The dense forest of the Great Bear Rainforest offers sanctuary to large numbers of black bear, brown (grizzly) bear, cougar, wolf, deer and beaver. The area is also home to the rare spirit bear - almost white in colour, this is a rare genetic mutation of the black bear.
This is one of the largest remaining tracts of unspoiled temperate rainforest left in the world, with one thousand year old western red cedars and 90-metre-high Sitka spruces. The forest’s unique nature is a result of its proximity to both the Pacific Ocean and the mountains of the interior, and no other mainland location offers such intimate wildlife encounters amidst such breathtaking natural splendour. Logging has now been banned in 33% of Great Bear Forest and the area now supports one of the world’s last sustainable populations of brown bear.
The magnificent brown, or grizzly, bear is a threatened species that requires large areas of habitat undisturbed by human activity. The massive grizzly definteiy sits at the top of the natural food chain and is essential for the balance of the ecosystem. As you explore remote fjords you can expect to see these impressive creatures, they will congregate at the estuaries of large rivers and feed on salmon, returning upriver to spawn. The primeval forests of Princess Royal Island are the habitat of the rare Kermode or ‘spirit’ bear – a unique subspecies of black bear with a recessive gene that produces white fur. Only some ten per cent of the bears are white, so although you can expect to see black bears, it requires luck and perseverance to spot a spirit bear.
The humpback whale is a common sighting here in the summer season, and you will spot its large blow, which sends a plume severalms high before the whale dives deep to feed on the plentiful shrimp and krill located on the sandy ocean bed. During a visit you’ll see various species of marine mammals, but Campania Sound and Whale Channel offer the best opportunities to watch humpbacks. Here you may see spectacular examples of behaviour such as breaching and a cooperative feeding technique known as bubble-net feeding.
You may also encounter the infamous orca, also known as killer whale, an extraordinary sight! Despite their name, orcas are in fact a member of the dolphin family. Orcas will eat pretty much anything that swims in front of them: seabirds, salmon, seals, squid, other whales etc – but not humans. The Pacific white-sided dolphin is a powerful and acrobatic swimmer and you will often see these beautiful mammals riding the bow waves of the vessels that ply these coastal waters. If fortunate you may even see a super pod, which can contain more than a hundred individuals.
You can also experience native culture, with permission from the local Gitga’at, Kitasoo/Xai’Xais, and Haisla First Nations peoples, and spend a day with local Gitga’at guides who will share their culture and history as they guide you to their favourite locations for bear watching.
The Great Bear Rainforest covers roughly 70,000 square kilometres of British Columbia's forested coastline, extending from the Discovery Islands in the south, north to the Alaskan border, and including the offshore islands.
Ideal for viewing: American black bear, brown bear, humpback whale, spirit bear, grey wolf
Where: British Columbia, Canada
is featured in the following itineraries:
A small ship adventure to search for the legendary all-white spirit bear, and humpback whales deep in the Great Bear Rainforest. A maze of islands and waterways, the area is also home to black bears and grizzlies, and there are daily sea kayak excursions to view wildlife and visit traditional communities.
When to go: Aug-Oct
Duration inc. flights: 12 days
Price inc. flights: From £5,495 pp
Trip type: Group tour
Focus on seeing British Columbia’s largest carnivore - the brown or grizzly bear. Fly by floatplane to your wilderness lodge of choice, and enjoy daily bear watching trips, either by boat, kayak or from hides, affording some remarkably close up encounters and an unforgettable experience.
When to go: May-Oct
Duration inc. flights: 8 days
Price inc. flights: From £4,595
Tailor-made trip idea
In 2018 our annual Festival of Bears returns to one of our favourite locations for bear watching – Knight Inlet in Glendale Cove. Renowned conservationist Mark Carwardine and Wildlife Worldwide founder Chris Breen accompany a special visit to the Great Bear Rainforest to see grizzlies at prime time.
When to go: Oct
Duration inc. flights: 9 days
Price inc. flights: From £6,495 pp
Trip type: Group tour
Seeing a humpback whale lunging through a school of bait fish, or a pod of killer whales surfacing in unison, are often considered to be once in a lifetime experiences, yet they are both possible on this water-based tour, along with the other star of British Columbia’s extraordinary wildlife – the grizzly bear.
When to go: Jul-Sep
Duration inc. flights: 10 days
Price inc. flights: From £3,345 pp
Tailor-made trip idea
Join acclaimed wildlife photographer Nick Garbutt on a stunning journey into the Great Bear Rainforest in search of the elusive spirit bear. Our week on a specially chartered vessel, followed by a stay in a remote floating lodge, offers exceptional viewing and photographic opportunities of grizzly, black and spirit bears.
When to go: Sep-Oct
Duration inc. flights: 16 days
Price inc. flights: From £8,795 pp
Trip type: Group tour
Suggested accommodation options are shown below.
for further recommendations.
Originally built in 1896 as a hunting lodge, this historic retreat lies in the heart of the Bella Coola Valley and is surrounded by cascading waterfalls, old growth rainforest and – of course – bears! It has just 14 rooms, all with mountain views, and there are waking trails starting from the property.
This bright and airy timber-built floating lodge is located in in the Nekite Valley, part of the Great Bear Rainforest, and is accessed by floatplane from Port Hardy. The lodge operates two fully-guided bear-watching sessions per day; other guided activities include sea kayaking and interpretive hikes.
Some 60 kilometres inland along the largest fjord on the British Columbia coast, Knight Inlet Lodge is tucked into Glendale Cove. Situated in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest, this floating lodge offers boat trips to explore the hidden coves of the inlet, allowing you to view bears at eye-level.
Built in traditional style, Spirit Bear Lodge is a waterfront lodge and a comfortable place to relax after exploring the Great Bear Rainforest. It has 12 rooms, all with ocean or forest views, where you can gaze out towards the Pacific Ocean and watch for passing orcas, dolphins and sealions.
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.
Island Odyssey is a 21-metre ketch-rigged yacht, designed for cruising the coastlines of British Columbia and Alaska. Originally built as a luxurious private yacht, she has been renovated to update the cabins and all safety systems. Accommodation consists of eight double cabins, showers and a lounge/library.
A 21-metre ketch-rigged yacht, the Island Roamer is large enough for comfort, privacy and safety, yet small enough to create a good atmosphere on board. She features eight private cabins, showers, a large salon and lounge areas. On deck, a large covered seating area provides protection against the elements.
The Island Solitude is a new vessel currently under construction, which will accommodate 12 guests in large, spacious cabins, each with two lower berths and an en suite bathroom. At 24 metres in length, she has been specifically designed for cruising the coastline of British Columbia.