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Canada Wildlife Holiday. Why we choose Campbell River for bears and whales!

Posted in: Canada, Posted in: Bear Safari Canada


Canada Wildlife Holiday, Campbell River

Welcome to our series of personal blogs about the best Canada wildlife holidays. We are looking at a variety of different locations which provide some of the best whale watching and bear viewing experiences in the whole of British Colombia. So whether it is brown bears at Knight Inlet, Gray Whales at Tofino or Spirit Bears in the Great Bear Rainforest; let us guide you with our experienced eyes and showcase some of the best Canadian wildlife holidays available

Wildlife tours in Campbell River – So close to Vancouver and so much to do!

We were early adopters of ‘slow tourism’ and a focus on unrushed wildlife holidays in Canada and other destinations around the world. However some clients, particularly those from the US do have less holiday leave at their disposal and therefore appreciate up to date advice on the best location to see bears or whales in Canada. We were very fortunate for many years to have our own Canadian Operations manager, James Manson, live on Vancouver Island. So when we recommend these wildlife rich locations and wildlife tours, we do so from a position of first-hand knowledge and personal trips.

So the coastal town of Campbell River is probably the most accessible location from Vancouver for high quality, small group, wildlife tours on the island. You have a direct, regular BC ferries route between Vancouver and Nanaimo (just 2 hours south of Campbell River by car) and you also have direct flights from Vancouver to Campbell River airport with the excellent Pacific Coastal airlines, who in the high season have 3 to 4 flight per day from south terminal, Vancouver Airport.

On reaching Campbell River and choosing your hotel or wilderness lodge to stay in, you then have a wide variety of wildlife tours and adventure tours to choose from; many of which depart from the marina in town. So whether you want to go whale watching for Orcas, brown bear viewing at either Bute or Knight Inlet, or snorkelling with salmon; there are many, many wildlife tour operators to choose from.

Bear viewing at Campbell River – Should I choose Bute or Knight Inlet.

As a general overview of the bear viewing tours out of Campbell River, we can split these up into floatplane or seaplane tours; which take you on a spectacular flight deep into world famous Knight Inlet and drop you off at one of two remote wilderness lodges. Or you can take full day boat trips (which include lunch) up to Bute Inlet. From here there is a vehicle transfer and you then spend time at a series of elevated bear viewing platforms over man-made spawning channels for salmon. This man-made set up is exactly the same at Knight Inlet; the bears aren’t stupid, what works for man also works for them! We can say that due to its popularity and easier access then you will see more overall visitors at Bute Inlet, compared to the wilderness lodges which take you to the Knight inlet viewing stands. So if you are after a more intimate wildlife experience with the bears, then Knight Inlet may be a better choice.

Whale Watching at Campbell River – Is this the best place to see Orcas?

The simple answer is NO, as the best place to see Orcas in Canada is world famous Johnstone Strait; which if you look on a map is roughly opposite Port McNeil/Telegraph Cove in North East Vancouver Island – about a 2-3 hour drive north from Campbell River. However although Campbell River is well south of Johnstone Strait, on a full day whale watching tour (and it can often really be a full day!) you can definitely reach the best area for Orcas and spend some quality time there. Not forgetting some of the other marine and terrestrial Canadian wildlife you will see en route, such as Pacific white-sided Dolphins, porpoises, sea otters and bald eagles.

Where to stay in Campbell River for wildlife viewing?

Because many of the wildlife operators depart in the morning from Campbell River jetty, there is something to be said for staying downtown and being within walking distance of the jetty; as well as numerous restaurants and shops. However that is not going to give you the wilderness feel and chance to see ‘wildlife from your window’, that many of our clients are after. For that, you need to head further out of Campbell River and choose a wilderness lodge in one of the many little coves and one of our favourites is Browns Bay. This will give you a chance to view sea otters, black bears, bald eagles and maybe even Orcas from your wilderness cabin.

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