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Indigenous Bear-Viewing & Whale-Watching Experiences in BC

May 24, 2023
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Cultural Ambassador in regalia in the woods on the Forest Walk from the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre in Whistler | Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre/Blake Jorgensen

For millennia, Indigenous Peoples have stewarded the lands of British Columbia. The knowledge and experiences of local nations provide a fresh perspective of how all things are connected, and encourage a deeper connection to the places, animals, and landscapes around us.

To uplift Indigenous voices and prioritize human connection with the land and wildlife, Destination BC and Indigenous Tourism BC introduced Illahee (our lands and our place within them), a collection of documentary-style videos that honour the relationship between Indigenous storytellers and elements of nature. In 2023, two videos were produced honouring the Indigenous connection to wildlife—specifically, an episode with the Heiltsuk Nation that focuses on bears, and an episode with the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation that centres on whales.

Pursue your own relationship with local wildlife using the following guide to Indigenous-owned companies offering bear-viewing and whale-watching tours in BC.

Grizzly Bear at Knight Inlet | Destination BC/Sean Scott

Bear-Viewing Tours

Bears play a significant role in Indigenous culture: they uphold the laws of ancestors, help to preserve language and traditions, and contribute to a thriving ecosystem. Indigenous guides lead visitors into the sanctuaries of grizzlies, black bears, and Spirit bears, while sharing stories of the forests and waters that sustain them.

  • Homalco Wildlife & Cultural Tours offers grizzly-viewing opportunities in Bute Inlet, the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation. The Great Bears of Bute experience is a full-day tour starting in Campbell River that journeys up the Salish Sea. During the trip, an Indigenous guide provides insights about the lands of the First Peoples. After disembarking the boat, guests are led to a series of raised grizzly-viewing platforms where they can watch the magnificent mammals hunt for salmon near the shore. After a picnic lunch served against a backdrop of mountain and estuary panoramas, guests journey back to Campbell River. The tour is offered between August and November.
  • Klahoose Wilderness Resort, situated in the coastal wilderness of Desolation Sound, offers an all-inclusive eco-experience that includes spring bear viewing (May and June), and late summer/fall grizzly bear and salmon run tours (August to October). In the spring, guests board a boat that drifts past black bears and grizzlies feeding on sedges and grasses near the estuaries or noshing on mussels, oysters, and crabs along the beaches. In the fall, guests travel past spectacular waterfalls in Toba Inlet to viewing platforms tucked into the rainforest alongside a remote river. Here, Indigenous guides facilitate close viewing proximity while respecting the bears’ natural habitat. All packages include tours, meals, transfers, and overnight accommodation at the resort.
  • Spirit Bear Lodge in the Great Bear Rainforest offers exclusive access to wildlife viewing areas and cultural sites in the traditional territory of the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation. The all-inclusive experience includes excursions to see black bears and grizzlies, as well as the elusive Spirit bear—one of the rarest animals in the world, with anywhere between 50 and 150 bears living in a small portion of the rainforest. Packages are available for three-, four-, and seven-night tours, offered between August and October.
  • Knight Inlet Lodge, located in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest, welcomes guests to spend leisurely days viewing grizzlies and other wildlife, while enjoying the comforts of a floating lodge. Two- and three-night packages are anchored around bear viewing in the spring, summer, and fall—from the moment black bears and grizzlies emerge from hibernation to the salmon feeding frenzy that begins in late August. Guests tour the area by boat, allowing for prime viewing without disturbing the bears; however, during the salmon run, guests can watch from specially constructed viewing stands to see the action up close. Add-on activities include sea kayaking, where guests can glimpse grizzlies foraging along the shoreline, and an interpretive tracking tour that showcases bear signs and bear research. Tours are offered between May and October.

Sea Wolf Adventures’ owner Mike Willie | Tourism Vancouver Island/Jordan Dyck

Whale-Watching Tours

Whale-watching offered by Indigenous guides prioritizes responsible viewing that doesn’t disturb the sea creatures. On these journeys, guests are treated to picturesque landscapes as orcas, humpbacks, grey whales, and minkes breach the coastal waters, while Indigenous guides share stories and legends of the magnificent creatures.

  • Coastal Rainforest Safaris leads wilderness experiences from Port Hardy, in the territories of the Kwakwaka’wakw People. The Wildlife and Whale Watching tour takes guests for an exciting three-hour boat ride to spot humpback whales and orcas, as well as sea otters, porpoises, and Pacific white-sided dolphins. To spend more time with the Island wildlife, consider the Sea Otter Viewing and Whale Watching tour, which lasts six hours and covers a larger area.
  • Sea Wolf Adventures takes guests on whale-watching excursions through the Broughton Archipelago and the Great Bear Rainforest, while sharing the traditions and history of the Kwakwaka’wakw People. In partnership with Coastal Rainforest Safaris, the company offers a multiday Whales, Otters, and Grizzly Bears adventure, which combines a six-hour whale-watching tour with a day of grizzly viewing in Port McNeill, along with two nights’ accommodation at the Kwa’lilas Hotel in Port Hardy. The package is offered from spring to October.
  • Sidney Whale Watching operates on WSÁNÉC First Nation territory and the Salish Sea, home to transient and resident orcas, humpbacks, grey whales, minkes, and fin whales. The three-hour whale-watching tour offer a 95 per cent-guaranteed whale-sighting rate; guests who don’t see whales are welcome to join another tour free of charge. Other wildlife that makes an appearance include porpoises, sea lions, seals, and river otters. Tours run between March and October.

For more Indigenous tourism experiences in BC, visit