Whistler’s snow capped mountains and world class skiing are what have put this small mountain town in the world map, and hosting the winter Olympics of 2004 certainly helped quite a bit too, and while it might be a great destination for snow sports fans during the winter it also boasts many other outdoor activities to be enjoyed the rest of the year.
It’s just an hour and a half north of Vancouver along the Sea to Sky highway and there’s no shortage of sightseeing to do along the way, with the Pacific Ocean on the left during a good part of the drive and beautiful mountains covered by pine trees and snow otherwise. It’s because of all these protected natural surroundings that wildlife-including deer, moose, mountains lions, coyotes and black bears- abound in the area.
Black bears are, without a doubt, the star of the show. Most locals and frequent visitors to the area have seen these usually passive creatures in the wild more than once, but if you’re only here for a few days finding them on your own may prove to be a bit tricky, specially if you’re visiting during late fall, early spring and, of course, winter (when they’re all hibernating). If this is your case your best bet is probably to join a bear viewing tour, and even then you might not be lucky.
On the Quest to Find Black Bears
I was surprised to learn that there aren’t really many tour operators that run these tours, perhaps because they cannot be spotted throughout the full year, and after some searching we decided to try our luck with Whistler Discovery Tours. Run by traveler, explorer and photographer James Fougere, Discovery Tours offers 4 different tours with different purposes but all sharing one thing: looking for bears. We chose to join the Moose Valley Experience which would take along an off road drive along the Coastal Mountain Range where we’d also be able to see lush meadows, two beautiful lakes and hopefully wildlife, including black bears.
We were picked up by our guide and driver at our place on a large and comfortable Land Rover at around 8am and made our way to the valley after picking up 4 more travelers who were staying at other hotels. The drive to the valley was short but fun, with great views as always, and we soon found ourselves bumping on our seats as we made our way along what would in a couple of months be a cross country ski trail.
During the drive our guide explained us many things about local wildlife and its forests, keeping an eye for the elusive black bears and reminding us that most of the times the bears are actually spotted by us travelers, as his eyes have to be on the road most of the time. His message was clear:” keep looking out the window because I do need your help. “
We drove around for almost two hours, and at one point I did see an animal moving some bushes just a few meters ahead of us. After shouting “There!!” and making everyone pull out their cameras the animal came out, but it turned out to be a deer with two calves. Cute and nice, but it wasn’t a bear.
Apparently They Aren’t That Easy to See
At least not during late October or the off season which is when we were there. Despite our guide’s best efforts and getting to see the deer and some beautiful landscapes the black bears were elusive and we never go to see them, either during the tour or later on while driving around. As it turns out food sources and climatic conditions affect bear viewing activity, and as berries in the low lands disappear the bears move towards the higher mountains where there can still find them. For best success rates be on the quest during May, June and July, with success being almost guaranteed, while in August to October the chances are much smaller.
The trip was great: we had plenty fun, took some very nice pictures, learned a lot about the local wildlife and even got to see some deer, but unfortunately did not get to see black bears. With this in mind I would recommend you certainly consider joining one of these tours during the best viewing season of the year (May-July), and only doing so if you have plenty of extra money and will be just as happy by observing the valleys, lakes and maybe other wildlife, as the tour will set you back a couple of hundred dollars- and you may not see the famous black bears of Whistler.
This great off road drive was possible thanks to Whistler Discovery Tours. All opinions and pictures in this post are my own, except those of the black bears which have been provided by James Fougere of Whistler Discover Tours as I did not get to see any.
Have you seen Black Bears? Where? Did you take any cool pictures of them? How did seeing them make you feel? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below and this post too if you liked it!