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Spotting bears in Canada | Campbell River, Vancouver Island

After we took the ferry to Vancouver Island , we were our camper visiting an old friend in Campbell River. We stayed here a few nights to look for bears together. In addition to spotting bears (free) without a tour, we also explored some waterfalls in the area.

In this article we share some beautiful photos and videos with you. Images of intense moments with the bears that literally made our hearts beat faster. Naturally, we will also inform you well and give you tips regarding safety, because they remain wild animals. We also share the exact location(s) with you, so that you know exactly where to find the bears and waterfalls of Campbell River during your trip, without having to book an expensive tour. Are you traveling with us?

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Our journey through the United States and Canada

This article is part of a major one-year journey that we (Chris and Malou van Wereldreizigers.nl), are currently making by the United States en Canada† We started in New York City and are through Washington DC en Baltimore (where we shipped our RV), first traveled south (Florida) and then made a full round of the country. At the end of July we crossed the border to Canada via Montana.

Organizing this trip took a lot of time and energy. So we had to US B1/B2 visa of one year and we spent weeks working on it renovating our 4×4 camper† Then we got to work on the RV to America to ship and in hindsight it turned out to be a Dutch vehicle insurance in America to be one of the biggest challenges.

When that was all over, we could finally focus on the anticipation: figuring out and planning all the beautiful places we want to visit. I built the ultimate roadtrip route through America and Canada of roughly 50.000 kilometers in Google maps and we are now making our dream come true! The interactive map can be viewed below.

More blogs from our trip through America and Canada



Campbell River

Campbell River (location here ) is located roughly in the middle of Vancouver Island on the east side. It is particularly a popular spot for Whale Watching tours (here bookable) and bear spotting. The town is located against a hill and as soon as you walk even a few meters into the forest, you have a chance to encounter bears here.

The location to spot bears

We were out with Sue, she is a biologist and she is our friend's roommate. This turned out to be a nice surprise because Sue told us exactly where we could find the bears. She could also tell us when we had the best chance of seeing them and also which special plants and trees we could see in the forest near the river. Awesome!

She took us to a parking lot near the Quinsam Fish Hatchery. I have the exact location here indicated on Google Maps. It is best to start at the first parking lot just after the bridge, because this is where the trail starts along the river. Follow the trail along the river and take a good look along the banks!

Follow the trail by the river. At the top of the stairs you have a kind of viewpoint
Follow the trail by the river. At the top of the stairs you have a kind of viewpoint

Tip:: The best times to spot the bears are two hours after sunrise and two hours before sunset. These are the hours when the bears normally come out of the bushes in search of food. Not only food such as flowers and fruits, they also fish for salmon here!

The first black bear

The first bear we saw had seen us much earlier. I had to make the photo below a lot more clear, because it was already dark. The bear was very difficult to see among the vegetation. Malou saw a black spot in the bushes and after some doubt we did see the bear.

The black bear looked us straight in the eye for a while, before disappearing again into the bushes. This was the only bear we saw this evening.

The bear had seen us long ago | Spotting bears at Campbell River
The bear had seen us long ago | Spotting bears at Campbell River

The second black bear

We decided to look for the bears again the next morning. This time we were really treated to a wonderful experience! We saw several bears, including a mama bear with 2 little ones. However, these were well hidden in the bushes, unfortunately we do not have any good images of them.

We then stood on the river bank each time to look along the banks. I looked to my right, saw nothing, and looked to my left again. And before I could turn my head back, Malou says he has spotted another bear! This to our right, where I had looked closely a few seconds earlier. The bear had suddenly come out of the bushes and noticed us again. This bear also looked straight into our eyes.

The bear looks me straight in the eye, while I'm hiding in the bushes | Spotting bears at Campbell River
The bear looks me straight in the eye, while I'm hiding in the bushes | Spotting bears at Campbell River

Now it became somewhat exciting because the bear (although on the other side of the river) came running towards us. The river is only 20-30 centimeters deep, so crossing it is easy. Fortunately the bear was mainly looking for food, he no longer had eyes for us. Every 10 meters he stepped into the water and you could see him visibly sniffing, looking for smells of food. He also looked into the water to see if a salmon happened to be swimming by.

The bear smells and sniffs, looking for food | Spotting bears in Canada
The bear smells and sniffs, looking for food | Spotting bears in Canada

The bear slowly came close, about 30 meters from us. We stood still, didn't move and just let the bear do its thing. Every now and then he would look at us to check if we were still there. Eventually he continued walking through the water in search of food.

The bear continues its way through the water | Spotting bears in Canada
The bear continues its way through the water | Spotting bears in Canada

At this point I decided to do some filming. He was really close! The video really shows how stunningly beautiful these animals are in the wild and how close we actually were. As the bear passed us, our hearts were racing. Awesome!

