Spirit Bears Photo Tour

Photograph the rare white spirit bear

    • Best location to see and photograph spirit bears
    • Black bear sightings each day
    • Learn about Gitga’at culture
    • Pristine wilderness, hearty food, comfortable accommodations
    • All meals, accommodation, and transport from Prince Rupert
    • 4 nights, three full days and two half days of photography

Journey with us into the heart of the Great Bear rainforest, in the traditional territory of the Gitga’at First Nation, to watch and photograph one of the rarest bears in the world. Spirit bears, or Kermode bears, are a sub-species of black bears that possess a double recessive gene that gives them their white fur. It’s estimated that there are fewer than 400 of these bears left in the wild.

Imagine the most beautiful moss covered landscape, ancient cedar trees, and amidst this spectacular scenery, a shining white bear emerges from the dark forest. Seeing a spirit bear in the wild is a profound experience. Words cannot do justice to describe this experience of these magical bears fishing for salmon right in front of you. It’s unlike any other bear experience on the planet. Join us in the very best location and the best time of year to see spirit bears and create photographs that you will cherish forever!

Tour Highlights: Land-based spirit bear photography

Dates:

* Sept 30 – Oct 4, 2024

Tour Leader: Zac Mills & Scott Stone

Price: $5,499 (US dollars)

Price includes: All meals and accommodation, transport from Prince Rupert

Accommodation: Shared

Start/End: Prince Rupert, British Columbia

Fitness Level: Moderate

WATCH OUR VIDEO

REASONS TO CHOOSE THIS TOUR

Rare Bears: Spirit bears are a rare subspecies of American black bears with a distinctive white coat, and are found only in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Pristine Wilderness: The Great Bear Rainforest is a majestic realm where towering trees, meandering rivers, and diverse ecosystems harmonize to create one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Cultural Significance: Revered by indigenous communities, spirit bears hold cultural importance, offering a chance to connect with local legends and traditions.

Spectacular Whale Watching: We have exceptional whale-watching opportunities, including orcas, humpback whales, gray whales, and minke whales.

Conservation Contribution: Responsible spirit bear tourism supports conservation efforts and raises awareness about preserving their habitats.

ITINERARY

The tour departs from Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada. Please plan to arrive in Prince Rupert at least one day before the start of tour. 

Day 0 • Arrive in Prince Rupert

Please plan to arrive in Prince Rupert on September 29th. Accommodation is not provided as part of the arrangement. I will personally be staying at the Prestige Hotel, conveniently located near the airport shuttle drop-off point, but there are alternative lodging options in close proximity. It is customary for our group to gather for a shared dinner on this evening.

Day 1 • Prince Rupert to Hartley Bay

We will meet near the docks at the end of 90 Charlie Currie Road for our water taxi to Hartley Bay, which typically departs around 7:45am. The water taxi will take approximately 3 hours as we journey through the Great Bear Rainforest to our destination. Along the way, there is a chance to spot humpback whales, and if luck is on our side, we might even witness the fascinating bubble feeding behavior we had the privilege to observe in the past. Once we arrive in Hartley Bay, we will be shown our rooms and after a quick change we’ll head out on the boat in search of spirit bears until sunset. We’ll then head back to the lodge for a hearty dinner.

Day 2-4 • Great Bear Rainforest

For each of the next three days, we will have an early breakfast, we’ll pack a lunch and plan to be out all day in search of the magical spirit bear. 

Day 5 • Tour Ends

On our last morning, we will wake up for breakfast and then, depending on weather conditions, we may head out for a few last hours in search of spirit bears, or we may stay at the guesthouse. Our water taxi typically departs Hartley Bay between 10-11am for our scenic boat ride back to Prince Rupert, which will bring this magical experience to an end.

Prince Rupert

WHAT’s INCLUDED?

• Photography instruction
• Accommodation
• All meals and non-alcoholic beverages
• Return water taxi from Prince Rupert

WHAT’s NOT INCLUDED?

• Flights to Prince Rupert
• Accommodations before/after the tour
• Tips for guides and guesthouse staff
• Travel medical insurance (required)

WHAT IS A TYPICAL DAY?

6:30am: wake up

7am: breakfast

8am: depart on boat

8:30am: hike to creek

12pm: lunch

6:30pm: hike back to boat

6:45pm: boat ride back

7:15pm: arrive back at lodge

7:30pm: dinner

8:30pm: optional image review

 

* Actual times may vary and depend on tides, weather conditions, and other factors. 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

How many spirit bears will I see?

