Viewing Whistler’s bears is a major draw for nature lovers from mid-March to November. The activity can be minimally invasive as long as you give the animals plenty of space. After all, no matter what nursery rhymes may promise about porridge and picnics, a surprise encounter with a wild bear can be terrifying.
All 70 or so Whistler bears belong to the same species—Ursus americanus, better known as black bears. Attacks are extremely rare, but when they get habituated to humans as a source of food, they can become aggressive. Whistler bears look at garbage cans as picnic hampers, and at open kitchen doors as open invitations. To help you avoid any dangerous situations, our local experts have prepared this short guide to viewing Whistler bears. If it’s done right, you’ll get a great experience and the animal will be none the wiser.
Take a Great Whistler Bear Tour
From May to October, Whistler bears researcher Michael Allen leads tours in 4x4s, with some short walks, to visit active bear dens, day beds and feeding sites. Mid-May to mid-July, bear families are busy grazing and adult males are looking to mate; mid-July to mid-August, bears are eating ants and berries; mid-August to mid-October, bears are gorging on berries at higher elevations. Although sightings are not guaranteed, they are frequent. Most bears seen around Whistler Blackcomb are females with new cubs and yearlings; mother bears seem to find a sense of security near people. Only about half the cubs survive attacks by males trying to mate with the mother.
• Whistler Bear Tours, base of Wizard Express, 1-866-218-9684, website
The safest way to view wild bears is from above. If you’re riding in a gondola or chairlift on Whistler or Blackcomb Mountains, get your camera ready. Sightings are reported daily in season as mother bears and cubs strip berry bushes like fur-clad vacuum cleaners. From the Creekside gondola, watch for bears near the ski-out area.
Get Bear Smart advises: “If you meet a bear in its territory, talk in a calm and respectful tone of voice to let the bear know you are not threatening (particularly if the bear is defending cubs or a food cache). If you encounter a bear in an urban area or human territory, use a loud, firm voice as though you are speaking to a dog that’s misbehaving. Say “No!”. Repeat as necessary.” With this in mind, consider the following options:
• In spring, bears show up on the Valley Trail around Whistler Golf Club where they chomp skunk cabbage to rev up their digestive systems. Bears also hang out on the Chateau Whistler Golf Course.
• Summer hikers often see bears on alpine trails.
• Mountain bikers spot bears at dusk beside the Easy Does It trail in Whistler Bike Park.