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The Grizzlies of Northern BC

Grizzly Bears, Northern BC

Located in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest, the Skeena Mountains are renowned for their diverse wildlife and beautiful scenery. Over the years, this area has also earned the reputation as one of the best spots for bear viewing in Canada. Northern BC’s landscape is threaded with coastal estuaries that offer plenty of food sources and the perfect habitat for grizzly bears. Witnessing grizzlies strolling along the riverbanks feeding on sedge grass is what many might call a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Grizzly bear tours are facilitated from the safety of a boat, offering guests the space and time to enjoy awe-inspiring views and capture breathtaking pictures of these majestic animals. It is the ultimate summer adventure for families and wildlife enthusiasts alike.

grizzly bear, Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary

When and Where to See Grizzly Bears

The season for grizzly bear viewing lasts from mid-May through late October. Grizzlies’ feeding habits greatly affect where they are and the kind of experience viewers get. “During spring grizzly bear viewing, we can see bears in coastal estuaries feeding on high-protein sedge grass and skunk cabbage,” explains Rob Bryce, lead guide and owner of Northern BC Jet Boat Tours. Starting mid-August, the bears start fishing for the pink and chum salmon in the local rivers. “We take the boats up the rivers that have a good run of these fish and watch the bears chase and catch salmon in the side channels,” says Bryce, who manages Northern Escape’s bear tours..

These epic sights all take place within the area of the world-renowned Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary near Prince Rupert, with preserved natural habitat essential for protecting the species in North America. The guided tours start near the northern town of Kitimat from where the groups venture on a two-hour jet boat ride to the remote area of Kemano. The area is covered with vast forests and coastal estuaries which offer a gateway to the Dala-Kildala mountain rivers where bears come out to feast on spawning fish and berry patches.

Why Northern BC

Northern BC is known for its scenic views and diverse wildlife that might prompt one to take photos even before spotting grizzlies. The area is easily accessible with up to five direct 90-min flights a day from Vancouver to the northern town of Terrace. This part of BC has wide open spaces, creating a true adventure for wildlife enthusiasts. “During our tours to the remote coastal estuaries, we’re typically the only group watching the bears, offering guests a truly private experience,” says Bryce. Grizzly bears are not the only picture worthy subject one might spot on these tours. The area is filled with numerous waterfalls, glaciers and wildlife like wolves, mountain goats and eagles all living in symbiotic relationships with the more than 14,000 grizzly bears occupying the province.

The Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary

The Khutzeymateen Provincial Park, located north of Prince Rupert, is home to one of the highest concentrations of grizzly bears in the country. Established in 1994, the park consists of 44,588 hectares of preserved natural ecosystem creating a perfect home for these majestic animals. The Khutzeymateen (aka. “Valley at the Head of the Inlet”) is not only essential for protecting the grizzly bear species in North America, but it also provides space for preservation and maintenance of social, ceremonial and cultural traditions for First Nations. The park is located within the traditional territory of the Coast Tsimshian First Nations, and in the local language, the name “Khutzeymateen” means “the sheltered place of fish and bears.”

grizzly bear and cubs, Northern BC

Safety Around the Bears

Seeking out grizzly bears might seem counterintuitive, and it is understandable if seeing these powerful animals in close proximity raises one’s heart rate. Bear viewing is done from the safety of the jet boat, and the professional guides adhere to BC Commercial Bear Viewing guidelines for safety measures. “Safety is our number one priority; we try to avoid stressing the bears and keep our watch time up to 20 minutes per bear. We always stay 50-100 meters away from the bear and carry the bear spray,” explains Rob Bryce. A good precaution is to simply stay calm during the whole experience, talk with a calm voice, do not make any rapid and unexpected movements, and just enjoy.

Trip Planning

The bear viewing experience changes based on the time of the year. In spring, bear tours center around coastal estuaries where grizzly bears feast on a variety of plant-based food sources. “It looks like a lawnmower has been through the area as the tops of the sedge grass are chopped off,” says Bryce. By the end of summer and early fall, the tours move inland, up the rivers to watch bears chase spawning salmon and feast on the endless berry patches. All the boats used for the tours meet or exceed Transport Canada required safety equipment. The remote areas are also accessible by helicopter, but to minimize noise and impact, bear viewing is mostly facilitated from an inflatable Solar jet boat.

So, what to bring on a bear viewing adventure? The tours involve a great deal of exploration where groups get off the boat and explore the plants growing in the bear territory. “We sometimes do castings of the bear prints with plasticine,” says Bryce. As well as a camera, packing a pair of rubber boots and rain gear is never a bad idea.

grizzly bear, Northern BC

Other Bears and Wildlife You Might See

Grizzlies are not the only inhabitants of Northern BC. Black bears are common in the area as well. These two species do not like to mingle however, so they are likely to appear at different parts of the trip. A lucky guest might even spot an occasional spirit bear, or Kermode. Humpback whales and grey whales can often be seen offshore from the coastal estuaries as well as seals, sea lions, bald eagles and a variety of marine birds.

grizzly bears, Northern BC

Northern Escape Mountain Lodge

Located near the Alaskan Panhandle, Northern Escape’s new Mountain Lodge is a carbon neutral, off-the-grid luxury lodge with Red Seal chefs, hot tub, bar and Wi-Fi nestled deep in Skeena Mountains. With up to 5 direct 90-min flights a day from Vancouver, and a short shuttle from Terrace airport, it is one of the most easily accessible wilderness lodges, and a perfect base for exploring Northern BC. Contact us to plan your bear viewing adventure.