Great Bear Rainforest Trip Summary and Travel Information
This is the report I filed following my first visit to the Great Bear Rainforest in 2009. I have since led tours back to the area in 2013, 2015 and 2016.
Ever since I read about the Great Bear Rainforest being set aside for conservation purposes, I wanted to visit the area. For some reason, it took a few years to finally arrange a trip there, despite the fact that it was almost in my “back yard.”
It’s an incredible place. Spirit bears, black bears, grizzly bears, humpback whales, porpoises seals, eagles and other wildlife highlighted the visit. The scenery is pretty spectacular too.
You will find information on my visit, my guides and the equipment I needed to make it a successful adventure into the British Columbian wilderness.
I will be leading photo tours back to the Great Bear Rainforest in 2017 and 2019. Learn more about the tours here.
See More Great Bear Rainforest Photos
Reaching your departure point in the Great Bear Rainforest may take some time. Launch points vary depending on your tour operator or ship. Some boats leave from smaller towns, such as Bella Bella, Hartley Bay or Klemtu, so you may need to take a combination of flights and/or water taxis coming from Vancouver, BC. Keep in mind that most airlines operate small planes to this area, so carry-on and checked baggage limits are often quite strict. Pacific Coastal Airlines has a generous 50 pound checked baggage limit, but is quite strict about carry-on weight.
Late September was marked as one of the better times to see bears due to increased salmon activity in the creeks and inlets of the Great Bear. The weather is generally wet, but sightings were quite good throughout much of the week. May trips may offer nice grizzly sightings as they feast on sedge grasses.
Aside from the flights up, and the odd taxi ride, most of the trip was spent onboard a boat. See below.
Aside from the boat that was my home for most of the trip, lodging varies based on the starting point. I’ve used lodging in both Prince Rupert and Shearwater (near Bella Bella).
Eagle Bluff B&B
Fine accommodations along Prince Rupert’s waterfront. Wireless Internet service is available, and a hearty breakfast is provided in the morning.
Rooms are cheap and if you book in the low season you might be able to get an upgrade to their waterfront building. The back building has extremely basic, dorm-style rooms.
Ocean Adventures Charter Co.
Trish and Eric Boyum were my guides and hosts aboard the Great Bear II, the vessel that served as our home for 9 days as we explored the Great Bear Rainforest. I chose them based in part on the recommendation of Ian McCallister, a photographer and conservationist who is known for his efforts to preserve the region over the last decade or two. I picked Ian’s brain after seeing him featured in a TV special on the rainforest, and he recommended Eric and Trish.
They run tours in spring and late summer/fall with a variety of concentrations and locations. The area is so huge that there are tons of different islands and inlets to explore. As the park (which is relatively young) management gets established and they work with the native communities to outline some of their regulations, there is more talk of limiting the number of charters and tours that visit certain areas. Eric and Trish have been leading tours there for 12 years and have a great relationship with several of the communities, and also a deep fondness for the area and the wildlife, so it’s a safe bet they will continue to be one of the best options to lead tours into the area.
There are only 5 guests at a time on the boat, making it one of the smaller, more intimate tours available.
Mention my name if you decide to book!
What I Packed
It was a tight fit. The float planes that fly into some of the remote locations in BC have strict weight restrictions. If you are over the limit (pretty easy to do if you’re a photographer) expect to pay an added fee for the excess weight.
As always, I had my handy travel compressor bags to save space. I was visiting a temperate rainforest in late September, and packed accordingly. Warm hat, gloves and thermal underwear were musts, along with a good waterproof rain jacket and rain pants. Rubber boots or hip-waders are needed as well, as there were several instances in which we had to make “wet landings” during shore excursions (stepping into the shallows rather than on dry land).
Sun glasses and sun screen are good to have, just in case (you never know, the sun could show itself). Also be sure to bring a book or some other form of entertainment, in case you’re prone to cabin fever.
Recommended Photo Gear
Some notes on shooting in the Great Bear: It is generally a dark environment, due to typically wet or overcast weather and the wooded surroundings. A tripod, good digital camera body that handles high ISO well (e.g., Nikon D4, Nikon D800, Canon 1DX, Canon 5D Mark III, ) and a 2.8 and/or Image Stabilized lens are all tools that can help produce better photos in tough conditions. Much of the exploration along inlets and rivers is done in the Zodiac. I had success using my tripod as a monopod for my 500mm lens and shooting while seated along the sides of the Zodiac, and other times by propping the lens on the edge of the Zodiac. This is feasible only if there’s room and if you have understanding fellow travelers. I was lucky to have both.
A good rain cover for your photo gear is a necessity.