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Riding the buses » Canada, Road trips, Travel itinerary, Wildlife » 30 bears and counting in Canada’s north

30 bears and counting in Canada’s north

Matthew's cross-Canada road tripMatthew Reinhardus needed a break from his regular life to think about his future. Matthew does his best thinking while driving. So he decided to take a road trip, an 18,890 km one.  

I headed west out of Ottawa in search of wildlife, scenery and solitude. At Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba I ran smack into wildlife. I had stopped at a lookout and was walking around looking at some buffalo (it’s a buffalo reserve) and when I returned to my car a bear was beside it. It was not a big bear but enough to catch me off guard. It was the first of 30 bears that I saw on the trip. I got my camera out and suddenly realized the bear had a friend on the other side of the car. The bears started to walk away and I followed them and got some great shots. I kept my distance, always being four times closer to my car than I was to the bears because I figured they couldn’t run four times faster than I could (but I could have been wrong)!

I stopped in Saskatoon at one of their good Irish pubs (I hadn’t had a beer in 6 days) and it was then that I decided to go north instead of straight across the country to Banff and Vancouver. I’d already done that east-west route. So I started curving north, up the Yellowhead Highway to Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park—sort of a bird sanctuary on a lake and a nice little spot—and then up the Mackenzie Highway (35) to the Northwest Territories.

Mother bear with cubsThe Northwest Territories is great and I spent a full week there, going around Great Slave Lake and all the way up to Yellowknife. It is nothing like the south. There is so much wildlife and the scenery is spectacular, particularly the waterfalls. Bison just wander around. I’d start out early in the morning, driving slowly along the back roads. When I saw a particularly spectacular scene I’d pull over, get out my lawn chair and book and stay for a couple of hours. It was at one of these stops that I got the picture of the mother bear and her three cubs in the tree.

Most nights I’d stay at a campground or by the side of the road. All the seats in my car go flat so I’d just blow up my air mattress and sleep like a king. Essentially it was the most comfortable camping I’ve ever done. Mosquitoes there are like dogs though. They are huge and scary and there are so many of them. I eventually got some mosquito screens so that I could drop the windows an inch and let some fresh air in. Next I bought sheets for the windows to make it more private and a mosquito tent that I would drop over a picnic table. I had this lantern so I would spend evenings studying my maps on a picnic table inside the tent and safe from mosquitoes. And I had a little Bunsen burner and a plug-in cooler. Every few days I would feel the need to socialize so would find a town and go talk to people (and have a beer).
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Liard River Hot Springs

I made it over to Fort Simpson, which is where the office is for Nahanni National Park. I really would have liked to visit it for its river and hot springs are world famous. But there are no public roads into the park and hiring a float plane was beyond my budget. Instead I headed south on Highway 77 to British Columbia before heading north again on Highway 97 to the Yukon Territory.

There are fabulous hot springs at Laird River Hot Springs Provincial Park north of Muncho Lake on Highway 97. These are the second largest hot springs in Canada and one of my favourite stops of the trip. In fact, I stayed there for two days because the setting is perfect. Along this road I followed a fox with a rabbit in its mouth for an hour (although I was temporarily distracted by a moose) and got great photos.

I did my day in Whitehorse and then spent several more driving down the triangle of roads just south of the city, to Carcross, Emerald Lake, Tagish, and Marsh Lake. It’s in the mountains and the scenery is breathtaking—so natural, so secluded, you see cars but not very many. It’s the real Canada.

Salmon Glacier, Stewart BCThen I headed down along isolated Highway 37 to the BC towns of Telegraph Creek and Stewart, two of my favourite places. Stewart is famous for its Salmon Glacier and also for its bears. It’s where you see bears swatting salmon in July as the salmon make their way up the river to spawn. Towns such as these have it tough and businesses are shutting down. In one town, in fact, the pub turned into the strip joint for a few minutes every hour. It was the only meeting place in town and they wanted to make it work for everyone. I didn’t know about this so it was pretty funny when I returned to the pub after a quick smoke break to see a woman taking off her clothes.

When I reached Prince Rupert for the ferry to Vancouver Island I was surprised to see all these bald eagles. I thought they were almost extinct! When I got south again I got a telephone call saying it was time to go home. So I left the Pacific Coast and headed east.

I have been around the world and now I must say that Canada’s north is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Note: Parks Canada says that “it is very difficult to predict the best strategy to use in the event of a bear attack. That is why it is so important to put thought and energy into avoiding an encounter in the first place”.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Photo credits: Matthew Reinhardus
© Riding the buses 2011

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2 Responses to "30 bears and counting in Canada’s north"

  1. Thx for this great information that you are sharing with us!!!

  2. Andrew says:

    Great photos! I was up through that area a decade ago and many of the locations are familiar to me. Beautiful area. The lawn chair was a great idea!

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