Photograph by Paul Nicklen, National Geographic
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., calls the Great Bear Rainforest "the planet's last large expanse of coastal temperate rain forest." Stretching for more than 250 miles along the coast of British Columbia, the 21-million-acre wilderness is sometimes called the Amazon of the North. The vast, sodden land encompasses 1,000-year-old cedars, waterfalls spouting off the sides of moss-covered mountains, granite-dark waters, and glacier-cut fjords. This remote expanse is home to many First Nations communities as well as abundant wildlife: coastal gray wolves, grizzly bears, Sitka deer, cougars, mountain goats, orca, salmon, sea lions, sea otters, humpback whales, and its most celebrated resident, the rare, cream-colored Kermode bear, or sprit bear, considered sacred by the T'simshian people. (Spotting a spirit bear takes a lot of patience, even more luck, and the expert tracking skills of a local guide.)
When to Go: From late August to the middle of October, thousands of returning salmon draw wildlife to the local rivers, making this the best time to view grizzly bears and the elusive Kermode bear. Trout fishing is in season year-round, and different Pacific salmon species run the rivers from April through October.
Where to Stay: Built in 1929 as a hunting lodge, Tweedsmuir Lodge has 11 chalets and cabins (most facing a central lawn) on 60 wilderness acres in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. From late August to mid-September, guests can take guided grizzly bear-viewing float trips on the bordering Atnarko River. King Pacific Lodge is a luxurious, floating, 17-room resort anchored in Barnard Habour along the shores of Prince Royal Island. Open June to September, the lodge is accessible only by floatplane. Rates include transportation, gourmet meals, and guided tours. Spirit Bear Lodge, a tour/lodging outfitter in Klemtu, is owned and operated by the local Kitasoo/Xai'xais First Nations community. To stay at the waterfront lodge, constructed in traditional west coast First Nations longhouse style, reserve a spot on a three-to-seven-night Spirit Bear Lodge bear viewing and cultural heritage tour.
How to Get Around: Since many areas are accessible only by floatplane, booking an all-inclusive tour covering transportation, meals, and lodging is the most convenient option. Pacific Coastal Airlines operates direct flights from Vancouver to the Great Bear Rainforest communities of Bella Bella, Bella Coola, and Klemtu. BC Ferries offers a summer-only ferry service to many local communities through its Discovery Coast Passage. Other water-based options include Maple Leaf Tours' sailboat-based guided excursions and, in late August and early September, small group standup paddleboarding (SUP) expeditions led by Canadian paddleboard athlete and racer Norm Hann.
Where to Eat or Drink: If you're a sport fisherman, you can drop off your catch for processing in Prince Rupert at Dolly's Fish Market (it's a depot for St. Jean's Cannery & Smokehouse) before chowing down on the fish 'n' chips—lightly battered and fried local halibut or ling cod chunks served piping hot with homemade fries and a Caesar salad. Dolly's is a working market, so the restaurant side is simple, compact, and usually packed in summer. Go light on breakfast and head to Dolly's before 11 a.m. for an early lunch. Local favorite Bella Coola Valley Restaurant is a burger joint in Bella Coola. The eclectic breakfast-to-dinner menu options range from pancakes to chow mein, but stick to the beef burgers: thick, juicy, and with toppings galore. Frequent visitor Kalen Morrow recommends the restaurant at Prince Rupert's Crest Hotel for its halibut steak and "panoramic view of the harbor. It's my hidden secret gem, but the new Wheelhouse Brewing Company is an up-and-coming competitor." She suggests their juniper ales if they're available.
What to Read or Watch Before You Go: The Great Bear Rainforest: Canada's Forgotten Coast showcases more than 150 photographs, as well as journal entries and maps from conservationists Ian and Karen McAllister's sailing odysseys along the western Canadian coastline.
What to Buy: At Petroglyph Gallery in Bella Coola purchase masks, paddles, and jewelry crafted by the people of the Nuxalk Nation. Baskets and hats woven from red and yellow cedar and spruce root by Tsimshian, Nisga'a, and Haida artists are among the handcrafted First Nations pieces available at the Museum of Northern British Columbia in Prince Rupert.
Fun Fact: In what was considered a landmark agreement, a major portion of the Great Bear Rainforest, five million acres—almost the size of New Jersey—was declared off-limits to loggers in 2006.
Born in Ontario, photographer Taylor Kennedy lives in Victoria, British Columbia. He has worked on assignment for National Geographic Traveler, the Globe and Mail, West, Explore magazine, WestWorld, and Vanity Fair.
2014 Traveler Photo Contest
See all the winning images from the 2014 Traveler Photo Contest.