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The Great Bear Trail Tour

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Key Information:
Tour Duration: 9 day(s)
Group Size: 4 - 8 people
Destination(s): British Columbia  
Specialty Categories: Wildlife Viewing   Cultural Journey  
Season: June - September
Airfare Included: No
Tour Customizable: Yes
Minimum Per Person Price: 4895 Canadian Dollar (CAD)
Maximum Per Person Price: 4895 Canadian Dollar (CAD)

Our small group (up to 8 people) travels by van, motor boat, canoe, coastal ferry, and float plane, traversing the length of Vancouver Island and then north into the remote Central Coast of British Columbia. These largely uninhabited area are home to 1000 year old trees, rainforests, deep fjords, waterfalls and abandoned villages. Aboriginal people have lived for thousands of years in the regions we explore, their lives shaped by the land, ocean, climate and creatures. As their guests, we explore the favourite haunts of bears in areas known only to our First Nations guides.

Prepare to be mesmerized watching bears roaming rugged coasts, snagging wild salmon, frolicking in rivers or settling down for an afternoon snooze. Seeing a bear, in the wild, if only for a fleeting moment, is a rare and magical experience.

Victoria, BC, to Vancouver, B.C.

Day 1: Tofino, B.C. This tour to the west coast of Vancouver Island begins with a 7:00 am pick-up in Victoria. Heading north up the scenic Island Highway, we stop to pick up other passengers arriving from Vancouver. After stretching our legs at Coombs Country Market, we head west across the spine of Vancouver Island through villages and forested valleys to the towering Douglas fir trees of Cathedral Grove. During an interpretive walk through this ancient grove, our guide will describe the area's unique flora and fauna and the traditional uses of the area's natural resources by First Nation people. Our last leg to the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island takes us through the Vancouver Island Mountain Range and then down to the seaside village of Tofino (pop. 1,655)

This village sits on a narrow peninsula bordered by Pacific Rim National Park Reserve to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the west, north and east. Tourism has largely replaced timber and fishing as the mainstay of the local economy. Tofino lies in the centre of a United Nations World Biosphere Reserve, an ecologically significant area that supports many uncommon plant and animal species. Its scenery, which includes miles of sandy beaches, stands of massive old-growth cedars and a seascape dotted with verdant islands, is breathtaking,
- Meals: On own
- Accommodation: First Nations Waterfront Hotel.

Day 2: Tofino, B.C. Our full day trip takes us into the fjord inlets and sheltered bays of Clayoquot Sound and the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. During low tide, black bears forage for clams, barnacles and crab on rocky shorelines. As we cruise their favorite feeding areas, we keep an eye out for mature males, mother bears and their cubs, as well as younger bears who have recently "gone solo". Other wildlife spotting opportunities include gray whales, orcas, seals, porpoises, eagles and heron.

Local guides are members of the local Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, who are part of the Nuu-chah-nulth (“people of the sea’) language group. This group of 14 tribal bands inhabit the west coast of Vancouver Island and the most northern tip of Washington State. The origins of the Tla-o-qui-aht stem from this joining of different families into one band, and the change of that band, for a time, from peaceful people into the warlike people that expanded their territory to encompass the Esowista peninsula and Meares Island. During the day, our guide will share traditional stories and his lifetime of experience on the water.

Returning to Tofino, we stretch our legs and then board a traditional dugout canoe to paddle over fishing grounds and clambeds. The outgoing tide will aid the canoe on its way to Echachist Island, the site of an old summer village where fishermen and whalers would base themselves for their summer hunts. Once on the island, we walk with our guide through the old growth forest to learn about the plants and places that make the island unique. Then, it’s time to dine on a traditional seafood feast of wild salmon, seasonal fruit, fresh breads and salads.

In the late afternoon we’ll stroll the streets of Tofino and visit the Henry Vickers Gallery, a local First Nation painter known for his vivid coloured paintings of the west coast.
- Meals: Breakfast and lunch
- Accommodation: First Nations Waterfront Hotel.

Day 3: Alert Bay, B.C. After re-joining the Island Highway, we head north up the east coast east coast of Vancouver Island to Campbell River. From here, we leave 90% of the population of Vancouver Island behind us as we venture inland. Traffic thins out considerably as the highway shrinks to single lane, curving around steep hills and mountains. Waterfalls and lakes can be seen from the highway and Roosevelt Elk, deer and bear frequent this area. Dropping down to the ocean, we arrive at the small community of Port McNeill. We catch a local ferry to Cormorant Island and the Village of Alert Bay (pop. 1200).

