Both times I landed in the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia Canada it felt other-worldly. Once by floatplane in the southern part of the fjords and once in an airplane surrounded by steep mountains in Bella Coola. I could hardly believe that a landscape and experience like this was so accessible to people in North America. Normally one has to travel to the far corners of the world like Antarctica or New Zealand to find a wilderness like this.
I’ve spent time in Bella Coola Valley, considered the gateway of the Great Bear Rainforest, as well as in and around Nimmo Bay Resort in the southern part of the rainforest. Both times I was lured into this special part of the world and left a little piece of my heart there, hoping to return again.
What is the Great Bear Rainforest
As its name may suggest – it’s a special place of beauty; a pristine example of nature and everything green. It’s considered the largest intact temperate rainforest on the planet.
Lush green forests of mossy cedar trees, fjords that jut out of the water reaching up into low-hanging clouds, and a vastness of wildlife are all found here. It is a world of fjords, rain forests, bears, whales, First Nations, waterfalls, and remote living.
This is a place that photographers and outdoor lovers dream of. It’s the gateway into Mother Nature’s soul.
Where is the Great Bear Rainforest
The Great Bear Rainforest runs 250 miles along B.C.’s Pacific coast from just north of Vancouver to the Alaskan panhandle. It encompasses 15.8 million acres; it’s roughly the size of Ireland.
Giving Back to the Earth
The trees and soil here store more carbon per hectare than any of the world’s tropical rainforests, including the Amazon. More than 1,000 tonnes of carbon are stored in a single hectare of coastal rainforest, making the Great Bear Rainforest a crucial shield against global climate instability. But when trees are cut for logging or land clearing, carbon dioxide escapes back into the atmosphere. This is why portions of the Great Bear Rainforest is now protected or off limits to logging.
Wildlife in the Great Bear Rainforest
People typically travel to the region for the wildlife viewing opportunities, and there are plenty! It is home to the great “Spirit Bear” or Kermode bear. It is a unique subspecies of black bear with a recessive gene that produces white fur only found in the Great Bear Rainforest . But you have to be pretty lucky to see them as there are only estimated to be about 400 of them!
I never did see a Kermode, and quite frankly, I actually had trouble seeing regular bears…but that’s because I have a bear curse. Luckily that curse was broken on my second trip to the Great Bear Rainforest in the Bella Coola Valley. There I had a successful bear watching trip!
In addition to bears, expect to see a myriad of other wildlife like seals, many species of whales (included Orcas!), eagles, dolphins, and salmon. The waters of Great Bear sustain 20 percent of the world’s wild salmon!
First Nation Culture
The Great Bear Rainforest is home to over 26 different First Nations tribes. Their history in and around the Great Bear Rainforest dates back to settlements in existence for more than 11,000 years. They live intertwined with this pristine environment and teach us what it is to live in harmony with nature. They are the keepers of this region in story, art, and actions.
In my trips to the Great Bear Rainforest I have been lucky enough to do a few tours with the various First Nations groups in the region to learn more about this connection.
Copper Sun Tours out of Bella Coola does bear watching tours, hiking, as well as an incredible walk through ancient petroglyphs in the old growth forest. The rock carvings are estimated to be over 5,000 years old and they tell the stories of creation and the Nuxalk culture.
Sea Wolf Tours in Alert Bay will teach you about the history of the First Nations tribes in the area and how they related to the land, wildlife, and storytelling. The U’mista Cultural Center houses an incredible collection of exhibits that will educate you about the culture of the region, the residential school past, and the traditions around potlatch. The center was created to to ensure the survival of all aspects of the cultural heritage of the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw.
See a listing of all of the First Nation Tours in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Even in this remote area, you’ll find unique little communities that have sprung up to service the tourism industry. One that I fell in love with was Sullivan Bay. This little community of 40 to 60 people started back in 1929 as a provisioning base for the Great Bear Rainforest area of BC and still serves as that, but it’s a bit more modern now.
It’s only open in the summer season with about 10 colorful houses built on floating platforms. You’ll find a general store with an air horn hanging on the door and a little sign that tells people to blow it if they need something. There is also a gas station (for boats), a mechanic, and laundry mat. They even have an ‘airport’ right next to the golf course; it only has one hole. That’s right, it’s a par 1 and you should expect to never find your ball again!
Where to Stay around the Great Bear Rainforest
Small communities throughout the region offer both affordable and luxurious accommodations.
Here are the places I stayed or visited:
Bella Coola Valley
Bella Coola Grizzly Tours is an affordable place to stay. They rent out individual cabins, 4×4’s and offer some of the best bear watching guiding in the region. They also offer Boat tours of the inlet.
Bella Coola Grizzly Tours Wilderness Resort Reviews
Tallheo Cannery is the most unique place to stay in the region. Located just outside of Bella Coola you will need a boat to take you out to this abandoned Fish Cannery turned B&B. If you are a history or photography buff – you’ll want to stay here!
Tallheo Cannery and Guest House Reviews
Tweedsmuir Lodge – A more upscale choice for the Bella Coola valley, yet still rustic nestled among the mountains. Great location for Bear Watching and hiking.
Read reviews on Tweedsmuir Lodge
Inside the Remote Rainforest
Nimmo Bay Resort – Go further into the Great Bear Rainforest to experience this one of a kind floating lodge. I stayed at Nimmo Bay Resort a few years ago on a bear watching trip and it’s one of the coolest resorts in the world! It floats on the water and is powered by a waterfall!
Read reviews of Nimmo Bay Resort
How to Get There
Access to the wilderness of the Great Bear Rainforest is usually by seaplane, ferry, cruise ship and charter tour boat. There is only one way in by road, you can drive into Bella Coola, but it’s not an easy drive.
Travel by floatplane from Port Hardy to Klemtu and Bella Bella. Or charter a floatplane or helicopter to take you into a remote destination like Nimmo Bay.
You can fly into Bella Coola from Vancouver.
Great Bear Rainforest Photography
During my time there, I was able to do a lot of photography of the region, here are some of my favorite shots of the Great Bear Rainforest.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Destination BC on these trips. However all of the opinions expressed here are my own.