Glaciers ice the summits of the peaks, spawning rivers that plot a route to the sea through ancient forests of cedar, hemlock and fir. The waters and woods of the Bella Coola Valley have sheltered great wildlife populations for millennia. Along the central coast of British Columbia, where the Coast Range meets the Pacific Ocean, lies a wilderness known and visited by few. Salmon, eagles and bears, totemic animals of coastal native peoples are still abundant here, evocative of nature that is both primal and arresting.
Day 1: Bella Coola, British Columbia
After our group flight from Vancouver to Bella Coola (booked by NHA), we are met by our Expedition Leader and transferred to Tweedsmuir Park Lodge, a remote but very comfortable base for our wilderness explorations. Set in a river valley at the base of a massive 8,000-foot rock mountain in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, the views from the lodge are dramatic. The deck of the main lodge, as well as the porches and windows of each cabin, overlooks a broad meadow that is a well-known bear sanctuary where grizzlies are often seen.
Day 2: Bella Coola River Float Trip & Helicopter Flightseeing
A slow drift down the Atnarko and Bella Coola rivers offers an ideal pace and proximity for wildlife viewing. During the summer, the rivers are crowded with spawning salmon that attract bald eagles and bears, and we may see both on the banks as we float past. The peaks of the Coast Range rise all around, their serrated ridgelines veined in snow and ice. This afternoon we are afforded a different perspective as we soar above them in a helicopter, dipping through passes where mountain goats are often spotted clinging to the granite above timberline. We fly over Hunlen Falls, Canada’s third highest, which offers yet another spectacle as it pours a thousand feet off a sheer rock precipice, its plume freefalling into spray over Lonesome Lake. If time allows, we may explore a secluded trail in Tweedsmuir Park to look for the rare cougar, gray wolves, bald eagles and other northern birdlife.
Day 3: In Search of Grizzlies
British Columbia is home to an estimated 6,000 to 14,000 grizzlies, among the highest bear concentrations in North America. The summer and early-fall salmon runs attract dozens of bears to this area, and though it is very likely we will see them during our other activities, we spend this entire day focused on these magnificent creatures. We take another float trip, pausing along the riverbanks to watch for bears. The floor of the temperate rainforest is covered with giant sword ferns, devil’s club and tangles of huckleberries, blueberries, raspberries, salmonberries and thimbleberries. Though they gorge on salmon, bears love berries, too, and this vegetation is a draw for them. Of course, grizzlies are unpredictable and we can never guarantee their appearance, but the Bella Coola Valley is so rich with their presence that we feel confident in our sightings.
Day 4: Native Cultures, Rainforest Exploration
Along with prolific wildlife and spectacular scenery, the Bella Coola Valley is home to a group of First Nations peoples, the Nuxalk, a vibrant culture present here for millennia and still thriving today. On a visit to the village of Bella Coola, we are introduced to the Nuxalk culture through local artisans, storytellers, drummers and singers.
Day 5: Tweedsmuir Park
Where lush coastal forests exist, moisture abounds, and due to the unpredictable weather experienced in the Bella Coola Valley, we are occasionally precluded from traveling by helicopter on our flightseeing excursion. We have arranged a “backup day” in case of bad weather on our proposed flying day. If we have been able to keep our regular itinerary, then we may hike a trail upriver on the Atnarko, where we may see eagles and bears fishing for salmon, and other wildlife.
Day 6: Free Morning - Bella Coola / Home
After free time this morning at the lodge, we travel back into town for our group flight back to Vancouver, where we catch our return flights home.