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The third black bear

After the video above we lost sight of the bear. We decided to walk back slowly. On the way back we occasionally looked at the river, because you never know. And sure enough, another bear! We could tell from the brown muzzle and the brown fur on the back of its back that this was a different bear. This black bear had already noticed us for a long time, but didn't care about us. He then went in search of food again.

I also made a short video of this bear.

Full of wonder and adrenalin, we returned to the camper in the parking lot, just 50 meters from the last spotted bear. We ended the bear watching in Campbell River with a big smile on our faces. What an experience, what beautiful animals!

Bear and wildlife safety

Park Canada and the National Park Service in America uses the images below or similar to illustrate that people should keep 30 meters (about three bus lengths) away from animals such as elk and sheep. It is recommended to keep a distance of 100 meters for bears, wolves and Pumas (mountain lions).

Keeping 100 meters away from bears proved difficult in Campbell River
Keeping 100 meters away from bears proved difficult in Campbell River

Now, during our search for the bears at Campbell River, we soon found out that this was virtually impossible. The bears we saw suddenly appeared out of nowhere from the bushes, sometimes just 30 meters away from us.

It is then especially important to remain calm and to look closely at the reaction of the bear. As you can see from the photos and videos above, in every case the bears knew we were there. They looked us straight in the eye several times, but luckily didn't care about us. But of course it can also go very differently, after all, they remain (very strong) wild animals.

Additional safety tips

So what else can you do, rather than just keep your distance? In any case, if you are in an area where many bears live, it is wise not to walk alone. And bear is less likely to attack if you are with more than one person.

Being alert and making noise (just talking is enough) during your walk is also important. A bear can then notice you from a distance and often the bear would choose to stay away from you. What you don't want is that you suddenly come face to face with a bear. These are the moments when a bear can react aggressively.

Bearspray for extra safety | Bear watching at Campbell River
Bearspray for extra safety | Bear watching at Campbell River

In the event that you suddenly encounter a bear that is very close to you, there are a number of things you can do. Running away is not one of them. It is then recommended to step back slowly to create more distance between you and the bear. Keep looking at the bear, don't turn your back on the bear.

Should it lead to aggression from the bear, then bear spray your best defense. Wearing Bearspray can help you in case of a bear attack. It is an extremely powerful pepper spray that creates a large cloud of gas that reaches up to 20 meters. This painful cloud of gas can help you escape the bear. Such a bus costs on average 30 to 50 dollars, but since it can save your life it is worth every dollar.

Also read: Taking bears and other wildlife into account (tips)

Elk Falls

In addition to the many black bears in the region, there is more to see around Campbell River. Elk Falls (location here ), is one of those places. The falls are part of a protected natural park (Elk Falls Provincial Park and Protected Area). The park surprised us, because we suddenly imagined ourselves in a true rainforest. We had already read that there were rainforests on Vancouver Island, but we did not expect to see this so soon. The thick vegetation and trees in the park were beautiful.

Rainforest at Elk Falls on Vancouver Island
Rainforest at Elk Falls on Vancouver Island

Near the falls is also a suspension bridge that you can walk over. Unlike the suspension bridge at Vancouver, this one doesn't cost $70 per person, but it's completely free!

Malou on the (free) suspension bridge at Elk Falls, Campbell River
Malou on the (free) suspension bridge at Elk Falls, Campbell River

By the way, we were lucky today, because normally the waterfall is not as powerful as it was now. They had opened some dam locks a bit further on for maintenance, so suddenly a lot more water came down than usual! From the viewing platform you have a perfect view of the waterfall.

View platform at Elk Falls, Campbell River
View platform at Elk Falls, Campbell River

You didn't hear us complaining that suddenly a lot more water came down because it was a beautiful sight. And even formed a mini rainbow!

Elk Falls, Campbell River
Elk Falls, Campbell River

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We came to Campbell River to spot bears and that mission was more than a success! The place definitely lived up to its name. We saw several bears here, often much closer than we had dared to dream.

If you want to see bears in the wild without much effort (no long hikes) and (for free!), Campbell River on Vancouver Island is the right place. This is one of the best places in Canada to spot bears. The fact that there is a rainforest with impressive waterfalls nearby is just a bonus.

PS. In the next blog we will book a Whale Watching Tour and we go in search of Orcas, which again yielded great images. Until then!

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Owner or Wereldreizigers.nl | Discover the world!
– Traveled 3+ months per year, 10 years in a row
– Traveled a year in USA & Canada in 2022

Stubborn & decisive world traveller
– Life is short, make the most out of it in literal sense.
– Never take no for an answer.
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