Best time to travel to British Columbia

Spirit Bears in British Columbia

Immerse yourself in Canadian wilderness and meet the rare Spirit Bear

Best time: late August–early October

Spirit Bears
Spirit Bears
Spirit Bears

Bright white fur against British Columbia's green forests makes the spirit bear a sight to witness. In the Great Bear Rainforest, spirit bears feed on vegetation ample with bulbs, insects, fruit, rodents, and of course, delicious salmon throughout the summer to fatten up for the long cold winters ahead.

The spirit bear, also known as Kermode bear or ghost bear, is a rare subspecies of the American black bear. They were named after Frank Kermode, a former director of the Royal B.C. Museum, who researched the animals and was a colleague of William Hornaday, the zoologist who defined them. The bears live in the North and Central Coast regions of British Columbia and are the official provincial mammals of the region. While most ghost bears are black, there are roughly 100 to 500 of the entirely white species. These white bears are most common on Roderick, Gribbell, and Princess Royal islands, where up to 20% of bears are white.

They are not albinos as they have black noses, paw pads, and eye sockets. Their white coat, which is more of dirty vanilla or cream colour, is the result of a recessive gene which must be carried by both parents for a white cub to be born. Spirit bears have a significant meaning in American Indian and Canadian First Nations mythology. Some people believe these white coats are a reminder of the rigours of the ice age. The bears have even been featured in a National Geographic documentary.

The best season to witness these wonders of nature is during salmon spawning season, between late August and early October, when bears commonly feed on fish at the water.

Practical info

Where can I see the Spirit Bear in British Columbia?

The white-coated Spirit Bear can be spotted in the Great Bear Rainforest nestled amidst the North and Central Coast regions of British Columbia. Only accessible by boat or plane, the rainforest can be explored from the small town of Klemtu, being the gateway to the Spirit Bear territories. Visitors can take guided tours to explore the rainforest and witness the majestic creatures in their natural habitats. Show more

When is the best time to go to British Columbia to see the Spirit Bear?

The best time to experience the rare sightings of the Spirit Bear in its natural habitat is between late August and early October, during the late summer and fall season where the bears come near the water to feed on salmon. The feeding patterns of the white-coated bear witness them near the streams and rivers, marking the perfect opportunity to see the bears in motion and in their natural surroundings. Show more

How many Spirit Bears are there in the world?

An estimated 100-500 rare subspecies of the American black bear exist, famously known as the Spirit bear. The Spirit Bear holds genetic diversity due to the unique recessive gene responsible for their white coat. These bears are majorly found in Roderick, Princess Royal, and Gribbell Islands, and are primarily threatened by human hunting activities. Conservation efforts made to protect the bear have provided a ray of hope towards preserving the creature. Show more

What kind of food do Spirit Bears eat?

Spirit Bears earn their omnivorous classification as they feed on an eclectic combination of berries, fruits, nuts, seeds, insects, and small animals like rodents. Although they feed on a wide variety of food, their diet primarily depends on feeding on salmon during their spawning season. The bears generally capture fish by standing in shallow streams, creating the perfect scenery for visitors to witness this activity in their natural surroundings. Show more

What is the significance of the Spirit Bear in Canadian First Nations mythology?

The native people of Gitga'at, Haisla, Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian nations consider the Spirit Bear a sacred animal blessed with symbolic importance in Canadian First Nations mythology. The Indigenous people believe that the white-coated creatures signify honesty, respect, truth, humility, and peace. The Spirit Bear's significance arises from the stories that have been passed on to generations, with a strong emphasis on learning the essence of coexisting with nature in peace and harmony. Show more

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Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin