5 Phenomenal Ways to Experience Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest with Outer Shores Expeditions

Discover the majesty of Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, where each voyage is a distinctive exploration of one of the world’s most pristine wildernesses. Here are five unique ways you can experience this globally treasured region.

Spirit Bear | Credit: Owen Perry

1. Fiords, Bears, Waterfalls, and Wildflowers

  • When to Go: May/June
  • Duration: 7-nights
  • Starts/Ends: Bella Bella
  • Group Size: up to 6 guests
Spring in the Great Bear | Credit: Michael Wieser

When people think about visiting Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, they often think about visiting in the late summer and early autumn, when wildlife Pacific salmon return to spawn and bears and other wildlife gather to feast on this annual ecological bounty. And for good reason, this is a very exciting time to be in the Great Bear Rainforest! 

However, bears  – grizzly bears, black bears, and the iconic white spirit bears –  wolves, whales, sea otters, and a wide range of other coastal wildlife spend their entire lives in the Great Bear Rainforest, and therefore provide a wide range of wildlife viewing and learning opportunities. 

Enter our Spring Great Bear Rainforest expeditions. Unlike autumn, when the days are short, cool, and getting cooler, in late May and early June we enjoy the longest days of the year, and while days can still be cool (and rainy!), we also enjoy the warm days that typically accompany late spring and early summer. 

It’s these ecological conditions that result in the incredible growth of grasses, sedges, and wildflowers which, before the arrival of berries later in the summer, and then salmon, are the primary food sources for bears. Picture hyper-green, lush, estuaries at the head of glacier-carved fiords, bursting with colourful wildflowers, surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks and cascading waterfalls. 

It’s here where bears of all species, sexes, ages, and sizes congregate to graze on these protein and carbohydrate-rich plants after long winters of hibernation. Unlike in the autumn when many bears move upstream to prime salmon-fishing spots, in the spring it’s these lush estuaries and braided river networks where all the calories are. As a result, we’re able to observe a wide range of bear behaviours and social interactions, and with luck, the arrival of tiny young-of-the-year bear cubs. 

Finally, like all our expeditions, we look forward to boat excursions, shore walks, sea kayaking, and sailing. We hope you’ll join us!

2. Salmon, Bears, Whales, and Wolves

  • When to Go: Sept-Oct
  • Duration: 8 or 9-nights
  • Starts/Ends: Bella Bella
  • Group Size: up to 6 guests
Fiordland, Great Bear Rainforest | Credit: James Thompson Photography

Never been to the Great Bear Rainforest before? Hoping to experience a wide range of experiences, habitats, and wildlife encounters, including grizzly bear and potentially spirit bears? Then this is our Great Bear Rainforest expedition for you. 

Our autumn “Salmon, Bears, Whales, and Wolves” expeditions take Outer Shores guests on a wide-ranging journey through the Great Bear Rainforest that includes grizzly bear viewing in Fiordland Conservancy and other large mainland estuaries, when wild Pacific salmon are returning to spawn and a wide array of predators and scavengers gather to consume them, including bears, wolves, killer whales, sea lions, and eagles, just to name a few.

And of course, on these expeditions we’re always on the lookout for the iconic Spirit bears that the Great Bear Rainforest is famous for. This includes visiting several locations where the chances of catching a glimpse of these rare white bears, found nowhere else on Earth, can be higher than average. But please don’t forget, these bears are incredibly rare!

Other iconic wildlife that we’ll be keeping a watchful eye out  for are the coastal wolves, also known as “sea wolves” that range throughout the Great Bear Rainforest.

And finally, did you know that much of the Great Bear Rainforest is intimately connected to the adjacent Great Bear Sea? And that the Great Bear Sea is home to vast numbers of great whales, including humpback and fin whales? Not only that, the humpback whales in this region, during the late summer and early fall, actively engage in a social feeding behaviour called “bubble-net” feeding. This is something you truly have to witness for yourself to believe!

3. Spirit Bear Explorer Expeditions

  • When to Go: August/Sept
  • Duration: 7-nights
  • Starts/Ends: Bella Bella
  • Group Size: up to 6 guests
Spirit Bear | Credit: Owen Perry

Found nowhere else on Earth, the rare, white-coated black bear (Ursus americanus kermodei), known as “Kermode” or “Spirit” bears, became a globally iconic species associated with the protection of Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest. Spirit Bears live primarily on a small number of islands and adjacent mainland regions of the Great Bear Rainforest. These bears have a limited home range of just 6,500 km2, and recent estimates suggest that their population size may be limited to as few as 100 individuals. Known to the First Nations of the Great Bear Rainforest since time immemorial, Indigenous oral history has long recorded a “1 in 10” frequency of these white-coated black bears.

