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Whale watching off the coast of Prince Rupert | Northern BC Tourism/Shayd Johnson

From Sea to Sky: 4 Different Ways to Experience BC’s Wildlife Safely & Responsibly

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Nowhere are you more present than when you sit still in nature, observing expectantly, holding your breath, as you wait for the natural world to stir: A majestic grizzly to appear from the foliage along a rushing river, a bald eagle swooping in to cut the surface of the water with its talons, or, the tell-tale jet of water from an orca’s blowhole. There is a sublime calm that sinks in as your senses become aware of the natural world around you. In BC, the presence of the wild is felt everywhere you go, and you don’t always have to wander far before you spot your first bear, whale, or eagle.

Here are four different ways to experience BC’s wildlife—from the coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean to the valleys of BC’s Canadian Rockies—safely and responsibly.

Note: This story is accurate at the time of publication; we recommend you contact businesses directly to confirm availability and familiarize yourself with their COVID policies.

1. Immersive Remote Wilderness Stays

GREAT BEAR RAINFOREST & BEYOND

A misty landscape of lush rainforest, hidden inlets, and dramatic fjords is foreign to many, but in British Columbia, this ecosystem is what makes up the entire central and northern coast. Tucked away in these unique coastal zones sit luxury wilderness lodges. These secluded locales are a refuge for travellers looking to immerse themselves in the habitats of diverse wildlife like caribou, moose, elk, and of course, bears.  

Knight Inlet Lodge, 240 km (150 mi) northwest of Vancouver Island, is situated in the last intact temperate rainforest in the world. Operating under an agreement with the five First Nations whose traditional territories surround the lodge, this wilderness sanctuary sustains a dense grizzly bear population. You can book two-night to six-night stays that include wildlife boat cruises, interpretive tracking tours, 4×4-accessed hiking, kayaking, and more.

In the Broughton Archipelago Marine Provincial Park, located in the traditional territories of the Mamalilikilla, Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis, Da’naxda’xw Awaetlala, and ‘Namgis First Nations, you can find Farewell Harbour Lodge. This remote wilderness retreat sits on 30 acres of waterfront. Book a four- to six-day stay to see orcas, humpback, and grizzlies on immersive day trips with the lodge as the perfect home base.

The Great Bear Lodge sits on the traditional territory of the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nation and is accessed by air from Port Hardy, on Northern Vancouver Island. This eight-bedroom lodge offers twice daily grizzly bear-viewing opportunities. Watch these incredible creatures feed on salmon from the viewing blinds in the nearby estuary, or while on board small boats that carefully navigate the river. Guests can often see wolves, black bears, river otters, eagles, and seals, too.

A 45-minute boat ride from the coastal town of Lund, on BC’s Sunshine Coast, sits Klahoose Wilderness Resort. This newly-opened, Indigenous owned and operated resort in Desolation Sound offers three- and four-day packages with all meals, boat access, grizzly bear viewing, and whale watching led by Indigenous guides. 

Further inland, Nemiah Valley Lodge is nestled in the Chilcotin Mountains, a region the Zeni Gwet’in and Tŝilhqot’in Nations call home. Here you can book three- and four-night stays with opportunities to see moose, fox, eagles, grizzly and black bears. This area is also home to the last wild horse preserve in North America, taken care of by the local First Nation communities.

Head to Northern BC for a stay at the Khutzeymateen Wilderness Lodge. Located on the northern edge of the Great Bear Rainforest, this lodge offers the quickest access to the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, home to one of the largest populations of coastal grizzly bears in the world.

Make it Happen

Most of BC’s wilderness lodges are accessed via float plane or private boat transfer from Vancouver Island or the Sunshine Coast. Each lodge will have specific access information to make sure guests arrive with ease.

2. Single-Day Trips for Wildlife Seekers

VANCOUVER ISLAND & COASTAL BC

The wildlife in BC is abundant, and often a day trip is all you need to spot some of BC’s most remarkable creatures.

