Grizzly bear watching vacations

“Strangely, the grizzly bear is not the national animal of Canada. The beaver is. Beaver watching vacations are not exactly running up high on wildlife watchers’ wish lists though, it has to be said.”

The grizzly, however, garners wildlife watchers in their droves, eager to see the North American great one in action. The grizzly bear refers to any North American subspecies of brown bear, which includes the mainland grizzly, aka rather scarily, ursus arctos horribilis, the Kodiak bear (Alaskan) and the peninsular grizzly.

British Columbia and the Rocky Mountains are the places for grizzly bear watching, as well as black bears. Afeard by many, and rightly so because you don’t mess with bears, a grizzly bear watching vacation is led by expert guides who will take you to the likes of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, Bella Coola or British Columbia’s snow-capped Coast Range mountains, which are also home to the Great Bear Rain Forest. Where it rains bears apparently. Or more aptly, perhaps, where bears reign.

Best time to go grizzly bear watching in Canada

There are three seasons for seeing grizzly and other bears in Canada. In spring, late April or May, they come out of hibernation and down to lower ground, usually grasslands, to feed and mate. This makes for great viewing from, for example, a boat where you are safely but happily glued to your binoculars. Summer is also good, but sightings are fewer, as the bears head to the hills to cool down from around June, and in many cases, to avoid people. However, you can combine it with some whale watching in British Columbia from late July, through August and September.
The autumn months, which start around late August in Canada are one of the best times to go grizzly bear watching, however, as it is the beginning of the salmon migratory season as they head upstream from coastal estuaries to spawn. And, consequently, out come the bears in their droves, during September, October and sometimes as late as November to catch them and feast before they go into hibernation. This is one of nature’s most exciting sights to behold. And exhausting, because they then go into hibernation during December, January, February and March.

Brown or black bears?

Brown bears are world’s most common bear and can weigh in as much as a massive 318kg. They can stand on two legs, reach almost two and a half metres tall and they spend a lot of time being solitary. Except when the salmon migratory season begins, and then it’s all paws on deck. Although Canada is famous for its brown bears, they are also found in the USA, as well as various European countries such as Finland and Romania. Black bears, however, are only found in North America and, just to confuse things, their coats are not always black, but sometimes grey or cinnamon colour. It is actually North America’s most prolific bear and is more petite, if a bear can ever be petite, than its brown relations.

Our top trip

Alaska classic tour, glaciers and grizzly bears

Alaska classic tour, glaciers and grizzly bears

Experience the best of Alaska in the Summer!

From US $8495 9 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2024: 15 Jun, 25 Jun, 15 Jul, 24 Aug
2025: 27 Jun, 1 Jul, 7 Jul, 17 Jul, 27 Jul, 31 Jul, 6 Aug, 11 Aug
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Bear watching or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Bear safety

On a grizzly bear watching vacation you will be well briefed about safety, and usually watching from the confines of a boat, floating lodge or hide. However, you will still be walking around in the wilderness at certain times and, although statistics show that you are more likely to be killed by a bee sting than a bear, you must always be bear aware. Watch out for fresh scat, and always travel in a group in bear country. This is the best deterrent, as bears get scared off by noise. Don’t carry food or heavily perfumed things in your daypack, even deodorants and such like. And your tour leader will carry pepper spray.
And the big question on most people’s lips – do you run away or keep still if you see a bear when you aren’t expecting it? There isn’t a strict rule of thumb but in general, with black bears you stand strong, wave your arms around, make noise and show them that you are bigger than them. With a grizzly you do the opposite, staying very still and calm, and backing away very slowly. Especially if you see they have a cub with them. So, don’t provoke and just retreat is the best advice with grizzlies. And worst case scenario, if they contact you, turn on your stomach, curl up and act dead. We left that happy note until the end. But remember, attacks are rare, and when you are on a guided wildlife watching vacation, you are with experts who really know their stuff.
Photo credits: [Page banner: Katmai National Park and Preserve] [Best time to go: Joseph C Boone] [Bear safety: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters]