Spirit Bears

Shy, elusive and shrouded in mystery. Meet the white-furred bear of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Spirit Bears

Biologically and culturally significant, the spirit bear is a rare subspecies of black bear, considered to be the rarest bear in the world. To the Gitga’at First Nation they are known as Moksgm’ol, or the Ghost Bear.

A double recessive gene within a select population of coastal black bears causes the spirit bear’s coat of fur to be creamy white. This gene is found within a small sub-population of black bears on the North Coast of British Columbia and inland to Hazelton and the Nass Valley, the highest percentage of which are on very remote islands within the Great Bear Rainforest.

They are not albinos, and they are not polar bears. The percentage of bears in an island’s population that are white ranges from 5% on some to 30% on one island. Recent studies suggest that such a high concentration of spirit bears evolved here because they have an advantage fishing for salmon during the day. The sky is light and thus the looming figure of a black bear would stand out far more than that of a light-coloured bear.

How Spirit Bears Live

Weighing only half a pound at birth, these cubs can grow to become 300 lb adult bears and will live up to 25 years. They occupy a habitat of coastal Sitka spruce, red cedar, and western hemlock, and rely heavily on healthy salmon streams. They typically avoid large estuaries where there may be the threat of grizzlies, who are larger and more dominant. Spirit bears utilize the smaller salmon streams, often found on islands, to feed heavily during the fall months before winter hibernation.

Critical to the success of both the salmon spawn and the spirit bears salmon feast are the rains that come at the end of summer and into the fall. This rain falls to the forest floor and replenishes diminished stream beds dried up from the summer heat. Once the streams have had a chance to be replenished with water salmon are able to reach upstream into the forest where the spirit bear awaits. Knowledge of this event and timing allows us incredible opportunities to view the spirit bear as it feeds on the returning runs.

When Is The Best Time To See A Spirit Bear?

Spirit bears live in the Great Bear Rainforest year-round. The best time for the opportunity to view a spirit bear is after the rains have come in autumn. 

We Go Where The Salmon Go

If you want the best chance to see a spirit bear, make sure you are in the region from September to October when the creeks fill with spawning salmon.

Beyond The Peak Season

If you are a betting person, knowing we occasionally see spirit bears in late August and late October, then you can visit outside of the peak viewing season as well.

A Rare Bear Indeed

We do not guarantee that you will see a spirit bear, even in September and October. But because we know the area so well, we have an excellent track record.

Our Spirit Bear Viewing Experiences

Experience the magic of spirit bears in their natural habitat with a company committed to the safety and wellbeing of guests, as well as the bears themselves.

The Land Of The Spirit Bear

Throughout our tours in the Great Bear Rainforest, we are able to witness amazing wildlife events and witness the crucial ecological role bears play within the temperate rainforest. 

Witness Fascinating Behaviours

From fishing and foraging to social interactions and maternal care, expeditions offer a chance to see it all.

Travel With Safety

On each bear cruise, a knowledgeable crew will lead by foot into salmon-filled creeks, where you can safely view these calm bears as a group. 

Learn From Indigenous Guides

We are joined by a Gitga’at bear guide, who has spent their life guiding on the island frequented by spirit bears, and know the individual bears very well.

Our Connections

Special permits and local connections allow us to provide guests with unparalleled spirit bear viewing opportunities.

Spirit Bear Tours With Maple Leaf Adventures

Maple Leaf Adventures has been conducting expeditions in the Great Bear Rainforest since the beginning of the 1990s. Our experience and knowledge of the region helps us to find these elusive bears for our guests to see and learn about, in an environmentally responsible manner. The welfare of the bears is our primary directive. We also support the local economy of bear viewing and work with additional local community guides, who provide a deep cultural connection to the bears.

What People Say

See what past guests have to say about our Spirit Bear viewing experiences.

    “Every day was an exciting one, we saw an abundance of wildlife, many humpback whales bubble net feeding, eagles galore, grizzlies, black bears and low and behold we got to spend over an hour watching the spirit bear (the rarest bear in the world) fishing for salmon”

    Sandra H., Toronto, Canada

    “It was an unforgettable experience. Meals exceptional, crew friendly & knowledgeable. Bears, whales, orcas, even a spirit bear. We took out 11-year-old grandson who will have lifelong memories”

    Peter A., Aix-en-Provence, France


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