Spirit Bear Tours

A spirit bear shakes water from its white fur after a salmon meal in the Great Bear Rainforest

I have teamed up with Marven Robinson of the Gitga’at First Nation to offer spirit bear watching and photography trips based out of the Gitga’at community of Hartley Bay in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Tour overview

With a group size of just seven guests per guide, we will explore lush river valleys in search of spirit bears in a place that National Geographic has called the “Wildest Place in North America.” These white bears are important symbols in Gitga’at culture, and the people are protective of them. For this reason I cannot reveal the exact locations of the valleys we will visit, but travelling with Marven we will spend all of our time in the very heart of spirit bear territory. By staying in Hartley Bay, we will also be supporting the Gitga’at Nation by providing local employment within their traditional territory.

Trip Departure Point: Prince Rupert, British Columbia

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2017 trip dates

In 2017, we are offering the following 5 and 7-Day trips:

Sept 3 – 7      (5 days)

Sept 7 – 11     (5 days)

Sept 11 – 15   (5 days)

Sept 15 – 21   (7 days)

Sept 21 – 25   (5 days)

Sept 25 – Oct 1  (7 days)

Oct 1 – Oct 5  (5 days)

Oct 5 – Oct 9  (5 days)

Spirit bears and the Great Bear Rainforest

Spirit bears (sometimes called Kermode bears) are a subspecies of American black bear with a recessive genetic trait that makes their fur white. These bears are extremely rare. There are perhaps just 200 to 400 in existence. By comparison, the latest population estimate for wild pandas is just over 1800.  The range occupied by these stunning white bears is primarily restricted to the northern islands of the British Columbia coast.

The Great Bear Rainforest is the largest intact temperate rainforest on Earth. This is a place where the ocean, mountains and ancient forests teem with wildlife including bald eagles, salmon, humpback whales, orcas, sea lions, grizzly bears and black bears, wolves, wolverines and more. On this trip we will travel over some of North America’s most productive ocean habitats and explore remote river valleys and mossy rainforests. For photographers this trip will have endless opportunities for capturing amazing photos.

Contact Tim to reserve your spot or ask questions 

Your guides: Marven Robinson and Tim Irvin

Marven Robinson and I will be your primary guides on this trip, with additional assistance as needed by other Gitga’at guides from Hartley Bay.

Marven has spent his whole life in this part of the coast and has been called the “spirit bear whisperer.” In addition to his guiding work, Marven is also a Gitga’at Guardian Watchmen and a Councillor in the Hartley Bay Band Council. By travelling with Marven, guests will have the opportunity to discuss the rich history and culture of the Gitga’at people.

“I write to say a huge THANK YOU for your companionship and teaching on our wonderful trip into the Great Bear Rainforest. On any number of levels I had the time of my life… so suffice to say that I shall never forget the experience. I think you [Tim] were the perfect host and guide. You are truly an intelligent man with a concern for others and the world around you and I appreciated all you did for me and the group.” Pierre Cowlard

I am an ecologist, photographer and writer. I am a fully certified bear guide with the Commercial Bear Viewing Association of British Columbia and I’ve been guiding trips in the Great Bear Rainforest for 15 years. You can learn more about me here. One of my passions is guiding wildlife adventures for people who care deeply about wildlife and wild places. Therefore, this is not strictly a photography trip – we will also discuss ecology and natural history of bears and the surrounding ecosystems.

By combining Marven’s local and First Nation’s knowledge with my knowledge of ecology and natural history, we believe we provide our guests with exceptional experiences.

Expectations

This trip is best for people who are passionate about wildlife, learning about ecology and First Nations culture and exploring beautiful places.  I cannot guarantee that we will see spirit bears. That is why this is an adventure. This comes with the territory of seeking out one of the most rare mammals on Earth.

This trip will give us more dedicated time in prime spirit bear territory than any other trip I know of in the region. And, although spirit bears are rare, I have seen at least one spirit bear on all of my previous trips with Marven.

This trip is best for people who are patient and can enjoy their surroundings – beyond the spirit bear. It is my opinion that this is not a difficult thing to do in the Great Bear Rainforest as there is no shortage of natural wonders.

If you’ve ever dreamed of seeing a spirit bear with your own eyes, I am confident that this trip is the best way to make that happen. I expect that, for many, this trip will be a highlight of their year.

“My husband and I have traveled widely throughout all seven continents, and Tim’s Spirit Bear trip was unquestionably one of the best travel experiences we’ve ever had. The Great Bear Rainforest is a very special place, and being there changes you. The guiding team of Tim and Marven just couldn’t be better. We want to do it again!” – Christine Schillig

Some inspiration

If you need more reasons to get excited about this opportunity, check out this film (if you’re short on time start at minute 34). Or check out some of the photos from Paul Nicklen’s spirit bear story in National Geographic. During our trip we will be exploring many of the exact locations where this film and these photos were taken. You can also explore my Instagram page, my personal spirit bear photo gallery, and read my blog posts about our previous trips. This one is a favourite.

Lodgings

After leaving Prince Rupert, we will stay in a local guesthouse in Hartley Bay – an isolated and picturesque First Nations community of about 180 people. There are no roads in Hartley Bay. Rather, boardwalks connect the town and people get around on all-terrain vehicles. Our accommodations will be modest, but clean and comfortable with private bedrooms and shared bathrooms. A local cook will supply our meals.