The Kitasoo Spirit Bear Conservancy, approximately ~1000 km2 in size, is located within the traditional territory of the Kitasoo-Xaixais First Nation, and is co-managed under an agreement between the Kitasoo Nation and the Province of British Columbia.  This conservancy is intended, in part, to protect a significant portion of Spirit bear habitat and home range, and fortunate visitors may get a glimpse of this iconic bear.

Whereas all of our expeditions in the Great Bear Rainforest include opportunities to encounter Spirit bears, our new Spirit Bear Explorer expeditions will dedicate more time to visiting the Kitasoo Spirit Bear Conservancy and other areas of Princess Royal Island where we hope to catch that treasured glimpse of this icon of the Great Bear Rainforest. 

Notably, these expeditions do not include visiting Fiordland Conservancy or other mainland fiords and estuaries where grizzly bears dominate. As such, our Spirit Bear Explorer Expeditions are ideal for previous Outer Shores guests returning to the Great Bear Rainforest with us, as well as those people intrigued by nature of these expeditions, and those who simply want to explore new regions of this globally renowned ecosystem and protected area.

Due to spending more time ashore, guests joining our Spirit Bear Explorer expeditions will require a higher degree of fitness and mobility than our Salmon, Bears, Whales, and Wolves expedition. Please inquire for more details.

4. Great Bear Rainforest Photography Tours

  • When to Go: Sept/October
  • Duration: 8 or 9-nights
  • Starts/Ends: Bella Bella
  • Group Size: up to 6 guests
Credit: James Thompson Photography

Our Great Bear Rainforest Photography Tours are perfect for photographers of all skill levels, from the highly novice to the very accomplished. This voyage is ideal for anyone wishing to combine their passion for photography with the opportunity to experience the wildlife and ecosystems of Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest.

Geographically, our annual photography tours are similar to our “Salmon, Bears, Whales, and Wolves” expeditions (see above), providing participants with a wide range of photographic opportunities. Like all our Great Bear Rainforest expeditions, our photography tours start and end in the Heiltsuk First Nation community of Bella Bella and, depending on the weather, may include circumnavigating Princess Royal Island. 

However, the key difference is that our photography tours tailor our daily activities, logistics, and timing to the interests, needs, and ambitions of our photographers. Typically scheduled for the first week of October each year, we’ve found this to be an excellent time for encountering all Great Bear Rainforest wildlife, along with the colours and atmosphere of autumn. 

This unique wilderness and wildlife photography tour is led by coastal photography specialist, Dr. James Thompson (www.jamesthompsonphotography.com). Through presentations, hands-on coaching, and most importantly by answering your specific questions, James will help you to realize your photographic vision. Whether you’re looking for an introduction to coastal and wildlife photography or are an experienced photographer simply looking for unparalleled photographic opportunities, James and our crew aboard the schooner Passing Cloud will create an exceptional photographic experience and adventure for you.

5. Great Bear Rainforest Private Tours

  • When to Go: May/June and August-Oct
  • Duration: 7-18 nights
  • Starts/Ends: Bella Bella
  • Group Size: up to 6 guests
Private Tours in the Great Bear Rainforest | Credit: Joe Crawford

More and more we’re hearing from our guests that they want more time in all the incredible regions we visit, to just go slow and experience the BC coast more deeply, more personally, and in ways that just aren’t possible as part of larger groups or tours. It’s for this reason that our Great Bear Rainforest Private Tours are an increasingly popular way of visiting, experiencing, and learning about this remarkable part of the world.

The general idea behind our Private Tours is that, along with our professional crew of mariners and guides, small groups of up to six guests have the schooner Passing Cloud to yourself, and we work closely with you to create an expedition that, while still within Outer Shores’ overarching philosophy, is tailored to your own specific interests and ambitions.

For example, given enough notice to adjust our schedule, we can provide expeditions up to 18 days in length, and for just two or four guests rather than our normal complement of six guests in three private cabins. This option is particularly appealing for those seeking a truly private, personalized experience, very small groups, families, as well as photographers, film makers, researchers, and other special interest groups.

We look forward to discussing your Private Tour with you!


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