Bear Watching in Canada
Where to spot Grizzlies and Black Bears
From Paddington and Baloo, to Winnie the Pooh and Rupert, it’s safe to say that bears have had our hearts for as long as we can remember. Apart from Lotso – remember that strawberry-scented bear in Toy Story 3 that caused all the drama? He was quite the evil exception. But, 99% of the time, bears are a big deal as far as we’re concerned. The bigger and cuddlier, the better.
And with 60% of the world’s entire bear population calling western Canada home, a trip here just wouldn’t be complete without ticking a meet-and-greet off your list. Ok, maybe not an actual meet-and-greet – they’re definitely not as friendly as they have been portrayed in cartoons – but spotting one of these mammoth mammals going about their day to day business will get you some serious travel kudos. In a destination where the wildlife outnumbers the people, say hello to bucket-list ticking in British Columbia.
“But what types of bear are we talking, exactly?”, we hear you ask. Well, there’s the great big grizzlies, the smaller black bears and their snow-white counterparts, the elusive polar and spirit bears. To catch a polar bear you’d have to make your way north and, largely residing in the Great Bear Rainforest on Princess Royal Island, the spirit bear is extremely rare – so you can pretty much count these two out on your tour of western Canada. Grizzlies and black bears, however, are set to be the stars of the show.
Once roaming the whole expanse of North America, brown (or ‘grizzly’) bears are much like the lions of Africa, the tigers of India and the great whites of earth’s oceans – welcome the ‘Kings of the Forest’. As far as Canada’s cast of local characters goes, it doesn't get much more symbolic than these great hulking beasts and their deceivingly adorable, fluffy brown faces. When looking for a classic bear image, grizzlies are the go to.
It’s thought that there are currently around 25,000 brown bears living in the wilds of Canada, with more than half of that number being found within British Columbia’s dramatic fold. Summer sees them at their most active as they spend the warmer months stocking up for their big old winter sleep. And when we say stocking up, we really mean it. This species eats up to 40kg worth of food a day, which when compared to a human’s daily intake of about 2kg – and that’s for those with a healthy appetite – it really is quite a mind blowing amount of food that they need to source for themselves. Omnivores with a particular soft spot for salmon, eating pretty much everything in sight in order to be able to survive this region’s harsh winter is essential. Think berries, seeds, grass, deer and insects, but really just about anything will do. And the best thing about this for us is that while they’re busy foraging for food, they’re far easier to spot than when they’re sleeping. Cameras at the ready folks, you’re about to get snap happy.
With their loose similarities to humans, it’s not surprising that these are creatures that have long captured both hearts and imaginations. They’re able to walk on two legs, eat what they want and use their ‘fingers’ – their claws are quite literally as long as human fingers – to pick things up. They may grunt instead of talk and prefer to be alone rather than be sociable, but we all know someone with those tendencies, right?
Grizzly by name, grizzly by nature and grizzly in their rugged appearance – you’ll be able to spot this majestic species in the remote wilds of western Canada's coastline by simply opting for our Canada Bears itinerary. But if you're really lucky (and we mean really, really lucky), you may just spot them as you explore the Whistler's epic landscapes on a more classic sojourn to this part of the world.
It may be the smallest of all the bear species found throughout North America, but it’s the black bears that are most likely to help you with that bucket-list of yours. Sporting an ebony coat, straight muzzle and slightly pointed ears, there’s thought to be around 800,000 of this species residing in North America – and you won’t find them anywhere else in the world.
Whereas you’re more likely to catch a grizzly roaming an open expanse, black bears prefer the cover of dense forests. They’re fantastic tree climbers, so you’ll need to remember to look up when on the hunt for them. Adults climb to get to food but playful cubs will scale trunks for a bit of fun. And there really isn’t a cuter sight.
A keen sense of smell gives them a full breakdown of their environment which helps for an animal that is always on the lookout for its next meal. Opportunistic eaters, their general diet consists of berries, nuts and salmon – they’re omega levels are never low, that’s for sure. When winter hits, black bear hibernation can last up to 6 to 7 months depending on their habitat and climate conditions. But when food is abundant, eating everything in sight pretty much dictates their days. Summer means savouring every meal.
Found in the thick forests of British Columbia, our Canada Bears itinerary will up your chances of finding this species by taking you to the black bear-ridden wilds of Vancouver Island's remote north.
Bear watching experiences
When it comes to catching these beauties at large, booking your holiday couldn't be easier. Simply select our Canada Bears itinerary as your base – a three-night bear watching adventure bookended by Vancouver's cosmopolitan cool – before tailoring accommodation, experiences and locations to suit your every need. All the lodges in our Bears itinerary offer top-notch bear watching excursions from boat rides to forest walks. So what are you waiting for? Head over to the itinerary builder now to get going.
You may want to spot a bear but getting too close to one is a completely different story. Despite their cuddly appearance, these mammals are in fact very dangerous. Here are our top tips on how to keep safe when on the hunt for bears:
1. Avoid putting yourself in direct danger. Wandering quiet forests alone is hardly going to be one of the brightest ideas that you’ve ever had – stick to the marked trails.
2. Make plenty of noise when walking so as to warn any bears in the area of your approach.
3. Carrying bear spray isn’t really that necessary if you’re sensible about where you’re walking in the national parks, but if you’re nervous it won’t hurt to have some on you.
4. If you do encounter a bear, stay calm and talk in a low voice, this way it will distinguish you from its usual prey. Never turn your back and run, simply back away slowly.
5. Remember that old rhyme: never smile at a crocodile? Well in this case, the rhyme goes: never stare at a bear. You definitely don’t want them to think that you are in any way challenging them!
What You’ll Need
Now that you’ve had the low-down on what to look out for, you’ll need to get prepped for the adventure itself.
Clothes & Footwear
Comfortable clothes are a must. Well worn in hiking shoes or trainers paired with loose trousers, a jumper or a fleece is ideal. It’s best to take a change of socks too, just in case you really get into the spirit of things and decide that even a flowing stream won’t stop you on this bear hunt.
Camera and Binoculars
If you didn’t get a picture of it, did it even happen? It may be sad, but it’s also a very true fact of the the times that we live in. And, to get the perfect shots you’ll need a pretty perfect camera. To get the winning picture for the gram, a DSLR is a sure-fire way of capturing the bears in full clarity, mid-movement and all. Oh, and binoculars are a must too – you wouldn’t want to miss any action going on in the distance.