little log cabin (cabin 3) was as charming as the pictures. We got the fire started for the evening. We unpacked, talked, feasted, planned our next day, read about the history of the area and this place. The guest book has some old articles about the resort that are fascinating. When it came time for bed we were relaxed and ready.

Day Two of Away: One of the outstanding things about this choice of accommodation is – breakfast included. We did not know beforehand that there was a full service dining room and small bar (Angler’s Dining) – it, too, was charming and under the direction of a great chef Christopher Thrift – “West Coast dining with a Pacific Rim Flare”. The breakfast was a full menu thing with daily specials, several egg bennys, huevos rancheros (great!), a special French Toast (great!) and a cranberry oatmeal that was deliciously – great!

Oh, I did not mention this property when we saw it in the daylight. We fell in love…tall evergreen trees on grassy, lovely, medium bank, great water views and a gentle walking path to the beach and dock. The pan abode cabins (which we love and would love to build one) are clean, cute and well-stocked (studios to two bedrooms). The price off-season was $139 per night (plus taxes) per couple including that breakfast – great $40 value! (And, factor in the exchange rate 25% off)!

Every day breakfast brought new and interesting specials and the usual fresh OJ, Mighty Leaf Organic African Nectar tea (if you are discerning tea drinker check it out), good coffee and breakfast made your way. They are wonderful at letting you substitute and combine from the menu. The bread is a local bakery’s sourdough or multigrain and it is also – well, you know – great.

Ok…that is only half of the story here…the other is: they serve breakfast till eleven – this was really going to be a vacation! Our evenings were early to bed or late depending on our activities; but, every morning was a sleep-in day…walk ten feet and get a great breakfast. Thank you, Dolphin’s Resort, for knowing how to treat a visitor!

We lingered over breakfast the first day. Somehow we learned there was going to be a special Chef’s choice New Year’s Eve dinner in the restaurant; but, it was sold out. Well, that got us going…we wanted to be in attendance…so various conversations with the office occurred until – quite luckily – a table for four opened up and we had a 5:30 seating!

Almost the entire trip we had sun and very cold temperatures in the 20’s. This day it was dark and drizzly as we headed out for the Museum at Campbell River a well-renowned and awarded museum. On the way, my brother brought us to the overview at Seymour Narrows while explaining the Ripple Rock explosion, a man-made massive engineering feat that created a passageway critical for the area’s boating traffic and economy. Interesting! And, well played by our tour guide…I came to find out!

The museum is a beautiful small and well-curated space with lots of wonderful and fun exhibits that put you in the times and places of the history it presents – a small version of the magnificent Royal BC Museum in Victoria with is diorama’s and built environments of history.

Here we wondered through a bunk house that had first-person quotes amongst the display, that I found particularly enlightening regarding the feel and tenor of the time; saw an excellent exhibit on the sad, misguided, acculturation of the First Nation
into Christianity, a wonderful narrated exhibit of native masks, a history of salmon sport fishing and spent time in the replica of the dining room of the first hotel built in Campbell River – The Willow Hotel.

They have a little theater that has a great film on the explosion of Ripple Rock – my brother had made sure we understood the feat by having us stop at the overlook on the way! We spent two entertaining and educational hours there (we also had the community Christmas tree competition to view which was fun!). It is a wonderful little museum and well-worth your time!

The one snow flurry we saw in our whole visit was that morning and the Museum was the perfect place to wait it out. We headed back to the cabin for a fire and cocoa with peppermint schnapps, some snacks and a rest.

We headed out for the Tyee Spit, owned by First Nation’s tribes, for a brisk walk and some great views of this area. This is the home of the Tyee Club that fishes in the tradition of the First Nation’s for Tyee Chinook salmon. There are special boats and regulations making it a man against fish thing to the max. During the season, little regulation boats would be bobbing and dotting the water as fisherman vied for the title of getting the biggest catch and win buttons for the weights of the fish they wrestled to the boat unaided. It seemed like a wonderful tradition to me and I would have liked to have seen it. Note to self…come back and see this!

