Wildlife Guide - Bears

Farewell Harbour Lodge is located on the edge of the Great Bear Rainforest, a protected area that spans around 6.4 million hectares (that is about the size of Ireland!) on the West Coast of British Columbia. From our location we are able to reach numerous places to view bears and experience once in a lifetime moments with these apex predators in their own habitat. It is a privilege to spend time with them and to be able to guide bear viewing excursions for a living, but as many people travel from places in the world where bears are not common, we thought it would be a good idea to put together this short guide. Hopefully it helps to take away some of the guess work when preparing for a bear trek with Farewell Harbour Lodge!

  Photo: John Lehmann


There are eight different species of bears, The Great Bear Rainforest is home to two of those. The Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) which is part of the brown bear family and the Black bear (Ursus americanus). While they both live in similar habitat they are very different and are rarely found in the same place at the same time.

As you can see from the diagram to the right there are ways to tell some of the differences between them that doesn't rely on coloring. We have seen grizzly bears that are almost black and black bears who look blonde! The easiest way to tell the difference from a distance is actually their shape, as you can see grizzly bears have a shoulder hump on their back as they have very large muscles here for digging. Black bears do not have a hump and have a flatter profile including their faces which are very straight. Black bears also have taller, more pointed ears whereas grizzlies have short rounded ears (that look really soft!). 


  The Great Bear Rainforest, home to thousands of species, stretches 400 kilometres (250 miles) along the Pacific coast of British Columbia. It is a part of the Pacific temperate rainforest which is the largest coastal temperate rainforest in the world.

The Great Bear Rainforest was officially recognized in February 2016 when an agreement was made to permanently protect 85% of the old-growth forest from industrial logging. This is incredibly important, not only to protect the habitat for creatures such as wolves, cougar, bears and salmon, but also to combat the global climate instability we are facing. A single hectare has been shown to store more than 1,000 tonnes of carbon! 

The Great Bear Rainforest also marks most of the coastline of the Great Bear Sea. Waters that stretch from Campbell River on Vancouver Island to the border of BC and Alaska. This area is one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world and supports wildlife from Humpback whales to sea anemones.



While it can be incredibly difficult to know exactly where a bear is going to be at any given time, we have a lot of fun out in the wilderness tracking bears in their natural habitat in the hopes of seeing them. Bears are omnivores meaning they eat both plants and animals with plants making up most of their diet. They are also opportunistic feeders, so they will eat what is available to them, and will move to be where food sources are the richest depending on the season and habitat. Knowing what each season offers helps us to know where to look for bears. As our climate changes, however, some of their main food sources, like salmon, are becoming less consistent so we are finding that bear behaviour is sometimes less predictable than it used to be.  

When bears first emerge from their dens in higher elevations, Grizzly moms with their cubs and sub adults are the first to come down to the lush, green estuaries to forage on new, emerging greens like protein-rich sedge, skunk cabbage and salmonberry shoots/flowers. 

Late Spring/Summer

Grizzlies are found in estuaries digging up carbohydrate-rich roots and tubers along with continuing to forage on sedge and other estuary plants . As the berries start to ripen in early summer, we see bears moving between the estuaries and the edge of the forest where they feed on different native coastal berries like salmonberry, huckleberry and salal berry as well as other fruits like crab apples.

Late Summer/Fall

Grizzlies start to anticipate the return of the salmon and will stay close the mouths of the rivers. Here they forage for tubers, roots and sedge while they await the spawning salmon to move back up the rivers. When salmon returns are high, Grizzlies primarily eat salmon and can be found further up the rivers catching salmon as they return to their spawning pools. If salmon returns are low, Grizzlies will continue to feed on sedge, roots and berries. In the Fall, Grizzlies enter a state of hyperphagia, a time of voracious feeding as they try to pack on as much weight as possible to sustain themselves through their long winter sleep.

All Season

When the tide is low, bears will take advantage of the exposed intertidal zone for the great menu of protein-rich marine life that is found there.  They graze on seaweeds, barnacles, mussels and crabs as they move along the shoreline, flipping rocks and foraging on the go before the tide rises again. This is where we most often see Black bears.


  If you have ever read the children's book "We're going on a bear hunt" then you will have a good idea of what trekking in the Canadian wilderness can be like! On our walking tours we can be climbing over tree trunks, squelching through mud, wading through shallow water and sitting in glorious sunshine. You really need to be prepared for anything so the below list should help you with the essentials.
-CAMERA!! (you are not going to want to miss capturing these moments)
- Layers: it can be cooler on the boats than walking in the estuaries so it is a good idea of have layers you can remove easily (we will provide rain gear)
- Rubber Boots: We do also provide rubber boots, you will need them for crossing small creeks and squelching through mud.
-Binoculars: Sometimes we can spot bears from a good distance so it is helpful to be able to tell the difference between a rock bear and a real one!
- Sunscreen: Bears are incredibly sensitive to smells so with this one we ask you to try to get one that isn't heavily scented.


If you would like to find out more please head to our contact page and we will respond within 1 business day!

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