I saw it out in the green field, a blackish-brown dot in the distance. A few people started gathering looking in the same direction. I was on a mission to see grizzly bears in BC Canada, and FINALLY, this was it.

You see, I have a Grizzly bear curse.

No matter what I do, I’ve been unable to see one in the wild.

I know – most people wouldn’t call that a curse, they would call it lucky. But I’ve always wanted to see and photograph a grizzly – in a safe situation of course. I’ve seen Polar bears in Canada, and even a couple of black bears; but never their brown cousins.

But recently, I finally managed it!

If you’re curious about bear watching and viewing bears in the wild safely, this guide is for you. I’ll tell you about my experience bear watching in Bella Coola (BC Canada), touch on some bear safety tips I learned, and show you 3 different ways you can go bear watching in BC.

2021 UpdateKnow before you go: Make sure you check this resource out prior to traveling to Bella Coola British Columbia. This has updates on COVID, wildfires, and border information for Bella Coola.

My (failed) History with seeing Grizzly Bears in BC

Like most people I am terrified of grizzlies. They’ve been haunting me my whole life. I still remember when I was 11 years old on a road trip with my parents and we arrived in Glacier National Park right when a woman was hiking and was killed by a bear. It was all over the news and it freaked me out at that young age.

Of course, my parents still made me go out hiking, and I remember being terrified at every turn of the trail. Luckily, I never saw one on that hike.

Later, there were 4 times I was expecting to see grizzlies in my travels, and they never appeared. Most of these failed excursions were in British Columbia – normally a mecca for viewing grizzly bears.

Nimmo Bay resort
Nimmo Bay

Where I’ve Been Bear Watching

I’ve been to Nimmo Bay in the Great Bear Rainforest, Lake Clark National Park in Alaska, and went floating through a salmon river with Canada’s self-described Bear Whisperer – and never saw a bear. There was even a time when there was a Grizzly in captivity at Kicking Horse Mountain in BC Canada, and he never came out even though I was there for 2 days.

Each of these trips were in bear season – Sep/Oct – and yet no bears!

Seriously – how can anyone have that bad of bear watching luck?

All of my hosts on these trips couldn’t understand how I could be so unlucky. So that’s why I decided I was bear cursed.

Read about a couple of my past close but failed attempts:

Breaking the Grizzly Bear Curse

I Went Bear Watching in the Great Bear Rainforest and Didn’t See a Bear!

Never Give Up

But they say you should never give up – and that’s exactly what my friend Geoff believed.

Geoff was the person who invited me to go out with the Bear Whisperer in BC Canada. When we didn’t see any bears – he was of course disappointed, but he never gave up.

I saw him a year later, and he was determined for me to see bears in BC, this time around his home – the Cariboo Chilcoten Coast.

“This will happen,” he said unwavering, “we’ll send you to Bella Coola and you’ll definitely see a grizzly there.”

He proceeded to give me a big bear hug (yes – that pun was intended), and started planning the logistics.

3 Destinations Where You’ll Find BC’s Best Bear Viewing This Fall

Bella Coola Canada – The Heart of the Great Bear Rainforest

Bella Coola Valley is considered the gateway to the Great Bear Rainforest; a temperate rain forest on the Pacific coast of British Columbia, Canada comprising 6.4 million hectares. The valley lies 62 miles inland from the Pacific through a maze of beautiful fjords. The entire valley is remote and wild with only small populations of First Nations Nuxalk and long time residents.

There are a few ways to arrive in the remote Bella Coola valley; by Hwy 20 from Williams Lake, by scheduled flights from Pacific Coastal Airlines, or by BC Ferries or private boat. Any way that you arrive guarantees jaw-dropping scenic views.

Arriving to Bella Coola By Plane

I arrived by chartered plane.

As the small plane broke through the dense clouds I nearly jumped out of my seat in shock – there were big mountains on both sides of the plane – and we were landing in the narrow area between them. I suddenly felt claustrophobic. My adrenaline spiked. If I get this nervous landing, I thought, how will I ever handle seeing a grizzly bear!

The plane came to a bouncy landing on the little runway, I loosened the grip on my seat and let the blood flow back into my fingers. As I got off the little plane and stepped down onto the tarmac, I looked up in awe at the towering, jagged Coastal mountains, blue sky, and fluffy clouds…I like Bella Coola, I thought. I was here to see bears in BC, but hell…it was love at first site with these landscapes, and this was only the airport!

bella coola coastal mountains
bella coola valley at sunset

Local photographer, Michael Bednar, met me with a big smile at the tiny airport building. He would be my guide for my 5 days in the Bella Coola Valley.

We drove the short distance to our cabins at Bella Coola Grizzly Tours Wilderness Resort and settled in reviewing our plan for the week.

