The end of summer heralds one of nature’s most enjoyable spectator sports – brown bear watching in British Columbia.
From mid-September and into October, the Chilko River hosts one of the region’s most dramatic salmon runs that in turn attracts furry visitors who wander in to dine on a veritable feast of spawning Sockeye.
Meet the Chilko Lake grizzly bear (Ursus arctos ssp.), a large subspecies of the North American Brown Bear. Adult female grizzlies weigh around 290–400 lbs., and adult males about 400–790 lbs. with an average length of 6.50 ft.
The congregation of hungry bears can number up to 100 or so, providing a visual feast for human visitors to this remote region who are hungry to see one of Nature’s annual spectacles.
Proprietors and owners of The Chilko Experience, Phil, and Anne Huston, satisfy guest appetites with friendly hospitality, complete privacy and wholesome fun in the wilderness on their private estate. Plus, they ferry their guests onto the river in boats that are positioned to witness the feeding frenzy — but at a safe distance.
These bears are concentrated on a three-mile river segment beginning at the river’s mouth and extending downstream, an area where in some years the salmon numbers exceed one million. The result is that the Chilko River has some of the finest bear viewing anywhere in North America. The reason for this concentration is that the river is located deep within the BC interior and is the only salmon-feeding option for bears within a 200-mile radius. While there may be more bears located along the coast, with the many feeding options that exist, they are more dispersed and harder to observe.
Phil Huston explains that most viewing is done by low-draft riverboats with experienced guides who know to stay at least 50 meters away from the bears in order not to stress them.
“Of particular interests are the mother bears and cubs. Two cubs are common but families of three are seen also. Photographers from around the world come to Chilko to seek the perfect brown bear photo,” he says.
While the bear gets to feast, fishing for salmon on the Chilko River is restricted to all but those of First Nations descent. “However, the salmon spawn draws large rainbow trout populations that challenge and reward both the novice and experienced angler,” Huston notes.
Only 12 guests a week (up to 22 if they’re extended friends and family) have the privilege of lodging on the estate in the six custom log and timber frame homes that took center stage on HGTV’s Timber Kings a few years back. Today these one and two-bedroom, artisan-crafted dwellings continue to delight visitors whom their hosts welcome like family to their exclusive estate. Each unique home shares common features: oversized windows for maximum natural light, stone floors, hand-beveled denim (blue toned pine) ceilings, steel roofs, all tastefully furnished with antiques. Anne Huston, a long-time antique dealer, has adorned these classic homes with many of her collectibles. See: https://thechilkoexperience.com/log-homes/
This season (June 1 through Oct. 21), it’s fun as usual fly and spin cast fishing, canoeing, lake cruising, horseback riding and four-wheeling in the never-ending (five million acres) forests of native pine, splashed by the world-famous Chilko River and Chilko Lake. Complimentary guided activities are conducted directly from the estate. Optional river rafting and guided fly-fishing outings come with an extra fee.
Rates per person for this boutique and all-inclusive hospitality are based on the number of nights. Children ages 6 and under lodge free. Ages 7 to12 visit at the half-adult rate. Singles are accommodated in the Main House with no additional single supplement charge. A per person three-night stay is $2,950 and a six-night stay $5,950. See: https://thechilkoexperience.com/rates/
Most guests access the Chilko valley via private charter flights originating in Vancouver, BC. The flight time is one hour. Guests can also fly commercially to Williams Lake and then drive three hours to the estate. From Vancouver, it’s a 10-hour drive.
The Chilko Experience
The estate is a charter member of The Austin Collection and a member of the Mantis Collection, Villas of Distinction and the Chilko Operators Association. The staff practice sustainability, including recycling, at every level. A 48-panel, 12 K solar system generates 98 percent of the estate’s energy needs. On-premise is a greenhouse and a 140-foot freshwater well. The abundant water supplies are all based on glacier and snow melt, so pure that residents can drink right from the lakes and streams.