Itinerary

This itinerary is a basic outline only – our activities on this trip will be dictated by factors including weather, tides and photo opportunities. Each day Marven and I will make a plan that will maximize our chances of seeing a spirit bear and other wildlife, working within the parameters of weather, safety and time.

You will need to arrive in Prince Rupert the day before your trip begins. For example, if your trip is Sept 11-15, you need to arrive in Prince Rupert on Sept 10 (earlier if you prefer). Tim will provide suggestions on the best flights to Prince Rupert as well as hotels and local attractions.

Day 1

8:30 am – Guests depart from Prince Rupert for Hartley Bay by ferry. The four hour ferry trip provides a first glimpse of this beautiful landscape from the water.

12:30 pm -After arriving in Hartley Bay, we will quickly get settled in the guesthouse, pack a lunch and head out for the afternoon and early evening in search of spirit bears at a beautiful river valley close to the village.

Day 2 – 4   (5-day trips)
Day 2 – 6   (7-day trips)

Each morning we will set out by boat from Hartley Bay to explore the Great Bear Rainforest. To maximize our chances for encounters with spirit bears and other wildlife, guests should expect to depart from Hartley Bay first thing each morning and be out exploring until early evening. There will be opportunities for wildlife viewing and photography every day, but please remember that the weather conditions and the location of wildlife will dictate our activities.

Day 5   (5-day trips)
Day 7   (7-day trips)

Morning: After breakfast and packing up, guests can choose to accompany their guide on a hike to a nearby lake and/or a trip to view the local Gitga’at Cultural Centre.

12:30 pm: Guests depart by ferry for Prince Rupert.

4:30-5:00 pm (weather depending): Guests arrive in Prince Rupert. There will be enough time to get something to eat before heading to the airport.

8:05 pm: Many guests choose this Air Canada flight to Vancouver. Others stay in Prince Rupert for that night to avoid the risk of missing the 8:05 flight if the ferry is delayed due to weather.

Additional important details

Your guides will do everything they can to assist you during the trip. However, this trip requires a moderate to good level of fitness and will involve extended time travelling in boats from Hartley Bay to spirit bear viewing locations. We will also be hiking on uneven, wet and muddy terrain and we will often be out all day in search of spirit bears with the only access to toilets being the Great Outdoors.

Participants should be mobile enough to climb in and out of boats and walk across the uneven and slippery terrain of the intertidal zone. People should also be prepared to walk through shallow streams and be able to carry their gear over rough and muddy rainforest trails for half an hour at a time.

If you have any concerns about your physical capabilities, please contact me and we can discuss whether this trip is appropriate for you. Please note that all guests will be required to sign a waiver.

Weather

Lastly, weather conditions may be variable and participants must be prepared for adverse weather including heavy rain (it is a rainforest after all!).  Although conditions may be difficult at times, my past guests always agree that experiencing the magic of the Great Bear Rainforest is worth it. You may even become one of the few people who have seen and photographed one of the most rare bears on earth – the spirit bear.

2017 pricing

  • 5-Day Trips: $3910 Canadian Dollars (plus 5% GST)
  • 7-Day Trips: $5865 Canadian Dollars (plus 5% GST)

Prices include all accommodations, meals, and guiding upon arrival in Hartley Bay.

Accommodation and meals in Prince Rupert are not included. Guests are also responsible for paying the $100 return-trip fare for the ferry from Prince Rupert to Hartley Bay. 

Payment

A $1000 non-refundable deposit is required to reserve your spot on this Spirit Bear Tour. The balance owing is due 60 days before your trip departure date and is also non-refundable, unless, upon cancellation, I am able to fill your spot. I highly recommend tour participants purchase independent trip cancellation insurance to protect against unforeseen circumstances.

Still have questions? Contact Tim. He is happy to help!  

More guest feedback

“I feel profoundly privileged to have seen and photographed such an amazingly rare and spiritual animal in such magnificent habitat, and cannot thank Marven Robinson and Tim Irvin enough for providing me with such an amazing experience.” Rick Andrews

“Nothing truly compares with the moment you see that first flash of white against the dark green of the forest. Seeing a spirit bear for the first time really reminds you how magical this world can be.” Michael Heap and Kerry Veitch

“After participating in Tim Irvin’s Spirit Bear Tour this September I can wholeheartedly recommend Tim as a Tour Leader. His knowledge accumulated by many years as a Bear guide and his scientific background makes Tim an expert on the Flora and Fauna of this area.  Tim also goes out of his way to ensure his guests safety and comfort. He was always last on the boat and first off to assist everyone safely on and off the boat. Overall the Spirit Bear Tour was a great adventure and many thanks to Tim and the people of Hartley Bay for making this possible.” Robert Carleton

“Thank you Tim and Marven for a fantastic trip. The Great Bear Rain Forest is such a beautiful and surreal place. Seeing a spirit bear is a magical experience. Thank you for sharing your knowledge of the area with the group; this made the trip really special. Both of you have a great sense of humor and have so many great stories to share. Hope to do another trip with the two of you again.” Steve Williams.

Tourists by a creek in the Great Bear Rainforest

Some previous guests enjoying the beauty and tranquility of the rainforest

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Spirit bear biting into a spawned out female pink salmon

Spirit bear in warm light and hidden by leaves

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