Book a half-day trip with Prince of Whales, departing from Victoria or Vancouver, to see the apex predators of the Pacific Ocean. Spot orcas, humpback whales, and porpoise from one of BC’s longest running whale watching operators. 

For bear viewing trips from Vancouver Island’s east coast, Homalco Wildlife & Cultural Tours operates from Campbell River. Book a Bute Inlet Tour and learn about the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation, led by local Indigenous guides. This 8-9 hour trip includes chances to spot orcas, humpbacks, and other unique coastal marine life. Similarly, in Port McNeill, on Northern Vancouver Island, Sea Wolf Adventures offers trips with local Indigenous guides. See grizzly bears and whales on 8-9 hour trips, learn about the local Kwakwaka’wakw culture, and spot whales, otters, and grizzly bears from the boat. In Port Hardy, Sea Wolf Adventures has also teamed up Coastal Rainforest Safaris, and in Telegraph Cove, guests can go out with Tide Rip Tours.

For a longer, more immersive experience, join a multi-day expedition with Maple Leaf Adventures. These multi-day experiences combine wildlife viewing, zodiac tours, kayaking, and fishing experiences while cruising the coastal waters of Desolation Sound, the Gulf Islands, northwest Vancouver Island, the Inside Passage, or around Haida Gwaii via sailboat, tugboat, or catamaran. 

Make it Happen

Day trips from Victoria or Vancouver can be arranged directly with operators or through a hotel concierge. For trips on Vancouver Island, arriving in Nanaimo or Victoria via BC Ferries, floatplane, or the airports in either location is possible. Pacific Coastal Airlines flies into Port Hardy from Vancouver and Harbour Air flies into the Comox Valley. Rental car options from both locations make the drive north to Campbell River or Port McNeill a scenic cruise. 

3. City-Based Wildlife Viewing Getaways

VANCOUVER, RICHMOND & WHISTLER

In Vancouver, Takaya Tours has combined canoeing and walking tours to learn about the history of the local Tsleil-Waututh First Nation. Hop in a 35-foot ocean-going canoe to paddle the waters of Indian Arm while Indigenous leaders discuss traditional methods for harvesting flora and fauna, pointing out ancient village sites, and singing songs. Seals are a common sighting in these calm, protected waters.

On Grouse Mountain, overlooking Vancouver, two resident grizzly bears, Grinder and Coola, call an on-mountain wilderness sanctuary home. Take the Skyride Gondola to 2,800 ft (850 m) to explore the refuge and learn from the leading-edge interpretive programs. Grouse Mountain is also home to Columbian black-tailed deer, coyote, and snowshoe hare.

In Richmond, a trip to the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, is the place for birding enthusiasts. One of 92 federal Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in Canada, this area is home to nearly 300 species of birds. Wander the ponds, treed pathways, intertidal marshes, and waterway channels to spot hundreds of different birds. More birds can be spotted along the South Fraser BC Bird Trail, with ample chances to spot a variety of species in Surrey, Delta, and Richmond. For an in-depth experience, book a Birding 101 guided tour from local ornithologist, Liron Gertsman, and get a deep dive into the avian world.

Driving the world-famous Sea to Sky Highway, one of the most scenic routes in the world, from Vancouver, is a must. This winding journey from sea level to Whistler Village, surrounded by the new Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region and 7000-foot peaks, offers chances to see wildlife along the way.

The four-season community of Whistler is famous for skiing in winter, though the resort town is a popular summer destination for outdoor adventure activities and endless wildlife viewing. Join a 4×4 bear-viewing tour with trained wildlife guides who can take you to the best places to spot and safely view the bears in their natural habitat. If you opt to take the Whistler Gondola into the alpine, or ride the world record-setting PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, be sure to look down for your chance to spot bears roaming the grassy areas under the lift lines.

Make it Happen

Vancouver is BC’s largest city, and the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) services most international destinations. Once you’ve landed, rental cars, public transportation, and shuttle transport can easily be arranged to visit Grouse Mountain, Richmond, and Whistler.

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