​When & Where To Go Bear Viewing In British Columbia: Canada’s Bear Country

Mother and cubs: Grizzly bears feasting on salmon

Located in British Columbia, the Great Bear Rainforest is a protected area, its 15.8 million acres stretching along the province’s north and central coast from Knight Inlet to the Alaska Panhandle. The largest coastal temperate rainforest in the world (equivalent to the size of Ireland), it is often referred to as the Amazon of the North.

Composed of earthly treasures: one thousand-year-old cedars, waterfalls, moss-covered mountains, granite-dark waters, and glacier-cut fjords fill the landscape in this forested paradise, and the wildlife that roams here, on land and in the sea, is abundant, much of it guarded by the First Nations people.

Coastal gray wolves, Sitka deer, cougars, mountain goats, orca, salmon, sea lions, sea otters, and humpback whales are not uncommon sightings, but its most celebrated residents are still bears.

Grizzlies and Black bears and of course the rare, cream-colored Kermode bear, or Spirit bear (deemed to be sacred by the T’simshian people) wander across the remote expanse, and they are a delight to watch. If you love the outdoors and the unpredictability of nature, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience you have to book!

See these magnificent mammals in their natural habitat and head with us to  Knight Inlet, and the Broughton Archipelago, two of the best places in Canada to spot the Grizzly bears, and even more wildlife besides.

When To Go: Bucket List Bear Seasons

Bear viewing is best from spring through autumn, with late August through September one of the most popular times to visit as this is the start of the famous Salmon Run. Millions of salmon make their dramatic life and death passage back to the rivers where they were born to spawn a new generation, with millions of fish swimming side by side against the current.

Watching the bears fish for their catch presents fabulous photography opportunities, and multiple bears are sometimes seen feeding on dying salmon and squabbling over the huge fish bounty.

Grizzly Bear slumped over a log near Knight Inlet Lodge

May through August is the best time to see cubs and young Grizzlies, with small boats allowing you to observe them along the estuary shoreline. A special and spontaneous encounter, you might see the cubs learning how to flip the moss-covered rocks in the hope of finding succulent mussels, the bears imitating the behavior of their mother. With visitors always maintaining a safe distance, every interaction is mostly uninterrupted, the bears grazing casually on the sedge grass, foraging for berries or scavenging for roots and tubers as if their audience were invisible.

Cub navigating his way across moss-covered rocks near Knight Inlet Lodge

Knight Inlet Lodge: Bear Viewing Through An Indigenous Lens

Located in the traditional territory of the Da’naxda’xw Awaetlala First Nation and in the southern reaches of the Great Bear Rainforest, Knight Inlet Lodge is 100% indigenous owned by the Mamalilikulla, the Tlowitsis, the Da’naxda’xw Awaetlala, the K’omoks and the Wei Wai Kum First Nations people.

A floating wilderness resort tucked into Glendale Cove, the surrounding area is home to one of the largest concentrations of Grizzly bears in British Columbia, the property just 50 miles by air north of Campbell River. Perfectly appointed, Orca’s have been known to play directly outside of the lodge, inquisitive river otters often swim up to the dock and it’s not unusual to find bald eagles swooping down and gliding above the water in search of their prey.

Over the years the lodge has made successful efforts to stop the trophy hunting of grizzly bears and it continues to be a pioneer on the research front, which makes any trip here incredibly insightful. For example, the ongoing Bear ID project headed up by Resident Research Scientist, Dr Melanie Clapham uses facial recognition technology to identify individual bears in order to understand the bears’ behaviour and their needs. A serious commitment, a donation to bear conservation is included in the price of the holiday.
Wildlife viewing through an Indigenous lens, holidays at the lodge are also an opportunity to learn about the legend of the ‘Gela’ (Grizzly bear) and the many stories of its spirit and strength that transcend the supernatural world.

Grizzly Bear on the shoreline near Knight Inlet Lodge

Bear viewing is done by boat, by kayak and on foot, with exhilarating four-hour hikes taken through the spectacular Kwalate Valley, known as the “place of many berries”. Adventures are followed daily by drinks on the front veranda or in the bar, dinner, and talks on the history, ecology or fauna of the area.

Alternatives to bear viewing include the all-day marine adventures to view whales, Humpbacks and Orcas, along with pacific white-sided dolphins and seals.

Farewell Harbour Lodge: Go Bear Viewing In One Of The Most Biologically Diverse Places On The Planet

Situated in Mamalilikulla territory, the Farewell Harbour Lodge (a Trip Advisor’s 2022 Travellers Choice award winner) on Berry Island is another special place to visit if you are set on seeing Grizzly bears. A protected anchorage located on the southern frontier of Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, the lodge lies between Vancouver Island and the mainland. Set within the border of the world renowned Broughton Archipelago Marine Park, a maze of several small islands and numerous islets, it is a biodiversity hub that offers remarkable bear sightings, and more.

The strong currents found here create upwelling, with the resulting nutrient-rich water supporting healthy fish populations and attracting large numbers of wildlife and marine life, including whales (an Orca research unit that the lodge supports is situated nearby), bears, and birds.

Mother bear searching for food on the shoreline, near Farewell Harbour Lodge

Offering wildlife safaris where you never know quite what is around the next corner, everyday is a different experience. The lodge has access to five different rivers so you might find yourself on a crew boat ride to a remote river, then switching into a zodiac, and afterwards walking on foot or getting into a 4×4 and travelling along old logging roads to further remote regions of these river systems. The guides have even happened upon bears that have never before had human contact, with Farewell’s vehicles allowing them to drive around estuaries that would otherwise be inaccessible: a beautiful hidden river valley now a regular nursery that continues to be a home for several mothers and their young cubs.

The unpredictability of nature makes bear encounters all the more exciting at Farewell Harbour Lodge

At the lodge you can expect a real family experience with everyone enjoying meals together including buffet suppers.  Engaging conversations on the day’s sightings are usually followed by an evening presentation and afterwards a glass of wine complete with spectacular sunsets over the water​.​

Day Tours: Bear Viewing Snap Shots

From April through October we also offer day tours for bear viewing. Take a trip from Tofino on a 24’ Zodiac vessel and travel along fjord inlets; stopping in sheltered bays with opportunities to see Black bears and other inlet wildlife, including seals, eagles, porpoise and heron. These island bears, are in fact a subspecies called “ursus americanus vancouveri” that are adapted to coastal life and thought to be a very old subspecies. Alternatively, head out from picturesque Telegraph Cove and venture through the Broughton Archipelago to Knight Inlet in the hope of sighting Grizzly and Black bears in their natural habitat.

Bear Watching near Tofino, on Vancouver Island

For more information on the holidays we offer at Frontier Canada, and to book, call us on 020 8776 8709 or email us at canada@frontier-travel.co.uk. ATOL PROTECTED No 5405 ABTA W3207.