Your guide to bear watching in Canada

Angela Youngman


Bear watching has become one of the most popular sustainable and environmentally-friendly activities in Canada. It offers an amazing opportunity to watch bears in their natural habitat, in the wild, and in very remote locations.

British Columbia

British Columbia in Canada has become renowned for its bear watching activities. Bears roam freely within this massive province containing a vast amount of remote countryside and rugged forests. The region is home to three types of bears: black bears which are the most numerous together with 14,000 grizzly bears and a small number of Kermode bears. Kermode bears are very rare. They are also known as ‘spirit bears’ because they are a white furred version of the black bear. Visitors join eco-friendly tours organised by specially licensed companies who provide accommodation and guided facilities.

Knight Inlet Lodge

Knight Inlet Lodge is a typical site for bear watching. It is located on an inlet with large numbers of bears living within the area. Visitors often see dozens of bears during just one trip as they splash through rivers, feed on sedge grasses or simply walk along logging roads. In the autumn, viewing platforms provide the perfect way to watch them catching salmon in the Glendale river. Over on the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve at Barkley Sound, bears can be observed foraging for favourite foods like rock crabs and fish.

Kutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary

Kutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary north of Prince Rupert was the first designated grizzly bear sanctuary to be created. Home to approximately 60 bears, it is only accessible by water or air. Only a few licenced tour companies such as Sunchaser Charters and Prince Rupert Adventure Tours are allowed to bring visitors into the area.  

The Great Bear Rainforest

The Great Bear Rainforest is another popular venue for bear watching tour groups. A pristine wilderness sited on the central and Northern coast of British Columbia, it is one of the areas known to be home to Kermode bears. There are just a few specialised lodges catering to bear watching visitors who can watch from viewing platforms. While staying at the lodges, visitors can also take a guided boat journey along the Atnarko River, which often results in seeing grizzly bears fishing or moving along the river banks.


Head for northern Canada if you want to see Polar Bears. This untouched wilderness where forests meet the Arctic around Churchill, Hudson Bay is the only place where there is an opportunity to glimpse polar bears in their natural environment. The Nanuk Polar Bear lodge is located in the heart of polar bear denning territory and visitors are taken out on guided walks to places where the bears are likely to be seen. 

In addition to the polar bears, the area is also home to a vast range of wildlife including black bears, wolves and herds of moose. Among the treks organised from the lodge are opportunities to explore the pristine landscapes of Cape Tatnam Wildlife Management Area which offers once in a lifetime photo opportunities. It is a silent world, interrupted only by the sound of the wind and waves and visitors have to keep together, walking as quietly as possible. 

Other sites operated by Nanuk provide the opportunity to stay in a Tundra Camp on the Barren Lands which is the ancient migratory ground of the caribou, as well as the Seal River Heritage Lodge. Camping out and being in this pristine environment far from towns and cities provides an additional magical opportunity to appreciate the environment.

It is not unknown for visitors to glimpse the spell binding enchantment of the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis flickering and dancing in spectacular colours across the night sky.

The best time to see bears in British Columbia

May to October is the best time to see bears in British Columbia, as this is when they are most active. There may be opportunities at other times depending on the weather. Bear watching tours are very popular and you need to book well ahead.

Vancouver is the main access point for bear watching holidays. Local planes take visitors into the various reserves. There is no road access.

This is sustainable, environmentally friendly tourism at its best. With only limited numbers of people allowed on each tour, visitors do not overwhelm the landscape or the animals. The bears and other wildlife roam freely as they have done for thousands of years within the pristine, untouched landscape. The welfare of the animals is paramount at all times. Visitors watch the bears from a distance, or from a boat. There is no direct contact with the bears, and some days no bears may be seen. Bear watching takes time and patience, watching and waiting to see them. They are shy creatures and taking part in a guided tour with experts is the only way to spot them.

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