Grizzly bears arrive en masse each autumn at Bear Cave Mountain, where thermal springs percolate through the limestone, warming the river so it flows all year round creating spectacular results.
This thermal activity filters and oxygenates the water, creating ideal conditions for salmon eggs to thrive, providing a virtually inexhaustible source of nourishment. The outcome is an amazing annual spectacle when up to 50 bears gather to fish for salmon that make their way upriver from the Bering Sea to spawn.
By late September winter sets in and, if conditions are right, when the bears emerge from the river their wet fur freezes in the icy air, transforming their appearance. Even when caked with ice, they continue to fish long after their peers elsewhere have gone off to hibernate. By the end of October, the bears leave the river and make their way up the hillsides to den in caves on the flanks of Bear Cave Mountain. Even then, they don’t hibernate fully and are easily woken.
Of course, you don’t have to come all the way to the Yukon to see grizzlies chasing salmon in a river, as similar scenes play out all along the coast of Alaska and British Columbia. However Bear Cave Mountain is very different – due to its remote inland location close to the Arctic Circle, access is very difficult and thus naturally restricted. And the climatic conditions, coupled with the effect of the thermal springs, conspire to produce exceptional photographic opportunities. This exclusive trip – no more than four guests at a time are allowed into the modest riverside camp – allows you to capture astonishing photographs of bears in these unique natural conditions.
Please note: Due to the short season of the visiting ice bears, bookings may need to be made up to three years in advance.
Day1: Fly via Vancouver to Whitehorse, 1-night hotel
Daytime flight to Vancouver, with a connection to Whitehorse, arriving around midnight and overnighting in a hotel close to the airport.
Day2: Morning flight to Dawson City - 2-nights hotel
Return to the airport in the morning for a flight of around one hour north to Dawson City. On arrival transfer to a hotel in the town. The rest of the day is free to explore in the goldrush town of Dawson City, with a chance to visit some of its attractions.
During the day a complete kit of specialist outdoor clothing for use in temperatures down to -40⁰ Celsius will be delivered to your hotel. This consists of: insulated parka, over-trousers, mittens, hat and boots.
Day3: Dawson City
In the event of adverse weather condtiions affecting helicopter operations to Bear Cave Mountain, a free day/night in Dawson City is incorporated into the itinerary.
This morning head to the nearby helipad for the two-hour flight by chartered helicopter across the frozen wilderness of northern Yukon, with dramatic aerial views of Bear Cave Mountain with its giant spruce trees on arrival. Below the mountain, the steaming Fishing Branch River runs through dense forest amidst an otherwise desolate, snow-dusted landscape. Although it lies just south of the Arctic Circle, the river still flows freely, while all around it the silent wilderness is already locked in the grip of winter. Settle in to your rustic cabin before heading out for your first sight of the area’s bears.
Days5-10: Explore the surrounding area
Over the next six days you have ample opportunity to watch and photograph the bears of Bear Cave Mountain in this unique and remarkable setting, in the company of your knowledgeable and experienced guide.
The Bear Cave Mountain project was conceived by naturalist and wildlife photographer Phil Tympany in partnership with the Vuntut First Nations people. In this 6,500 square kilometres of pristine wilderness, he has created the simple but comfortable lodge, where only five people are allowed at any one time – Phil and four guests. Accompanied by his ‘bear dog' – a Norwegian elkhound called Smokey – Phil guides, organises, cooks, cleans and creates a truly remarkable experience.
In recognition that this is the bears’ territory, Phil lets them come as close as they want, and they set the agenda. They are often seen just outside the kitchen, sleeping next to the deck, or walking up the walkway into camp – and it is this mutual understanding between man and bear that makes Bear Cave Mountain such a special place.
Days11-12: Helicopter flight to Dawson City – 2-nights hotel
After a final morning in camp, you bid farewell to the bears and await the arrival of the helicopter to return you to civilisation.
Note: Due to the expedition style of the trip and weather conditions, we cannot guarantee that the helicopter will be able to fly from Bear Cave Mountain as scheduled, so an extra day/night in the goldrush town of Dawson City has again been incorporated into the itinerary to allow for any delays. While in Dawson you may want to explore this historical city and visit the gold mines or cruise along the peaceful Yukon River.
Day13: Fly to Whitehorse – 1-night hotel
The morning in Dawson City is free to relax. You then head to the airport for the flight south to Whitehorse. On arrival at Whitehorse you transfer to the same hotel as before for an overnight stay.
Day14: The day is free until it is time to transfer back to the airport
Day15: Arrive UK
Our trip ideas are offered to inspire you and can be tailored to suit your requirements.
Duration and price including flights from/to UK: 15 daysfrom £10,595 pp
Duration and price excluding international flights: 14 daysfrom £9,395 pp
Single supplement: From £315: Hotels only
When to go: Sep-Oct: Mid-September to end of October (on request until 2020)
The Yukon borders Alaska on its western edge and British Columbia to the south, and is one of three Canadian territories (rather than provinces). The entire region is dominated by pristine wilderness, home to many of North America’s iconic animals, such as black bear and brown bear, and the mighty Yukon River.
Ideal for viewing: brown bear, American black bear, grey wolf, Canadian lynx, golden eagle
Excellent for: Self-drive, Bear watching, Wolf watching
This is the territory of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, who know the Fishing Branch river as Ni’iinlii Njik: “the place where salmon spawn”. For them this is a sacred place, and in 1999, working with the Yukon government, they established the 6,500 square kilometre territorial park to protect the river.
Ideal for viewing: brown bear, moose, grey wolf, wolverine, bald eagle
Excellent for: Bear watching
The capital and largest city of the Yukon Territory, Whitehorse stands on the 2,232 kilometre-long Alaska Highway, straddling the Yukon River, which runs north from British Columbia to Alaska. It takes its name from nearby rapids which resembled the mane of a white horse.
Excellent for: City stopover
The town of Dawson was founded in 1897 and was Yukon’s first capital until it moved to Whitehorse. A thriving city during the Klondike Gold Rush, the town now attracts visitors for tourism and is linked to Alaska and Whitehorse by a road that is now part of the Klondike Highway.
Excellent for: History & culture
Suggested accommodation is shown below.
for further recommendations.
This specially-constructed rustic wilderness camp is located close to the Fishing Branch River at the foot of Bear Cave Mountain, around two hours flight by helicopter north of Dawson City. Its four separate timber cabins are extremely well-insulated and heated by wood-burning stoves.