Visit the Great Bear Rainforest
A visit to the Great Bear Rainforest involves many different experiences. You may see the entirety of this special place from the air, or sail along the coastline by sea. The pace is slow, allowing visitors to take their time to adjust to its rhythms, intricacies, and seasonal changes. Hike, sail, fly in and out. Drive – but only up to a certain point. Plan and prepare because getting there is part of the adventure.
Experience the GBR
Immerse yourself in the culture and history of the local First Nations – the people who have lived on this land since time immemorial.
- In Klemtu, you can tour culturally significant sites and visit a Big House, the traditional community gathering place built by west coast First Nations
- From Bella Coola, you can take a guided forest hike to view ancient petroglyphs or watch a Nuxalk carver at work
- The Museum of Northern B.C. in Prince Rupert offers significant cultural exploration
- Consider hiring a local guide and cultural interpreter. Tourism provides a number of communities with income from the Great Bear Rainforest and this sector is continuously growing
Klemtu is the community closest to the home of the elusive Spirit Bear, and a local cultural guide can escort you into areas where there have been sightings. You may travel to remote islands, valleys, streams and estuaries for a chance to spot this unique sub-species of the black bear, noted for its near-white coat. Guides in the community and with nearby camps and lodges know prime grizzly bear viewing areas, along with whale watching, kayaking and rainforest hikes.
The Bella Coola Valley also offers prime wildlife and grizzly viewing. Often, bears are seen wandering through town. If you prefer looking at life from the end of a paddle, consider a raft or drift-boat trip down the Atnarko River. Even without bears, there is a stunning mountain backdrop.
From Prince Rupert, you can take a float plane or boat trip to the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, home to one of the largest concentrations of grizzly bears in North America. About 50 grizzlies have 450 sq km of protected wilderness here, which includes dense rainforest, a river mouth estuary, and ocean fjord. Other great bear viewing sites include Knight Inlet which is only a day trip from Telegraph Cove and Campbell River on Vancouver Island.
Viewing bears from river blinds
The best time to view the largest number of bears and cubs is when they feed on salmon. The annual salmon run starts around late August and peaks in September or October. Bears feed on large quantities of salmon during the run and are accompanied by bald eagles, gulls, ravens, and other fish-eating birds, as well as wolves. While the salmon run continues into December, many bears begin to move towards hibernation by the end of October.
People can safely view this abundance of activity from a space constructed at river’s edge that serves as a blind or hide. The typical viewing distance is from three-to-100 metres. Photographers can set up a tripod here. There are many viewing blinds and platforms situated near the most accessible spots on the river for wildlife to access.
For more information, visit HelloBC.
Marine life is abundant and varied in the coastal waters of the Great Bear Rainforest. Here, the waters teem with whales, dolphins, sea otters, porpoises, sea lions, salmon and other creatures. While marine wildlife is often seen on bear viewing trips, dedicated whale watching and wildlife tours can be taken from:
- Alert Bay
- Bella Coola
- Campbell River
- Port McNeill
- Prince Rupert
- Telegraph Cove
For more information, visit Indigenous Tourism BC.
The waters surrounding the Great Bear Rainforest offer some of the most productive sport fishing on the coast. There are a variety of full-service fishing lodges for anglers and boaters. Fly-in fishing lodges, often right on the doorstep of prime fishing grounds, are found in Hakai Pass, Rivers Inlet, and Millbanke Sound. Fishing is also bountiful in Bella Coola and Prince Rupert.
Did you know?
Up to 80% of the yearly nitrogen in the ancient trees that grow along salmon rivers is derived from salmon nutrients.
Learn more at HelloBC.
A small-boat cruise provides another dramatic perspective for anyone seeking an amazing rainforest visitor experience. These tours – often onboard sailing or restored heritage vessels – draw rave reviews from visitors and travel media alike.
