I had just finished lunch, barely an hour into my trip, when the first grizzly bears arrived. Everyone in the lodge rushed to the front patio to watch a mother and her cub ravenously rip apart dandelion flowers a couple hundred yards away. Through binoculars, I watched as the cub face-planted into the grass, probably considering a nap.
It’s common for the dining room to empty like this at British Columbia’s Tweedsmuir Park Lodge when the grizzlies stream down the mountains and into the valley from late August through mid-October. No matter how tasty that steak, sockeye salmon or orange-chocolate pot du creme is, the bears take precedence. They’re often spotted on the lawn, busily eating while guests watch in awe.
Of course, there are plenty of other opportunities to view grizzly bears at Tweedsmuir. The accommodation sits in a sparsely populated corner of Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park, but is only an hour from Vancouver, British Columbia, by plane. Its seasonal Grizzly Bear Safari packages, which range from three to seven nights, include numerous activities that revolve around the bears. The lodge’s experts lead clients on river floats, nature walks and hikes to spot and learn about these incredible creatures, watching as they devour food in preparation for winter hibernation. (Private packages as well as small-group options are available, and the lodge offers travel advisors 10 to 15% commission.)
My visit was rife with other sightings, too. We glimpsed a mother and a cub chowing down on rose hips as we floated down the Atnarko River, which threads through the steep walls of mist-ringed Coast Mountains cliffs. We spied a lone adult bear swimming across the river on a second float trip, and another chomping grass along the Chilcotin Highway, which passes the lodge. By the end of my five-day trip, I had lost count of the sightings.
While I was initially a bit nervous about sharing my accommodations with some of the planet’s most feared predators, I learned not to be afraid of the bears. That attitude shift came thanks to lodge guides such as Ellie Lamb, the resident “bear whisperer.” Lamb guides hikes and has a sixth sense for spotting bear activity — from finding bits of fur on tree trunks to smelling a bear just up the trail. She teaches her guests to appreciate the bears from a safe distance, without disturbing, frightening or antagonizing them.
“The worst threat to a bear is our own fear and anxiety,” she told me.
Lamb, along with the rest of the lodge’s staff, shows visitors how to coexist with grizzlies in this special place, which keeps them, as well as their human admirers, safe.
Tweedsmuir’s origins date to 1929, making it one of the oldest lodges on Canada’s West Coast. While bear viewing is a main draw in the fall, the lodge is open from late June through mid-October and offers myriad activities. Guests can scale nearby cliffs on a via ferrata (a cross between rock climbing and a ropes course), trek through the striking volcanic landscape of the Rainbow Range, view ancient First Nations stone carvings, visit the Great Bear Rainforest, learn to fly-fish and get dropped off by helicopter in the high alpine for hiking and skiing.
The bears, the fishing and the via ferrata are all worthwhile draws, but there’s also something to be said for the deep peace in this quiet corner of British Columbia. From the porch of my private, timber-framed cabin — and the lodge’s outdoor hot tub — I felt content just watching rocky cliffs snag curtains of passing fog.
Tweedsmuir Park Lodge