CDN $29950 (about USD $23900; £17400 using February 2021 exchange rates)
All-inclusive price covers: all transport, meals, and accommodation after arrival in Whitehorse, and all Canadian sales tax
Note that I also have Bear Cave Mountain safaris running in autumn 2024, 2025, and 2026 - see my schedule for details
Join me, Murray Rudd, in the northern Yukon Territory for one of the most amazing photo safaris on the planet!
Photograph grizzly bears (brown bears) in one of the wildest and most intimate settings possible.
In Autumn 2023, I have a very special 2-week extended safari on tap!
This will be the only opportunity for an extended visit to Bear Cave Mountain until my next 2-week tour in 2026.
The Bear Cave Mountain camp is at the core of the Ni’iinlii’njik (“where fish spawn”) Territorial Park, located just 60-miles south of the Arctic Circle in the northern Yukon Territory. The area is extremely remote (2+ hrs by helicopter from Dawson City) and strictly managed.
Our trip is in run conjunction with local guide Phil Timpany at Nakina Adventures, who has over many years worked closely in partnership with the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation to develop the Bear Cave Mountain camp and bear viewing business.
Phil has been coming to this area for 30-years and knows the personalities and family lineage of many of the bears.
Only 28 people get access to Bear Cave Mountain each autumn during grizzly bear viewing season, 7 groups of 4 individuals.
For 2023, I have two adjacent slots reserved; this Bear Cave Mountain safari is limited to a maximum of 4 individuals: 3 guests and myself.
This safari is meant for adventurous photographers who want a profound and personal wilderness experience.
A 'once in a lifetime' experience is sometimes a term that is used very casually; this safari, however, truly fits the once-in-a-lifetime billing.
We will capture images that reflect the up-close and very personal encounters we have with one of the world's greatest predators, the amazingly intelligent grizzly bears that live near the Arctic Circle.
In addition to the grizzly bears, we may also see wolves, caribou, moose, martens, and even wolverines.
Physically, this is a relatively easy trip with walking on forest paths of distances up to about 1-km to daily shoot locations.
Above: a female grizzly portrait shot from about 20-25 ft (7-8 m) distance
Below: Bear Cave Mountain camp - our home for 14-nights (notice the bear prints on the boardwalk)
Our overall schedule is built around a core shooting schedule that includes 13 full days and 2 half days at Bear Cave Mountain. To get in and out of the Yukon, we allow 2 extra days at each end so that we have flexibility in case of weather-related travel complications in Dawson City.
Day 1 (Wednesday 20 Sept 2023)
Arrive Whitehorse International Airport (airport code YXY); overnight at the Coast High Country Inn (single)
Day 2 (Thursday 21 Sept 2023)
Fly from Whitehorse to Dawson City in the early morning. We have a full day free to explore and photograph the historical buildings of this famous gold rush hub and the local trail network; overnight at the Aurora Inn (single)
Day 3 (Friday 22 Sept 2023)
In the morning we head out by helicopter, passing through the spectacular Tombstone Mountain range and open tundra, to Bear Cave Mt, a 2+ hour flight (watch for caribou herds on the way); after arrival and lunch, we will be out on the shore of the Fishing Branch River for our first photo session; overnight at Bear Cave Mt camp (shared cabin)
Day 4 (Saturday 23 Sept 2023) to Day 16 (Thursday 05 Oct 2023)
All day photography on the shores of the Fishing Branch River; overnight at Bear Cave Mt camp (shared cabin)
Day 17 (Friday 06 Oct 2023)
Day 18 (Saturday 07 Oct 2023)
We fly from Dawson City south to Whitehorse in mid-afternoon. That evening we will have a farewell dinner in Whitehorse; overnight at the Coast High Country Inn (single)
Day 19 (Sunday 08 Oct 2023)
Depart Whitehorse for national and international connecting flights
Above: on the way in, we have one full day to explore and photograph historic Dawson City
Below: up close and personal with grizzly bears
Once you step off the plane in Whitehorse on Sept 20th, all food, accommodation, and tour expenses are covered
Transfers to/from Whitehorse airport to hotel
Hotel accommodation on Day 1 (Coast High Country Inn standard room, single accommodation)
All meals starting with dinner on Day 1 and ending with farewell dinner on Day 18
Round-trip flight Whitehorse-Dawson City with Air North
Hotel accommodation on Day 2 (Aurora Inn standard room, single accommodation)
Group helicopter flight from Dawson City to Bear Cave Mountain
