Spirit Bears, Humpbacks & Wildlife of B.C. (Terrace to Bella Bella)
9 days with Natural Habitat Adventures Rating:
Day 1: Vancouver, British Columbia / Terrace
Our B.C. adventure begins in Vancouver, where we board our group flight (arranged by NHA) north to Terrace in the lush Skeena River Valley. We’re met on arrival and transferred to Yellow Cedar Lodge, which enjoys a secluded location overlooking the river. This evening, gather with our Expedition Leader for a welcome dinner and spirit bear tour orientation.
Days 2 & 3: Kitimat—Board Island Solitude / Great Bear Rainforest
Drive to the town of Kitimat this morning to board the Island Solitude, an 83-foot sailing ketch that is our home for the next seven nights. Once we meet the crew and settle into our private cabins, lunch is served aboard as we sail out of Kitimat harbor. Signs of civilization are soon left behind as we enter the sheltered inlets and estuaries of the Great Bear Rainforest, stopping each night in a different secluded anchorage.
This ancient ecosystem is one of the largest tracts of temperate rain forest left on Earth, harboring thousand-year-old cedar trees and Sitka spruce that soar 350 feet high. Rich salmon streams weave through valley bottoms, providing food for eagles, orcas, wolves, black bears, grizzlies and the mystical white Kermode bear, also known as the "spirit bear." As we travel south down Douglas Channel, we make our way to a remote valley deep within the Coast Range where we go ashore in hopes of catching our first glimpse of a black bear or grizzly. The scenery is dramatic, with mountains towering overhead and waterfalls cascading from rock walls. If we raise our eyes skyward, we may spot eagles soaring overhead.
Back aboard the Island Solitude, continue cruising down the fjord, keeping an eye out for humpback whales. These charismatic mammals, which can grow to 50 feet and weigh 40 tons, may entertain us with breaching, spy-hopping or slapping their flippers. They congregate to feed in these waters in late summer and fall before their winter migration southward. We may also spot porpoises and Steller sea lions, and possibly orcas.
Days 4–6: Princess Royal Island—Spirit Bear Conservancy
Continuing southward, we hug the indented shoreline of Princess Royal Island. This is the best-known area for seeing the rare Kermode or spirit bear, whose name reflects its legendary status among the Tsimshian peoples as a creature to be revered. Spirit bears are actually a unique subspecies of North American black bear in which about one in every 10 bears is white or cream-colored due to a recessive gene. For the next two days we’ll travel with a Gitga’at native guide who takes us to locally known wildlife viewing areas. As we enter the protected area of the Kitasoo Spirit Bear Conservancy, we keep binoculars at the ready, hoping to spy the pale bears against the evergreen backdrop along the creeks and estuaries.
Only 400 or so spirit bears are thought to exist, living exclusively along this portion of the British Columbia coast. The campaign to save the Great Bear Rainforest has heightened efforts to conserve this dwindling habitat from further logging and oil pipeline development that threaten the bears' future. The local Gitga’at people are passionate about protecting the bears and their habitat, and without their stewardship, we would not have access to this special place. Our Gitga’at guide spends hours here every day observing the bears and is intimately familiar with their behavior, sharing his experiences and stories with us. He will lead us to the area where spirit bears have most recently been spotted, and with patience and perseverance we’ll hope to see the elusive white bear, as well as more black bears. We'll also have a chance for a soak at Bishop Bay Hot Springs, accessible only to boaters, for a relaxing indulgence.
Days 7 & 8: Fiordland Conservancy
Heading deep into the coastal mountains, we spend the next two days exploring the Fiordland Conservancy, which offers some of the most dramatic examples of glacially gouged scenery on the BC coast. Sheer granite cliffs rise more than 3,000 feet, and waterfalls plummet from their faces into the sea. As we navigate the fjords, we explore remote estuaries up close, hoping to see grizzly bears attracted by spawning salmon. The combination of lush vegetation and salmon-rich streams in Fiordland makes it ideal grizzly habitat. Black bears are also prolific in these ancient forests, and we keep an eye out for wolves, too, though they are elusive. We will also explore these protected waters via stable sea kayaks carried on board the Island Solitude. On daily shore excursions, our Expedition Leader will help identify various trees and plants, and interested guests can keep a species list for the trip. At low tide, search the shoreline for colorful sea stars, anemones and algae.
Day 9: Bella Bella / Vancouver / Depart
Our voyage ends in Bella Bella, an isolated village on the central coast of British Columbia that is the traditional home of the Heiltsuk First Nations people. Here, we disembark and transfer to the small airport for our group flight to Vancouver, to connect with onward departures.
All This Included
In the wild valleys of the Coast Range on Canada’s far western edge, some of the planet’s oldest and tallest trees rise along salmon-studded rivers that rush to the Pacific. Thousand-year-old cedars and Sitka spruce that soar into the clouds provide shelter for the white spirit bear of Native legend. Just a few hundred of these rare bears live in this isolated wilderness, and we go in search of them with local Gitga’at guides. Here, too, are grizzlies and wolves, and eagles nest in ancient branches. At sea, humpback whales ply the jade-green fjords. We join them as we sail a maze of inlets on the central British Columbia coast—a voyage into the wild Great Bear Rainforest, one of Earth’s most magnificent—and most at-risk—natural realms.
Cruising: Cabin onboard the Island Solitude
Terrace: Yellow Cedar Lodge
Bella Bella: Shearwater Lodge
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