How to Get to The Great Bear Rainforest: Getting There is Half the Fun

The Great Bear Rainforest is one of the most remote and beautiful places on Earth, and getting there can be half the fun. While it may take some effort to reach, the journey is well worth it for the once-in-a-lifetime experiences that await.

There are several ways to travel to the Great Bear Rainforest, depending on your preferences and budget. You can fly into one of the nearby airports, sail along the coastline, or even drive (though only up to a certain point). If possessing nautical skill and boating knowledge, private boaters and captains can cruise through Great Bear as well.

Whichever way you choose, be sure to plan and prepare in advance, as the journey can be challenging. But trust us, it will all be worth it when you finally arrive in this stunning natural wonderland.

Getting There By Plane

Getting to The Great Bear Rainforest by plane
Photo credit: Pacific Coastal Airlines

The best and easiest way to get to The Great Bear Rainforest is by air. Pacific Coastal Airlines has scheduled flights into Port Hardy, Bella Coola and  Bella Bella while Air Canada flies into Prince Rupert for Northern access.

Pacific Coastal Airlines operates non-stop flights to Bella Coola Airport (QBC) year-round, and it would take approximately 70 minutes to fly from Vancouver to there. The airline operates flights to Bella Coola four times a week, every Sunday to Tuesday and Thursday. The flights depart from Vancouver International Airport’s South Terminal (YVR), which is only a 5-minute car ride from the main terminal.

Pacific Coastal Airlines also operates non-stop flights from Vancouver International Airport’s South Terminal (YVR) to the Bella Bella Airport (ZEL), and the duration is about 1 hour and 20 minutes.

If you are considering flying into Prince Rupert Airport (YPR), Air Canada offers direct flights from the Vancouver airport (YVR). The flight time is about 1 hour and 20 minutes. For those flying from Calgary airport (YYC), there will be a short stopover in Vancouver.

Getting There By Boat

The Great Bear Rainforest is a boating, cruising and sailing paradise and provides an incredible nautical adventure.

Access points include Prince Rupert in the North, Bella Coola in the Heart of Great Bear and Port Hardy in the South. In addition to private boats, there are a number of charter operators like Maple Leaf Adventures or Seaforth Expeditions that specialize in small-group charters through Great Bear Rainforest.

Multi-day cruises, day trips and fishing charters are available throughout the Great Bear Rainforest during the prime June to October summer and wildlife season.

Getting to The Great Bear Rainforest by boat

Getting There By Ferry

Getting to The Great Bear Rainforest by ferry
Photo credit: BC Ferries

Ferry service to Bella Coola is operated by BC Ferries beginning in June and continuing approximately until the second week of September. This is a breathtaking alternative way of getting to or traveling from Bella Coola.

The port of departure for the ferry is Port Hardy, which is located on the northern coast of Vancouver Island. When you are ready, board the Northern Sea Wolf and head North into Great Bear. As you make your way through Queen Charlotte Strait, you will pass a few small islands and will have the opportunity to see sea lions and harbor seals. Keep an eye out for schools of dolphins who enjoy playing in the wake, as well as orcas and humpback whales that may be blowing spray or breaching in the area.

You will be sailing around the Central Coast of British Columbia, which is a region that can only be reached by air or water. You will come across spectacular granite cliffs, deep evergreen trees, and sometimes, empty stretches of beach that are hammered by the Pacific Ocean. Some sailings go straight to Bella Coola, while some make stops in outlying coastal communities along the way such as McLoughlin Bay, Shearwater, Klemtu, and Ocean Falls.

The voyage from Port Hardy to Bella Coola via the most direct route takes ten hours. There are departures going in both ways between two and three times a week. The longer voyages can last for either 24 or 36 hours. But if you have the time, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see some of the most distant and isolated coastal towns in British Columbia.

The premiere ferry experience is aboard the Northern Expedition, the pride of the BC Ferries’ fleet and staple on the Port Hardy to Prince Rupert route. This incredible trip covers an immense portion of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Getting There By Car

Getting to The Great Bear Rainforest by car
Photo credit:

The Great Bear Rainforest is located on the central coast of British Columbia and is accessible by car from Vancouver. It’s 549 km or 341 miles from Vancouver to Williams Lake, which takes about 6 hours and 30 minutes to drive.

Take Highway 97 to Williams Lake, then continue west on Highway 20 for a 4-hour drive to Anahim Lake. Drive another 40 minutes on a steep and unpaved road will bring you to the top of what is known as one of Canada’s last frontiers – The Hill.

The Hill is a sequence of switchbacks with a maximum of 18 percent gradients. The route is open to all traffic throughout the year and it is a challenging road for even the most experienced drivers. 

The switchbacks and blind corners require caution and care when navigating. Tractor-trailer trucks and large recreational vehicles are allowed on the road, so be aware of their size and speed when passing. Large vehicles may find it difficult to navigate the tight turns, so drivers should pay attention to their speed and the conditions of the road. The scenic views of the Chilcotin Plateau and Bella Coola Valley make the drive worthwhile, so take your time and enjoy the journey.

The final leg of the drive begins with a 20-minute hill descending to the Valley floor. It’s about another 1 hour of flat driving to the village of Bella Coola, which is the largest community within The Great Bear Rainforest.

Take note of the following distances to Bella Coola:

Williams Lake, BC: 453 km (281 mi)

Prince George, BC: 692 km (430 mi)

Kelowna, BC: 894 km (555 mi)

Calgary, Alberta: 1355 km (842 mi)

Edmonton, Alberta: 1353 km (841 mi)

Jasper, Alberta: 989 km (615 mi)

Seattle, Washington: 1107 km (688 mi)

Those are the four different ways to get to The Great Bear Rainforest. No matter where you are coming from and which travel method you choose, you are in for an amazing adventure. 

Getting to this remote and beautiful destination is not as hard as you think. So, start planning your trip now!