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“Spirit Bear Remains Elusive”
Review of Spirit Bear Lodge

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Spirit Bear Lodge
Certificate of Excellence
Kailua Kona, Hawaii
Level Contributor
13 reviews
3 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 26 helpful votes
“Spirit Bear Remains Elusive”
Reviewed 7 November 2013

The Coastal Rain Forest of B.C. is absolutely stunning, but do expect to be wet and in rain gear for your trip. In being there for a week, we saw sunshine only on the morning we departed.
As for the Spirit Bear, when I initially contacted the management about sightings, I was told they had seen Spirit Bear for the past three weeks in September and that October should provide good opportunity to see Spirit Bear because of the Salmon runs. Based on this information, we booked a six night package at a cost of over $10K which we now feel was not a good value for what was provided.
What we did experience was one black bear and one grizzly sow with a cub and that's it. When I inquired of the guide about Spirit Bear sightings, it turns out these 3 weeks of sightings in September was the same bear, in the same spot, gorging on Salmon and that was it - period. NOT multiple sightings as it was made to sound. In fact, this guide told me there had only been four bears sighted for the entire season. This sort of puts things in a clearer perspective.
Overall, staff were nice, food was good, there is no bar, so expect to drink cheap wine with dinner which is included and the insulation between rooms is poor, so it is very noisy since staff and guests are up and about very early, it is not easy to sleep. If one is on the lower floor, the noise of the guests in the room above is incredible when they walk across the floor. Also, there is no fireplace in the great room - a terrible oversight in such a cold and damp environment.
They advise a stay of five or more nights to optimize chances of Spirit Bear sightings, but what you don't find out is that you continually are taken back to the same two or three inlets, not new spots, so while a stay this long is good for the lodge's bottom line, it is not necessarily worth the expense, especially in foul weather and very long boat rides over what can be very rough water, depending on the conditions.
IF you go, DO NOT spend the first night in Shearwater as part of your package - this is a total ripoff! Terrible accommodation and a waste o the entire day for which you are paying a premium cost, as this is considered the first night of your package. Fly instead directly to the lodge - they don't push this option, but it is available.
Another issue I had was the "suggestion" of gratuities being $20 per person per day, but it is put in an envelope and who knows what happens to the money and how it gets distributed. When I said I felt the boat drivers and the guides, who were responsible for our well being and safety should be the recipients of the bulk of the gratuity, the manager specifically discouraged me about this and said it is not their policy to promote individual tipping, and that everyone employed there shares the gratuities equally. HMMMM.....makes me wonder how this gratuity actually gets distributed......
So, fly in if you go and know that three or four days you'll get a chance to see what is on offer in the surroundings. And, if you see a Spirit Bear, you are indeed very very lucky!

Room Tip: Upper floor should be less noisy but not near the stairway - ask for end of hall to avoid people goi...
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  • Stayed October 2013, travelled as a couple
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13 Thank judydeco
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
spiritbearlodge, General Manager at Spirit Bear Lodge, responded to this review, 12 November 2013
Judydeco, we deeply regret that your experience didn’t match your expectations. We’ve been proudly operating lodge based bear viewing since 2007 and operating tours in our traditional territory since 1996. We have no desire to be anything but candid and transparent with any potential guests about our programs in the Great Bear Rainforest. You’ve been quite detailed in your critique and so I would like to respond specifically and in an equally detailed manner to some of the points you raise.

We believe our value proposition is quite clear in our literature and in our personal communications with our guests. We offer the opportunity to view bears and other wildlife in one of the most remote, untouched corners of the planet. These are wild animals who move to their own rhythms and our excursions are subject to the vagaries of north Pacific weather systems that can be as unpredictable as the animals we view. The Spirit Bear in particular is one of the most elusive animals on earth with numbers far lower than the estimates you will read about on the Internet. We believe there may be fewer than 200 of these animals remaining.

We support our viewing program with an extensive remote infra-red camera network which we pull data from regularly to provide accurate information on where and when animals are active in over 30 rivers. In a territory the size of a small European country with hundreds of rivers, we are typically able to narrow down the most active systems to a handful of between 5-10 rivers that offer us the best chances of viewing wild bears –both grizzly and Spirit Bears - in their natural habitat.

