Why you should visit Vancouver Island for some of the best grizzly bear tours in Canada
Best Canada wildlife holidays
Grizzly Bear tours Vancouver Island
Since our Canadian Operations Manager, James Manson, lived on Vancouver Island for many years you would expect us to have intimate knowledge of the best grizzly bear tours on Vancouver Island. More than that, Vancouver Island offers one of the best self-drive wildlife holidays in Canada and if you prefer to avoid driving on your wildlife trip in Canada, you can also fly direct into locations such as Port Hardy, Campbell River and Tofino and still find some great bear and whale tours to enjoy on a local level. It does however help to have a car and enjoy the flexibility of connecting up both the east and west coasts of Vancouver Island. This then allows you to experience some great bear tours at Tofino and Zeballos; as well as some grizzly bear tours at Campbell River and Telegraph Cove.
Vancouver Island grizzly bears
The first point to make, is that there are no actual grizzly bears (or coastal brown bears!) found on Vancouver Island. Although the odd one may make it across to the island, the authorities have no desire to have a permanent resident population of grizzly bears on Vancouver Island. This means that any bear you see on the island itself, will be a black bear and Tofino bear watching tours will take you out on small Zodiac boats so you can see black bears foraging amongst the rocks for shellfish.
So, when we talk about grizzly bear viewing on Vancouver Island what we mean are grizzly bear safaris in small boats from Campbell River or Telegraph Cove, which cross the strait and head into beautiful inlets on the west coast of British Colombia. At the mouths of these inlets are rivers; which each year, see millions of returning salmon looking for their place of birth so they can spawn. This huge protein resource is essential for brown and black bears to increase their body weight and increase their chances of surviving hibernation; especially important for mothers with cubs or who are expecting spring cubs the following year. One of our classic grizzly bear tours from Vancouver Island is at Knight Inlet; with a stay at the wonderfully intimate Grizzly Bear Lodge.
Black Bears on Vancouver Island
Without the pressure of competing for food and resources on Vancouver Island with grizzly bears, you would expect the black bear population on the island to be doing well; and generally they are. It is not uncommon to see black bears on Vancouver Island while out walking on of the many beautiful trails, or from your vehicle, while driving some of the back roads which have little traffic. Two of the best places for viewing black bears on Vancouver Island are Zeballos and Tofino; both located on the west coast of the island. Zeballos is quite an isolated coastal community located almost opposite Campbell river. In late September into October we see the returning salmon swim up Zeballos inlet and we book a beautiful riverside lodge for our clients; giving them a fantastic opportunity to view black bears fishing for salmon. We also organise boat based black bear safaris out of Zeballos to watch them foraging on the shores. Check out our stunning Zeballos black bear safari.
Tofino is a bigger community, but with real soul and popular with locals and tourists alike. This was one of the first towns to start commercial whale watching and whale safaris from Tofino for Humpback and Gray whales are still highly regarded by whale watchers from around the world. As well as the whales, Tofino bear watching tours are a wonderful way to see black bears feeding by the estuaries or beaches. With the stunning backdrop of coastal rainforest and lichen covered rocks, you can photograph black bears from around 200m.
Best time to see bears on Vancouver Island?
The bear viewing on Vancouver Island can be divided into 3 distinct seasons, with the ‘jewel in the crown’ being the autumn bear viewing which starts around early September and will continue well into October. Surely one of natures greatest wildlife spectacles, sees millions of pacific salmon enter the west coast river systems, closely followed by a variety of marine and terrestrial wildlife gorging on this annual event. Marine predators include Orcas, Pacific White Sided Dolphins and seals; whereas on land we witness Wolves, Black Bears, Grizzly Bears and Bald Eagles catching live salmon or scavenging on the dead carcasses.
One of the other best times to see bears on Vancouver Island is during the spring season, where brown bears graze like cows on the vast beds of sedge grasses which grow around the river estuaries and provide an essential source of nutrient to female bears and their spring cubs. Sometimes we can see as many grizzly bears during the spring season as during the fall; at famous bear viewing locations such as Knight Inlet and Bute Inlet.
Finally, we have the ‘in between’ summer season when temperatures are a little hot for the bears and the salmon run has not yet started. Sometimes we have needed to travel at this time of year to Vancouver Island due to our daughter’s summer holidays and we have still enjoyed good brown and black bear viewing; but have not seen them in the same numbers as either spring or summer bear viewing on Vancouver Island.
Check out an ultimate grizzly bear tour on Vancouver Island, where you visit the west and east coasts to maximise the variety of wildlife you will encounter.