By Isabelle Khoo
When To Go to the Great Bear Rainforest
The best time to visit the Great Bear Rainforest really depends on the type of activities you’d like to do. Climate-wise, the rainforest experiences fairly mild weather all year, with occasional strong winds carried down from the Chilcotin Plateau.
Most people tend to visit the Great Bear Rainforest during the summer months since there are more activity options available: hiking, bear watching and salmon-snorkelling. But, if you are an avid skier and love the cold, then visiting the rainforest during the winter would be ideal since you’d have the chance to go skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.
However, be sure to call a local operator ahead of time to find out if there are any rental shops available, as some areas may require you to bring your own equipment.
Getting to the Great Bear Rainforest
Bella Coola is your gateway to the Great Bear Rainforest, and it serves as a hub for many smaller surrounding coastal communities. Though set in a remote location, Bella Coola is actually accessible by road, air, and sea.
If you’re driving, Highway 20 is the best route to take, as it connects the interior of British Columbia to the Bella Coola Valley and offers stunning views of the Coastal Range as you pass by Tweedsmuir Park, the Chilcotin Plateau, and Heckman Pass.
However, if you dislike long drives, travel by air is your best bet for a short travel time. In addition to the private planes available, Pacific Coastal Airlines flies from Vancouver to Bella Coola daily, but flights are sometimes rescheduled due to severe weather since airplane runways are in such close proximity to the mountains.
If you are not a fan of flying or driving then your only alternative is to travel by ferry. BC Ferries depart from the tip of Vancouver Island at Port Hardy and return to the island. The ferry also offers stops to Bella Bella, Klemtu, and Ocean Falls, which are all part of the Great Bear Rainforest.
Whatever your method of transportation, all three options offer excellent photo opportunities.
Getting Around the Great Bear Rainforest
The Great Bear Rainforest is best explored by its waterways—either by boat or kayak. This method allows access to the entire rainforest, as there are no roads along the mountainous BC coast.
Only a few roads actually reach the coast, but they end once they reach small harbor towns such as Prince Rupert and Bella Coola. Beyond these towns, the coast remains uninhibited besides a few scattered First Nation villages like Bella Bella. This is why the waterways are the easiest way to explore the rainforest in-depth. Many outfitters in the area host daily boat tours and kayak trips to allow tourists to get the most out of their visit to the rainforest.
What To Do in the Great Bear Rainforest
Visit Spirit Bear Lodge
Spirit Bear Lodge is owned and operated by a local Aboriginal community in Klemtu, a remote village located on Swindle Island just west of Bella Coola. The Lodge was built to pay tribute to the traditional long houses that the West Coast First Nations built for thousands of years.
Besides providing accommodation, Spirit Bear Lodge hosts many bear-viewing tours which take guests into the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest to observe a range of wildlife. This includes wolves, grizzlies, and even spirit bears—the world’s only white-coloured black bear. The tour’s unique mix of B.C.’s cultural and natural history with wildlife create an intriguing experience for its guests.
Led by expert river guides and biologists, the Great Bear Rainforest offers the chance to snorkel with salmon—the foundation of British Columbia’s coastal ecosystem. The lively coastal rivers and streams are abundant with salmon runs, especially from mid-July to mid-August, which is when salmon-snorkelling tours are offered.
These tours take visitors on a day trip where they are equipped with wet suits and taken right into the water to snorkel with the salmon. And if that experience isn’t enough, visitors to the rainforest can learn more about the salmon and local fish life by taking a free daily-guided tour located at the Fish Hatchery, east of Bella Coola.
Join Bella Coola Grizzly Tours
Located just five minutes from the airport, and 15 minutes from the ferry, Bella Coola Grizzly Tours is a lodge conveniently placed in the Great Bear Rainforest. Here there are a variety of tours available. Bella Coola Grizzly Tours’ wilderness adventures include things like hiking, camping, fishing, and wildlife watching, whereas the marine tour explores the Bella Coola harbour and the salmon river. But for those not into outdoor activities, a bus tour is also available that takes guests to places like the Bella Coola Historical Museum and the First Nations Salmon Smokehouse.
Explore with Shearwater Lodge
Shearwater Lodge is a fishing and eco-adventure resort. Located across from Bella Bella and just under 100 kilometres west of Bella Coola, Shearwater Lodge is situated at the central hub of mariners. The lodge offers eco adventures on both land and sea and allows for all kinds of wildlife to be seen.
Spirit bears, bald eagles, orcas, and dolphins are just a few of the animals that can be spotted while bear or whale watching. Led by knowledgeable guides, Shearwater also offers the opportunity to trek to Goose Island and explore the white-sand beaches and to experience the Eucott hot springs. While these are the only public hot springs near the lodge, they are the largest and most popular on the coast.
Hike through Bella Coola Valley
Hiking through the Bella Coola Valley is the best way to discover the hidden gems of the forest. Joining a hiking tour is highly recommended, as the Great Bear Rainforest is a pretty remote area. But don’t worry, there are a number of different trails for all levels of hikers. Snootli Creek Regional Park is the most popular hike among locals. It consists of four distinct paths that take walkers on an easy trail through an ancient cedar grove.
Saloompt Forest Trail is another easy hike that consists of a number of picnic tables allowing for scenic lunch spots. This trail takes walkers along the Bella Coola River where people can cross the Saloompt River bridge and watch salmon spawn during the months of August and September. But for those eager for a challenge should try the Medby Rock Lookout Trail. This trail, though moderate, is a steep walk with phenomenal views that look down towards the Bella Coola Valley.