Typically, our cameras reveal between 3-5 Spirit Bears that are active in our territory, as they did in 2013, with one or two of these that will allow themselves to be viewed by humans. In any given year, and 2013 was no exception, only about 50% of our guests will have the rare privilege of a Spirit Bear sighting. This past season we had 2 adult female Spirit Bears in two different locations and one adult female with a newborn cub that we saw just twice. We also saw over 20 different grizzly bears during our 2013 season including extraordinary sightings of a mother with triplets and two sets of females with cubs. I simply cannot account for your claim that your guides told you we saw only 4 bears the entire season. We have many spectacular photos sent to us by our guests this season, which we have posted to our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/spiritbearadventures.

The week you were at the lodge the weather was just plain nasty with lots of rain and high winds. This can unfortunately impact viewing and guest comfort, which it clearly did in your case. That unpredictability in weather and viewing is also unfortunately part of the package.

The Shearwater pre-night, contrary to your suggestion, is not optional. We do acknowledge that many of our guests would prefer to simply arrive directly to the lodge. However, just as the weather can impact guest comfort, it also can delay the arrival and departure of the aircraft that transport our guests from Vancouver. By building in a pre-night in Shearwater we have effectively insulated our guests and our complex logistics from the majority of the weather delays that can plague the central coast of BC. We are quite proud of the fact that since implementing our Shearwater pre-night, it is now exceedingly rare for our guests to miss flight connections or miss out on any of the activities we promise as part of our packages. We are actively working with Shearwater Resort to improve this component of our program. I should also note that it is for these same reasons noted above that we do not offer a float plane ‘fly in’ option directly to the lodge. Floatplanes are simply unreliable in the face of often tight international flight connections.

Finally, judydeco, I would like to comment on the concern you raise with respect to the distribution of the gratuities. As with many First Nations communities, our business has a strong communal work ethic. While the guides and skippers are all guest-facing and see all the action and adventure, our housekeeping and kitchen staff work tirelessly behind the scenes to support them. Our staff all support the notion of a shared tip pool which gets equitably distributed to all staff at the end of the season in a process which is audited by other staff.

Again we sincerely regret your experience didn’t match your expectations. We appreciate you taking the time to provide us with feedback and we will take what we can from it to continue our process of kaizen – continuous improvement.
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English first
Houston, Texas
2 reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 1 helpful vote
Reviewed 9 October 2013

Just back from six days at the lodge. This is one of the last best places on earth. Unspoiled and untouched. It's also the only place to see the elusive spirit bear in the world. While we did not see that bear we saw many grizzlies and black bears. And by no means was it a disappointing trip. The lodge was comfortable and Tim and his staff ran a first class place. The food was good, every meal, every day. But the real story is being out each morning, on the water. Along the way many days we were met by hump back whales. Many of whom would swim up to the boats for a closer look. It was a high light being near such magnificent creatures. The rest of the days were spent in bears natural habitat, walking trails, or just sitting quietly.

The evenings back at the lodge we shared stories, and sightings with other guests from around the world. All in all it was a peaceful, rejuvenating trip that gives a wonderful view of the local First Nations people who are delighted to share their piece of the planet with visitors.

Room Tip: All views have ocean views.
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Stayed September 2013, travelled as a couple
Helpful?
1 Thank SG63fromMT
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
spiritbearlodge, General Manager at Spirit Bear Lodge, responded to this review, 10 October 2013
Thanks for your feedback SG63fromMT!
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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Buffalo Grove, IL
2 reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 8 helpful votes
Reviewed 7 October 2013

I came across the Spirit Bear Lodge doing an internet search while researching trips to the Great Bear Rainforest to photograph the elusive Kermode (Spirit) Bear. So glad I found this operation. Tim and the staff are helpful, friendly and not only make you feel at home, but make you feel that you're part of the entire community of Klemtu. Even when weather impacted our ability to get out to the estuaries to look for bears on one of the days, the staff put together a game plan that provided several options for other activities in and around the lodge that made the day most enjoyable for everyone. Making my way from the Midwest, I didn't need to worry about anything from all the ground transfers to water taxis, etc - it all ran smoothly and on time. And let me knot forget the food!! It was outstanding - so much variety considering how remote this area is and everything was fresh and tasted great! Thanks to Spirit Bear Lodge for making my time in the Great Bear Rainforest an unforgettable experience!