The Spit is by a tiny airport where you can fly Kenmore Air from Seattle’s Lake Union into Campbell River, a popular (and expensive) way to get there. For many years the rich and famous did just that – to be able to fish in the “Salmon Capitol of the World”! Times have changed and the salmon are depleted to a great degree. This area is surrounded by beach, blue, blue water, mountains and views. We were there for dusk and it was beautiful as fog settled in the mountains, and the rosy sky emerged deepening to a red.

We were frozen and refreshed and headed home looking forward to our New Year’s Eve at Angler’s.

You were expected to arrive in vacation casual attire and we complied…earrings and a fancy scarf were my nod to the special occasion. The place was bustling with excitement, the fire roaring and the tables glittering with gold decorations, balls and baubles in martini glasses. The mood was just right.

The menu was limited three courses – three choices for each and created by Chef Thrift. Having four people in the party meant we got to try one of almost everything and we did! This was a special meal! The waitresses were dressed up and passing out the glasses of complementary champagne with finesse.

The beef striploin, smoked sablefish, and salted caramel ganache bar…fabulous…Happy New Year!

We really enjoyed ourselves, lingered over every course, analyzed each dish, marveled at the flavor and presentation….thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and the excellent food! We decided the best dishes were the range-raised organic beef tenderloin, the basil cured smoked Sablefish (those that had this did not share!) and the Salted Caramel Ganache Bar! OK…we also liked the halibut cheek appetizer, the sous vide pear + panetone bread pudding, and nobody had the duck – all agreed the $70 per person (again in Canadian dollars!) was well spent and had produced a top notch dining experience that created a memory we would remember for a long time. The commute home, our ten steps to the cabin was a bit icy! An hour of hot tubbing completed our celebration and we were in bed by 11…welcoming the New Year with satisfied snuggles and snores!

Day Three of Away: We awoke to sun and cold temps, toddled off to breakfast exploring more of the menu and confirming: there is no bad food at Dolphin’s Resort. We headed out for Elk Falls. Riding around Campbell River always results in interesting views and with my brother along (maybe he would for the right price be your tour guide, too!) there was great history and fun facts.

The walk to the falls was on highly compacted ice most of the way and I wished I had bought those rubber slip on ice cleats I had seen on QVC! It is a walk through forest that brings you to the Falls and a suspension bridge that allows you cross the ravine and sway above as the water falls for 85 feet. This area is being developed with varying trails coming to it from many directions. I am anxious to try it in less icy conditions and go at it from another angle.

We took our usual Starbucks break, walked the Discovery Harbour Marina and headed to explore another of the grocery stores – Thrifty Foods. These stores are a ton of fun…different from the State stores with wonderful things we do not have. Our goal was to nab some of those excellent oysters we has already tasted in Nanaimo (Fanny Bay oysters); and, to make oyster stew a family New Year’s tradition. The exploration took a good hour as we each found treasures we just had to try or bring home with us. They had interesting cooking videos! The oysters were there (score!) and all the ingredients for our meal were gathered. I was particularly intrigued with the many bins of colorfully wrapped candy you buy in bulk little packages of sweetness – I resisted, and regret it…next time – a small bag of treats for all my friends and family back in the states!

Back at the cabin, we sliced, generously buttered and warmed fresh baked sourdough, made a great salad and the oyster stew. We sat down and again it was a special meal we thoroughly enjoyed! OK…we missed the waitresses! But, this is one Angler’s could learn from us!

A simple masterpiece of a meal if I do say so myself!

We played a game of Sequence…my new favorite game…that I always lose at (hmmm…I have been partnering with my brothers and sisters as team mates which is usually a winning combo…but, for some reasons the wild Jacks never show up for us…I may have to abandon family loyalties!). A long hot tub and we were off to our rooms to read and get another good night’s sleep. We did find the beds a little soft, I will have to admit…but, it just felt like nitpicking given the wonderful time we were having.

Day Four of Away: Quadra Island was on the agenda for today. So after another great breakfast, (Enough said already! But, we were nowhere near sampling everything on the menu yet)…we headed out for the little ferry and a ten minute ride to the Island. This Island has several noteworthy resorts on it plus and art studio tour in season. The ride around the island is interesting. We visited the lighthouse and its beach. Traveled some interesting roads.

