Story by Tricia Edgar
Vacay.ca Outdoor Columnist
KNIGHT INLET, BRITISH COLUMBIA — A grizzly discovery is what you’re after when you visit this remote part of British Columbia. You’ll find it with the help of Tide Rip, Telegraph Cove’s grizzly-watching adventure company.
While the black bear is common in some urban areas — with sightings even in Vancouver’s suburbs as the bears search for ripe fruit from the trees and troll the recycling bins — the grizzly bear is British Columbia’s wilderness giant. Visiting with grizzlies in the wild had long been a dream of mine, and this spring we decided to head up the coast to see if we could view some of BC’s iconic mammals.
By “visiting” with grizzlies, I mean watching them from a safe distance. Grizzly bears might look like the great big brown storybook bears of our youth, but their teeth and claws aren’t anything to trifle with. Before our trip, my daughter and I learned all we could about grizzlies. Interestingly enough, just about every one of the books that we took out of the library had a photo of a grizzly baring its teeth. A lot of that is bear stereotype, though: grizzly bears aren’t necessarily fierce man-eaters. They’re omnivores, which means they munch on many different foods, eating goodies like grass, berries, and seafood.
Early on the last morning of our trip, we arrived at Telegraph Cove, a sweet little community located 201 kilometres north of Cambpell River that’s beloved by those who enjoy exploring the coastal waters. Our destination was Knight Inlet, the home of some of BC’s coastal grizzlies. While the inlet is on British Columbia’s mainland, tours run from Vancouver Island, since it’s easiest to access these renowned grizzly-watching areas from across the water.
After a boat ride across the strait, we slowed down as we reached Glendale Cove, home of the famous Knight Inlet Lodge that has now been reconstructed after being destroyed by fire in the fall.
“There’s one over there!” called our guide. Through my mediocre binoculars, I saw what looked like a rock, a log, and another rock. “Oh yes,” other visitors murmured sagely, obviously boasting better technology.
Grizzlies Rule in British Columbia
As we moved closer, I saw the grizzly: hunched next to a long log, she was extracting the glossy black mussels from underneath, munching them with a crunch that sounded like she was working her way through a bag of chips. She looked up, stared, and ignored us. Obviously, we were much less interesting than the seafood. She was surprisingly small: after the winter, grizzlies have lost nearly half of their body weight. To put the weight on again and get ready for a winter of hibernation, BC’s coastal grizzlies rely on a diet of protein-rich sedge grass, seafood, and the seasonal flow of salmon up the province’s coast.
After a trip full of eagle-watching and a search for sea lions and whales, a glimpse of a grizzly was the perfect way to end our trip. We watched the lunching grizzly as she turned over rocks to look for more goodies. Perhaps she wondered what all the fuss was about?
After a quick break for our own lunch (not raw mussels), we returned on our flat-bottomed boat, scooting quietly toward the log. There she was again, but this time she’d brought company: her two one-year-old cubs. One seemed to enjoy posing, pawing for mussels, then standing on a log to get a better view of her surroundings. The bear cubs scooted under the log, searching for mussels like Mama, but a bit more agile on the acrobatics.
After a half hour or more, they walked carefully along the rocks, moving away to find more snacks elsewhere. When the rock wall ran out, the mother grizzly moved herself into the water, paddling along very much as a dog would, her big brown face sticking out of the water. One cub followed. The other, rather reluctant, scooted along the rocks until there was nowhere else to go but the water. She plopped herself in, moving from rocks to sea all of the way along the shore.
After searching a few more inlets and finding two more groups of mothers and cubs, we made our way home, arriving at our bed-and-breakfast 12 hours after we’d left it. The trip made us fall even more in love with British Columbia’s waters and forests, such are the delights of the beauty of the wild west coast.
The Island Highway on Vancouver Island makes a drive up the coast quite self-explanatory. Take the old highway that visits many seaside communities, or take the new highway all the way to Courtenay, shaving an hour or more off of your driving time. From the BC Ferries terminal in Nanaimo, the drive to Telegraph Cove is just over four hours. Stay in the area, since the tours begin at 7 am. We enjoyed the exceptional meals and lovely view at At Water’s Edge Bed and Breakfast, a short drive from Telegraph Cove.
If you’re using public transportation, there is a daily Greyhound bus that leaves Nanaimo mid-morning. The trip is a great opportunity to take in the views without worrying about being behind the wheel. The Greyhound takes just over six hours, with a lunch stop in Campbell River.
More About Knight Inlet Lodge & Tide Rip
More About At Water’s Edge Bed and Breakfast
Location: 2202 Beach Drive, Port McNeill, BC
Telephone: 1-250-956-2912 / 1-866-956-2912
Room Rates: Until October 14, nightly rates start at $100 for a single bed. The rates drop for the winter months to $85 for a single bed.