Wildlife and Nature

Wildlife Watch: How to catch a glimpse of Canada’s majestic bears

Rebecca Harley

15th March 2024

Grizzly bear running through a river at Knight Inlet, BC

From beavers and bison to orcas and wolves, the breathtaking landscapes of Canada are a haven for wildlife, and visitors can observe wild creatures in their natural habitats all across the country.

However, if you are looking to see one of Canada’s most iconic residents, the bear, you should head for the lush coastal forests and rugged mountains of British Columbia. Bears can be found across the country, but Canada’s westernmost province is considered the top spot for wild bear encounters.

What kind of bears live in British Columbia?

Black bears are the most common bear family in Canada, and you are most likely to spot one of these majestic creatures ambling through the dense forests of British Columbia. While bear spotting, do not forget to look up, as these bears are fantastic climbers. Despite their name, the colour of their fur varies greatly, and you could spot a brown or even a cinnamon-coloured black bear.

Brown or grizzly bears are harder to spot than black bears as the species are classified as “threatened with extinction”. These powerful animals enjoy a solitary life, except during the salmon-run season, when you might glimpse them gathering alongside other brown bears to hunt their prey. Brown bears can be identified by the prominent hump on their shoulders and boast a variety of different shades of fur including dark brown, light brown, and blonde.

Grizzly Bear

Kermode or ‘spirit’ bears are the rarest of all North American bear species. Despite looking more like a polar bear, they are in fact a subspecies of black bears. These mysterious creatures can only be found residing in the coastal rainforests of Northwest British Columbia. Today, fewer than 400 of these bears exist, so seeing one in the wild is a truly unforgettable experience.

Where can I spot bears in British Columbia?

Keep your eyes peeled as you make your way through British Columbia as bear sightings have been made not only in the lush wilderness, but also close to more densely populated areas of towns and villages.

Stretching more than 250 miles along the west coast of British Columbia, the Great Bear Rainforest is the largest coastal temperate rainforest on earth, and home to black, brown and the elusive, cream-coloured spirit bear. The pristine wilderness of Bella Coola Valley in the Great Bear Rainforest is the perfect place to observe bears as they forage for salmon, and the area north of Tofino, which is accessible by boat, allows you to watch bears from the water without disturbing them.

If you’re in the Whistler area, you may spot black bears in the forests and alpine meadows surrounding the region. While in Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island, you have a good chance of observing black bears looking for crabs under rocks. If you visit at the right time, you might also see cubs being taught how to hunt for food along the shoreline of Barkley Sound.

Brown Bear

What is the best time to spot bears in British Columbia?

Bears are most active between May and October. As the snow melts away and the landscape bursts into bloom, bears emerge from their winter slumber in search of food and mates. You can find them foraging along riverbanks and alpine meadows as they feast on berries, flowers, and vegetation. If you want to observe something special, plan your trip between August and October, during the annual salmon-run. You will be treated to an energetic display as bears scoop, splash and grab at the fleeing fish.

We have a range of tailormade holidays that include prime bear viewing, in particular our 11-day Bears and Wilderness of British Columbia.

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