Bella Coola Grizzly Tours Wilderness Resort

The resort is made up of a handful of Aspen log cabins nestled in the woods, with full kitchens and big porches.

Note: During the pandemic in 2020/2021 constructed more cabins!

This family-owned business is just what you expect to see in this remote part of the world. No chain hotels, no big businesses. Owner, Leonard Ellis, has been guiding people to grizzly bears in British Columbia for decades.

Bella Coola Lodging cabins

Like many people in the region, he started as a Grizzly hunting and fishing guide in the region. However, as regulations have changed in the region, he transferred his incredibly acute Grizzly spotting skills to the growing business of wildlife viewing and photography.

Leonard is a good guy who has figured out how to make lemonade out of lemons, and I really enjoyed his company and his immense amount of knowledge about the wildlife and region.

Bear Safety Tips

Before any good bear watching outing, you’ll want to ensure you’re comfortable going out into the wilderness and potentially encountering a bear. Maybe ‘comfortable’ is the wrong word, because I’m never totally comfortable with it. ‘Prepared’ is probably a more accurate word.

The thought of accidentally running into a bear or surprising one is a big fear of mine. However, because I learned my bear safety, I know what I’m supposed to do if I encounter one in that situation. Namely – don’t run!

Michael went over Bear Safety 101 with me before we went out the next morning.

“You don’t need to be afraid, but you need to be aware.”

Then he got out something I had never seen before in my previous bear safety talks – a bear spray TEST canister.

bear spray training canister

I know bear spray seems pretty simple – pull out bottle and spray – however I had always wondered if I would be able to at the time when I needed to. You don’t really want to be learning how to use your bear spray while one is charging you!

The training can of spray was just like the real thing, but with no agitating or harmful product dispensed. You can get the feeling of how to take off the safety and how to use a sweeping motion to spray a charging bear.

How to Use Bear Spray

3 Ways to See Bears in BC’s Bella Coola Valley

There are 3 different ways you can view bears in the Bella Coola Valley. During my 5 days there, I was able to try them all with varying degrees of success.

1. Bear Watching Platforms

Bear watching platforms are timber platforms built at good spots by the river where you can safely watch grizzly bears fish or move around.

They normally have some sort of electric fence protection around them. Plus – grizzly bear watching platforms are less intrusive to the bears.

Seeing my first Grizzly Bear at Tweedsmuir Park Lodge and Platforms

Tweedsmuir Provincial Park is one of the largest parks in BC Canada and it’s a great place to do wildlife viewing. The Tweedsmuir lodge inside the park is not your typical park lodge – it’s quite high-end – but still rustic. The buildings are all made of timber with red roofs. The lodge sits in the middle with a number of chalets arranged in a semi-circle looking out onto a grassy field, the river, with the steep Coastal mountains in the background.

They have two sets of platforms built right on the river. You do need to be staying at the lodge to use their platforms. However, I had special permission from them for this outing since I was being hosted by Cariboo Chilcoten Coast Visitor Bureau.

I was sitting on the lodge porch admiring the view and waiting for Michael and suddenly I saw the brown figure in the thick green grass in the field in the distance. At that same time a lodge guide also saw the bear and we all slowly walked out a little way from the chalets to watch it.

It felt surreal to finally see a grizzly. I was giddy as I pulled out my camera gear trying not to move too fast, and thinking about my bear spray lessons. I was ready! However, the big bear just went about its business eating and ambling along.

Not One, but Two Grizzlies At Once!

Suddenly it stood on its hind legs and looked across the field. Our eyes followed its gaze and we saw a second grizzly entering the grassy field. I’m not an expert on grizzlys, but I do know enough about them to understand that they are solo creatures…and territorial. I suddenly felt like I was back on the plane doing a bumpy landing, my whole body tensed up.

The two grizzlies watched each other and slowly took a few steps towards each other. I got my camera settings ready, sort of hoping I was going to be able to catch a confrontation on camera. However, in the end, they basically had a stare off until the dominant bear won and the other left. No bear fights today.

Tweedsmuir Park Lodge Bear Guides

The guide decided it was safe to walk slowly out to the platform by the river. Up until then we had just been watching this whole scene from the lodge area. This meant leaving the safety of the lodge and walking in the open. We all followed the guide onto a wooded trail not saying a word and on high alert. I felt as if we were walking along where we just saw the 2nd bear, however I also trusted the guide that she knew the area and the directions the bears went.

We made it to a small little platform up in a tree that overlooked the river. I don’t think I was ever so happy to make it to a tree before! We set up our camera gear and like clockwork the bear we saw earlier started ambling into view in the river. I was amazed that the guide knew the bear patterns so well as to situate us right where the bear was heading.

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