A typical week-long voyage might include touring a First Nations village or cultural site, soaking in a natural hot spring on a remote shoreline, cruising mist-shrouded inlets where towering granite cliffs soar from the water’s edge, and visiting pristine river estuaries to view grizzly bears in their natural environment. The exploratory nature of these cruises, and the small number of passengers (10 or fewer per trip), creates a more intimate adventure with minimal ecological impact.
Several companies specialize in small-boat rainforest cruises and guided sailboat excursions. Trips typically occur between May and October.
These coastal waterways are a kayaker’s paradise. The maze of winding channels, sprawling archipelagos, and the abundance of marine life provide visitors with gentle, yet up-close interaction with water, land, and nature.
Johnstone Strait and the Broughton Archipelago are some of the best places in the world to view orcas in their natural environment. Kayaking around Klemtu, Bella Bella, and Shearwater – located in the central and northern coastal areas of the Great Bear Rainforest – promise dramatic natural experiences but can be logistically challenging for those unfamiliar with these waters. Guided tours are recommended.
For more information, visit HelloBC.
The Bella Coola Valley has an extensive network of hiking trails that range from easy to moderate. Guided rainforest hikes are often part of bear viewing tours, and most lodges have some hiking options. More adventurous travelers can soar above the tree line and explore the peaks of the Coast Mountains on a heli-hiking trip in spring and summer, or a heli-skiing trip in winter.
Not only do local guides serve as welcoming hosts, they offer a wealth of information about this area, the wildlife, the history, and local cultures. Activities cannot be pre-planned and are dependent upon weather conditions and wildlife activity in the area. While it is likely you will see an abundance of wildlife on your hike, there are no guarantees. Your guide will advise you of trail conditions best suited for hiking and wildlife sightings.
More local tourism info:
Getting to the GBR
Travelling to the Great Bear Rainforest can be as much a part of the adventure as exploring your destination. Most of the region’s 64,000 sq km are roadless wilderness, making transportation by land limited. Port Hardy to the south, and Bella Bella, Bella Coola, and Prince Rupert to the north, are the main transportation hubs on and around the Central Coast. Access to other communities is usually through one of these locations.
Bella Coola, known as the Gateway to the Great Bear Rainforest, is accessible by car. The drive from Williams Lake along Highway 20 is approximately 6.5 hours (450km/280mi). The road was built in 1953 by local residents and features a 15 km ascent from the valley floor to the Chilcotin Plateau, gaining 1,600m in elevation to the summit at Heckman Pass with a number of steep grades and switchbacks.
Kitimat, Terrace, and Prince Rupert also have road access from the interior of B.C., and Port Hardy has road access from the rest of Vancouver Island. For a spectacular view from the road during the spring and summer months, consider driving onto the ferry at Prince Rupert, then follow the Skeena River via Highway 16 to Terrace.
For current road conditions, visit DriveBC.
Many believe there is no better way to see scenic B.C. than by rail. Train service is available three times per week from Prince George to Terrace. Regular train travel is also available between Prince George and Prince Rupert. Special packages are available through the Canadian Rockies and Pacific Coast areas, with an overnight stay in Prince George, and travel along the mighty Skeena River. Learn more at HelloBC.
B.C. Ferries provides a vehicle and passenger service from mid-June to mid-September sailing to and from Port Hardy, located on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. Reservations are required. From mid-September to mid-June, ferry service is available twice a month from Bella Coola to coastal communities of Bella Bella, Shearwater and Ocean Falls with transfers at McLoughlin Bay in Bella Bella to Prince Rupert and Klemtu, or Port Hardy.
The Discovery Coast Passage operates in the summer only, and runs between Port Hardy on the north tip of Vancouver Island and Bella Bella, Shearwater, Klemtu, Ocean Falls, and Bella Coola. The Inside Passage runs between Prince Rupert and Port Hardy with stops in Bella Bella and Klemtu. For ferry service to these locations outside summer months, see the Inside Passage Fall/Winter/Spring schedule.
Learn more at HelloBC.