Discover everything you need to know to explore beautiful British Columbia!

This post originally appeared on the Hello BC website.

 

Imagine watching a cloud of mist escape from an exhaling black bear. Or hearing a thud as the ground vibrates under the giant paws of a grizzly lumbering along the shore. Picture yourself gazing upon an elusive Spirit bear in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. British Columbia's expert guides can lead you to these soul-stirring experiences.

 

In this province’s vast wilderness, bears can be seen almost anywhere. But here are some of the best places to connect with a guide and head out with your camera.

 

 

1. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary

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What to expect: The Khutzeymateen is a remarkable bear viewing experience. Canada’s first designated grizzly bear sanctuary — accessible by water only — it is home to between 50 and 60 grizzlies. Access to the river estuary and the protected areas of the park is limited to a handful of licensed operators, including Sunchaser Charters, Bluewater Adventures, and Prince Rupert Adventure Tours. Bring your camera and spend a day photographing these powerful animals, or opt for a multi-day ocean adventure. Tours leave from Prince Rupert on Kaien Island.

 

When to go: May through September

 

Getting here: The sanctuary is located 45 kilometres (28 miles) northeast of Prince Rupert. Access to Prince Rupert is along Highway 16, eight hours west of Prince George. Prince Rupert can also be accessed by seaplane, or by BC Ferries from Port Hardy, on the northern tip of Vancouver Island.

 

 

2. Bella Coola

What to expect: The remote Bella Coola Valley, situated in the Great Bear Rainforest, is blessed with a vast, pristine wilderness, making it a perfect habitat for black and grizzly bears. See these majestic creatures feeding on salmon as you drift down the Atnarko River, or stay in a mountain lodge and, if you’re lucky, spot a bear wandering across the field in front of your accommodations. For a rare treat, take a tour from nearby Klemtu to Princess Royal Island in search of the elusive Kermode (Spirit) bear, a black bear with a glorious white coat.

 

When to go: August through October

 

Getting here: Bella Coola is located at the western terminus of Highway 20, approximately 6.5 hours west of Williams Lake. Bella Coola can also be accessed by seaplane, or by BC Ferries from Port Hardy, on the northern tip of Vancouver Island.

 

 

3. Whistler

A photo posted by Sean St Denis (@seanstdenis) on

What to expect: The forests surrounding Whistler Village are home to some 60 black bears, and sightings are not uncommon. Book a 4X4 tour into the Whistler wilderness in search of these massive residents, or sit on a patio in the village and look up into the hills. You may get lucky. Keep your eyes peeled from a gondola perch as you ride into the alpine, or drive 15 minutes south: the road into the Callaghan Valley is known locally as a great place to spot bears.

 

When to go: May through October

 

Getting here: Whistler is located along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, about 90 minutes north of Vancouver.

 

 

4. Tofino

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What to expect: The area north of Tofino is home to a large population of black bears. Leave from the Tofino harbour and travel the calm, protected waters of Clayoquot Sound. From a safe distance, watch bears forage for some of their favourite delicacies, including rock crabs. Boats stay close enough to shore to give passengers a good look without disturbing the bears. Also pay attention as you drive into and out of town, as you may spot bears in the distance from the highway.

 

When to go: mid-April through October

 

Getting here: Tofino is located off Highway 4 on the west coast of Vancouver Island. By car, it’s about three hours from Nanaimo, where BC Ferries dock after crossing from Vancouver. Tofino is also accessible by air.

 

 

5. Knight Inlet

What to expect: This tucked-away inlet is home to a large number of grizzlies, and it’s not unheard of here to view dozens of bears on a single trip. See the bears from the water as they feed on sedge grasses in the estuary in the spring, or along logging roads in the summer. Summer months have the added benefit of being prime time for Orca sightings in the area. In the fall, watch from viewing platforms near spawning channels as grizzlies catch salmon in the Glendale River. Stay at the Knight Inlet Lodge for the trip of a lifetime.

 

When to go: May through October

 

Getting here: Knight Inlet is located on the BC mainland, but tours generally leave from the east coast of Vancouver Island as there are no roads into this remote area. Access to Vancouver Island is via BC Ferries from Vancouver. Tours leave from Campbell River, or further north from the Telegraph Cove area.

 

 

6. Stewart/Hyder

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What to expect: The communities of Stewart, BC, and Hyder, Alaska, enjoy a special relationship. They are about 3.2 kilometres (2 miles) apart but, in many ways, they operate as a single community. In Hyder, there is a bear viewing platform at the Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site where black and grizzly bears can be seen fishing for salmon. On-site Forest Service staffers can answer your questions. While you’re in the area, be sure to check out Bear Glacier Provincial Park en route to Stewart, and the Salmon Glacier about an hour north of town via Hyder.

 

When to go: Mid-July through early September

 

Getting here: Stewart is located along the BC/Alaska border, on Highway 37A off the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. Stewart is about a four-hour drive northwest of Smithers.

 

 

7. Blue River

A photo posted by Mirjam Beekmann (@beekmmi) on

What to expect: This tiny community sits in prime bear-watching territory, with River Safari running tours every 30-60 minutes. Their specially designed boats whisk you along several kilometres of river in the Grizzly Bear Valley, with a backdrop of mountains, glaciers, and waterfalls. There is also extensive moose habitat in the area, so you may see these giant mammals on your tour. Venture into nearby Wells Gray Provincial Park for alpine meadows, scenic waterfalls, and great hiking and boating.

 

When to go: Late May to mid-October

 

Getting here: Blue River is located along Highway 5, east of Wells Gray Provincial Park. It is about one hour northeast of Clearwater, or an hour southwest of Valemount.

 

 

8. Elkford

What to expect: Its Rocky Mountain location means Elkford is surrounded by stunning mountain scenery, and by a huge array of wildlife. Often, all you have to do is go for a drive. Among the animals you’re likely to spot are black and grizzly bears, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, wolves, moose, white-tailed and mule deer, and a variety of bird life. Elkford is the gateway to Elk Lakes and Height of the Rockies provincial parks.

 

When to go: May through mid-October

 

Getting here: Elkford is located along Highway 43 near the BC/Alberta border in the province’s southeast corner. It is about two hours northeast of Cranbrook.

 

 

 

9. Kitimat/Terrace

What to expect: Kitimat and Terrace are part of the Great Bear Rainforest, comprising lush forests, and plentiful and varied wildlife. This area is true wilderness. While out for a hike or a drive, watch for four-legged residents ranging from black bears, grizzly bears, and wolves to moose, deer, and mountain goats. Douglas Channel, south of Kitimat, is a rich marine environment well-known as a feeding ground for humpback whales.

 

When to go: May through September

 

Getting here: Terrace is located at the junction of Highways 16 and 37 in Northern BC, near the bottom of the Alaska panhandle. Kitimat is situated south of Terrace on Highway 37, along the coast. Terrace is about two hours west of Smithers, and Kitimat is a further 45 minutes.

 

 

10. Haida Gwaii

What to expect: This remote and rugged archipelago is made up of more than 150 islands. Here old-growth forest is surrounded by pristine coastline, and both land and sea are home to unique subspecies found only on these magical islands. Among these is a subspecies of black bear known for its massive size, and in particular for its large jaws and teeth. Don’t leave without visiting the Haida Heritage Centre to learn about the ancient culture of the Haida First Nation.

 

When to go: May through October

 

Getting here: Haida Gwaii is located off the north coast of BC. Access is by air, or via BC Ferries from Prince Rupert. The crossing from Prince Rupert takes approximately seven hours.

 

 

Want to learn more? Watch Guardians of the Great Bear Rainforest.

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