This extensive 13-day tour in British Columbia provides numerous opportunities to see some of the finest wildlife in Canada, such as grizzly and black bears, beavers, humpback whales, sea otters and bald eagles.
We spend six nights on Vancouver Island which is an amazing location for wildlife enthusiasts due to its large black bear population and fantastic whale watching opportunities. We visit the best wildlife locations on Vancouver Island including Tofino and Zeballos to spot the fantastic fauna. Furthermore, this island really is a microcosm of British Columbia with rugged mountains, dense forests and desolate beaches.
Returning to mainland British Columbia by plane, we stay for three nights at the award-winning Tweedsmuir Park Lodge in the southern reaches of the Great Bear Rainforest. Our time at this comfortable and high-quality lodge is our opportunity to see grizzly bears either as we drift downstream along the nearby rivers on board small wooden skiffs or from viewing platforms close to the lodge. Over the course of the holiday, we should see the very best wildlife that British Columbia has to offer.
Day1: Fly to Vancouver
We depart the UK on a daytime flight, arriving in Vancouver later the same day. On arrival we will be met by our naturalist guides and transferred to our overnight hotel in nearby Tsawwassen.
Accommodation: Hotel in Tsawwassen, 1-night
Day2: Ferry to Vancouver Island & drive to Ucluelet
We check out early and head take the ferry to Duke Point, Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. The ferry crossing takes us across the Salish Sea to Nanaimo. These rich waters are home to the southern population of resident killer whales, and our two-hour trip might provide the first chance of seeing these and humpback whales, as well as Pacific white-sided dolphin, porpoises, sea lions, seals and a variety of seabirds.
Disembarking on Vancouver Island, we head northwest towards Ucluelet, a small coastal town on the island’s west coast. This drive takes the best part of the day. Our route takes us through some wonderful habitats and past provincial parks, and we take the opportunity to break the journey with stops to stretch our legs, look for wildlife and enjoy a leisurely picnic lunch.
Accommodation: Hotel in Ucluelet, 3-nights
Days3-4: Explore Ucluelet
During our stay we intend to enjoy at least two boat excursions to maximise the time we spend on the water and so greatly improve our chances of seeing marine mammals. The rich waters around Ucluelet and the nearby town of Tofino are frequented by humpback and transient killer whales, but our boat trips here also provide opportunities to see porpoises, both river and sea otters, sea lions, harbour seals, black bears, lots of seabirds, and maybe even the occasional wolf.
Our time on land is not wasted either, as the Pacific Rim National Park has many trails in its spectacular coastal forest and plenty of wonderful beaches for us to explore. We may also visit some local salmon streams to look for black bear.
Day5: Drive to Zeballos
We leave Ucluelet in the morning and head back across to the island’s east coast, then turn north towards Zeballos.
Zeballos is a gem of a location for wildlife watching, and consistently provides opportunities to see and photograph a wealth of wildlife, including feeding humpback whales, porpoises, seals and sea lions, seabirds, wolves, black bears, the occasional cougar and even beaver. It also has plus some of the best sea otter watching on the coast of British Columbia.
Accommodation: Hotel in Zeballos, 2-nights
Day6: Around Zeballos
Today’s activities include an excursion on an open skiff to explore the beautiful Zeballos Inlet and the islands around Nuchatlitz Provincial Park in search of the large rafts of sea otters that congregate here to give birth to their pups, as well as any other wildlife that we might spot.
We spend the remainder of the day exploring and looking for wildlife immediately around the town. The estuary and parts of the Zeballos River can both be excellent places to look for black bear and American marten, and occasionally wolf and even cougar have been seen near the town. Both river otter and sea otter visit the harbour docks, and forest birds such as cedar waxwing, red crossbill, and varied thrush are common.
Day7: Port Hardy
Leaving Zeballos, we continue northeast to join a day trip by boat to explore the Johnstone Strait and Broughton Archipelago, British Columbia’s largest marine park. The rich waters around the archipelago are famously home to fish-eating killer whales, which are the day’s focus. In addition, there are good numbers of feeding humpback and minke whale, thousands of seabirds such as rhinoceros auklets, large herds of Pacific white-sided dolphins, Dahl’s and harbour porpoises, harbour seals and noisy groups of Steller’s sea lions (the largest of the sea lions). Boat trips in this area are getting increasing numbers of sea otter sightings, as these animals re-colonise much of their former range.
