Spirit Bear Safari. Join us on the quest to see one of the worlds rarest bears
Spirit Bear Safari – Join us on the quest to see one of the worlds rarest bears in The Great Bear Rainforest
It seems a lifetime ago that we landed on the small coastal community of Klemtu in British Colombia and came face to face with our first Spirit Bear. The now world famous Spirit Bear Lodge was pretty much unknown back in 2004. Most visitors were either famous bears researchers, such as Charles Russell, or serious wildlife photographer and filmmakers like Jeff Turner. We felt privileged to enter the home of the ‘white’ Kermode Bear which is greatly revered amongst the local indigenous population. What makes a Spirit Bear safari here even more magical, is that you will be taken out by the original peoples of this land, the Kitasoo Xai'xais people; who will share with you their home – the Great Bear Rainforest.
How to plan your Spirit Bear safari holiday?
Since our first visit in 2004 we have looked at multiple guided wildlife tours within the coastal BC area, which go to the best places to see Spirit Bears. We have looked at exclusive boat charters from Hartley Bay, hard core spirit bear tours from Princess Island and of course a multi-day stay at the iconic Spirit Bear Lodge. As a rough summary you can say that the trips out of Princess Island – often led by an experienced photographer guide – are the most physical and adventurous. The boat charters are the most comfortable; but you need to check how many times they visit the spirit bear viewing stands located on Gribble Island, to see if you have a genuine chance to see them. Finally, we have the preferred option for most of our regular clients, which is a 4 to 5 night stay at the Spirit Bear Lodge. You reach the lodge from Vancouver; first flying to Bella Bella and then taking a scenic boat transfer to the spectacularly located main accommodation building.
Spirit Bear tours – how difficult is it to see Spirit Bears in the wild?
If you have already seen both brown and black bears in North America; especially at world famous locations such as Brooks Falls and Knight Inlet, where brown bears can be seen fishing for salmon, your expectations may be a little high when it comes to see Spirit bears in the wild. We also find that if local operators called their boat charters a ‘Spirit Bear cruise’ or property owners their wilderness lodge, ‘Spirit Bear Lodge’, it tends to create an impression that you have a good chance to see them, on what will probably be a fairly expensive wildlife holiday in Canada. The reality is that we have been sending clients to the Spirit Bear lodge since 2004 and on average around 50% of our clients have seen Spirit bears in the Great Bear Rainforest. That is generally based on them staying 5 nights at the lodge – we always encourage longer stays for our bear safaris in Canada.
There is no better source of information on ‘chance of sightings’ than from the lodge themselves; so below is some great feedback and reflection on the seasonality of Spirit bear safaris in Canada. ‘
What are the chances of seeing a Spirit Bear?
To speak to your concern regarding Spirit Bear sightings and excursions, I would like start by saying that we are conscious of educating our guests in advance that the Spirit Bear is one of the rarest on the planet and we strive to be completely transparent with the fact that chances of our guests seeing a Spirit Bear on any given visit in the height of the season are about 50%. The last two seasons have been our best ever for Spirit Bear sightings and have seen around 75% of our guests go home with Spirit Bear sightings, unusually high, yes, and particularly difficult to absorb when one is on the short end of the remaining 25% who go home without. Such unfortunately are the vagaries of wildlife viewing in one of the most remote stretches of the British Columbia coast. We wish we had more control but we don't and I believe we go to great lengths to make this as clear as we can, as well as try to get each guest into Spirit Bear habitat at least once no matter what length of package they are on.
Spirit bear boat tours – How do we search for the bears in such a huge forest?
We have over 50 different river systems in which these animals can been seen and with our network of trail cameras we are able to narrow this down to about 4-5 of the best rivers for bear viewing. When Spirit Bears are active, they typically stay in one river for 10 days or so before moving on to another river. Sometimes we have to move from river to river each day in search of them. Grizzly bears are more reliable and predictable and we can be reasonably sure of seeing them each day. Steep Creek is only one river system that we frequent for Spirit Bear/ Black Bear viewing, we do have other rivers that we frequent. If we are seeing that a white bear is active in a specific river system, we will do our best to rotate all the guests through that river system before the bear moves on.
At the end of the day we strive to offer all our guests a diversity of wildlife and cultural experiences. Typically, we schedule the first two days of a stay with us in such a way that guests get one day with the grizzlies and one day in Spirit Bear habitat. We have had some guests come back 2 and 3 times to try to see the Spirit Bear, so driven are they with the desire to see this very special creature. The vast majority of Kitasoo/Xaixais people themselves who have lived here their entire lives have never seen one. Seeing one is a truly blessed thing and we regularly see a sighting move our guests and our staff to great emotion.
Why you must book your Spirit Bear holiday early?
This is one of the most popular wildlife lodges in the world and as I write this in January 2019, it has been several months since the ‘best dates’ for 2019 were sold out. So myself and our clients are already planning for 2020 and we hope to receive the new rates and dates from the Spirit Bear Lodge by March 2020. If you book our Spirit Bear safari now for 2020, we will honour 2019 rates.