Where to see great bears in the Great Bear Rainforest
Sierra visits a floating lodge in British Columbia, in the heart of where the wild things are
GETTING THERE Fly from Vancouver to the town of Campbell River, where you spend the night because the floatplane for Knight Inlet leaves early. After a 25-minute flight past beautiful private islands, dense forests, and some ugly clearcuts, you land in front of the rustic lodge, where harbor seals remark rudely on your arrival. The property is built on pontoons anchored in the inlet, the surrounding terrain being too steep and full of bears.
A grizzly near the Knight Inlet Lodge | Photo by Dave Campbell/Courtesy of Knight Inlet Lodge
BEST MOMENT Depends on which iconic British Columbian creature you favor. It could be kayaking up a slough and having a bald eagle rise from a snag right in front of you, or a humpback announcing its presence with a misty harrumph. Or a pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins gleefully surfing your motorboat's wake, so close you can see their cetacean smiles. Or watching brown bears scout the river for dinner beneath your discreet viewing deck. At one point a mama griz dove in, her impossibly plump cubs waiting expectantly on the bank, then emerged with a wriggling salmon. It was hard not to cheer.
Knight Inlet Lodge is built on pontoons anchored in the inlet. | Photo by Neil Havers/Courtesy of Knight Inlet Lodge
FAVORITE CHARACTER Garrulous beanstalk Dean Dogherty, a veteran guide, enlivened the delicious dinner buffets with bad jokes. Later in the evening, he transfixed guests with shaggy-dog tales from the Kwakwaka'wakw people, whose territory includes much of the inlet.
The Knight Inlet Lodge actively campaigns against the trophy hunting of grizzly bears. | Photo by Shea Wyatt/Courtesy of Knight Inlet Lodge
LOCAL LORE According to Kwakwaka'wakw oral history, a village called Kwalate was destroyed in the 16th century: A huge cliff collapse sent a 20-foot-high wave across the inlet, inundating the village and killing at least 100 people.
WHAT'S GREEN The lodge recycles its paper, plastic, and cooking oil. A battery bank captures excess energy from the generator and uses it to power the lodge at night. A micro hydro system provides power for the winter caretakers. And each year, an on-site hatchery releases 5,000 coho salmon fry into the neighboring Glendale River.
Map by Peter and Maria Hoey
WHAT'S NOT GREEN When you're not kayaking, a boat with twin 300-horsepower engines takes you up and down the inlet.
PLANET-SAVING OPPORTUNITIES The lodge actively campaigns—and encourages guests to join the fight—against British Columbia's policy of allowing the trophy hunting of grizzly bears. Proceeds from the gift shop go toward buying the bear tag for the area, so that no one will kill the bears that guests thrill to watch.
This article appeared in the September/October 2016 edition with the headline "Where the Wild Things Are."