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Bears of Bute

Fall brings cooler temperatures, changing leaves and opportunities for new adventures. The most significant indicator of the shifting season in B.C. is when salmon begin their journey upriver to spawn, triggering another natural part of the cycle, bears. Bears venture down to the river banks to feast on the returning salmon and fatten up for the long winter ahead. One of the best places in B.C. to witness this ecosystem in action is at Bute Inlet. Located in the traditional territories of the Homalco First Nation, the glacier-fed Orford River experiences high returns of salmon, making it a popular spot for grizzly bears to frequent. Campbell River tour operators work in partnership with Homalco First Nations to bring guests to Bute Inlet to view, this natural spectacle in action. The tour includes a 2hr boat trip up to Bute Inlet where the possibilities to see humpback whales, orcas, dolphins, bald eagles and seals is very real. Once you reach the inlet, a Homalco guide will lead the tour driving you to various viewing platforms to watch the bears in their natural habitats. 

We sat down with Kelsie Robinson, a Homalco Councillor and tour guide with Homalco Wildlife and Cultural Tours. To give us the low-down on what makes Bute Inlet such a unique spot and what to expect on a bear watching tour.

What makes this area of B.C. so unique and different from the rest of Canada? 

While every part of Canada has something special to offer, those that live and visit B.C. can agree that this province has a certain kind of magic. “B.C. is such a unique part of Canada, being the westernmost province and having stunningly beautiful coastal mountains that give way to the formation of deep inlets which are dotted all along the coast (like Bute!) – which is home for Salmon and the infamous grizzly bear; an animal that attracts thousands of international guests a year. There is so much to do in Campbell River, that the rest of Canada may not have in-store,” says Kelsie Robinson

What kind of experience can travellers expect to have when visiting Bute? 

Kelsie shares, “Travellers can expect to have a marine trip followed up by a unique land bear viewing experience in Bute Inlet. The response I often get from guests is that it’s like “stepping into another world,” which is pretty accurate. There is an immense sense of tradition, culture and pride that the Homalco people have in Bute Inlet, which is mainly run by Homalco First Nation guides.  Working for Homalco Wildlife and Cultural Tours gives the guides a sense of pride in being able to offer exceptional experiences while in compliance with the Commercial Bear Viewing Associations guidelines. ” 

What is it like on the Orford River? Any specific experiences that travellers should look out for?

“The Orford River has a teal colour due to the above glacier that feeds into it, so beauty is one thing. Watching the salmon swim up the river is an incredible phenomenon, observing the ritual of the Chum Salmon spawning in the river is a unique experience; the salmon slap the gravel sideways to make a spot to lay their eggs, and the males fight each other for the females, it’s nothing short of amazing,” says Kelsie.

What other wildlife can travellers expect to see when in Bute and surrounding areas?

“Guests have a chance to see marine life such as humpback whales, killer whales, sea lions, seals, pacific white-sided dolphins, and Dall’s porpoises as we head to Bute Inlet. It isn’t uncommon to see plenty of bald eagles, ducks and guests may even get to see beavers or a herd of Roosevelt elk in the inlet. A timid black bear may even appear.” says Kelsie 

Are there any trip-planning items that travellers should be aware of?

“Travellers should be aware that it rains a lot in Bute Inlet and to dress for the conditions – rain jacket, boots, and rain pants if it’s a bad day. Before the trip starts, there is an orientation to explain to guests where they are, the history and what we are about to experience as we explore the inlet.”

How can travellers make the most of their time in Campbell River and the surrounding region in the fall and winter?

Fall can be an overlooked season for travellers, but it’s a great time to visit Campbell River and region. “Early fall is a prime time to view grizzly bears.  Also, fishing can be fun in both the fall and winter season for those die-hard fishermen, whether that’s in the rivers, or in the ocean. Hiking is another year-round option here. Come wintertime and half of the people I work with end their season guiding, and they head for the hills – Mount Washington is a great place to visit to get some downhill skiing/snowboarding happening. This is the time some of us start attending college in Courtenay again.” Shares Kelsie.

What do you love most about Campbell River and B.C., and why?

“I love the waterways surrounding Campbell River the most. I grew up on the water on my father’s fishing vessel and have logged many weeks out on the waters around Campbell River, all the way up to Bute Inlet and back down to Powell River.  There is so much beauty out there, a landscape you don’t get anywhere else; from fishing for salmon or rockfish to whale watching.  Visiting unique areas around Campbell River by boat is the best. If you don’t have a boat, you can drive the 22 km of oceanfront on the Island Highway in Campbell River, or go to the Pier; I bet you can find a beautiful spot to stop and enjoy the healing powers of just being around the ocean,” says Kelsie.

Bear watching tours run from Late August-October, to find out more information about experiencing the “Bears of Bute” yourself visit our marine adventures page. Have you been on a bear watching tour before? Share your photos with us using #DiscoverCampellRiver on Instagram and Twitter.