There are thousands of bears in British Columbia, but spotting them in their natural habitat isn’t always easy. Below are the top 10 places around B.C. to watch these impressive creatures before they turn in for a long winter’s nap.
Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary
The first designated grizzly bear sanctuary in Canada, Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary is home to between 50 and 60 beautiful bears. Very few tourists can be inside at a time, and access is also limited to a handful of licensed operators, including SunChaser Charters, Bluewater Adventures, and Prince Rupert Adventure Tours, so register a tour with any of them in advance. Between May and September is the prime time to sail over, and tours from Prince Rupert on Kaien Island occur regularly.
This remote community is located in the Great Bear Rainforest, the name of which is more than sheer coincidence. Both black and grizzly bears can be found there with the help of local guides. Visitors can watch the bears hunt salmon in the Atnarko River, relax at the mountain lodge to spot a bear lumbering past, or take a boat to Princess Royal Island to try and find the rarely seen Kermode bear, a black bear adorned in a white coat. Guests to Bella Coola are encouraged to visit between August and October and can access it via the western terminus of Highway 20, seaplane travel, or B.C. Ferries from Port Hardy.
Although Whistler is not a sanctuary, around 60 black bears are said to be living there. Adventurers can book a 4X4 tour into the wilderness, and those looking to kick back can watch for our furry friends from a patio or gondola. Pro tip: Callaghan Valley, 15 minutes south of Whistler, is a well known bear-spotting perch. Take the Sea-to-Sky Highway between May and October for the best Whistler experience.
Black bears are easy to find just north of Tofino in Clayoquot Sound. This is a perfect opportunity to watch the bears be themselves, unobserved, while you tour the water in a Zodiac or covered family vessel. Keep an eye out for the bears on the way to and from Tofino as well; they might be spotted along the sides of the highway. Mid-April through October are the best months for bear-spotting in Tofino, located right off Highway 4 on Vancouver Island, which can be reached from Vancouver via ferry.
Drop into Knight Inlet between May and October and join dozens of grizzlies catching salmon, munching on sedge grasses, and moseying along logging roads. Spend a few nights at the Knight Inlet Lodge, which offers guided tours, to make a full experience of your time there before trekking back home. Tours leave from Campbell River or Telegraph Cove on Vancouver Island.
Stewart or Hyder
Technically, Stewart and Hyder are two separate communities, but both are equally populated by both grizzly and black bears. Swing by Bear Glacier Provincial Park, which is best visited from mid-July to September and reached from Highway 37A, just before Stewart. If you care to venture a little further, the Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site, located just beyond Hyder, is a great lookout for guests hoping to see the critters fishing for their dinner.
Blue River might be tiny, but it’s far from a ghost town. Tons of bears can be found on the River Safari, which runs every 30 to 60 minutes along the river in the Grizzly Bear Valley. Soak in the picturesque surroundings of mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, and wildlife, including moose! Located along Highway 5 east of Wells Gray Provincial Park, it’s about one hour northeast of Clearwater or an hour southwest of Valemount. Visit between May and October, which is peak bear-watching season.
Far more than bears can be found in Elkford, including elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, wolves, moose, white-tailed and mule deer, and tons of birds. Elkford is also the gateway to Elk Lakes and Height of the Rockies provincial parks. Between May and October is the most scenic time to go, and Highway 43 is the only way to get there.
Kitimat or Terrace
Kitimat and Terrace are both in the Great Bear Rainforest, which is full of lush, emerald forests, black and grizzly bears, wolves, moose, deer, and mountain goats. Nearby in the Douglas Channel, pods of humpback whales often surface. Come by Kitimat or Terrace from May to September by driving to the junction of Highways 16 and 37.
Haida Gwaii is a remote slice of nature, comprised of over 150 islands covered in old-growth forest. On the coastline, admire the rocky shores and chilly water, or drop into the Haida Heritage Centre to learn about the Haida First Nation. Huge black bears are known to live on these islands, along with countless other creatures unique to Haida Gwaii. May through October is the best time to visit, and guests can get there by air or ferry.