Spirit bear tour FAQs

Wildlife Journeys with Tim Irvin logo

Before you confirm your booking please re-read the Spirit Bear Tours page on my website and take a look at these Frequently Asked Questions to make sure this trip feels like the right fit for you. If you choose to book a trip we will send you a packing list as well as everything you need to know about Prince Rupert and how to get there.

Wildlife Journeys is Tim’s company name. It appears on all invoices and receipts.

Who is this experience designed for?

These trips are ideal for people who are passionate about wildlife, photography, learning about ecology and First Nations’ culture and exploring beautiful places. They are best suited for people who are patient and appreciative of their surroundings. It is my opinion that appreciating your surroundings is not a difficult thing to do in the Great Bear Rainforest – there are no shortages of natural wonders.

Do you guarantee we will see a spirit bear?

Sadly, there is no guarantee. And, at the very least, there could be times when we go long stretches without seeing a white bear. Nonetheless, we have an extremely high success rate.

What are your 2019 prices?

  • 5-Day trips —  $4602 + 5% tax
  • 7-Day trips —  $6766 + 5% tax
  • 9-Day trips —  $8930 + 5% tax

All prices are all in Canadian dollars and include:

  • Water taxi transportation between Prince Rupert and Hartley Bay
  • All Food and accommodations in Hartley Bay
  • All guiding
  • A First Nations Stewardship Fee (These funds are ear-marked for stewardship activities within Gitga’at Territory and are one of the ways our tours help support local conservation).

These prices do not include:

  • Transportation to Prince Rupert.
  • Food and accommodations in Prince Rupert

What is the typical daily schedule?

Our activities each day are dictated by wildlife, weather, tides and safety considerations. However, you can expect breakfast at 7:00 am with departure from the dock at 8:00. We will bring a bagged lunch with us and return to Hartley Bay between 7-8:00 pm. In other words, we will put in long days in order to maximize your chances of great wildlife encounters, since this is why people are making the journey.

Does Tim guide all the trips?

No. He used to, but with two little kids at home he cannot be away from his family for the whole season. Also, with all the interest we’ve received, we’ve taken this opportunity to bring additional expertise on board.

We have assembled a team of highly experienced and sought-after guides for the trips Tim cannot lead himself. All have more than 10 years of experience guiding wildlife trips all over the world, with a particular passion for bears and the Great Bear Rainforest. We have every confidence that you will be in good hands with them.

Our Guides:

Lee Morgan – The next David Attenborough. Lee is an ecologist, naturalist, photographer and writer. He has guided wildlife tours throughout Europe, the Arctic, South America, and Madagascar but has a particular passion for the wildlife of the Pacific coast. Originally from England, he fell in love with British Columbia and now he calls it home.

Lindsay Janes – Queen of the Great Bear Rainforest. Born and raised on the coast of British Columbia, Lindsay is a marine biologist, naturalist and photographer. She has guided so many trips by boat in the Great Bear Rainforest, some say she has worn a groove into the Pacific Ocean. She has a wealth of knowledge about the wildlife and cultural heritage of the region.

(Lee and Lindsay will be guiding our trips between Sept 27 and Oct 10 in 2019)

Will we get to spend time with Marven?

Yes. Lee, Lindsay or Tim will be with our guests all day every day. Marven is with us much of the time, but he also has other responsibilities, so he comes and goes. Marven also has a small team of Gitga’at guides who are always around to assist you and keep track of the bears.

How many guests are on each trip?

The group size is never more than 12.

What other wildlife will we hope to see other than spirit bears?

We usually see black bears and humpback whales every day. Other wildlife that are seen commonly include salmon, American marten, American dippers, Stellar’s sea lions, orcas, fin whales, Dall’s porpoise, river otters, bald eagles, and numerous other bird species. There is also the possibility of seeing wolves.

What are the accommodations like?

Marven built a lovely new guesthouse in 2017. The new guesthouse has a nice family atmosphere with comfortable rooms and shared common space for meals and socializing.  Wildlife Journeys has booked the entire guesthouse during spirit bear season. Occasionally, Marven will have a few other special guests sharing the Guesthouse with us.

The accommodation is very comfortable, but not fancy. There are six guest rooms available, each with two double beds. The walls are not terribly thick, so if you are a light sleeper consider bringing earplugs. Single travellers will share a room with another traveller of the same gender.

None of the rooms have ensuite bathrooms. Instead, there are four bathrooms that are shared between all guests. Three of them are three-piece bathrooms (shower, toilet and sink) and one is a two-piece bathroom (toilet and sink).

