Valley of the Bears: Small Boat Cruise to Khutzeymateen, British Columbia
- See amazing wildlife within Canada’s coastal islands
- Visit Canada’s oldest grizzly bear sanctuary
- Sea kayak among rock-studded anchorages
Yacht lodging and all meals on the boat
On-trip naturalist/marine biologist discussions
All admissions, permits, and fees
British Columbia’s Khutzeymateen Inlet lies near Canada’s northern boundary with Alaska. Within the inlet you’ll find Khutzeymateen Valley, Canada’s oldest grizzly bear sanctuary covering nearly 175 square miles; home to British Columbia’s most important coastal bear population. The protected area has recently expanded to include the entire Inlet as the Khutzeymateen Conservancy. With access limited to a select number of tour operators, we enjoy solitude and a unique bear viewing experience. The area is vast yet it feels intimate
British Columbia’s Khutzeymateen Inlet lies near Canada’s northern boundary with Alaska. Within the inlet you’ll find Khutzeymateen Valley, Canada’s oldest grizzly bear sanctuary covering nearly 175 square miles; home to British Columbia’s most important coastal bear population. The protected area has recently expanded to include the entire Inlet as the Khutzeymateen Conservancy. With access limited to a select number of tour operators, we enjoy solitude and a unique bear viewing experience. The area is vast yet it feels intimate. Khutzeymateen is a native Tsimshian word meaning “a confined space for salmon and bears” – a perfect description.
This is an amazing boat-based expedition in an area of spectacular islands, mountains, and fjords where we will view bears, extensive sea life including orcas, humpback whales, and sea lions, as well as numerous bird species. Traveling within the northwest islands and coastal area of British Columbia, our trip explores a temperate rainforest dense with Sitka spruce, deep fjords, high rugged mountains, towering glaciers, and secluded beaches. The river estuaries provide important spring feeding grounds for bears, and the rivers and streams support many salmon species upon which the grizzlies feast.
We have a flexible itinerary because our route will differ depending on the tides, weather, and wildlife. We will sail or motor each day to a new destination where we will spend the evening in a different and remote anchorage with wonderful views. During daily shore or small boat excursions, our onboard naturalist will help identify different coastal plants, animals, birds and marine life. Interested participants are encouraged to help keep a species list for the trip. There will be time to explore the protected waters using our stable sea-kayaks during the evenings after we anchor, or mornings before we set off, and these are often the best times to enjoy the calm water, solitude, and silence of the fantastic landscapes.
All past and present Sierra Club domestic and Canadian trips are conducted on lands originally populated by First Nation peoples. This trip begins near Bella Bella in the heartland of the Heiltsuk First Nation and continues to the Khutzeymateen area historically associated with the Gitsi’is Tribe, part of the Coast Tsimshan peoples. Sierra Club Outings has made a commitment to acknowledge the colonial history of these lands in our brochures and continues to embrace the traditional native values of honoring and protecting our planet.
The trip includes the islands of Chatham Sound where we can walk remote beaches and explore the coastline by kayak. We visit the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nations village of Klemtu, and explore the rarely visited Khutze Inlet, a lush river valley and excellent spring feeding location for grizzly bears. We search for sea life and pause to observe orcas and humpback whales whenever possible. Once north of Prince Rupert, we enter the Khutzeymateen Inlet in search of bears roaming and feeding along the shore within the Khutzeymateen Conservancy
The trip includes the islands of Chatham Sound where we can walk remote beaches and explore the coastline by kayak. We visit the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nations village of Klemtu, and explore the rarely visited Khutze Inlet, a lush river valley and excellent spring feeding location for grizzly bears. We search for sea life and pause to observe orcas and humpback whales whenever possible. Once north of Prince Rupert, we enter the Khutzeymateen Inlet in search of bears roaming and feeding along the shore within the Khutzeymateen Conservancy.
Day 1: Our 11-day trip begins in the small community of Bella Bella on the eastern side of Campbell Island and home to the Heiltsuk First Nation. Bella Bella is located 181km north of Vancouver Island and 144km west of Bella Coola with a population of roughly 1,500 residents. We will have an orientation meeting in the evening at our hotel on nearby Denny Island to cover group introductions as well as departure and arrival logistics for the trip.
Day 2: Today we board our sailboat in the morning and meet our crew. Once on board, cabins are assigned and, following a brief introduction and safety orientation, we will set sail for the Great Bear Rainforest where each night we anchor in a different, secluded anchorage.
As we depart and approach the waters of Milbanke Sound, it is a good time to watch for sea otters. Some will be descendants of 89 sea otters transplanted to Vancouver Island before the U.S. began nuclear testing in the Aleutians at Amchitka Island between 1968 and 1972.
Days 3-4: We head north through either Mathieson Channel or Finlayson Channel with the intention to visit the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nations village of Klemtu to see the ceremonial Big House that was recently built by the local community. We keep watch for bears along the shoreline to Khutze Inlet. The beautiful river valley is a rich estuary which provides excellent spring feeding for grizzly bears and we hope for some great viewing at the water’s edge. The estuary also attracts a wide variety of birdlife, such as American dippers, common mergansers, and bald eagles.
