Grizzly bears are the perfect symbol of Canada’s untamed wilderness and to see one up close is both awe inspiring and frightening.
Although these majestic animals are found in many parts of Western Canada, one of the best places to observe large numbers of wild grizzlies is in Knight Inlet on the western coast of British Columbia. Every fall, thousands of salmon migrate from the ocean into the Glendale River to spawn and every year large groups of grizzlies gather for a salmon feast like no other.
From the safety of elevated viewing platforms, visitors to this area can observe the grizzlies as they gather en masse to catch and eat salmon.
In September, Sid and Karran Stefanyk of Red Deer travelled to Knight Inlet to experience a three-day grizzly tour at the Knight Inlet Lodge.
Set on a barge that is tucked into Glendale Cove near the mouth of Knight Inlet, this former fishing lodge proved to be the ideal home base for a spectacular grizzly viewing experience.
“It’s hard to describe what it’s like to see a huge grizzly with massive claws just a few metres away from you,” said Karran. “We counted 15 wild bears on the first day — including one female with three cubs. Being there was an amazing experience and an absolute privilege.”
The couple flew to Comox and stayed at Campbell River before travelling by float plane for a three-day, two-night stay at Knight Inlet Lodge. Staying in an accommodation that is attached to a barge was an interesting experience all on its own.
“You can feel some movement when you are on it and when the tides go in or out the placement of the lodge can change as much as 17 feet,” explained Sid. “It is rustic and there isn’t any phone service, cellphone service or many other conveniences, but that is part of the appeal of it.
“We really enjoyed the food and the staff at the lodge are excellent.”
A typical day at Knight Inlet Lodge is filled with tours and activities and the Stefanyks felt like they hit the ground running.
“Within about 15 minutes of landing at the lodge we were on our first grizzly tour,” Sid said. “There were typically three to four tours to choose from each day or you could go on a full day tour. There were rainforest hikes, cedar hikes, bear tracking hikes, whale watching tours, a boat tour down another river to see black bears and other wildlife and grizzly watching from the tree stands and platforms.
“By the end of the day, we slept well.”
Evenings at the lodge were spent relaxing around a large stone fireplace with a glass of wine and activities like storytelling. Although there was a hot tub, the Stefanyks found they were too tired to use it after the full day of activities and retired early each night.
The wildlife surrounding the lodge was spectacular and the couple enjoyed watching bald eagles, herons, black bears and deer in their natural environment, but the grizzly tours were the absolute highlight of the visit.
“It was surreal to be so near these wild grizzlies,” said Sid. “It wasn’t like being at a zoo. In this case, we were the caged animals high in our protected space above the river.”
Watching the bears fishing for salmon was thrilling every time, but on a couple of occasions the pair found themselves up in the tree stands a little longer than planned. The most exciting incident occurred when a group of grizzlies began fighting below them. The altercation lasted nearly 30 minutes and the group of observers were amazed at the power of these incredible creatures.
“We’ve travelled to other destinations and had some great experiences, but this tour proved to be one of the best travel experiences we have ever had,” said Karran.
“I have a greater respect for these animals and a greater desire to protect them now that I have seen them up close and learned more about them from the naturalists at the lodge.
“It was an experience of a lifetime and it was right in our backyard.”
If you go:
• The Knight Inlet Lodge was destroyed by fire on Sept. 25, shortly after the Stefanyks’ visit, but the lodge is being rebuilt and plans are in place to have it operational by May 2013. Rates for a two-night/three-day grizzly adventure start at $1,325 per person during the peak season of Aug. 25 to Oct. 14. These rates include transportation from Campbell River to the lodge, meals and all tours.
• Bears can be seen at any time of year in this part of B.C., but they are most plentiful during the salmon run. Lower rates are available for lodge stays and tours during other seasons. Regardless of the season of travel, each grizzly tour is different. “This is wildlife, not a choreographed show,” Karran pointed out. “Whatever you see is a gift and you take joy from it.”
• For more information about grizzly tours at Knight Inlet Lodge, visit www.grizzlytours.com.
Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.
“In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”
— Baba Dioum, Senegalese environmentalist