Our priority on these trips is to maximize your opportunities to observe and photograph spirit bears and other wildlife in the stunning setting of the Great Bear Rainforest. It is not designed to be a luxury holiday. Nonetheless, the Guesthouse  provides far more personal space than the boat-based tours in the area.  However, if you are the kind of person that really likes to have all the comforts and services of a 4 or 5-Star hotel, we suggest looking into Spirit Bear Lodge.

Photos of a bedroom and the common/dining area are below.

Dining area and common space.

What is the food like – and can you accommodate special diets?

In general, we describe the food in Hartley Bay as good, but not gourmet.

We have hosted guests with vegetarian and gluten-free diets and more. The local cooks are getting better at accommodating special diets, but they are not yet at the level you would expect at a normal hotel or restaurant. If you have special dietary concerns (gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan) and you are not very flexible then this may not be the trip for you. Please contact Tim if you have concerns.

Lastly, no alcohol is permitted in Hartley Bay. We ask that you respect the community’s wishes to keep alcohol out of their town.

How does bear viewing work?

During the salmon run the bears will be eating the majority of calories they will consume for the entire year. It is imperative that we do not interfere with that. Thus, we strive to be passive observers and not disrupt their activities. Our guides constantly monitor the bears for signs of stress. If bears are becoming uncomfortable with our presence then we will give them more space or leave the area. If this means that we have to give up on a photo opportunity, so be it.

All guests must respect that bears have the right of way and follow their guides’ instructions. Marven has worked for years to establish a good rapport with the local bears.  It is essential that this hard-won trust between bears and people is not compromised. Guests who compromise the wellbeing of wildlife — or other safety and enjoyment of other people — will not be permitted to participate in wildlife viewing and photography activities.  

The majority of bear viewing will take place in two different river valleys. One has covered platforms and one has no infrastructure, although sometimes we will erect a tarp if it is raining heavily. We will visit each site multiple times depending on where we expect the best wildlife viewing to be that day.

Each group of 12 guests will have a Wildlife Journeys guide each day plus 1-3 guides from the Gitga’at First Nation.  We strive to give each group their own viewing location on the river. However, in order to accommodate all groups, and to provide the best possible chances of seeing a spirit bear, there will be times when you should expect to share a bear viewing location with another group. Nonetheless, there is always space for everybody (and their tripods) and it all works out just fine.

What level of fitness is required?

Guests need a good level of fitness  and balance for these trips. During boat landings, we are rarely at a dock and you must be mobile enough to scramble off the bow of a boat onto uneven and slippery shorelines. You will need the ability to step or climb over logs that could be approximately 80-85 cm (or 30-35 inches) high and walk down short, steep, muddy slopes that are covered in slippery roots and don’t have any stairs.  Some people say the trails more closely resemble an “obstacle course,” rather than a typical hiking trail.  Nonetheless, we have hosted people from 10 to 80 years old, so age is not really an issue – it is one’s level of fitness.

We don’t walk great distances (usually less than 1 km morning and again in the evening), and we don’t walk fast. So, the distance is not really the limiting factor – it is how well one can handle the uneven terrain while walking for half an hour or 45 minutes with a pack on their back. There will always be guides on hand who are happy to help you in any way. Please contact Tim if you have concerns, and we can discuss whether this trip is right for you.

What about Waivers, Medical Forms and Travel Insurance?

To secure your spot on a trip, waivers and medical forms must be completed when you pay your deposit. It is a simple process that takes 5-10 minutes. It is also mandatory that tour participants purchase independent trip cancellation insurance to protect against any unforeseen circumstance. You will be asked to provide your insurance policy details before you are allowed to participate in the trip.

Is this a photography tour or workshop?

No. People who want to come to view wildlife without taking photos are most welcome. However, most of our guests do like to take photos and the Great Bear Rainforest has endless opportunities for great photography. Although this is not specifically a photo workshop, all Wildlife Journeys guides are accomplished photographers and, will do all they can to help you get more out of your photos and your experience.

Do you have any pre-trip photography tips?

The low light and rain can make the Great Bear Rainforest a difficult place to take photos. If photography is important to you, make sure you have some way to protect your gear from the elements and bring a camera that performs well in low light. On some days it is common to shoot at ISOs of 1000-3200. Full-frame cameras generally perform better in the low light conditions we tend to work with.

Most people use lenses in the 100-500 mm range most commonly. But wider lenses, from 16-100 mm are also useful for close encounters and for landscape shots.

