Between late-August and mid-October, the (approximately) 400 remaining members of this magical, mythical species gather hungrily in river inlets as thousands of salmon undertake an annual upstream journey.
Other diners include grizzly bear and golden eagle, while the surrounding waterworld also supports humpback whale, orca, otter, seal, cougar and grey wolf.
Here, too, in this ‘Amazon of the North’ are thousand-year-old cedar forests and staggered, snaking waterfalls; magnificent mossy peaks and myriad, glacier-carved fjords. But though it’s breathtakingly wild, you don’t need to be Bear Grylls in order to visit: the luxury lodges, affordable guesthouses and charter cruises cater to all travellers, from tough nuts to softies.
To fully understand the area, trips should include time with the First Nations peoples. Not only do these aboriginal tribes maintain a fascinating culture and produce quality jewellery, but – using knowledge passed down the millennia – they’re also easily the best bear-trackers around.
Things get Grizzly
Knight Inlet Lodge is situated forty miles up British Columbia’s longest fjord, at a spectacular bay called Glendale Cove. Its verdant, vertiginous peaks typically host up to 50 grizzly bears: nowhere else in Canada has such a high concentration. Come autumn, the bears congregate waterside to gorge on leaping salmon, watched by Knight Inlet guests positioned in special viewing hides; it’s common to see ten at a time – including (cute alert!) new cubs. You might also see migrating orca and humpback whales. Later, having returned to the floating lodge by bus and boat, edit photos on your cedarwood decking, then feast – more delicately than those grizzlies – on freshly-caught crab for dinner.
Go Spirit Bear-spotting
Found in the isolated coastal community of Klemtu, Spirit Bear Lodge is the premier option for guests to see the unique Kermode bear. Stays – minimum four nights – don’t come cheap, but then they do include exceptional tours with local Kitasoo guides. Deeply connected to the land, these fabulous First Nation trackers should have you spying grizzly bear, wolf, orca and humpback whale, dolphin and, yes, with a little patience, the reclusive spirit bear. June to October is peak season for this, as the sacred creatures scoff salmon en masse. Seeing them is a spellbinding experience which few get to enjoy. Ditto the friendly lodge and its communal, artwork-filled Big House, glorious Pacific Ocean views, king-size beds, acclaimed local cuisine and awesome, meditative serenity.
Find out about the First Nations people
Itineraries at Spirit Bear Lodge also feature visits to First Nations cultural sites: the Kitasoo and Xai’xais have been here for thousands of years, and their totem-heavy Big Houses (meeting places), rock art, wild-food practices and hatcheries are fascinating to discover. There’s also plenty of mythology to learn about – spirit bears, for instance, were requested by Raven, the creator, as a reminder of the ice age – plus supposed Bigfoot sightings to analyse. Staying further east? In the village of Bella Coola, the Petroglyph Gallery displays and sell beautiful Nuxalk masks, baskets, and jewellery. Why not start the Christmas shopping early?
Multi-activity in luxury
Luxury meets adventure at secret, secluded Nimmo Bay, an all-inclusive, nine-room waterside resort reachable only by plane, helicopter or boat. Thrilling programmes here – normally available until mid-October, before the rains come – tend to include the following (deep breath): kayaking, paddleboarding, hiking through the Great Bear Rainforest, whale-watching, bear-viewing, boat tours and gourmet picnics on glaciers. Also possible are upscale fly-fishing escapades, travelling by ‘copter to isolated rivers filled with salmon and trout. Nimmo’s nine spacious wood cabins afford gobsmacking bay views, while the main areas’ fire-heated decks, hot tubs, massages and superb seafood dinners scream indulgence and romance.