Often referred to as “Home of the Killer Whale”, Alert Bay is located at the top of Johnstone Strait. The oldest community on northern Vancouver Island, this village was once a key trading post for First Nations people and merchant mariners. The area is rich in aboriginal history and is primarily populated by the Kwakwaka'wakw people (‘those who speak Kwakwala’). Educational institutions throughout the world station researchers here to study First Nations culture and the pristine marine habitat, including orcas.

In the evening one may enjoy a stroll along the waterfront, take in the views from the sundeck, or enjoy a book from the library.
- Meals: Breakfast
- Accommodation: Waterfront Lodge.

Day 4: Alert Bay, B.C. An early morning start finds us on the docks at Alert Bay boarding our covered boat to Knight Inlet, home to one of the largest concentrations of grizzly bears in British Columbia. On this day there's also a good chance of spotting orcas, humpback and minke whales and sea lions.

Located about a two-hour boat ride south of Alert Bay, Knight Inlet is a fjord that juts 105 kilometers deep into the wilderness of the British Columbia mainland. As one of the largest fjords on the B.C. coast, Knight Inlet offers its visitors spectacular scenery amidst steep cliffs that fall away to the deep blues and greens of the glacial-fed water. Silence reigns here, broken only by the slap of the water against the shore and the thunder of nearby waterfalls

Beginning in April, the luxuriant spring growth of sedges, succulents and grasses provides basic nutritional needs for the bears, drawing them from the mountains down to the estuary. Late May to early July is mating season with lots of interesting interaction. After mating season, as the salmon return to the rivers, it is not uncommon for up to 50 bears to be seen within five miles along the shoreline.

Here we drift, paddle and motor quietly around an estuary, looking to spot grizzly bears as they feed on the sedges and grasses at high tide. Low tide brings more bears out, and we may see them turn over large boulders in their search for crabs, isopods and beach barnacles. On some tides we transfer to our flat bottomed skiff to get into the shallows. Our stealthy approach, and the bountiful array of Mother Nature's food, is a combination that yields great grizzly bear spotting opportunities.

In the evening a First Nations fisherman will join our group to prepare a traditional salmon barbeque,
- Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Accommodation: Waterfront Lodge

Day 5: Alert Bay, B.C. Today is a day to explore Alert Bay. After breakfast we visit the Ecological Gardens, a natural wetland fed by an underground spring. A boardwalk winds through the wetland and three nature trails provide enable access to the surrounding area.

Originally, this site provided a water source for the Spenser and Huson's fish saltery that later became a cannery. At the turn of the 20th century a dam was built half way up the hill to store water for the cannery. This resulted the springs at the top of the hill flooding the surrounding area, killing the trees. These dead trees now provide perches for Bald Eagle and Common Raven, Belted Kingfisher, Hooded Merganser and nesting cavities for Violet-green Swallow. In the forest areas one may see Downy Woodpecker, Varied Thrush and Song Sparrow. During spring Hooded Merganser frequent the wetland.

After our visit to the Ecological Gardens we’ll visit the U’mista Cultural Centre. Founded in 1980, U’mista houses potlatch artifacts seized by the Canadian Government during an earlier period of cultural repression. The return of the potlatch artifacts not only provided U'mista's name ('the return of something important'), but it also sparked a general trend toward repatriation of First Nations and cultural artifacts. U'mista now operates a cultural education facility which includes the museum, an extensive art gallery and gift shop. Our tour of Alert Bay concludes with a visit to the Namgis Chiefs’ Burial Grounds.
- Meals: Breakfast.
- Accommodation: Waterfront Lodge.

Day 6: Klemtu, B.C. After leaving Cormorant Island, we head to Port Hardy, the furthermost town on the north tip of Vancouver Island. We board a local flight to the isolated west coast community of Bella Bella. During this flight we cross the open stretch of water between Vancouver Island and Rivers Inlet, where the Central Coast Archipelago begins. Our journey into the isolated reaches of the Inner Passage continues as we transfer to a float plane to take us to the First Nation community of Klemtu on Swindle Island. There are usually locals onboard, heading back home, and perhaps a few backcountry adventurers, looking to lose themselves in this stunning wilderness.