After our time on the water, we return to Vancouver Island and the small town of Port Hardy where we spend the night.
Accommodation: Hotel in Port Hardy, 1-night
Days8-10: Fly to Bella Coola; transfer to Tweedsmuir Park Lodge
Today we fly to Bella Coola and transfer directly to our accommodation, a lodge in Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park in the southern reaches of the Great Bear Rainforest. On reaching the lodge we have an orientation tour followed by a seminar with a bear naturalist, then head out on a boat to drift silently downriver while searching for bears. Both grizzly and black bears reside throughout the park, but our activities here focus almost entirely on watching grizzly bears as they congregate to fish in the rivers when salmon are swimming upstream between May and October.
On our second full day we head out on a full-day guided nature walk to learn more about grizzly bears and their habitat. On the third day of our stay we search for bears in the morning on another river drift, then track them on another guided nature walk in the afternoon.
To increase our chances of seeing bears while at the lodge, it is best to be as pro-active as possible and visit the wildlife-viewing platforms located on the river within easy walking distance in the early morning before breakfast and again in the evening.
With over ten years experience of guiding a wide range of wildlife tours worldwide, Lee is also a professional ecologist, naturalist, photographer and writer.
He has spent eight seasons leading natural history cruises around Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, and consequently has a wealth of knowledge about the whales that frequent these waters. Lee has also worked as a bear guide in the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, and has a particular passion for the wildlife of Canada’s Pacific Coast.
Lindsay is a professional teacher, naturalist, marine biologist, and photographer. She has lived in British Columbia her entire life, where she has worked as a high school science teacher, multi-day hiking guide, and as a fish monitor for the department of Fisheries and Oceans.
She has been working as a professional naturalist and wildlife guide in the Pacific Northwest for more than 15 years where she has assimilated a wealth of knowledge about the wildlife and cultural heritage of the region. Lindsay is an experienced bear guide, has a particular passion for marine wildlife and the ecology of temperate rainforests, and a boundless enthusiasm for sharing her extensive knowledge and experience of this subject too.
The healthy black bear population and whale-watching opportunities make Vancouver Island a great destination for wildlife enthusiasts. Separated from the mainland by a long strait, the island’s west coast overlooks the Pacific Ocean, while the mountainous interior is heavily forested with big conifers.
Where: British Columbia
Ideal for viewing: American black bear, puma, grey whale, orca, sea otter
Facing the Pacific Ocean, backed by Vancouver Island’s mountainous spine, this park preserves the natural heritage of Canada’s west coast, whose cool maritime climate generates an abundance of life on land and in the water. Interwoven with these natural wonders is the history of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations.
Where: Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Ideal for viewing: brown bear, humpback whale, orca, bald eagle, wolf
The area’s mountains, valleys and forests, extending up much of BC’s coastline, offer sanctuary to large numbers of grizzlies and black bear. No other mainland location offers such intimate wildlife encounters amidst breathtaking natural splendour. You can watch bears on foot or while drifting downriver.
Where: British Columbia
Ideal for viewing: American black bear, brown bear, humpback whale, spirit bear, grey wolf
Excellent for: Wildlife cruises, Wildlife festivals, Wildlife photography, Photography tours with Nick Garbutt, Mark Carwardine wildlife holidays, Bear watching
British Columbia’s largest city stands in a fine coastal setting, against a backdrop of lofty tree-covered peaks - a great starting point to any wildlife holiday in the province. There is plenty to see in this lively, multi-cultural city, such as exploring Stanley Park on foot or by bike.
Where: British Columbia
Excellent for: Activity & adventure, City stopover, History & culture
Dating from the 1930s, Tweedsmuir Park Lodge is a classic former hunting lodge that now accommodates eco visitors. The chalets are in a spacious setting with spectacular views; bears and other wildlife are regularly seen in the grounds and the lodge organises drift trips down the McKenzie River.