I’ve been lucky enough to see grizzly bears in the wild in glorious British Columbia, Western Canada. It was a real once in a lifetime experience and something that I certainly won’t forget. Even luckier, I stayed at two of the top lodges for bear watching on Vancouver Island - Sonora Resort and Knight Inlet Lodge. Both of these lodges offer exceptional grizzly bear watching but the overall experience is very different.
Here’s my lowdown on each lodge. If you’re on the fence about where to do your grizzly tour when you're visiting Canada, this should help you choose which one will work for you. Luxury travellers will love Sonora Resort, while Knight Inlet offers a more rustic wilderness retreat.
A member of Relais & Chateaux, Sonora Resort is the ultimate example of wilderness luxury. Situated amongst the Discovery Islands, which are only accessible by air or boat, it’s beautifully isolated and the setting is out of this world. You can reach the resort by helicopter or seaplane from Vancouver, by water taxi from Campbell River or by seaplane from Seattle.
I was lucky enough to arrive by helicopter, which takes around 50 minutes flying over Vancouver Island. As soon as stepped off the chopper, I was greeted by the wonderful staff, who were so welcoming that I immediately felt at home. The views from the windows of each room are breath taking, overlooking the lake and the lush green mountains beyond. From start to finish, it’s a five star experience.
The resort itself is gorgeous, but the highlight of my stay at Sonora was most definitely the grizzly bear tour. In a small group, we took a brief boat ride up to Bute Inlet and then a truck through the rainforest to start our wildlife adventure. Our first stop was the river, where there were so many bears I gave up counting! The grizzlies were gathered round the rapids in search of salmon, leaping in the water. It was spectacular.
We stood safely on the viewing platforms only 10 feet from the bears, so it’s a really up close and personal experience. From there, we moved to an enclosed lookout around 30 feet high, where we saw a mother and her cubs frolicking in the stream without a care in the world. All in all, the bear watching trip takes about 5 hrs and it’s worth every single penny.
Peak season for seeing grizzly bears at Sonora is late August, September and October, but it’s not just the bears that draw you here.
The seasonally-inspired dinners are superb, the world-class cellar offers excellent wine and the breakfasts are scrumptious. What’s more, the lodge offers everything from salmon fishing to river rafting and from cultural trips to helicopter glacier tours. If you like to chill, the outdoor pool overlooks the lake and mountains, there’s a 12-seat movie cinema and a network of hiking trails start from the front door.
While Sonora Resort provides a classic luxury wilderness retreat, Knight Inlet Lodge offers more rustic, quirky bear watching on Vancouver Island.
Located along the largest fjord on the British Columbia coast, it’s a remote floating village with comfortable rooms, large decking areas and hard-to-beat views. The accommodation is rustic and buffet-style food is served in a relaxed atmosphere where you chat with fellow guests about the excitement of your day.
Arriving to Knight Inlet by seaplane is a fantastic experience – I saw a mother and her cubs as we came into land, right next to the floating lodge. Knight Inlet is all about wildlife, and whether it’s bears, birds or sea life, you will not be disappointed. Glendale Cove in Knight Inlet is home to one of the largest concentrations of grizzly bears in British Columbia and, in peak season, it’s common for there to be upwards of 40 bears within 10 kilometres of the lodge.
Here, bear watching begins in late April, when the grizzlies return to the estuary from their winter dens and this is the best time to see mothers with their tiny cubs. In summer, the estuary is filled with berries, which keeps the bears in the area and bears are seen will into the fall. On top of that, dolphins are common throughout the spring, Orca whales can be spotted from July and humpback whales arrive in September!
I stayed at Knight Inlet in September, when the weather can change quite quickly, but don’t let that worry you. The lodge will supply you with warm waterproof jackets & trousers if needed. We went out on a boat which gets you up close & personal with these wonderful animals. The first day I saw at least 30 bears. It was truly magical. As well as grizzly bears, I saw some pretty impressive bird life – especially the Bald Eagle.
If you want to get back to nature, be surrounded with beautiful scenery and meet fellow wildlife enthusiasts, then Knight Inlet is the place to go. There’s nowhere in the world quite like it and I think it should be on everyone’s bucket list!
If you’re interested in a grizzly bear tour, I can tailor-make your entire trip to Canada and recommend the best lodges for your stay on Vancouver Island and in British Columbia. I can put together flights, accommodation, bespoke touring and vehicle hire to suit your plans – simply contact Sam for first-hand advice and to start planning your trip! For more ideas, see our Canada Tailor-made holidays.