From our float plane, we see a wilderness untouched by man: we are now flying deep into the wilderness of the Inside Passage's protected waters, heading north over a narrow maze of channels, passes, and reaches. Snow and ice coat the peaks of the mountains, and their shoulders plunge to the tideline. Gray whales, orcas, and dolphins and many species of birds are common sights.

We arrive at Klemtu Village (pop. 400) by late afternoon. Located on Swindle Island, this remote village is home to the Kitasoo/Xaixais people and is only accessible by boat or plane. Here, fishing, hunting, food gathering, arts, crafts, cooking, healing, transportation and building all are tied to the natural environment. Central to the Klemtu community is a new traditional Big House that features carved and painted poles of the Kitasoo/Xaixais people. Attached to the Big House is a museum/gallery displaying contemporary Aboriginal artwork and a few local artifacts. Traditional cultural celebrations, including potlatches, singing, dancing, storytelling and art are a spirited aspect of local culture.

Our waterfront accommodation in BC's Great Bear Rainforest is built in the spirit of the First Nations heritage. After settling into our rooms at the lodge, we take a guided interpretative walking tour of Klemtu Village including trailheads to the community's several walking/hiking trails.
- Meals: Breakfast and dinner
- Accommodation: First Nations Waterfront Lodge.

Days 7-8: Klemtu, B.C. Our next two days are spent exploring the remote rivers and estuaries of Princess Royal Island's Kitasoo Spirit Bear Conservancy and the surrounding territory - the favourite haunts of the elusive Kermode or Spirit Bear. BC’s Central Coast is the only place in the world where this sub-species of the black bear dwells; its white colour is the result of a single recessive gene carried by both parents. Wildlife biologists believe the high concentration of Spirit bears on Princess Royal Island is because they are geographically isolated from other black bear populations Many of the Kitasoo/Xaixais people believe the Spirit bears hold super-natural powers. Hence, the name Spirit bear - one that suits its mythical-like presence.

In the Great Bear Rainforest, we stand before 1,000 year-old cedar, fir and spruce trees that soar 30 stories high. Deep fjords, cascading waterfalls, snow-capped peaks, glaciers and great river estuaries provide a feast for the eyes. Wildlife in the area includes grizzly bears, black bears, wolves and many species of birds. Heading west, we discover many inlets, coves, islands and sandy beaches.

Our travels in search of the Spirit Bear take us to some of the 100 or so ancient cultural sites including abandoned native villages and fish traps. Middens, beach or land forms made up of discarded shells, mark ancient sites of human usage or habitation. Guides highlight areas of cultural significance and tell stories of their ancestors and why they chose these locations. These sites are environmentally and culturally sensitive and the preservation of them is a priority for the Kitasoo/Xai'xais people.

A three-hour walking tour of Klemtu highlights the past and present through interpretive story telling. Our visits include the local fish hatchery, fish processing plant and the Big House, a culturally authentic, west coast traditional ceremonial building. We also sample traditional food and local delicacies,
- Meals: Breakfast and lunch on both days.
- Accommodation: First Nations Waterfront Lodge.

Day 9: Fly out. After breakfast we have time to further explore Klemtu Village, purchase local arts, and crafts or just relax. After lunch we take a five minute walk to the local wharf where we catch a float plane for the 25 minute flight to Bella Bella. Here we meet a larger plane for the flight to Vancouver, arriving there in the late afternoon.
- Meals: Breakfast.
- Accommodation: On Own.

Airfare is not included in the tour price.

Price Includes:
- Experienced driver/guide;
- 8 night's accommodation;
- 14 meals;
- Ground transportation from Victoria, B.C. to Vancouver, BC;
- Ferry fees from Vancouver Island to Alert Bay, BC;
- Airfare from Port Hardy, BC, to Swindle Island, BC;
- Airfare from Swindle Island, BC, to Vancouver, BC;
- Guided tours of Tofino and Alert Bay and Klemtu;
- Guided bear tours in Clayoquot Sound;
- Guided bear tour to Knight Inlet;
- Two guided Spirit Bear tours to Princess Royal Island in the Inside Passage;
- Two Eco-cultural tours near Klemtu including the Big House and culturally sensitive wilderness sites.

Price Excludes:
- gratuities,
- 5% GST.

The single supplement is $425 and there is a local payment of $200.