One of the things I love most about BC is the natural beauty and endless wildlife. From the mountains to the ocean you can find whales, seals, elk, black bears, and grizzlies to name a few. While we have some neighbourhood black bears, I have always been a little afraid of grizzlies and never really wanted to get close to them.
That was until my dad (who happens to be a National Geographic photographer) told me about the Grizzly Bear Adventure with Adventure Quest Canada and Homalco Adventure and Wildlife Tours. He described it as a bucket list experience and so I definitely wanted to find out more.
I found out that not only do you get up close and (safely) personal with the bears, you also get to learn about these amazing animals in their natural habitat and learn about the first nation reserve that they live on, and to say the least it is a bucket list experience that I want to share more with you.
The tour starts in Campbell River on Vancouver Island. I am not going to lie, it is a bit of a treck to get here from Vancouver. You can either fly or take a BC ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo and then drive about two hours. I decided to do the later because I always have a great experience with the ferry. It is a comfortable journey and I can take my car with me so I don’t have to worry about transportation on the other side. Another bonus is they have great food on board, and you never know what you might see. I have spotted whales several times from the ferry deck.
Where to stay
Campbell River is a small town and I absolutely love exploring some of the local spots when visiting a quaint area. I decided to stay at one of the local spots, Painters Lodge. The beautiful lodge is located right on the ocean and I was lucky enough to have a room overlooking the water. The room had a large balcony so I could sit outside with my morning coffee and keep my eye peeled for orcas in the distance (staff told me it is pretty magical when they swim by). I also loved the downstairs restaurant. The food and drinks were delicious, the staff was so friendly, and there were beautiful ocean views. I loved the lodge because it had a very comfortable vibe.
The tour started at Discovery Harbour Marina in Campbell River. The tour starts with a two hour boat ride from the Island to the mainland, Bute Inlet. Along the way we saw two humpbacks eating and another three sleeping. It was pretty neat since I have never seen whales sleeping before. We also spotted some stellar sea lions and seals out for a morning swimming.
Once we arrived at Bute Inlet and Hamalco First Nations land we met with our guides Tony and Koji from the Homalco First Nations. They greeted us with a traditional welcome and went over some safety tips. Then we were off on our adventure.
There were several different viewing towers that wrapped around two different rivers. The reason this is such a popular spot for the grizzlies is because of the annual salmon run and a lot of the bears are trying to eat as much salmon as possible before they go into hibernation in November.
It didn’t take long for us to spot our first bear. At the first tower we stopped at we came across a big male relaxing in the distance. I was already in awe of these amazing animals.
After driving around for a little longer we came across another fully grown female sleeping by a tree. She was honestly no more than 20 meters from us. She sniffed around (smell is their best sense) and once she realized we were no threat, she continued with her nap. It was amazing to see that the bears weren’t the killers a lot of people make them out to be, and while they are more aggressive than black bears, they will only really attack if they feel threatened.
At the next viewing tower we didn’t come across any bears but we did get to see the bears favourite lunch meal, salmon. Just below our viewing deck were about 10 giant salmon swimming upstream getting ready to spawn. I have honestly never seen such large fish in my life.
Our last stop of the day was the most spectacular. We weren’t in a tower but out in the open and the only thing separating us from the grizzlies was the river. First we saw a female bear eating a salmon. Moments later, she went back into the water and we had a chance to watch her fish for a salmon and take it back to the shore for lunch. You could hear the crunch sounds of the bear chowing down on the fish. It was incredible.
Moments later we noticed another bear heading over, closely followed by an adorable nine month old cub. I couldn’t believe how adorable the fluffy baby was and it was amazing to see how protective the mother was of her cub. She crossed the river to check us out and got really close before going back to her cub and trying to find food for the both of them. I still cannot believe the beauty of the bears and seeing them in their natural habitat was so special.
After two hours with the bears, it was time to head back to the boat and make our way back to Campbell River. Along the way we were lucky enough to be treated to a show from a lone male orca. He breached twice and was doing some flips along the water. I have never seen an orca act like that before.
Alas it was time for the tour to come to an end but I still cannot get over how lucky we were. From spotting humpbacks, to orcas, and then having a chance to get so close to he bears and learning more about them and their habitat was a really amazing and unforgettable experience. You can find out more about the tour and experience here.
I also wanted to share some more pictures with you. All of them were shot on my new Nikon Z.
Happy exploring my friends,