  • Stayed September 2013, travelled solo
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Helpful?
2 Thank Photographerwild
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
spiritbearlodge, General Manager at Spirit Bear Lodge, responded to this review, 9 October 2013
Thank you for your feedback Photographerwild!
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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Fareham, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
91 reviews
29 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 56 helpful votes
Reviewed 7 October 2013

According to the literature and website the lodge is "owned and operated" by First Nations but this wasn't borne out by our experience. None of our guides were local and whilst the ones we did have took good care of us on our trips out, I felt they could have given us more information on the areas flora and fauna, especially the importance of the salmon.
We were also not aware that we would be travelling 2 hours out on the boat each day to get to the bear viewing areas (2 1/2 hours the day we went in search of the Spirit Bear) and then 2 hours back. (not the 30/90 minutes it says in the literature). However this did enable us to see porpoises, seals, sea-lions and Humpback Whales.
Whilst the lodge is in a great location and each room has huge viewing windows the only time we were there was to eat breakfast and dinner so we didn't get a chance to see any passing orcas or other marine life.
The meals were delicious and I was grateful for the extra care with my dietary requirements. You order your sandwiches the previous day and help yourself to snacks and drinks to take with you for your full day out. We were all given our own plastic drinks cup on arrival and told to take it with us all the time for hot drinks but in the 4 days we were there we only got offered two hot drinks when we were out.
The lodge kits you up with welly boots, rubber mac and trousers plus a life jacket - all very cumbersome but at least it kept us dry - after all it is a rain forest!
The views of Grizzly Bears, Black bears and a beautiful Spirit Bear were amazing and well worth the trip but you need to be prepared to travel by boat to get to see them.
Thanks to Tim and his team for a memorable few days.

Room Tip: All rooms face the water and have big viewing windows.
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  • Stayed September 2013, travelled as a couple
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Helpful?
3 Thank Jules286903
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
spiritbearlodge, General Manager at Spirit Bear Lodge, responded to this review, 9 October 2013
Thank you for your candid feedback Jules286903. As we cite in our literature our lodge is 100% owned and operated by the Kitasoo/Xaixais Band. As of this writing (2013) 78% of our 40 employees are members of the Kitasoo/Xaixais Band. These are the boat captains, housekeepers, kitchen staff and guides. As you've pointed out, some of our lead guide staff are non First Nations. We do have a number of young First Nation guide trainees who we are mentoring under our lead guides. Our business has grown rapidly in the last 3 years and our growth has outpaced the ability of this small community (pop. 400) to provide a full complement of purely First Nations guide staff. (We currently employ nearly 10% of the entire village in our operation!) There is a centuries old seafaring tradition here and so many of the young people wish to skipper our vessels. We now have a small and growing cadre of young people who see the challenge, adventure and fun of guiding and we are fostering that interest with a formal mentoring process. It was unfortunate that in your short stay with us you did not have an opportunity to get out with one of our First Nations guides.

You are correct that our guides do have a strong focus on the 'charismatic megafauna' (bears) sometimes at the exclusion of other species. Our lead guides have spent the many years that it requires in the company of these animals learning their subtle behaviours and movements. This allows us to get intimate viewing experiences. We understand that guests also wish to learn about the entire mosaic of life here and so we are working with our team to broaden their understanding of other creatures that make the Great Bear Rainforest so unique. Each year we bring in specialists who help teach our guides and grow our understanding of the other pieces of this amazing natural history puzzle.

In terms of travel time, our average travel time to and from our viewing areas is indeed 90 minutes but as you've pointed out, this time is highly subject to weather patterns that can affect ocean and wind conditions. This can lead to travel times both shorter or longer than our average 90 minutes. Your 2.5 hour trip was a special expedition we mounted to an area we don't often visit in order to try and capture a white bear sighting.
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Birmingham, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
98 reviews
76 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 115 helpful votes
Reviewed 7 October 2013

We stayed at the Spirit Bear Lodge (SBL) in mid-September 2013.