Can we bring drones?

No. It is not permitted to fly drones near the bears and there are very few other opportunities to fly drones safely.

Can you tell me more about Hartley Bay?

Hartley Bay is a small, pretty and geographically isolated community of about 150 people who are friendly and generous. The town is built on a series of boardwalks rather than roads, which gives creates a quaint atmosphere.

Boats and floatplanes provide the only access to the village. There is no road access. There are also no stores. All food and other supplies must be shipped by boat or float plane from Prince Rupert or Kitimat. In other words, if you run out of milk, you are out of luck until the next boat comes in.

Given the remoteness of the village, visitors must understand that Marven and the Gitga’at do not have the resources of large tourist lodges and they are not a finely-oiled tourist machine. There may be times when things do not run perfectly smoothly (for example, the towels in your room may not be replaced regularly).

But for those who enjoy being off the beaten path, Hartley Bay provides unique opportunities that cannot be found at tourist lodges that churn people through like clockwork. Hartley Bay also happens to be the very best place in the world to see spirit bears. One of the very best viewing locations for spirit bears anywhere is literally a 15-minute boat ride from the town dock.

Do these trips contribute to wildlife conservation and the local people?

Yes. The partnership between Marven and Wildlife Journeys is one that Tim is very proud of.

Firstly, the Stewardship Fees included in the cost of your trip go directly to the Gitga’at First Nation. Stewardship fees are $100 per guest for 5-Day trips and $150 per guest for 7-Day trips.  These funds are used for stewardship activities that are undertaken by the Gitga’at Guardian Watchmen. These activities include things like bear research, salmon and whale population monitoring, clam surveys, education and outreach, and monitoring the territory for illegal activities such as poaching or industrial activities that may harm local ecosystems.

Secondly, travelling with us puts a value on maintaining intact ecosystems and wildlife populations within the Great Bear Rainforest. You are supporting the development of a local non-extractive tourist economy that is far more sustainable for local ecosystems than fishing, logging, mining and oil and gas industries.

By travelling to Hartley Bay, you are also helping provide employment for Gitga’at people within their traditional territory. For many local people it is cost-prohibitive to get out onto the water and into the far reaches of their territory. Hiring local guides helps maintain the link the local people have with their lands and waters. The vast majority of revenue generated through this business goes directly into the hands of Gitga’at people.

Are guests expected to tip their guides?

There are no expectations around tips. However, for those who would like to provide a gratuity, $10-25 per day is a good guideline. All tips will be pooled and split among Wildlife Journeys and Gitga’at guides (and the cook, of course).

Need some more inspiration?

Lastly, check out these blog posts from our experiences in 2015, 2016 . This post is a favourite.

You can see more photos in Tim’s spirit bear gallery and on Instagram. For a special treat, check out this beautiful 3-minute film that one of our guests made in 2017.

If you have any further questions please get in touch by email or give Tim a call at 613-915-8083, and he’ll be happy to provide additional information.

Here’s what previous guests said in anonymous feedback forms.

“It was a wonderful trip and exceeded expectations on many levels. Tim and Marven have so much knowledge and their stories are amazing. I never expected to see so much and be with such a wonderful group of people.”

“EVERYTHING was ideal: the weather, access to the bears, interaction with Lee, Marven and the other guides, seeing the wolf, the close encounters with humpbacks…We had such a great time that we hope the future for Marven, the Gitga’at and the bears only gets better and better.”

“I particularly liked the personal inclusive feeling expressed by all involved. I was treated like a friend rather than a customer. The viewing of the bears and other wildlife was fantastic. I rate the experience as one of the best of all my 80 years of outdoor experiences…”

“We really appreciated the time everyone spent with us, and the willingness to share their experiences. We knew the bear experience was going to be amazing. What we didn’t expect is how welcoming all the people were, and how willing they were to share stories of their lives and ancestry. It really added to the quality of the trip.”

“I thought Lee was an excellent guide and very knowledgeable and very easy to work with. I would do a trip with him anytime.”

“The word magical is exactly the word that comes to mind, it was perfect in every way. The guides, accommodations and each days’ experiences exceeded my expectations in every way, thank you SO MUCH!”

“Tim exceeded all expectations for the trip. He not only organized and carried out everything, he was a delightful source of all kinds of background information that made the trip even more enjoyable.” “…one of the best travel experiences of my life.”

A spirit bear standing among mossy logs in the Great Bear Rainforest