Juvenile movement patterns for coho salmon Oncorhynchus kisutch and Chinook salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha from two large interior rivers of British Columbia, Canada, were examined. Otoliths from post-spawned fishes were collected on spawning grounds and elemental signatures were determined through transects from sectioned otoliths using laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS). Large variations in otolith elemental signatures were found during the freshwater life stage indicative of movement downstream to rivers and tributaries that differed in elemental signature. This study highlights that downstream movements occur before migration to the ocean during the parr–smolt transformation. Extensive downstream movements of parr appear to be a successful life-history strategy based on variations observed in the otolith elemental signatures of spawners. Movements downstream in parr and the remarkable homing ability of adults also suggest that imprinting to natal streams must occur prior to the parr–smolt transformation.