By Jo Johnson Spirit Bears and swimming wolves. Ocean waters teeming with life. Massive granite mountains overlooking open swaying grasslands. Gorgeous cityscapes and backcountry beauty. The Great Bear Rainforest Circle Tour passes through all three regions of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast and this land without limits will strike awe in a place within you that you aren’t even aware exists.
There is something so inviting, so alluring, about the myths and legends of the First Nations people. Stories that all stem from Raven, the Creator, and explain how he created the world with purpose, lessons, and challenges. One of these legends that so captivates the soul involves the Kermode Bear, known as the Spirit Bear to First Nations.The Spirit Bear is a black bear with a recessive gene that causes its fur to be white and it is an animal guaranteed to strike wonder in everyone lucky enough to see it. Spirit Bears live right here on BC’s doorstep in the depths of one of the world’s largest and most productive temperate rainforests—The Great Bear Rainforest. Rarely seen, though often sought, when a member of the Coastal First Nations does catch a glimpse of a Spirit Bear in the forest, the sighting is held tight and kept secret because it’s considered a special sacred blessing.
For 10,000 years this rainforest has been home to communities of Coastal First Nations people who have always believed they are one with the land and the sea and are sworn to protect it. Their histories are also deeply tied into the legend surrounding the great Spirit Bear, which says that Raven, wanting to leave a memento of the ice age, decided that every 10th black bear should have white fur. In return for Bear’s willingness to change its fur colour, the legend says that Raven promised that Bear would always live in peace as the keeper of dreams and memory. And the Coastal First Nations are doing their very best to ensure the Spirit Bear and all of the other flora and fauna in the area continue to live in peace.
Located along Canada’s northern Pacific Coast in British Columbia, the Great Bear Rainforest runs along a 300-mile expanse of fjords and islands along the Pacific Coast. Watched over by the giant granite peaks of the Coastal Mountains and a protected region since 2016, the rainforest and its accompanying coastline provide the perfect habitat for a wide array of wildlife and oceanlife in one of the rarest ecosystems in the world. Aside from the beautiful and elusive Spirit Bears, regular black bears and grizzlies, the area also contains coastal wolves (that swim between islands regularly and eat fish as their main food source), river otters (who have learned to adapt and feed on the fish in the ocean), numerous species of birds, as well as Killer and Humpback whales, dolphins and porpoises, and countless other fish and creatures.
The Great Bear Rainforest is, quite simply, raw nature in its purest form—untouched and wild. The Great Bear Rainforest Circle Tour will take you into to Port Hardy and then over to Bella Coola where several Eco Tour companies are available to guide visitors into the rainforest to teach them about the land while searching for a glimpse of the coveted Spirit Bears. This area of the Coast also offers a variety of other activities, such as flightseeing tours, fishing trips, whale watching and wildlife viewing tours, as well as other family-friendly activities.
*Book your bear viewing with a certified Commercial Bear Viewing Association operator.
Big skies and backcountry. Characterized by long stretches of wide open country, winding roads and pristine forests walled by towering peaks, the Chilcotin region is truly a land without limits. Scarcely populated by mostly small communities with a scattering of large hubs, this area is a magnificent combination of epic scenery and quiet solitude in the wilderness mixed with silent swaying grasslands that stretch as far as the eye can see. The author, Sarah Dessen, sums up the heart of the Chilcotin in a quote from her book Just Listen. “There comes a time when the world gets quiet and the only thing left is your own heart. So you’d better learn the sound of it. Otherwise, you’ll never understand what it’s saying.” When surrounded by the vastness of mountain and forest, without people or devices or the white noise that civilization creates, a peace seeps into your bones and a quiet steals over you, leaving you with the beat of your own heart and the opportunity to go within to listen. This is the effect of the Chilcotin and its magical majesty. Outdoor enthusiasts will find ample opportunities for hiking, backcountry trekking, mountain biking, horseback riding, ATV touring, camping, fishing, and so much more. An abundance of wilderness resorts in the area, such as Tweedsmuir Park Lodge, Nimpo Lake Resort, Stewart’s Lodge, and the Retreat Wilderness Inn, offer guests options such as fly-in biking and fishing, overnight horseback trips through the mountains, wildlife viewing tours, and more. There are also several parks containing endless networks of trails, such as the extremely popular Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, that have campgrounds for road trippers who are packing tents or rolling in RVs.
The Cariboo region is undoubtedly the territory of the cowboy and the Great Bear Rainforest Circle Tour takes you right through the heart of cowboy country. Blanketed with ranchland, rolling rivers and painted hills, known for big rodeos like the Williams Lake Stampede and home to BC’s Cowboy Hall of Fame, this is the place to have an authentic cowboy experience. With several guest ranches dotting the Cariboo landscape, there is something for everyone who wants to cowboy up, from horseback trips into the backcountry to learning how to rope and ride or even round up cattle. If horseback riding and ranch life isn’t your thing, the Cariboo is also chock full of historical stops, lakes for fishing and recreation, parks with trails for hiking and biking, and many other places to explore and adventure.
Beginning at the Coast in Vancouver, this tour starts by taking you on a ferry to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island and all the way up the island to Port Hardy. Once you’re ready, you’ll jump on the Northern Sea Wolf ferry to Bella Coola and then head up into the Chilcotin plateau, passing through Anahim Lake on your way to Williams Lake. From there, you’ll travel down through the heart of the Cariboo to Lillooet where you’ll jump on the Duffey Lake Road (one of the most scenic roads in BC) and make your way to Pemberton and onto Whistler before returning to Vancouver along the Sea To Sky highway. This epic road trip is guaranteed to strike wonder and take you through some of the best scenery and experiences that the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast has to offer. What are you waiting for? Let’s go!