We started our adventure with a flight from Vancouver with Pacific Coastal Airlines (included in the SBL package); the flight stopped briefly to drop off & collect new passengers and refuel at Port Hardy and then flew on to Bella Bella. The total flight time was approximately 2 hours (including the stop). It was an overcast day but we could still see the beauty of the islands and coastline.

Once at Bella Bella we were transferred via a mini-van provided by star taxis (transfer cost included in SBL package) which took us the 5 minute ride to the water taxi dock. We had just missed the hourly taxi by 15 minutes, so we had to wait 45 minutes for the next one. The water taxi dock had a roof, but on a cool day you certainly need your layers to keep you warm while you wait.

The cost of the 25 minute water taxi ride was again included in the SBL package and we were taken to the Shearwater Resort for our one night stay (all SBL packages include one night here). Upon check-in to the Fishermens Inn we were momentarily horrified to find that we had adjoining facilities with the room next to us, however, it was confirmed that these rooms were not occupied and that the facilities were private for all SBL guests.

The room was small and had one queen bed with a separate shower room & toilet and a sink in the bedroom itself. It was clean, tidy and basic, perfectly fine for a one night stay.

The community of Shearwater has one restaurant the Fishermen’s Bar & Grill, fortunately it had an extensive menu and provided hearty portions of reasonable quality food at a reasonable price. We had our dinner & breakfast here (not included in the SBL package).

After breakfast, at 8.00am, our boat transfer to Klemtu arrived and we boarded it for our two hour ride. It was a slightly choppy journey, so depending on the weather the ride can be as short as 90 minutes or a lot longer if the captain needs to slow down for swells or take a route that is less direct.

We arrived at the SBL shortly after 11am and were given a traditional First Nation welcome, asked to sign a waiver form, given a souvenir drinking thermos mug and received a welcome talk. We were given 30 minutes to get ourselves ready, grab some sandwiches to take out with us and grab ourselves some waterproofs and boots.

The accommodations were really nice and far from basic, each room had private facilities with a shower over a bath, there was always a good supply of hot water and you also had a good quality hairdryer! The king sized bed was really comfortable and the room was large enough to spread out our gear and still have lots of space around it. All rooms face the water, so there are no ‘bad’ views. The main dining area has large windows facing out to the water and meals morning and evening meals were eaten at the large tables, which allowed us to chat with our new found friends easily.

Be aware that it can rain a lot in the Great Bear Rainforest (the clue is in the name ‘rain’ forest). On the previous few weeks to our arrival the region had been suffering from a drought and had not had very much rain, clear sunny days can make for beautiful pictures… but to see the bears you need rain to fill the streams to make the salmon ‘run’. The salmon attracts the bears from the berries into the open where we can then see them… so although rainy days sound bad they are actually very good for bear viewing.

The SBL provide waterproofs and boots so that you don’t have to get your own kit dirty or damaged. They had all sorts of sizes… I have very small feet (UK size 2) so I took my own boots, but if you have average size feet they should have a pair to fit you. I used their waterproofs over my own to give me extra layers, and with all the bear trail hiking and sitting in the wet, I’m glad I did. I only got wet once and that was when the water levels went over my boots and I lifted my leg to get into a Zodiac boat, the water ran back along my leg to my backside!

Breakfast & dinners were provided buffet style with starters for dinner served at 6:30pm and main dinner at 7pm. All meals, snacks, beer, wine and soft drinks are included in the package. Breakfast was served at 6.45am and lunch was made to order sandwiches or wraps (you filled in a request sheet the day before for the next day’s lunch) be warned you have to carry your lunch in your own backpack, so the more you request the more you have to carry!

Each day started with breakfast and then out in the boats by 8am for a full day out until the return to the lodge late afternoon. There were no toilet facilities on any of the boats and comfort breaks had to be taken over the side of the boat or behind a rock or tree whilst on land.

Each day’s trips sort to maximise our bear viewing opportunities whilst balancing the protection of their environment. Two or three groups would set off in different directions to look for the bears. It gave the experience an exploratory feel as there was never any certainty that you would see a bear. This made the viewings we did achieve much more rewarding, helped us better appreciate the environment they live in and how easy it is for them to stay hidden from us!