We looked at the Campbell River Discovery Harbour Marina from afar and saw the mountains and water from all sorts of new angles. We walked the dock by April Point and Spa Resort, talked with the locals and were given a complimentary package of oysters (West Coast Smokin’ Oysters) to try from one of the boaters promoting his new local product. The dip I can’t wait to try! April Resort & Spa is situated on a lovely point and has beautiful grounds and cute cabins. We walked around there exploring.

Rebecca Spit was our next destination and this was glorious. Great beaches on both sides, forest trails and mountains…what a sight and wonderful hike! We loved it…it epitomizes the beauty of Campbell River and the outdoors of this region. I can only imagine it warm sunny weather on the beach with a picnic!

Our final destination at dusk was Heriot Bay Inn, which in the off-season looked dreary and where we had terrible appetizers, drinks; and, a funny waitress who told us not to try the soup of the day – “got burnt somehow!” We thanked her!

The view of their dock and the setting sun was beautiful. The gift shop here was a treat with all kinds of local handmade things…we really enjoyed it and bought a few things to bring home. I updated my earring collection and Paul and Gail got a rain chain made of hearts for their deck.

We rode home in the dark, took the ferry under an almost full moon and landed back at Dolphin’s in time for an evening of reading by the fire and beginning packing…sadness descended.

Day Four of Away: This was a leisurely departure for home with good-byes to the friends we had made at Angler’s and the front office. The ride back to the Tsawassen ferry was again scenic. The ferry boat ride was relaxing and we had a happy hour finishing up the treats we had bought in our grocery shopping sprees. It was restful and beautiful. We stopped at Goats on the Roof Old Country Market in Coombs, BC – a simply wonderful tourist trap…they were closing for the season and there were bargains galore (and in Canadian money – we kept saying…).

Soon, back in the car, we were all very quiet…the scenery was still beautiful on that get-back-to-reality trip home; but, we were having a hard time imagining that reality just yet!

Good-bye Campbell River…we will definitely be back!

Late spring and early fall seem like good times to visit again when it warms up a little and the fishing crowds are still not there in full force. So, if this trip excites you at all (if it does not I have failed here, so don’t listen to me and go anyway) now is a good time to make your reservations! Go ahead…make this trip!

To sum up: This was a great get away for so many reasons…firstly, new, beautiful landscape and terrain to explore. I live in a place that looks out at the Cascade Mountains, walk in Discovery Park looking at the Olympics, and have cruised to Alaska twice…but, I felt I had never seen mountains and water views before we made this trip…go figure! Although it is no longer really the Salmon Capitol of the World…there is good fishing and more than plenty to do in spring, summer and fall…great hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, fishing and more. Each of the Islands has something to offer for outdoorsy folks. With the local ferry system you can explore! This was the first place in Canada where we had experienced consistent, excellent food and at a great value only a few steps from where we stayed! There is a good combination of activities and off-season relaxation. This Resort is a great home base that had all the comforts of home and the feel of a summer vacation at the beach. Quite accidentally it had become a foodie paradise!

NOTE: This trip requires a border crossing you will need your passport or appropriate ID. We spent no more than 5 minutes at the border both ways.

Bonus: The exchange rate and reasonable prices made this trip a bargain. The ferry ride with car is a bit pricey about $125 (4 adult passengers as well one way) depending on route you chose…but, I think it worth the money! Routes and schedules here. The rest is discretionary spending and the attractions we visited were free or reasonably priced. For the outdoorsy…this is a free paradise!

This is part of the Inside Passage route and boats and cruise ships are often seen on Discovery Passage where the Resort is located. (Campbell River itself feeds into Discovery Passage.)

Canada’s economy is suffering as oil prices fall, timbering has collapsed and the fishing stocks have been depleted. Sad situation…but, the dollar is strong and that makes a difference if you are an America tourist. The Canadians are happy to see you (well, those Canadians are always a polite and happy bunch!). I can’t guarantee sun…the normal weather is like Seattle…but, look at a 10 day forecast before you make your get-away! Dolphin’s Resort (here are some other reviews) is a great place to stay…but there are plenty more places if you want to explore them. Painter’s Lodge, a historic place, has just been sold and is closed for the winter but in-season you might look there. It is just across the road from Dolphin’s. And, April Point Resort and Spa may be worth investigating when their season begins. But, for me…off-season and any season I’ll be at Dolphin’s Resort and eating at Angler’s Dining!

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