Fall is nature’s final show before winter settles and our flora and fauna drift into hibernation until spring. Leaves change from bright green to ashy yellow, bright gold and deep red to decorate the canopy above and blanket the forest floor below. No matter your reason for loving fall, you haven’t experienced the season’s true transformation until you witness grizzly and black bears scramble to bulk up before winter hibernation. Bear viewing in British Columbia’s Cariboo Mountains, Chilcotin Mountain Ranges, and Great Bear Rainforest contain bears and wildlife that outnumber humans daily. And the best time to see this majestic species during the year? When they’re down low gathering berries or fishing for salmon in late August to early October.
The landscapes in which to find BC’s best bear viewing opportunities are as diverse as the experiences themselves. These trips are rare opportunities that can book up months or years in advance but still have availability this season.
The Cariboo Mountains are an ecosystem of their own; home to countless wildlife and among them, a large population of grizzly and black bears. The wilderness around them is also home to the deepest fjord lake in the world, Quesnel Lake. Each fall, local bears await the salmon journey towards the Quesnel Lake watershed to spawn in the nearby rivers, streams and lake itself.
Chilcotin Mountain Range
The Chilcotin Mountains of British Columbia (also known as the Chilcotin Ranges) are on the interior stretch of the Coast Mountains and span through rugged and unpopulated wilderness ranges to the Fraser River. This is where you’ll also find some of BC’s most dramatic nature and populous wildlife, like grizzly and black bears! The safari-like experience of Bear Camp in the Chilcotin region of BC has bears roaming literally just meters below your elevated canvas tent and bear viewing platform. Nestled on the shores of Chilko Lake in the protected Ts’il?os (sigh-loss) Provincial Park, this bear viewing experience is unlike any other in BC and pairs perfectly with fishing, paddling and flightseeing activities in the area.
For a more luxurious lodge experience also on Chilko Lake, Tsylos Park Lodge packages their wilderness log lodge accommodations with bear and wildlife viewing, fishing, photography tours and horseback vacations. Their inclusive packages combine backcountry and lodge accommodations with fine dining, personalized experiences, and knowledgeable guides.
In the protected wilderness of the South Chilcotin, bear viewing is done alongside the experienced wilderness guides of Chilcotin Holidays. Chilcotin Holidays offers many different multi-day experiences for both bear and wolf viewing and particularly specializes in horse pack trips. With the endless backcountry wilderness at their fingertips, this wildlife viewing experience is one you’ll find just 5 hours from Vancouver.
Great Bear Rainforest
The central coastline of BC contains the largest coastal temperate rainforest in the world, the Great Bear Rainforest. The Bella Coola Valley in the Great Bear Rainforest welcomes guests by air, ferry (check BC Ferries & reserve in advance), small ship expeditions, and car with road access through BC’s interior and along Highway 20 to access the valley. And each fall when the salmon return to spawn, Bella Coola becomes home to some of the highest concentrations of grizzly bears in the world.
Bella Coola’s Tweedsmuir Park Lodge is where wildlife viewing meets luxury, and their Grizzly Bear Safari tour is where it all happens. Tweedsmuir Park Lodge is part of the Magnificent 7 Luxury Wilderness Lodges of Canada group and their packages immerse guests in the natural environment through non-motorized drift boats or rafts and inclusive stays at their world-class lodge. Kynoch West Coast Adventures, Great Bear Chalet, Tweedsmuir Park Lodge and Copper Sun Rafting all specialize in bear-viewing float tours down the Atnarko River of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. The Atnarko and Telchako Rivers form the confluence of the Bella Coola River and as the two powerful watersheds descend from the valleys above, they carve a natural path to the ocean that bears gravitate to and follow for fall salmon. Kynoch Adventures also partners with their next-door neighbour, Bella Coola Mountain Lodge to create packaged bear viewing holidays for your convenient all-in-one stay.
For a full-day excursion you won’t forget, check out Bella Coola Grizzly Tours as they take guests to hidden waterfalls, old-growth forests, along rugged coastline in search of bears, and much more! Their post and beam log cabins also offer luxury chalet comfort with the chance to glimpse grizzlies from your front lawn. Great Bear Sailing Adventures also offers a Grizzly Bear Safari tour in the Bella Coola Valley. This 3-day/2-night inclusive package takes guests on an unforgettable sailing adventure in the Great Bear Rainforest as they spot whales, wolves, bears, birds, and jaw-dropping scenery of the fjords and ocean around. Adventure in search of wildlife in their 12 ft. Zodiac boat and then relax in comfort in the ship’s cabin after or explore inlets with their on-board sea kayaks.
Also offering excursions on the water, Maple Leaf Adventures‘ autumn tour of the Great Bear Rainforest allows guests to witness the return of the salmon to spawn, which in turn draws grizzly, spirit, and black bears to the estuaries. In addition, guest will have the opportunity to visit local First Nations’ villages, learn from expert guides, see whales, sea lions, seals, eagles and elusive wolves all while enjoying comfortable lodgings and meals prepared by a professional chef.
The Bella Coola Valley can be accessed from Vancouver with flights from Pacific Coastal Airlines, with car rentals from Bella Coola Vehicle Rentals to explore the valley, or driving highway 20 from Williams Lake. Additionally, guests can choose to do the Great Bear Rainforest Circle Loop with direct ferry service to or from Port Hardy.
Start planning your trip for a bear viewing adventure this fall, or whenever you are able to come visit. Download our Regional Guide for helpful resources, or browse a list of partners offering wildlife tours in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast.
Before you book your next BC bear viewing adventure tour, ensure that the tour company you choose is a member of the Commercial Bear Viewing Association.
By Jonny Bierman