All meals and accommodation (shared log cabin) at Bear Cave Mountain camp
All park access and guiding fees
Canadian sales tax is also included in this all-inclusive package price
Canadian tourist visa, if needed
Travel and evacuation insurance
Airfare to get to Whitehorse
Tips and gratuities
Personal gifts and spending
Food other than with regular meals
Excess baggage charges (see the FAQ)
Any costs to compensate for delayed / cancelled flights
Above: our ride landing on the shore of the Fishing Branch River
Below: our experiences with the grizzlies are 'unfiltered' (no hides, no baiting - we are out with the bears in their world)
You will receive a recommended kit list from me prior to departure. We will have some strict weight limits on the chopper flight, so you have to be very selective in the camera kit you bring (see FAQ). In brief, you should bring:
– two or three camera bodies –
– a tripod and head –
– wide-angle, mid-range, and telephoto lenses –
– a laptop computer or tablet, charging and storage devices –
– warm clothing (winter boots and winter camo suits are provided by Bear Cave Mt camp) –
Above: snack time - once bears catch a salmon they typically head into the woods for a few minutes for their snack, then get back to fishing
Below: moose are also common along the Fishing Branch River (and caribou herds sometimes move through the area)
Below: a northern timber wolf wading across the Fishing Branch River
How safe is this trip?
This safari has a number of risk factors. First, and probably foremost, is that we are flying in relatively small turboprop planes and in helicopters in the Arctic. Weather conditions in this part of the world can be challenging but northern pilots are famous for the flying skills.
At Bear Cave Mountain, we are out on trails and on river shores in very close (5-m or 15-ft) proximity to one of the world's greatest predators. Fortunately their favorite food is salmon eggs, so they should be healthy, happy, and fat bears at this time of year.
Still, they are potentially dangerous and we always have a local guide with us who carries a shotgun and is always watching our local environment.
In all the time that photographers have been visiting Bear Cave Mountain, it has never been necessary to shoot a bear. Because of the protocol in place to manage human-bear interactions (e.g., using only specific viewing sites where the bears know they may see humans, by avoiding quick movements and loud talking, and by being extremely clean at our viewing sites, not leaving any food scraps that might get bears associating humans with feeding opportunities), grizzly bears are essentially indifferent to photographers in their presence.
Humans are not viewed as competition for salmon, nor as a threat, so we aren't really worthy of any effort whatsoever by the bears! They have better things to do!!
I have added some unedited videos of the trip in, which helps give you an idea of some of the flavor of the tour (and some of the risk factors). Click here to get to that page.
Will we see ice bears on this safari?
Bear Cave Mountain is most famous for 'ice bears.' Our 2023 safari is in the middle part of the autumn viewing window (we have slots 2 and 3 of the 7), so we may see more bears but it is unlikely that we will encounter full-on 'ice bears.' The bears are the same, of course, but we are a little early in the season to be able to count on the cold winter conditions (-15 to -30 C range) that typically start about 2-weeks later.
If you are interested in visiting when ice bears are more likely to be encountered, check out my last-of-the-season departure dates in 2025 and 2026.
The advantages of this late-September to early-October window are, however, that: we have a higher likelihood of seeing more different bears than later in the season (earlier the bears tend to explore more fishing sites); we have significantly more daylight than even a couple of weeks later; and we have a higher likelihood of also moose.
Below: if we get some snow in early-October, we may get bears starting to get into 'ice bear' mode
Why do grizzly bears gather here?
In the early-1980s I worked in the Yukon and heard fables about the grizzly bears of the Fishing Branch River from fisheries officer friends.
The Fishing Branch River is unique in that it has warm spring water percolating up through the gravel beds where chum salmon spawn. This is an extremely late run of salmon that have adapted to the unique conditions here.
For grizzlies, this is a pre-hibernation buffet that allows them to gorge on very nutritious salmon eggs prior to waddling up the side of the mountain above, where there happens to be caves perfect for their over-winter slumber.
