Ever since I was little, I have been fascinated by bears. When I heard that Vancouver Island is home to a huge population of black bears, it instantly jumped higher on my list of places to visit. It was actually one of the catalysts for adding the west coast of Vancouver Island to our itinerary this summer. The Tofino area is one of the best places on the island to see black bears, so I started searching for the best Tofino bear watching tour.
I was shocked when I realized that all the Tofino bear tours are actually boat tours! Who knew there were boat tours dedicated to searching for bears in their natural habitat?! Boats really are the ideal way to see the wildlife, and we’re sharing our experience with the best Tofino bear watching tour around!
Disclosure: A huge thank you to Jamie’s Whaling Station for partnering on this excursion. As always, all opinions are honest and our own.
Although black bears live in the forest, they venture out to the coastline, especially at low tide. This means that a boat tour is one of the BEST ways to see bears on the island! They flip over the rocks and comb through the tide pools looking for crabs and other delicious sea creatures.
We went with Jamie’s Whaling Station, who, as you guessed, also does whale watching tours. They focus on education and provide a wealth of information about the bears, their habitat, and how to protect both. Check-in is at the Tofino Harbor, and you need to be there about half an hour before tour departure. Since we lined our tickets up ahead of time, it was smooth sailing (no pun intended!). We boarded the boat with about 15 other early risers and headed out into the Clayoquot Sound.
There is nothing like sailing in the morning just after sunrise as the fog floats in and out of the trees on the nearby mountains. Such a beautiful setting!
For our tour, we sailed towards Meares Island, one of the many islands just offshore of Tofino. Meares Island is known for having one of the largest populations of black bears, and it makes sense since it’s relatively hard to get there and isn’t very populated.
Our first bear sighting of the day!! It’s pretty easy to see the bears since their black coats contrast nicely with the lighter rocks on the beach.
When a bear is spotted, the captain will get as close as possible while maintaining a safe and respectful distance. While some passengers may want to get closer, the priority for the crew at Jamie’s Whaling Station is to ensure that the bears do not feel threatened, which can affect their behavior.
I cannot even begin to explain how amazing it is to watch these beautiful creatures walk along the shore. It’s pure magic.
While it was a cool morning, everyone stayed warm enough on the enclosed boat. Layers are recommended, and we found that the Amazon Basics Puffer Jackets were an excellent weight for the summer morning.
Clayoquot Sound is one of 19 UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves in Canada. You’ll find temperate coastal rainforests, rocky coastal shores, and the ocean within the reserve. The crew at Jamie’s Whaling Station does a great job explaining the different ecosystems in Clayoquot Sound and how to protect them for generations to come.
These pictures were taken at an appropriate distance from the bears, with a zoom lens, and then further cropped as needed. I highly recommend bringing a zoom lens anytime you’re doing a wildlife tour because it will drastically improve your ability to get good photographs. All of these photographs were taken with the Nikon Z6II plus Sigma 60-600mm Sport lens.
Low tide is the time to see bears, meaning the bear tour schedule changes almost daily with the tides. We lucked out, and low tide was right around 6am when we were in town, so we could combine sunrise and our tour. Two of my favorite things!!
Seriously, pure magic watching the bears stroll along the shoreline. Can you see the bear in this photo??
One of my favorite things about Jamie’s Whaling Station is their wildlife sighting guarantee. If you don’t see a whale or bear on the whale watching or bear watching tours, they will give you a raincheck ticket for a FREE tour! They see whales and bears on 95% of their tours, so luckily, they don’t have to give out rainchecks too often.
Rock Crab is the main draw for the black bears in these parts. They will dig the crab out from under the rocks, their elongated snouts and sharp claws providing invaluable assistance.
Her face lit up every single time we spotted a new bear!
Bear watching tours are offered in Tofino and Ucluelet from April – October when the bears are not hibernating. Starting in May, it’s possible to see mama bears + cubs, although we did not see any cubs on our trip.
In addition to looking for bears, we also looked for other wildlife. We spotted a few bald eagles in the trees, but they were way off in the distance. And then we happened upon one sitting on the shore and got a much closer look! Such an incredible experience!! Have you seen bald eagles in the wild?!
There are lots of options for tour operators in both the Tofino and Ucluelet areas. You can do tours on covered boats or more “exciting” higher-speed zodiac boats. Jamie’s Whaling Station provides full-body floatation suits if you opt for the zodiac boat tour. The zodiac tours do have a height requirement – that Ellie has not met yet – so we opted for a covered boat, and it worked perfectly for our family.
Even though the boat is covered, there are giant windows that open up, giving you a clear view of the shoreline. And the back of the boat is open and great for views as well! The plus to the covered boats is that they’re not as cold/windy, which can be a huge bonus on a cool morning or fall day.
We had the best time on our bear watching tour with Jamie’s Whaling Station. While we’ve seen bears in the wild before, it’s always been as we were driving through the mountains. It was such a unique experience to see them on the rocky coastline – and one that we won’t ever forget!
Things to Remember for a Tofino Bear Watching Tour
- Make your reservation ahead of time as tours often sell out. Jamie’s Whaling Station has an excellent online booking interface and tells you how many spots are available for each tour.
- Book more than one tour with Jamie’s and take advantage of their multi-tour discount!
- Bring at least a light jacket; a water-resistant one is even better!
- If you plan to take photos, make sure you have a zoom lens. While cell phone pictures are better than nothing, you will likely not get close enough to the bears to get great images. No flash photography is allowed.
- Do not bring any food/drinks other than water. Bears have a powerful sense of smell, and it’s vital that the bears do not associate the boats with food.
- Bring a smile and have a great time!
Have you ever seen a bear on the coastline? Would you do a boat tour to go see bears??