Wildlife is unpredictable, BUT we are going at the best time of year to see spirit bears in close proximity. At this time of year, the bears are attracted to the creeks which fill with salmon each September. Last year, we saw 2 spirit bears, one named Strawberry and another new spirit bear that had not been seen before. However, we did not see a spirit bear every day, so we cross our fingers that the spirit bear gods will smile brightly upon us. In addition to spirit bears, we are likely to see several black bears fishing for salmon. So in summary, a good deal of patience is required. We will do everything we can to find spirit bears, but we must remember that nature operates at its own rhythm and flow.

What other wildlife will I see?

We may see bald eagles, pine martens, deer, stellar jays, and if we’re really lucky coastal wolves. We will of course see many salmon so consider bringing an underwater housing for your camera. We may also see humpback whales and orcas.

What is shared accommodation?

Due to the remote nature of our location, our lodge offers limited bedrooms, necessitating some guests to share rooms equipped with two beds. We provide a total of four bathrooms and three showers for our group’s convenience, and a spacious communal area serves as our dining and relaxation hub, creating a cozy atmosphere for socializing and gathering.

How wet will it be?

It will be wet, which comes with the territory of operating in a rainforest. It is crucial to have a 100% waterproof jacket and pants, as well as high water proof boots. We recommend hip waders, which makes navigating through the small water passages worry-free. You will also benefit from a waterproof hat and gloves.

Is Hartley Bay an alchohol-free community?

Correct. There will be no alcohol available on this tour.

What focal range do you recommend?

Every focal range from 24-600mm can be of value. The wider perspectives are great to showcase thee incredible mountain scenery around the bears. Tighter compositions work great for portraits and for those times when we are further away. There are so many compositional possibilities that having a variety of focal length options will serve you well.

Can I bring a tripod?

Absolutely. You will just need to carry it with you on the short hike from the boat to our setup location.

What's the bathroom situation?

There are four beautiful bathrooms with hot showers at the guesthouse. Out in the field, there are portable camping toilets available.

What's the food situation?

Hearty. We will be well fed on this trip. Any dietary needs can be accommodated.

Will there be cell service or WiFi at the lodge?

Yes. There is reliable cell reception in Hartley Bay and we will have WiFi at the guesthouse. Once we board the boat and head out each day, expect to leave this connectivity behind.

More Questions?

Send us an email and we’ll be happy to arrange a time to chat through everything with you and answer any questions you may have.

HOW STRENUOUS IS THE HIKING?

Prepare for a concise yet enchanting hike of only 10-15 minutes to our designated viewing spots at the creek. The trails, though short, pose their own charm with muddy patches and a variety of exposed roots that require good balance. Since we will be on foot in the rainforest, sturdy rain gear and rain coverings for your camera equipment are a must. 

Our approach is designed for inclusivity, and we take pride in ensuring that the pace of the hike is comfortable for everyone. We understand the significance of the experience and encourage you to relish each moment. To further enhance your enjoyment, we incorporate frequent breaks, allowing you to catch your breath, absorb the breathtaking surroundings, and immerse yourself in this special ecosystem.

SPIRIT BEAR FACTS

Unique Genetics: The gene responsible for the white fur in spirit bears is inherited from both parents, making it a double-recessive trait.

Population Estimates: The exact number of spirit bears in the wild is challenging to determine, but estimates suggest that there are only a few hundred individuals.

Enigmatic Existence: Spirit bears reveal themselves for just one month of the year, leaving the events of the remaining 11 months shrouded in mystery.

Relationship with Salmon: Their fishing activities help disperse fish remains, fertilizing the surrounding forest and supporting plant growth.

Adaptation to Environment: The white fur of spirit bears provides them with a camouflage advantage while fishing for salmon in the rivers, allowing them to blend with the surroundings and approach their prey stealthily.

Spirit Bear Directory: Confirmed spirit bears in the vicinity include Strawberry, Warrior, and Łaaya, a recently discovered spirit bear that first appeared in September 2023.

SPIRIT BEAR CONSERVATION

The Great Bear Rainforest is a natural eden. Two-thirds the size of Ireland, it is one of the world’s most special wild places. Picture ancient trees, up to a thousand years old, with extraordinary animals, such as spirit bears, coastal wolves, whales, salmon, and so much more. It is also home to more than two dozen First Nations.

