Bears are synonymous with Canada. Grizzly bears, black bears, spirit bears.

They are feared, revered, hunted, protected, and creatures of legends and fairy tales. To the First Nation peoples, they are the protectors of the animal kingdom and represent strength, courage and family. The bears are at the heart of their cultural and spiritual practices as much as they are at the centre of the surrounding ecosystem.

This is why viewing bears in the wild is both magical, moving, at times, a little scary, but always utterly exhilarating. Unsurprisingly, bear viewing in Canada is a popular pastime and with only  a limited number of bear-viewing lodges, it is essential to book around a year in advance to get the best chance of having your own bear encounter.

There are several ways to view bears. Each option is different and equally rewarding. In the spring, they can be seen at lower altitudes, both inland and on the coast, often with cubs afoot. During the summer, while the weather is more reliable, the bears move higher into the mountains and it is the busiest time to travel in British Columbia. As autumn approaches, the salmon runs begin and the bears congregate in the rivers, sometimes in large numbers, to gorge on the salmon as they prepare for winter and an extensive period of hibernation. Our clients have given us outstanding feedback following stays at Farewell Harbour Lodge on Vancouver Island or Tweedsmuir Park Lodge in Bella Coola, where bear encounters are outstanding.

Heading out on foot

Hiking in the high alpine meadows and the ancient cedar forests of the Selkirk Mountains is a spectacular and more unusual way to view bears. At Wild Bear Lodge, the owner Julius Strauss and his guides take guests on foot to track bears in the remote valleys. With the aid of off-road vehicles, you can access little-visited regions of inland British Columbia (BC).

Moose, elk, wolves, cougars and lynx roam the trails. While the lodge will not guarantee bear sightings, that doesn’t mean it’s not likely. And, frankly, this uncertainty is part of the beauty. Julius is unapologetic about this. The entire ethos at Wild Bear Lodge is about wild-life experiences. For Julius, it is about chance encounters that transform into meaningful experiences.

His passion is no more evident than his instrumental role in the banning of Grizzly Bear trophy hunting in BC, which was rolled out in August 2017. Bear numbers are increasing as a result. You will not find bear-viewing platforms or managed attractants at Wild Bear Lodge. It is simply about experiencing the rawness of the wilderness in a way where the fun is in the search as much as the sighting.

Steppes sent journalist, Mike Carter to Canada where he tracked bears with Julius at Wild Bear Lodge and wrote a compelling article for the Financial Times. You can read a summary of his article here.

Taking to the water

In contrast to the wild valleys of inland BC, the Great Bear Rainforest is the largest intact temperate rainforest and is only accessible by boat. A web of rivers, islands and fjords is backed by impenetrable forest to make it one of the most pristine and magical regions to visit.

Join a voyage onboard the Island Roamer, a small 12 berth schooner, to navigate the nooks and crannies of this remarkable and breath-taking landscape. As early as May, bears can be seen on the shoreline rooting about for sedge grass, crabs and other intertidal life. The wildlife here is incredibly diverse and there is a good possibility of seeing other animals, such as wolves, bald eagles, sea lions, humpback whales and orcas. Best time for a small-ship expedition cruise along the Great Bear Rainforest coast is August and September, when humpback whales can be seen bubble net feeding, and bears are busy feeding before they hibernate later in the year.

Pacific Yellow Fin is an ex-USA Navy and research vessel and now a luxury yacht for private charter for 12 passengers of fewer. Explore the Great Bear Rainforest at your own pace and in accordance to your interests or choose to visit Desolation Sound, a remote corner with secret coves and isolated beaches.

Spirit bears

The spirit bear resides in a very small pocket of the Great Bear Rainforest in the Klemtu Region. It is not known exactly how many spirit bears are left in the world, but the figure is believed to sit somewhere between 50 and 150 individuals.

The First Nation people of this region, the Kitasoo Xai’xais, believe their creator, Raven, made the spirit bear to symbolise the Ice Age and to act as a reminder to be thankful for the rich and fertile lands from which they reap today. The spirit bear is in fact a black bear with a recessive genetic trait that gives it a unique colouration.

Stay at Spirit Bear Lodge for a great opportunity to view this elusive bear and for one of the most outstanding cultural experiences in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Bear necessities of traveling to Canada

May to October is the best time to view bears and booking early is essential. A first time visit to Canada, including three nights at a bear-viewing lodge, starts from £7,695pp for 12 days. You can also sail the Great Bear Rainforest from £4,650pp or speak to our Canada experts about privately chartering your own boat.

Thanks for reading

Roxy Dukes, Galapagos

Author: Roxy Dukes