The grizzly bear is said to be a symbol of the Canadian wilderness. The massive bears can run up to 45 kilometres an hour, weigh up to 800 pounds and stand as tall as eight feet. Grizzlies are typically found in the forests of British Columbia and Alberta, but they are at risk and people come to B.C. from around the world to catch a glimpse of these imposing creatures.
Fortunately, the North Island is an access point to stepping inside the world of the grizzly bear and observing these majestic beings in their natural habitat.
Campbell River is home to a handful of tour operators who offer day trips to one of the most accessible bear-viewing sites in the world – the Orford Valley at Bute Inlet.
Geord Dunstan, captain and owner of Discovery Marine Safaris Ltd. which offers single day, eight-hour grizzly tours to the Orford Valley every day through September and October, said those looking to see a grizzly up close and personal won’t be disappointed.
“We’ve been three years now where we’ve seen bears on every single trip,” Dunstan says. “We’ve seen two or three, and other times we’ve seen 20 individuals. Every day is different.”
The grizzlies come to the Orford Valley for the salmon, which return to the Orford River to spawn and attract the grizzlies. On a good day, more than 20 grizzlies can be spotted, hungrily looking for fish and scouting out the best fishing spots.
“You’ve got the salmon and the bears, two very iconic symbols of Canada,” Dunstan says.
The Orford Valley is a great spot for grizzly bear watching because the salmon spawning grounds there are quite condensed, which makes for a lot of salmon in a really small area where large concentrations of grizzlies are gathering.
“It is definitely one of the top spots,” Dunstan says.
And part of its charm is the trip in. From Campbell River, visitors journey through the Discovery Islands en route to Bute Inlet. “The scenery you get to witness is pretty magnificent,” Dunstan says. “We’ve had comments that the trip up was worth it in and of itself.”
As you move into Bute Inlet, snow-capped mountain peaks stick straight up out of the ocean and glaciers towering 2,000 metres above the ocean can be seen in the distance.
If you’re lucky, you just might spot a humpback, orca or a dolphin swimming by your boat. “You’re really stepping into another world,” Dunstan says. “You’re taking people and re-connecting them with the natural world. People often remark how special that is.”
It’s an experience that’s catching the attention of people from around the world, with the Orford Valley in particular making a name for itself. “On an international scale, this area has really blown up in the last few years.”
In addition to Discovery Marine Safaris, Adventure Quest Tours, Eagle Eye Adventures, and Campbell River Whale Watching and Adventure Tours all offer grizzly tours out of Campbell River to the Homalco’s Bears of Bute in the Orford Valley.
In partnership with the Homalco First Nation, these tour companies will take you via charter boat to the Homalco’s Bears of Bute orientation centre where visitors are introduced to the Homalco’s story from the pre-colonial period to the present.
Along with the orientation centre, a team of guides takes visitors to the best bear watching sites, all within four kilometres of the ocean. The grizzlies, in all their glory and majesty, can be found where the Orford and the Elgard rivers meet, foraging for salmon.
Yet another option for grizzly bear watchers is Aboriginal Journeys, a tour company that takes visitors to Toba Inlet to view grizzlies from specially designed bear viewing platforms with the Klahoose First Nation acting as tour guide.
So as the summer is winding down this season, and you’re looking for something to do on those crisp fall days, consider a grizzly bear tour.
“There’s something really neat about being on the water on those grey autumn days,” Dunstan says. Mark your calendar.