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Canada Wildlife Holidays which will blow your mind – Number 2

Posted in: Canada, Posted in: Bear Safari Canada


Canada Wildlife Holidays which will blow your mind – Number 2

There are many excellent bear viewing tours in Canada and then there are Bella Coola bear viewing tours; which takes the level of intimacy and viewing the natural behaviour of the bears to a whole new level. The main reason for this is that the Bella Coola bear tours have developed around the use of ‘river drifts’ - no sound from an old dirty engine - just slowly drifting down the Atnarko River like a piece of ancient wood. When a brown bear is sighted, your expert boatman and wildlife guide will simply stop the boat on the opposite bank and allow you to take some spectacular photos from a superb low angle. Thus, several intoxicating hours are spent on the river, as you search for bears while also spotting many Bald Eagles; eager to share the salmon feast which is in full flow

How to get to Bella Coola?

The community of Bella Coola is quite isolated from other larger towns and when the poor decision was made several years ago to stop the main BC ferry between Port Hardy and Bella Coola, that isolation was increased. The good news is the ferry has restarted under the excellent name of ‘Northern Sea Wolf’ and having taken this route ourselves, is definitely the stand out option if you have the time and prefer a more leisurely road trip approach to your Canada wildlife holiday. However, for those short on time the straightforward route to Bella Coola is with Pacific Coastal airlines via the south terminal at Vancouver Airport. There are daily flights throughout the season and the journey time is less than 2 hours. You will be treated to some stunning scenery as you approach the beautiful Bella Coola valley and land at the small local airport. You would then be picked up by your hosts at one of the Bella Coola lodges or cabins.

Shall I take the road to Bella Coola, or the Port Hardy to Bella Coola ferry one way?

The cost of taking your car on the Northern Sea Wolf between Port Hardy and Bella Coola is not a cheap option and so some travellers may decide to stick to the road and maybe put together a longer Canada wildlife tour itinerary, which as well as visiting Bella Coola for bear viewing, stops at Junction Sheep Range Provincial Park (accommodation options at Riske Creek); for the chance to see California bighorn sheep and Black Bears. One the way back from Bella Coola you can also head over to the western Canadian Rockies and visit Wells Gray provincial park and Glacier national park. These parks do not get as much tourist traffic as the ones accessed from Calgary.

One big advantage of taking the ferry is the chance to see some marine wildlife as part of your Canada bear safari and if you are lucky – like we were – you may see Dolphins, Humpback Whales and Orcas at some point during the long day time ferry route; which basically followed part of the world famous inside passage ferry route, which runs between western Canada and Alaska.

Best time to visit Bella Coola for bear viewing?

As with many other major river ecosystems on the west coast of Canada which empty their waters into the Pacific, it is the returning salmon – in their millions – which kickstarts a bear feeding frenzy that takes the bear viewing at Bella Coola to a whole never level. That does not mean you should ignore the excellent opportunity for spring bear viewing in Bella Coola; where there will be far fewer human visitors around and potentially more chance to see mother and cubs. This could also be a better time of year to see both brown and black bears in the same trip.

Although many photographers are hoping to catch the iconic shots of grizzly bears fishing for salmon, in reality the salmon are slowly dying, as part of a life cycle which will see them use their last energy to mate and create the next generation, before dying in their masses. So, you will tend to see some fishing, but also brown bears simply plucking dying salmon from the rivers and often choosing to eat only the most nutritious parts of the fish.

In the last 5 years of so, we have noticed that milder Autumns and delayed salmon runs have means that the bear viewing season in Bella Coola has extended well into October. Infact, many of our clients most successful trips have occurred in the first 2 weeks of October. The only word of caution is an early winter storm from the Pacific coming in and flushing the river out of salmon due to heavy rain fall. Although in our experience this tends to occur in later October/early November.

Bella Coola Hotels – where to stay?

Bella Coola and the small community of Hagensborg – where many of the Bella Coola bear viewing tours depart from – have a few lodges and cabins connected with the wildlife tourism industry. Some people actually come to Bella Coola for the walking, skiing in the winter and to explore the indigenous local cultures. We have worked with a number of wildlife lodges in Bella Coola since 2003 and the focus has always been of great hospitality, comfortable rooms and local wildlife guides with an ethical approach to bear viewing in the valley.

The first lodge we would recommend is an intimate 2 bedroom wilderness lodge, with a gorgeous wraparound balcony at the back of the property; from which you might be luck enough to see bears as you enjoy an al fresco dinner. The second lodge, which although it has gone upmarket in recent years, still packs a punch, is the famous Tweedsmuir Lodge. Check out our 6 day luxury Bella Coola bear tour.

To be inspired by hundreds of other bear safari options, check out our tailor-made Canada wildlife holidays.

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