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Discovering Vancouver Island and the Grizzly Bears of Bute Inlet

Updated: Jan 5, 2022

After our trip to Banff and Canmore, Canada in the summer of 2016, we were excited to travel back to Canada and explore more of British Columbia and what that area had to offer for mountains and wildlife!

Campbell River based bear tour to Bute Inlet and the Orford Valley by boat

We flew into Vancouver and took the car ferry to Vancouver Island, British Columbia. We drove to Tofino and used that as our base for a couple of nights to see Vancouver Island. We stayed at a quainte motel, the Tofino Harbourview and one of the hightlights was a guided boat tour of the Inlet. It was late fall for Vancouver so I should have figured it would be cold for the boat tour, but when thet dressed us in full snowmobile suits, I was taken by surprise. But happy to have them once we got out on the water.

During the fall spawning runs, salmon hatcheries attract black bears as they fatten up for a winter hibernation. So we decided to visit the Ucluelet’s Thornton Creek Hatchery and Port Alberni’s Stamp River Hathery on the outskirts of Tofino several times a day. We were not lucky the first couple of visits but after returning several times, we saw a gorgeous black bear pacing back and forth at the edge of the water fishing for salmon.

After our couple of days in Tofino, we made our way north on the isalnd to Campbell River. It is also a very lovely town on the east coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. We took a once in a lifetime day boat trip to see bears further north in the Bute Inlet, where the indigenous people reside of the Homalco First Nations. The boat trip was with Discovery Marine Tours and was relaxing and beautiful. We were fortunate to see at least 6 to 8 Grizzly bears on our tour wiht the Homalco tour. It was a long boat ride to get to Orford Bay but I wouldn't go back unless I did the same tour again!

“Our boat excursion from Campbell River to the Bute Inlet was outstanding! We docked at Orford Bay and were welcomed by the people of the Homalco First Nations. The indigenous guides from Homalco Wildlife Tours took us deep into the natural habitat of the grizzly bear and we learned first hand about the Bears of the Bute."

We were fortunate to see a whale breaching on the way back to Campbell River from our incredible bear tour. We didn't see sun all day but on our way back the sun peaked out over the mountain range providing for extraordinary photos and views. A great way to end our journey.

After departing Campbell River, we headed back toward Vancouver returning on the car ferry and headed to Whistler, British Columbia, which is about 90 minutes from the airport in Vancouver. We wanted to see the location of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and we had also heard it was a good location for bears! We stayed in Squamish, British Columbia, a beautiful community about a half hour from Whistler. We used Squamish as our base to sightsee and look for bears! We took a ride on the Sea to Sky Gondola to get a bird's eye view of the area and also walked across the Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge. The bridge also offers gorgeous views and looks down to the Howe Sound below. We toured the Olympic Village in Whislter, the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics. I thoroughly enjoyed it! We also visited the Shannon Falls Provincial Park in Squamish. It was a beautiful park with the third highest waterfall in British Columbia over 335 meters. The park has many hiking trails and viewing areas.

The wildlife was not as plentiful as I had hoped near Whistler and Squamish. We may have been too late into the fall for the bear or just were not lucky. We did see a couple of black bear but nothing as I had hoped.

While Vancouver Island was beautiful and the trip to Bute Inlet was a once in a lifetime experience, I don't see myself returning in the near future. My love for mountains and wildlife is in Alaska and the Teton National Park in Wyoming!


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I also get asked many times, "How do you travel so often and keep it affordable?" A few tips are below:

  • For me, planning and researching is part of the excitement of the trip! Visioning is so much fun!!!

  • I plan all of my own trips and research, research, research on the internet. I utilize TripAdvisor, Frommer's, and blogs from other travelers to find the information I need for my trip. I do ALOT of reading and researching. It takes patience to plan a good affordable trip!

  • I have a budget in mind for each trip and challenge myself to stay in the budget. Depending on the location, I typically start planning and booking hotels, cars, etc., approximately 9 months out. Hotel prices usually get more expensive the closer to the trip unless you are willing to do a last minute internet deal. Car rental and airline prices also go up the closer it is to your trip. Occasionally you can get a last minute deal but something else may be more expensive and you are really not saving. I like to plan!

  • For hotels, I use, or I look for hotels with good reviews, pay when you stay, and free cancellation in advance.

  • We have done all-inclusive in a couple of tropical locations years and years ago but found that we do not eat and drink enough to make it worth the extra expense. We like to go off site from the hotel and experience the local cuisine and traditions. We have not done all-inclusive in the last 15 years. However, all-inclusive is wonderful if you want to stay at the resort for all meals, not rent a car, and have the hotel shuttle you to your destinations. That has worked for us in Jamaica and it was very relaxing! But I would not drive in Jamaica so all-inclusive was the smartest option! If you enjoy all-inclusive, the earlier you book the trip the lower the price. Unless you are game and are not a planner, and are willing to travel where the last minute deal is advertised. Then you could get a great all-inclusive deal!

  • If we are flying, I use the Skyscanner app to check airfare prices and I try not to buy until about 60 to 75 days out. There are times where I will by earlier if the price is super reasonable. I usually do not book on Skyscanner. It will tell me the site that is the most affordable to purchase the tickets and if it is a more well known trust site, I go directly to the site to purchase the tickets. Many times Skyscanner will take you right to the airline website. Skyscanner will search all airlines and will sort by price, times, shortest trip, etc.

  • Have a credit card that gives you miles or hotel points. We will use points for many of our trips. We are American Advantage members and have an Advantage credit card. We try to fly American as often as we can to earn points and then use those points for future airline tickets. Our credit card is tied to our Advantage numbers and awards points as well.

  • We drive if the location is in the United States and we can drive and sightsee along the way. If we need to rent a car, we reserve online using,, or They are usually the most reasonable. I watch for specials and never book a luxury vehicle! We also have a credit card with a low limit that we use for vehicle rentals that provides insurance as a credit card benefit. We always decline the insurance when we are in the United States. If we are traveling out of the United States, we check with the credit card if the insurance is valid internationally. We have found it is valid in Europe, Canada, U.S. Virgin Islands, but in other locations, we are forced to purchase the liability insurance from the rental car company.

  • While there are free maps online for most destinations, I always go onto Amazon and buy a map of my destination, especially if it is international. I do not buy maps for tropical Caribbean islands. I just get one when we arrive. But for countries like Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, England, Canada, Germany, France, etc., I always purchase a good map. As you do you research, you can use the map to highlight the places you want to visit and the sites you want to see. I have it as a reference later for putting my memories and photos into a photobook!

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