But it wasn’t always protected. In the 1990s, these ancient forests were being logged to the point of collapse. In 2016, however, a groundbreaking agreement was reached to permanently protect 85% of the Great Bear Rainforest from industrial logging, while the remaining 15% are subject to the strictest legal standard for commercial logging in North America.

HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH SPIRIT BEARS

We will be out all day until sunset. This schedule ensures we are maximizing our time in the field to see the elusive spirit bears. Patience is paramount, as these magnificent creatures may not reveal themselves every day. When a spirit bear does make an appearance, it’s often a fleeting moment, lasting only a few minutes. Thus, it’s crucial to keep your camera settings poised for action at all times. 

Read our bear photography guide, which covers practical advice on camera gear and settings, and composition tips that cater to photographers of all levels. We will have many opportunities to discuss different aspects of photography when we are watching bears.

We also provide optional 1-1 Zoom sessions before the tour, detailed prompts and guidance when we are in the field, and optional post-processing sessions after your tour. We will do everything we can to help you become a better photographer!

PHOTO GALLERY

EXTEND YOUR STAY

Things to do in Vancouver

  • Stunning Natural Beauty: Vancouver is surrounded by breathtaking natural landscapes, from the Pacific Ocean to the Coastal Mountains. Visitors can enjoy the scenic views, parks, and outdoor activities.
  • Cultural Diversity: Vancouver is known for its rich cultural tapestry, with diverse neighborhoods such as Chinatown and Little Italy. This diversity is reflected in its vibrant arts scene, festivals, and a wide range of culinary experiences.
  • Outdoor Recreation: From hiking and biking in Stanley Park to skiing on the nearby mountains to whale watching, Vancouver provides a variety of activities for nature lovers and adventure seekers.

Things to do on Vancouver Island

  • Whale Watching: Vancouver Island is a prime destination for whale watching, with opportunities to see orcas, humpback whales, gray whales, and minke whales. 
  • Black Bears and more Wildlife: Vancouver Island is inhabited by black bears, and certain areas offer a chance to encounter a variety of native species, including deer, elk, and smaller mammals.
  • Bald Eagles: Vancouver Island is home to a thriving population of bald eagles. Visitors have the chance to witness these iconic birds soaring through the skies, fishing in coastal waters, and nesting in the island’s diverse ecosystems.

MEET YOUR GUIDES

Zac Mills

As a wildlife photographer, traveler, and former World Bank economist, Zac brings a different perspective to wildlife conservation. He founded the Wildlife Collective to help others become better wildlife photographers and to use their voice for conservation. With leadership roles in several conservation organizations, Zac knows first hand that working together with like-minded individuals can make a difference. A certified guide and bear lover, Zac hopes to entertain you with stories from the wild, inspire you to get involved in conservation, and to become the best wildlife photographer you can be.

Scott Stone

I spend as much time as possible in Katmai National Park, guiding bear tours for the great coastal brown bears and also with the great Kodiak brown bears of Kodiak Island. I spend most of my winters home in Montana, traveling all over the state as well as the Western states in pursuit of wildlife, landscape, astro, and aurora opportunities. Working full time, guiding, shooting, and editing leaves little time for sleep but fuels my drive to work to bring you the best of what I see and dream about. 

JOIN US FOR A TRIP OF A LIFETIME!

Why Our Photo Tours Are Different

Experience

The essence of life lies in its experiences, and it is our unwavering mission to gift you the very best of them. We strive to craft our tours with care and authenticity, making each adventure a vibrant chapter in the story of your life.

Conservation

All of our tours have a conservation focus. We will learn about the challenges facing our primary subject and ongoing conservation work. Plus, every tour makes a donation to a conservation partner.

Locations

We take you to the world’s most amazing wilderness destinations, carefully selected for their unparalleled beauty and chosen based on our commitment to providing guests with the very best wildlife experiences.

Photography Focus

We welcome all levels of photography and provide optional photography sessions before, during, and after the tour. With our hands on learning, you are going to leave our tour as a better photographer. Ask us anything at anytime!

Small Groups

We believe that small groups give the best wildlife expereinces. We do not exceed 6 clients per guide, and in most tours, the ratio will be even smaller. This ensures that you get the personalized attention that you deserve.

Best Guides

We work with the world’s best wildlife guides, who also happen to be our good friends. They are experienced, keep us safe, and put us in the best possible position to have the best wildlife experience.