What kind of camera(s) should I bring?
Bring a camera(s) that you are comfortable with, that is reliable, and that can fire quick bursts for bear fishing action. This trip is also suitable for photographers shooting video. In my view reliability is the most important factor to consider. The last thing one would ever want was a camera malfunction on a trip like this. Personally, I stick with DLSRs for this reason (I bring a Canon 1DX ii as my primary body, with a second DLSR as back-up). Bringing a mirrorless and DLSR would also be a good combination.
You should consider three lens options: a medium to long telephoto; a mid-range zoom or portrait lens; and a wide angle. On my last visit to Bear Cave Mountain, I brought my Canon 200-400mm with internal extender (so 200-560-mm range) plus an external 1.4X extender. I found that this reach was overkill and all my best images were shot between 250-mm and 500-mm range. Bears behave differently each year, however, so in some years a longer lens could be useful. Personally, my plan now for Bear Cave Mountain is to bring my 300-mm f/2.8 with a single 1.4X extender.
Last visit I brought my Canon 85-mm f/1.2 portrait lens. I used it for shooting some video and for close-up details of bear claws. I found it a little short, so next trip will more likely bring a lightweight 70-200-mm f/4 or a 100mm f/2.8 portrait lens. For a wide angle, you might consider something in the 16-mm to 35-mm range (there can be some stunning sunsets at Bear Cave Mt and a wide-angle is also useful for shooting in Dawson City). If you are shooting on a cropped sensor, consider that I was on full frame cameras and adjust accordingly.
Also bring a sturdy tripod and head. Even if you prefer to shoot hand-held action shots, the tripod can be useful just as a place to keep your camera handy (we will be sitting for some long periods).
What clothing should I bring?
Expect early-winter conditions by early-October, as we are almost at the Arctic Circle. Bring multiple layers, durable pants (e.g., soft-shell), a warm jacket, hat, and mitts (I like fingerless gloves inside mitts in which I can also roll back the ends and get my fingertips free). Bring waterproof outerwear in case it rains or gets really cold. Bear Cave Mountain camp can supply warm winter hunting camo suits and winter boots should it get extremely cold. You should be counting on temperatures dropping to as low as -10C (14 F) overnight with days hovering around the freezing mark. Each cabin has a small woodstove that keeps sleeping conditions warm most of the night. You may want to have some synthetic base layers for sleeping.
How much stuff can I bring?
You have two considerations: the Dawson City scheduled flight and the helicopter ride. Officially the Air North flight has some pretty severe gear restrictions, especially for carry-on (10-kg). You have 20-kg of checked bags allowed, with overweight (in 2021) charged at around CDN $2.75 per kg. In practice, it seems that hand baggage does not get closely scrutinized but that is a dangerous thing to count on when traveling with expensive camera gear.
We need to exercise common sense with regards to the helicopter flight as well as it also brings in fuel, food, and other things needed for camp operations. Technically we will be on a weight limit so you should only count on camera kit plus clothing. Basically think of one camera backpack fully loaded and one moderate size duffel bag.
Do I have to spend all day sitting on a river bank?
It is possible to spend part of the day at the camp should you wish. Our camp is actually a shoot location: grizzlies regularly wander through camp and rub their backs on scratching trees adjacent to our cabins.
Many photographers, however, will want to stay out on the river all day, where we may end up sitting in the bush or snow for many hours. When out all day, we bring a packed lunch and have lots of coffee, tea, and snacks along.
What is the food like?
At Bear Cave Mountain camp, our local guides do all the cooking. I can attest the food is hearty and delicious! Vegetarian and vegan options are available if you let me know ahead of time they are required (I am vegetarian).
Do we have internet access?
After we leave Dawson City, we have no internet or cellular connections. The Bear Cave Mountain Camp has satellite internet connection for emergencies only, and I always carry a Garmin Inreach satellite communication system. If you are not bringing your own Inreach or equivalent, I can provide my contact information for you to use as a point of contact for urgent text messages to/from home .
What are accommodations like?
In Whitehorse and Dawson City, we stay in comfortable hotels and have single accommodations. At Bear Cave Mountain camp, we need to share the small log cabins.