Days 5-6: As we continue north through the waters of southern Douglas Channel (Wright Sound, and Whale Channel), Grenville Channel, and Chatham Sound we expect to see humpback whales and have a good chance of seeing Orca. We also keep watch for other marine mammals like porpoise and Steller sea lions.
Days 7-10: We change course and sail inland to spend one day bear viewing in Kwinimass Conservancy and two days bear viewing in Khutzeymateen Inlet, protected area collaboratively managed by BC Parks, Coast Tshimshian First Nations, and the Gitsi’is Tribe. At its head is Khutzeymateen Provincial Park, also known as Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, which adjoins the more recently declared Conservancy lands along the inlet’s length. These adjacent inlets provide excellent spring feeding for a dense population of grizzly bears and these landscapes are collectively among the most beautiful and inspiring anywhere!
Within an area of 45,000 hectares, scientists estimate there is an important population of about 50 grizzlies protected by the restrictions of the Sanctuary. This part of the trip focuses on bear viewing in the Conservancy, along the shores of the Inlet, and into the Sanctuary where only a few operators are permitted. After anchoring, we will proceed by zodiac as we take care to spot the bears. The bear population here is not hunted and the bears display a general indifference to our presence. Still, to minimize our impact, we will maintain a respectful distance that allows them to engage in their natural behaviors. The spring and early summer months of May and June are peak season for grizzly viewing in the Khutzeymateen (K’tzim-a-deen) and Kwinamaas (Ksi X’anmaas). Bears are attracted to the intertidal zone for its abundance of protein rich Lyngby Sedge which is an important spring food source. As this is also mating season, large, more reticent male grizzlies may also be seen searching for females in the estuary. From the mouth of fiord-like Portland Canal, we now return to the outer islands and lower topography of Chatham Sound. The Nine Tribes of the Tsmishian have lived in this area for over 10,000 years with a powerful and influential history. There are two remaining villages along our route; Lax Kw’alaams (meaning “place of the wild roses”), which was once used as a Hudson Bay Company trading post (Fort Simpson) and Metlakatla, which became a Christian community under Reverend Duncan during the late 1800’s.
Day 11: On the eleventh and final day, our boat will venture south through the narrow Venn Passage. Depending on time and tides we may have a chance to view petroglyphs (indigenous rock carvings) and learn their history from a local Tsimshian guide.
We finally arrive in Prince Rupert, the northernmost town in coastal British Columbia and once the halibut capital of the world where we will tie up at Cow Bay Marina by noon. We’ll enjoy one last no-host group dinner at a local restaurant and say farewell to our unique coastal rainforest adventure
Prince Rupert’s Historic Downtown and Cow Bay shopping districts both offer many shops, galleries, restaurants and cafes, and there is also the wonderfully informative Museum of Northern British Columbia that you can visit. The flight south to Vancouver leaves later in the afternoon, so you’ll have time for lunch and a bit of exploration in Canada’s northernmost Pacific port city.
Please note, the trip price does not include gratuities for the crew. Gratuities are entirely voluntary and solely at your discretion, but they are customary. The crew of the Snow Goose work hard day and night, to make this trip as memorable and fulfilling for you as possible. If you agree they worked hard and contributed significantly to the success and enjoyment of your outing, you may want to express your appreciation with a tip. A guideline of $50-60 per day or about $500-600 (or more) per guest is appropriate. The group gratuity is divided between the captain, first mate, chef, and naturalist. Your Sierra Club trip leader does not share any portion of the gratuity; leaders are unpaid volunteers and cannot accept them.
The trip begins at the Shearwater Marine Resort on Denny Island, a short distance from Bella Bella, British Columbia. Pacific Coastal Airlines has daily non-stop flights from Vancouver, BC to Bella Bella, and this is the recommended way to get to this remote location. For the adventurous, it is also possible to get to Bella Bella by the BC Ferries from Port Hardy BD (5.5 to 6.5 hours) or Port Rupert (10 to 14 hours)
The trip begins at the Shearwater Marine Resort on Denny Island, a short distance from Bella Bella, British Columbia. Pacific Coastal Airlines has daily non-stop flights from Vancouver, BC to Bella Bella, and this is the recommended way to get to this remote location. For the adventurous, it is also possible to get to Bella Bella by the BC Ferries from Port Hardy BD (5.5 to 6.5 hours) or Port Rupert (10 to 14 hours).
There’s only one scheduled flight per day from Vancouver, so you’ll want to arrive the day before the trip begins. Once you are approved for the trip, full and detailed instructions will be provided by your leader regarding the hotel and how to get from the airport north of Bella Bella to the hotel on Denny Island.
The trip ends in Prince Rupert, roughly 50 miles south of the border between British Columbia and Alaska. The town is served by daily Air Canada flights. While it is practical to fly out the same day the trip ends, you may want to consider staying longer to visit Prince Rupert and explore the surrounding area.
