See Grizzly Bears by Boat in British Columbia

by  Laura Motta | Jul 5, 2012
Bears in British Columbia, Canada
Bears in British Columbia, Canada / benkrut/iStock

On the rugged coast of British Columbia, 40 miles from the Alaska border, there’s a wildlife park without trails or camp sites. There is no potable water and no boating. Fishing and hunting are not permitted, and there are stern warnings against bringing pets. Visitors can only enter with a guide, and only a few companies are authorized to lead tours.

Such delicate handling of the terrain might seem daunting for visitors. But the careful preservation of this land, known as the Khutzeymateen sanctuary, is a boon for its fuzzy inhabitants. Dozens of grizzly bears call the park home, and if you happen to join one of those guided tours, you’ll get an incredible glimpse of these bears in the wild.

Prince Rupert Adventure Tours, which is based in the laidback coastal town of the same name, takes guests out to the sanctuary on a sleek yellow boat, which allows for some up-close-and-personal grizzly viewing.

prince-rupert / Laura Motta

There’s plenty to see before the boat even reaches the Khutzeymateen. You’ll sail from Prince Rupert past soaring peaks, forested islands, and seals snoozing on outcroppings of rock. On our trip, we were tailed by a pod of enormous killer whales for part of our journey.

Inside the park, our genial guide, Norm, offered insights into grizzly diet and behavior, and carefully managed our expectations. Occasionally, boats travel into the Khutzeymateen and bear sightings are scarce. "Maybe there’s grizzly bear bingo, and they’re busy," he offered. No explanations were necessary when we traveled, however. We saw nine bears on our half-day tour, including a mother with her cubs, an enormous 800-pound male, and an exceptionally diligent young bear who we spied digging for clams along the shore. The quietness of the boat – and the fearlessness of grizzlies when it comes to humans – means that the bears are undisturbed by the close contact.

inside-the-sanctuary / Laura Motta

Such remote and protected lands, however, are still fairly accessible to travelers. The Khutzeymateen can be visited as part of an Alaska cruise. Both Oceania and Silversea offer itineraries that include Prince Rupert. Or, it can be reached via the Alaska Ferry, or Canada’s VIA Rail train, which travels to Prince Rupert as part of its scenic "Skeena" route. Prince Rupert Adventure Tours offers a 6-hour grizzly viewing tour for $195 per person, including lunch. Our guide, Norm, posts his bear-sighting videos on YouTube.

See our British Columbia destination guide for more trip-planning information, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, packages, and more travel deals.

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