Bear Cave Mountain camp has a simple shower facility with water heated by wood stove. Toilet facilities are primitive (an outhouse is down a trail, about 30-40 yards from the cabins - a very interesting middle-of-the-night trek in grizzly country!).
Sleeping quarters at Bear Cave Mountain camp
How much does it cost to get to Whitehorse?
If you book your travel early, airfare can be very reasonable to Whitehorse. For example, Los Angeles and Toronto return tickets to Whitehorse can be as low as USD $500 range when booked in the spring, while late bookings will be substantially more expensive.
Whitehorse is serviced by Air Canada, WestJet, and Air North. For most people arriving from a distance, I recommend booking with Air Canada: if you encounter delays on your trip, the odds are much higher with Air Canada that they will be able to reroute and still get you to Whitehorse more or less on time.
What happens if I have a medical emergency while we are at Bear Cave Mountain camp?
Should we have a medical emergency at camp, the only evacuation option is helicopter: that means that you must have travel insurance that includes helicopter medivac coverage.
Because helicopters cannot, however, fly in all weather conditions, it is also possible that a medivac could take some time. Our local guides are trained in first aid and I am a trained Wilderness First Responder - our training is only meant to help stabilize people sick or injured in remote locations, not to provide ongoing medical care or advice.
Do I need travel insurance?
Besides providing you with compensation if you need to cancel your trip prior to departure, good travel insurance will help you if you have problems en route or on the safari.
I suggest that you consider both policies with Global Rescue to cover evacuation expenses and a policy for adventure travel medical treatment.
Below: packing for the flight to Bear Cave Mountain
When are payments due?
An initial reservation fee of CAD $2000 secures your space for the safari and is applied to your 50% deposit, when that comes due. The balance of your 50% deposit (CDN $12975) is due 18-months prior to departure, by midnight Atlantic time on March 20, 2022. Your final balance of a little under CDN $14975 is due 6-months prior to departure, by midnight Atlantic time on March 20, 2023.
What happens if I need to cancel?
If you need to cancel up to 12 midnight Atlantic time on March 20, 2023, I will provide a full refund less your CAD $2000 deposit. There are no refunds after 20 March 2023.
I strongly advise that you arrange travel insurance at the time of your booking to ensure that you are able to get compensation in the event of health or family emergencies.
I know things happen in life and that this is a very expensive safari, so should you need to cancel late I will certainly make every effort to fill your spot with another photographer (and I will start a waitlist once this safari fills). If I can fill your spot, I will refund all payments made less your CAD $2000 reservation fee.
Do I need to pay Canadian sales tax?
Yes. However, the Canadian sales tax is already build into the price of the safari, so the price you see is the total amount of what you need to pay.
If comparing safari prices with other tour operators, please bear in mind that there are no other extra charges once you reach Whitehorse, either for tax or for food, accommodations, or the Dawson City flight.
How do I pay?
You can transfer your payments directly to my bank account.
You can pay by credit card if you wish, but there would be a 9.5% surcharge on the safari price to cover online credit card booking fees.
Does the trip need a minimum number of people to guarantee it runs?
Yes, I need 3 photographers to run this trip. If we are short and you have paid a 50% deposit, you will be offered the opportunity to cover the cost of a vacant space(s) or will receive a full refund of all monies you have paid.
What happens if Tendrel Images cancels the trip?
If for any reason I need to cancel the safari, you will receive a full refund of all monies you have paid, including the CAD $2000 reservation fee.
I cannot make the trip in 2023 - can I come in other years?
Yes. I have two one-week slots booked for 2024: for 04 to 15 Oct, I am offering a one-time a photographically unguided trip for four experienced photographers; and for 11-22 Oct I currently have space for one person available for a regular one-week guided safari. For 2025 (25 Oct to 05 Nov) I have the coveted final slot of the season, and for 2026 I have the last two weeks of the season reserved (19 to 30 Oct; and 26 Oct to 06 Nov, with 14 full-days and 2-half days of ice bear photography).
I am also offering grizzly bear photo safaris in early-August in the Taku Wilderness in northern British Columbia; on those 6-day safaris, I can handle a slightly larger group and they are, as a result, a relatively more economical way to have a very personal experience with grizzly bears.