On our way from Kamloops to Jasper, (Day 2 of our Canadian road trip) we stopped at the small village of Blue River to go on a river safari to see bears.
The safaris are operated by a company called River Safari. As you approach from Kamloops, they are located just north of Blue River. The turning from the Highway 5 to River Safari is well sign posted. You go over a narrow bridge with lots of flags on either side, but soon after the road becomes single track and quite muddy.
After about a kilometer on this road, we arrived at River Safari. The ticket desk, restaurant, shop and restrooms are all actually on a floating platform on the river. The entrance is flanked by a couple of cute bear statues.
River Safari run boat tours on the river to see bears and other wildlife. They also do jeep tours in the forest. You can buy a ticket for either tour or a combined ticket for both boat and jeep. Tickets cost ~85 CAD (plus tax) per adult for each tour (boat or jeep) or ~160 CAD (plus tax) for the combined tour. The river tours lasts 60 minutes and the jeep tour 90 minutes.
We only had time for a single tour, so we opted for the river safari. We bought a couple of tickets to the next boat tour. The tours run every hour, and we had about half an hour to wait, which we spent investigating the surroundings.
Soon it was time for our safari. We were all given life jackets, and because it looked like it might rain, we were also given ponchos and blankets to keep us warm.
There were 12 of us on a small motor boat that looked like it could go pretty fast. Interestingly, they sized us all up when pointing us to our seats to make sure the boat stay balanced.
Soon we were heading out to the open water. Although its called river safari, the safari is actually on the “Mud Lake”.
Soon, the beautiful Mud lake opened before us. The lake is surrounded on all sides by mountains.
We spent the next 10 minutes or so looking for bears on a stretch of shoreline that had had a sighting earlier in the day. But nothing this time around, so we headed to a different stretch.
Result! As soon as we arrived on the new shoreline, a small-ish black bear made an appearance. It didn’t seem bothered at all by the presence of the boat (which had powered down the engines and was drifting quietly). We were all speaking in hushed tones and clicking away like mad. (For the purposes of this story, I have decided to call this little bear “Winnie”)
Soon, a second, slightly bigger bear appeared on the other side of the small bay. This one too, didn’t mind the boat (not sure if it was even aware of it), but he slowly started making its way along the shoreline to where Winnie was. (I will call this second bear Yogi).
Winnie seem to have un-earthed something interesting – he was clawing away like mad. When Yogi saw this, he decided he wanted it for himself and chased Winnie into the jungle at high speed. Next thing we knew, both of them had disappeared and all we could see and hear were trees ruffling.
That was it – or so we thought. But a couple of minutes later, our guide pointed us to a top of a very tall tree, a few meters into the forest. Winnie had actually been chased up the tree by Yogi! (He was in the tree in the middle of the photo) .
Winnie would try to come down, but then we would hear a lot more rustling. It was clear that Yogi will have none of it – Winnie had to stay up the tree. Another minute or two later Yogi reappeared at the shoreline and went to claim his price.
We watched him for another few minutes until he too decided to head back inside – maybe to bully poor Winnie a bit more!
The guide turned the boat around and soon we were back on the open water. We were told we’d be going to the secret waterfall.
We crossed over the other side of the lake and docked at a small jetty. We then got off the boat and headed into the forest on a little path.
Soon we could hear the sound of the rushing water and see a stream.
and a little further up the road, we saw the secret waterfall: The Parberry Falls. I have no words to describe it but I think the photo says it all.
Soon it was time to head back. The guide really sped up the boat in the last leg and did a couple of hair raising turns on the way back. No photos as I was hanging on to the boat with both my hands.
We also got some farewell bear facts*: Bears are born to their mothers in hibernation. When they are born, they are so small that they would fit into your palm. They are blind, hairless and completely helpless. The cubs stay with their mother for about two years and then gets chased away by the mom, before the next mating season. From this point, they are on their own. He estimated that the bigger bear we had seen (Yogi) was about 4 years old, and the smaller bear (Winnie) was about 2 and a half years. So he is just starting life out on his own, and getting bullied by the bigger bears. I felt very sorry for Winnie, but it is the law of the jungle.
(*Little nod to my favourite British Radio sitcom, Cabin Pressure)
I had learned the difference between black and brown (or grizzly) bears on our trip to Grouse mountain. Here we learnt a little more. Black bears are the “nicer” bears. They are less aggressive and although bears don’t live in packs, black bears are happy to share their territory. Grizzlies on the other hand are larger, and much more aggressive. They are also very territorial and would kill anything else in their territory. Most animals take the smell of a grizzly as their cue to leave. So if you can’t see other wildlife (stags/moose or bears), there’s a fair chance that a grizzly is in the neighbourhood.
Soon it was time to hop off the boat, and we were soon back on the road to Jasper.
Things to know about River Safari
How to get there: River Safari is located on Highway five between Kamloops and Jasper in the small community of Blue River. Keep an eye out for it when you are getting close to Blue River. It is well sign posted from the main road, so you won’t miss it.
How much time should you spend there? At least a couple of hours if you are doing one tour. The tour itself is an hour, and there is a bit of prep time. Plan to spend longer if you are doing the jeep safari as well.
Things to know: The attraction is only open from May to October. Therefore, please do check their website for opening hours before you travel to make sure you are not disappointed.
Cost: 85 CAD (plus tax) per adult (at the time of writing) for either tour and 160 CAD (plus tax) for both. Please check their website for latest prices.
Final thoughts: It you are coming this way, I would highly recommend it. It was the best bear experience we had in our entire two weeks in Alaska and Canada. The staff were really great, the speed boat was fun and we had a fantastic time.