My #1 highlight of Vancouver Island was the Campbell River Grizzly Bear Tours with Discovery Marine Safaris. This trip is only possible in September – October each year and it truly is a North American Safari.
Campbell River Rotary Sea Walk
Our tour this day wasn’t leaving until noon so my mom and I went for a walk south a lot the Rotary club’s sea walk. We stopped at the 50th parallel and saw lots of sea birds. We started talking to a guy who pointed out Orca’s swimming on the other side of the passage so we watched them for quite awhile.
Discovery Marine Safaris Grizzly Bear Tour
We drove the short distance to town and found some free parking and registered at Discovery Marine for our Grizzly Bear Safari. I had reserved and paid for this trip a couple months earlier so it was great to finally be here.
We packed into the boat and every seat was full. The captain and naturalist gave us a safety briefing and we were off – headed to the Bute Inlet on the mainland of Canada. This particular inlet is not reachable by road and Campbell river is the closest town. This is why the tours originate on Vancouver Island as opposed to the mainland.
Not far from Campbell river we saw our first wildlife. The orcas we had seen in the morning were now further north so we followed them for a little while.
Grizzly Bear Viewing with the Homalco Tribe
As we motored up the Bute Inlet, we had our late lunch that consisted of a sandwich and nothing else. There was hot water and coffee but we were told to use it sparingly so there would be some left for later. After a couple hours we arrived on the first nations Homalco reservation. Local guides picked us up in two buses. We stopped at a small museum and got some more safety tips. We were told to stay within arm’s reach of others. The guides and guards all carried air horns and bear spray. The air horns were their first line of defense.
So we headed out to the first bear balcony. The balcony was on stilts and had a chain line fence with a gate surrounding it. We stood up there for 5-10 minutes with no bears materializing but a call came in that a bear was seen nearby so we got in the bus. We drove about the length of a block or two and the buses stopped. There was no balcony here so I wondered what would happen but we got out of the bus and stood in a line next to the bus. The first group was getting a nice view of 2 male bears sitting on a log next to the river not far away. We didn’t have a great view so eventually they let us switch spots. As we were taking pictures, another young male bear came walking up the river. He tried to catch some salmon and then eventually walked up a log and out of sight. All 3 bears were now hiding so we were told to get back in the bus to head to the next spot.
We drove over a bridge and saw a lone bear walking but by the time we got out of the bus, he was gone. We did get to see some huge salmon swimming under the bridge.
Then we headed to our last view point of the trip. According to the guides, this was the best viewing point around. This platform was smaller so our busload got in while the other group got into another platform nearby. This platform was at the confluence of a glacier fed river and a stream. We didn’t notice any bears at first but then they started to appear. The guides pointed to a couple bears hiding in the woods and long grass across the stream. We were taking shot after shot as they came out and sat in the grass, making their way to the stream. The other busload of people came over and we were told to stand in front of the platform to make room for the other tourists. Nothing in between us and the bears but a stream.
The grass group was pretty lazy. Look at this bum:
Just then, further down the river a mother bear and three two-year old cubs started walking towards us. They walked along the river as the mother grabbed salmon and ate at will. By the time they made it to the confluence, we had discovered there were 4 bears in the grass so we were looking at a total of 8 grizzly bears!
The river group was constantly catching salmon and gorging themselves. There are only a couple months were they’re able to catch spawning salmon to build up all the fat they’ll need for hibernation. At one point, these bears walking up the stream were about 20 feet away from us (recall we’re just standing on the ground with nothing in between). But, they were so engrossed in the salmon they really didn’t pay attention to us.
Can you see all 8 grizzly bears in this picture?
All the rotting salmon made food for other animals too. Sea Gulls pecked at the fish and a Bald Eagle pulled at the flesh on a rock not too far away.
In addition to all this wildlife there were incredible views of glacial cut peaks.
As the bears headed up the stream, we were herded back to the bus. Our time with the grizzlies had ended so we headed back to the dock. Despite the lack of sun, the views of the surrounding area were gorgeous. It reminded me of the Norwegian fjords.
Returning to Campbell River via the Inside Passage
The captain had told us for watch out for whales and one point I thought I saw a spout over a mile a way (I’m always been an eagle-eye – maybe because I like carrots). We detoured the boat only to find no sign of whales. We were about to leave when they surfaced again. A pair of humpbacks. They only made a few spouts before they dove again and we saw two whale tails. Not as good as the Whale Watching we did the day before in Port McNeill.
The naturalist came around with cookies and we headed back to Campbell River. As we were in the inside passage, we passed Holland American’s Nieuw Amsterdam ship at sunset and arrived at port after dark.
This trip was incredibly expensive (about $280 for an 8 hour tour) but it’s a trip that my parents and I will never forget. My dad doesn’t often give his opinion but even he was in awe about this trip.
Where to Stay in Campbell River
We had 2 nights at the Anchor Inn in Campbell River. I got an incredible deal online but had read mixed reviews but we loved this hotel – it was our favorite of the whole trip. Book this hotel now at booking.com
First there was the pool – the pool room was uniquely painted like an underwater aquarium, with orcas swimming nearby. The hot tub was closed but the pool was good, if not a little cool.
Then there was the room. We had a balcony overlooking the inside passage. It’s possible to see cruise ships cruise by and we did late one night. This was the view from our room:
The next morning I woke up early to watch the sunrise. This was one of the best sunrises ever – lots of great colors. Reflecting pools just under the hill where the hotel was located made some really good photos and I saw a bright red perfect starfish. Book this hotel now at booking.com