Please do not make non-refundable travel arrangements until notified to do so by the trip leader.
Accommodations and Food
The trip includes 9 nights lodging on the Island Roamer, and all meals beginning with lunch on Day 2 and ending with breakfast on Day 11. You are responsible for meals and lodging the day the trip begins and breakfast on Day 2 before we board our boat.
Our home will be a custom 68-foot ketch launched in 1983. The boat’s design, safety and comfort make her perfect for these trips. She features 8 private cabins (double occupancy), 3 heads with hot showers, a large comfortable lounge with an extensive library, and a well-equipped galley. On deck, the large, covered seating area provides protection in all types of weather. The Island Roamer is large enough for comfort, privacy and safety, and small enough to create a good rapport among passengers and crew. And on this trip we’ll have plenty of room to spare – permits to visit these areas limit the overall group to 10 people, so we’ll have flexibility when assigning cabins.
The knowledgeable crew consists of a captain, a professional cook, and an experienced deckhand. In addition, we will have a naturalist onboard with expertise in marine biology, ornithology, and anthropology.
A certified Canadian Ministry of Transport passenger vessel, Island Roamer has all the safety equipment, electronic navigation aids, and features you would expect from a vessel of her standard. All the passenger cabins have adequate storage space for your bags, personal items and jackets. Coat hangers and life jackets are stowed in every cabin for your convenience. There is electricity in each room, so you can charge your camera batteries and enjoy a reading light as you relax in the evening.
Once we depart, all meals will be onboard the ship. We will have a social hour before dinner and evening discussions about our experiences that day. Most nights will be spent anchored in quiet coves. The trip price includes all meals, starting with lunch on the second day and ending with breakfast on the last day. Our cook will prepare all the meals, although volunteer help is always welcome. There will be ample quantities of fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, and dairy products. Delicious, wholesome meals will be served family- or buffet-style. Complimentary wine is served before and with dinner. Otherwise, guests are responsible for bringing their own alcoholic beverages or soft drinks. Coffee and tea are also provided.
There is no smoking or use of E-cigarettes permitted onboard the vessel. Our outfitter does not permit any cannabis or CBD products for personal or prescribed use. Our vessels sail in International waters and must adhere to International laws at all times. Participants will not be permitted to board with any cannabis, cannabis containing items, or CBD products at any time.
We follow Leave No Trace guidelines for coastal and marine environments to minimize our impact on this fragile environment. Our outfitter is a pioneer in sustainable tourism practices, including maintaining respectful distances from marine wildlife, minimizing foot traffic in intertidal zones, use of biodegradable and marine friendly products, and removing found marine garbage from the environment.
This will be a leisurely trip. Hikes are be optional and generally easy, covering moderate terrain. There may be some optional longer, more strenuous hikes. Insects should not be a significant problem, although mosquito repellent will be useful on some hikes. You must be able to descend a short ladder to board an inflatable launch for shore excursions. Daytime temperatures usually range from 55-85 degrees. Although we should have days with sunshine, we must also be prepared for rain and gusty winds. The minimum age for the trip is 16 years.
Sierra Club outings in Alaska and the Canadian Arctic are special experiences in true wilderness, but they also carry an element of risk. Trip locales are often remote and away from the amenities of civilization, including sophisticated medical care and immediate evacuation possibilities. Most of our trips to these areas now carry satellite phones, but even with this technology, communication with the outside world can be difficult and emergency assistance can be days away. Weather is unpredictable, and inclement weather can be severe. Among other hazards are cold river and stream crossings, tidal activity, calving glaciers, the psychological effects of remoteness, and the presence of large wild animals. You're in good hands, though, so don't worry; your trip leaders have traveled extensively in the region, and they'll provide all the guidance you need.
We use professional outfitters and guides for these trips. The industry practice is that our outfitters require participants to sign a waiver similar to the Sierra Club waiver you will be asked to sign. Your trip leader will provide you with the details for your trip.
Equipment and Clothing
You will receive a detailed clothing and equipment list specific to this trip from the leader after signing up. In general, layered clothing, excellent raingear, and knee-length rubber boots are appropriate. Photographers of all skill levels will have ample opportunities to take pictures of wildlife and scenery. Camera battery charging is available onboard. Those who are particularly interested in bird-watching will want to have good binoculars as the bird watching can be outstanding.
- Weyler, Rex, Song of the Whale.
- Morton, Alexandra, Listening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught Us.
- Blanchet, Wylie, Raincoast Chronicles, The Curve of Time.
- Vreeland, Susan, The Forest Lover.
- Reid, Bill, The Raven Steals the Light.
- Vaillant, John, The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed.
We will discuss conservation issues of this area of the world as we encounter them. These include old-growth logging within the coastal regions of British Columbia and Alaska, salmon farming, and creation of the Khutzeymateen Conservancy.
Other issues impacting the region include shipping of oil from the Alberta tar sands and climate change.