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Posted: Sep 2 2020

For many, the start of fall signifies great change. Cooler temperatures drape over the valleys while warm hues of gold and yellow mottle the forested edges of highways. On Northern Vancouver Island, not only is this one of the prettiest times of the year to explore, but it's also when wildlife becomes the most active. Bears start filling their bellies for the winter ahead, while whales and seals ontake advantage of the abundance of on salmon as they return to their home streams. All the while eagles and ravens circle above, hoping to get in on the action.

While many of the summer travellers head home to settle back into their routines, it's a prime opportunity for those who can get away to experience the beauty of the region and the plentiful wildlife experiences to be had.

Here are some of the best ways to experience these wildlife adventures for yourself!

Bear Viewing

Bears can be seen alongside roadways or rivers, but the best way to almost guarantee a sighting is to opt for a bear viewing tour with a professional guide.  While a few grizzlies have been spotted in the Vancouver Island North region, their primary habitat is found on the mainland and accessible by boat. Because of the time spent on the water to get to the remote rivers where the bears feed, it's common to also encounter many types of marine life, including whales and sea lions.

Whale Watching

Like bears, it's not uncommon to see a whale when visiting the North Island, especially if you're staying in an oceanfront accommodation. That said, the best way to truly see whales is out on the water with a professional naturalist. A whale watching tour is so much more than just an opportunity to view whales! You'll also learn about the area's natural history, whale behaviour, and of course, witness whales from a safe distance.

Salmon Spawning

On the North Island, the Quatse and Marbel Rivers are the places to be during the salmon spawning season, which runs from August to November in the fall.

Bald Eagles

Eagles can be seen all year-round throughout the North Island, but especially in September and October when the salmon are spawning. Major rivers, like the Quatse and Cluxewe, are ripe with opportunities to see bald eagles a little more closely in their natural habitat.

Start Planning Your Wildlife Tour

Single-Day Wildlife Tours

Multi-Day Wildlife Experiences

Self-Guided Experiences

Nature Trails and Parks

Use the Vancouver Island North Trail Guide to see a full list of recreation sites, trails, and parks in and around the North Island region! The guide is available on the website, or as an app to take with you on the trails. (download while you have a wifi connection or are in cell range to have the app available once you no longer have service on your mobile device).

Quatse River in Port Hardy

While the Quatse Salmon Stewardship Centre is a great educational destination, it's currently closed for the 2020 season. Visitors to the area can still visit the river for a self-guided salmon run experience by using the Quatse Loop Trail or Quatse Estuary Trail. Just be mindful that bears can be present, so inform yourself of how to be bear aware before heading outdoors.

Schoolhouse Creek Trail in Port McNeill

The Schoolhouse Creek trail is a nice and easy 1.5 km trail along a protected salmon spawning habitat running right through town.

Marble River Trail near Port Alice

Just north of Port Alice, visitors can use the Marble River Trail to access views of the fish ladder at Bear Falls or the Emerald Pools. The trail is roughly 4.5 kilometres in length, out and back.

Beaches, Trails, & Sea Walks

Sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll be able to see whales coming up for air as they pass by beaches. Some of the most opportune beaches and trails include:

  • Bere Point on Malcolm Island (A known orca rubbing beach)
  • Blinkhorn (Dave Farrant) Trail in Telegraph Cove
  • Alert Bay Waterfront and Sea Walk
  • Port McNeill Sea Walk
  • Kaleva Road Walkway in Sointula

Know Before You Go

The best way to see wildlife is to experience it outside! So be sure to wear warm, closed-toe footwear and bring a backpack to store extra layers. The weather changes frequently during the fall, so it's best to be prepared for anything.

Pack In Pack Out

Bring all garbage home with you! Please don't leave anything behind that would attract or appease wildlife.

Don't Feed Wildlife

Although it can be tempting, please avoid feeding any wildlife.

Pack The Essentials

Many of the self-guided experiences listed above are small, easy walks, but it's always a good idea to bring water, a whistle, a small first aid kit, and some snacks, just in case.

Visit AdventuresSmart.ca for more information about how to be prepared for your next adventure, big or small.