When we planned out trip to Canada there was one thing always in our conversations and research; bears!
It excites us that we’re travelling and exploring part of Canada where there is a pretty good chance to see bears. Now there is another very important factor, we’re travelling with 4-year-old twins, so the great excitement of actually seeing a bear whilst hiking or exploring some of the Vancouver Island shore lines started to become a bit worrying.
We decided to engage in a family friendly and safe tour with Ocean Outfitters, Tofino’s first Carbon Neutral Adventure Company, to ensure that our very first encounter with a black bear would be with people that have great experience and in total safety. This way we also have the opportunity to ask the crew many questions of what to do if we do have the great pleasure and spot a bear in the wild later on, during our epic road trip through Canada.
Bear Watch Tour from Tofino – where is the tour going?
The magnificent back drop to picturesque Tofino Village is the pristine Meares Island which lies in the Clayoquot Sound. This calm and sheltered body of water with many inlets and bays makes it the ideal place for a fun and educational bear watch tour in Tofino.
What to expect on a Bear Watch Tour from Tofino with Ocean Outfitters?
Like any tour there is never a guarantee that you actually will see the wild animal you are hoping to observe. A little bit of luck is always needed. But bears are pretty loyal to their territory, and your guide will know where the best places are to encounter them.
We’ve been told that the Clayoquot Sound’s resident bears come down to the water shore at low tide to forage for their breakfast on delicacies such as rock crab, starfish and even a bit of kelp. So yes, we did have high expectations of seeing at least one of the 15’000 black bears on Vancouver Island.
As we’re travelling with young kids the only option was to book the covered vessel as they consider the open Zodiac boat just not comfortable and safe enough for younger kids.
Honestly, I was super happy to be on a boat where we could actually move around a bit whereas on the Zodiac boats we would have been strapped in to our seats for the entire journey, wearing one of the full-bodied survival suits.
The Zodiac gives you an open-view space especially for photography, but we loved the covered vessel for many good reasons. It was simply perfect.
Other great wildlife encounters
On the way to the bear territory, we passed by a stunning landscape. Small islands are dotted within the large inlets which made the 20min boat ride unforgettable. We spotted some seals waiting for high tide on a rock formation in the middle of the waters. They really observed us as the boat drifted their way, perhaps because Orcas make their way also into these waters to feed.
An eagle flew past holding his pray tightly with his claws, whilst others were observing their surroundings high up in the tree canopies.
Black Bear Territory
We reached the bear territory and we did not have to wait long. A black boulder suddenly moved on the far distant beach. Yes, it was a male black bear. He was clearly having his breakfast and without any trouble he moved one rock after the other with his paw and made sure no delicacies were left behind.
Further along, on another beach we had the pleasure to observe a female bear with her cub.
It was super interesting to see the difference in the behaviour of the two bear encounters. Whilst the male bear did not take any notice of us, neither did he check out his surroundings, mama bear was constantly checking what is going on around her.
Although she might have not seen us, she most certainly felt that there was a threat in the air. At one point she must have signalled to her cub to seek higher ground for safety, as the little one ran away up in to the woods. It reappeared after several minutes.
They are an absolute pleasure to watch from the boat.
How to prepare yourself for a Bear Watch Tour from Tofino
Book a trip
Depending on the season you’re visiting Tofino you might need to book the bear watch tour in advance. As we were there during shoulder season we saw that the boats departing the day before us and also the next days were still had space on them. As we knew exactly the dates on when we would visit Vancouver Island and Tofino we planned it well in advance.
You can book it up to 24h in advance online through the Ocean Outfitters website. The tours are offered as soon as the bears wake up from winter hibernation, which is usually sometime in April or May. And they finish once the bears are wandering off to hunt for salmon which is normally end of October. But best to check with the shop directly.
Good to know:: If you’re travelling with young kids, under the age of four, they allow one child per trip free of charge (first comes first serves basis). This might help if you plan your trip and book in advanced.
What to wear on the covered boat for the Bear Watch Tour
Remember you’re out at sea and the weather can change quickly.We all had our waterproofs with us, but did not need them. We visited in May and the weather was (according to the locals) exceptional. It was super calm and pure sunshine.
But just be prepared. I even had some woolly hats and gloves in my backpack. I would hate to be on such an amazing bear watch tour in Tofino and be cold and not enjoy it. Best is to wear closed shoes as well.
DO NOT PUT PERFUME NOR DEODORANT ON!
Bears can smell you from afar and I hate to break it to you but they don’t like Chanelle n5. You risk watching the bears leave the shoreline if they detect a strong perfume or deodorant odour .
What gear to bring on the bear watch tour
For sure do not forget your camera and binoculars. Now be aware that your iPhone photos may not bring you much, as we’re still quite a distance to away from the bears. A good zoom lens for sure is amazing, but again you just might not get the super sharp photo you were expecting to. The boat is a bit wobbly, and it is nearly impossible to have a steady hand with a large zoom lens. I am pretty happy with my photos apart from the sharpness.
As mentioned the bears have a strong sense of smell so they only allow you to bring water on boats and no food. If you do feel you need a snack to bring for the kids ask the crew, perhaps there is any chance on bringing some odourless cookies or some nuts.
Should you go on a Bear Watch Tour from Tofino?
Absolutely, Ocean Outfitters were great and we had an amazing day!! A great thank you also to our guide/captain Martin. He was super friendly, enthusiastic, and extremely knowledgeable about the local area and the wildlife. The crew in the shop were amiable and professional and it was all very well organised. We felt safe throughout the trip.
The tour is approximately 2.5 hours, and if you can entertain the kids a bit with the beauty of the surrounding nature and all the amazing wildlife you might see, then the time passes by in no time. Our twins were just short of 4 years old and it was perfect.
This bear watch tour from Tofino with Ocean Outfitters is an amazing and safe family adventure you simply cannot miss when visiting Tofino on Vancouver Island.