Bear Watching in Terrific Tofino

Tofino, on Vancouver Island, is one of those places that the minute I heard about it, I knew I had to go. Vancouver Island is just a quick hop from the mainland, and has one of the most amazing landscapes imaginable. Mountains and coastline, what more could you ask for? How about great coffee? Abundant wildlife? Surfing? Yes, that and more. Let’s make this our little secret, eh?


Leaving behind record temperatures in Seattle, a city where nobody has air conditioning

Our journey began in Seattle where we boarded the Victoria Clipper and motored though the heart of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We spent most of the voyage above deck keeping a sharp eye out for wildlife, and in Lana’s case, fending off sea sickness. It didn’t take long before the first of many harbor porpoises made an appearance.

The smoke from wildfires burning in British Columbia began to thicken the air as we worked out way to open water. Just about 30 minutes before reaching Victoria, we spotted some large black dorsal fins off the stern. Orca! We didn’t get a good look, nor any good photos, so we left rubbing our eyes wondering if it had been a trick of smoke and waves. I still haven’t had a good look at an orca, so I’m not ready to tick this species off the list yet.

After making land and picking up our rental car in Victoria, we met a friend for lunch before beginning the trip to Tofino. Lana was pretty much out from taking a dose of Dramamine on the boat, so we only made a couple of stops on the four hour drive. Little Qualicum Falls was a nice place to stretch the legs, but the real show was sunset over Kennedy Lake, just before reaching Tofino. The haze from the forest fires combined with the reflections on the lake created one of the most magical sunsets I’ve ever seen.


Sunset over Kennedy Lake, Vancouver Island


We enjoyed three days of beach combing, hiking, and exploring around Tofino. Sea lions were far from shore, but unmistakable on the eponymous named Sea Lion Rock off  Combers Beach. One of the highlights of the trip was a bear watching tour from a Zodiac boat with Remote Passages Marine Excursions. I was really impressed by our guides knowledge, and in particular his respect for the wildlife. We saw six black bears in the course of the afternoon, as well as harbor seals, more harbor porpoise, and some great bald eagle photo opportunities. It was incredible watching the bears foraging at low tide, rolling over massive rocks with no effort whatsoever. Just as we were coming back to port, we had a really special treat: six river otters at close range! Of course, most people were there for the bears, but if you are a mustelid nerd like me, you know I got my money’s worth!


A parade of North American river otters on the banks of Clayoquot Sound.

We saw another black bear on the side of the highway later that night, for a total of seven bears in one day. That is a record for me! Bear scat and tracks were everywhere you look, and it wasn’t hard to see why with the twice a day crab buffet at low tide and abundant berries.


Surfing for the first time at world famous Cox Bay.

On our return voyage to Seattle, Lana spotted the spout of a whale shortly after leaving Victoria. It fluked a few hundred yards off the stern of the boat. I wasn’t able to get any clear photos for an identification, but I’m going with humpback whale based on the dorsal fin. Gray whale and minke whale are also present around Vancouver Island and Puget Sound, and there are numerous options for whale watching tours in the area, even though we weren’t able to fit one in this trip.

One creature that we didn’t get to see was the gray wolf, but Tofino is still as good as place as any to look for them. Maybe a little too good, based on the increasing number of human-wolf conflicts at places like Long Beach and the abundance of warnings at trail heads. I think with a couple of weeks to work with, we would have gotten a shot. Maybe next spring during gray whale season!


Sow bear and cub foraging at low tide along the banks of Clayoquot Sound.




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