During our 5 night stay at the lodge (we did the SBL 6 package) we saw two grizzly bears, seven coastal wolves (in a pack together), two black bears and one spirit bear.

The staff were some of the kindest, friendliest, most attentive group of people we have had the pleasure of being guests of. We felt as though we were part of their family throughout our stay.

The guides were knowledgeable and clearly passionate about the environment and the animals.

If you are interested in seeing black & grizzly bears there are much less costly and more accessible places to view them, places that can practically (depending on the time of year) guarantee you sightings. However, if you want a chance to see the elusive Kermode white spirit bear then we whole heartedly recommend this lodge.

Room Tip: Take dry bags for your cameras & other kit you don't want to get wet.
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  • Stayed September 2013, travelled as a couple
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Helpful?
3 Thank WildlifeMadTraveller
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
spiritbearlodge, General Manager at Spirit Bear Lodge, responded to this review, 9 October 2013
Thank you for your detailed review West_Mids_Traveller!
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Hendersonville, North Carolina
1 review
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 2 helpful votes
Reviewed 5 October 2013

Our Spirit Bear Lodge adventure was truly a life-enhancing experience. We are older and were willing to go beyond our "comfort zone" and anticipated a special time but we were not prepared to be transported into such magnificent and pristine beauty... to glide along waterways and estuaries, to witness bears reveling in thier bearhood, to meet the beautiful and lovable Kitasoo/Xai'xais First Nations People of Klemtu and to meet the tall oak we all leaned on Tim McGrady. Our guides, boat skippers, the food, our room were all perfection. We woke up every morning genuinely excited to begin the day. We thank the First Nations Chiefs and People for providing a nature experience like no other. Long may the Spirit Bear dream in her mossy Day Bed.

  • Stayed September 2013, travelled as a couple
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Helpful?
2 Thank Anna A
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
spiritbearlodge, General Manager at Spirit Bear Lodge, responded to this review, 9 October 2013
Thank you for your feedback Anna A!
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Sherman Oaks, California, United States
Level Contributor
14 reviews
5 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 24 helpful votes
Reviewed 30 September 2013

We came to the Spirit Bear Lodge in search of the Spirit Bear. What we left with was not only fantastice photos of a close encounter with the elusive white bear, but also of grizzlies and black bears and humpback whales breaching...and more so...we left with the people of Klemtu and the staff of the Spirit Bear Lodge indelably etched into our hearts and souls. There is no other place on earth like the Great Bear Rainforest. There is no better way to become a part of it and it a part of you. The love and guidance and experience offered by the people at both the Lodge and in Klemtu is unequaled. We are very seasoned travelers, yet have NEVER been so well cared for. The Lodge is immaculate, the food superb, the staff immediately become family, and every detail...every want, need, desire...is all taken care of. You are treated as someone very important and respected and you are an individual here. The guides are fantastic. They helped us face challenges and supported our overcoming fears and could not have been more helpful or knowledgable. And Tim McGrady!!! No one works so hard to make certain everything is done so perfectly! We will not hesitate to return to Klemtu in the near future. If you are planning on going anyplace in your life....THIS IS IT!

  • Stayed September 2013, travelled as a couple
    • Value
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    • Sleep Quality
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Helpful?
2 Thank Lisa L
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
spiritbearlodge, General Manager at Spirit Bear Lodge, responded to this review, 2 October 2013
Thank you Lisa L for your feedback. Our lodge is fuelled by the heart and passion of our staff and we are so pleased that you experienced that during your stay.
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Additional Information about Spirit Bear Lodge

Property: Spirit Bear Lodge
Address: 540 Kitasoo Road | General Delivery, Klemtu, Kitimat-Stikine District, British Columbia V0T 1L0, Canada
Region: Canada > British Columbia > Kitimat-Stikine District > Klemtu
Hotel Style:
Ranked #1 of 1 Speciality Lodging in Klemtu
Number of rooms: 12
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
Spirit Bear Lodge Wildlife, Bear Watching Tours and Native Culture in BC's Great Bear Rainforest Visit the Great Bear Rainforest, the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world. Explore the natural habitat of the Spirit Bear and home of the world’s only Kitasoo Spirit Bear Conservancy. Unique tours in the ancestral lands and traditional territory of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation. ... more   less 

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