23 Indigenous-Owned Tourism Businesses to Visit in the Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii
Indigenous tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in British Columbia. First Nations in the Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii are welcoming guests to their territories, expanding tourism offerings, and investing in businesses that create new sources of revenue and jobs for their people.
Indigenous-owned tourism businesses do more than just provide visitors with a transformational opportunity to experience First Nations culture. They raise the profile of Indigenous entrepreneurs, create seasonal and permanent jobs, connect youth to the land, and honour traditional ways of knowing and being. By placing their cultural heritage at the forefront, tourism businesses in the region are contributing to a conservation economy that benefits people and place.
From luxury resorts to wildlife-viewing tour operators, here are 23 Indigenous-owned tourism businesses with hosts keen to share their culture with you.
Gitxaała Enterprises Corporation recently purchased the Crest Hotel, a landmark accommodation that’s welcomed guests to Prince Rupert for more than 60 years. Known as Prince Rupert’s premier hotel, Crest Hotel has more than 100 guest rooms, as well as a restaurant, lounge, and function rooms. Situated along the waterfront, the hotel is within walking distance of the bustling Cow Bay district, home to shops, boutiques, and eateries, including the soon-to-be-opened Salt Water Bakery, another Gitxaała-owned business.
Metlakatla Wilderness Trail and Ferry Service
The village of Metlakatla is located about five kilometres north of Prince Rupert at the site of an older Ts’msyen village. Recognizing the need for a water taxi, Metlakatla Nation launched the Metlakatla Ferry Service, allowing both members and visitors easy access from the village into downtown Prince Rupert. For members, it’s a reliable part of the Nation’s transportation infrastructure and, for visitors, it gives them the opportunity to get out on the water and experience the North Coast’s stunning scenery and coastline.
The ferry also provides access to the Metlakatla Wilderness Trail, a 20-kilometre out-and-back hiking route that winds past ancient village sites, over suspension bridges, and through culturally modified trees. The trail recently re-opened.
Knott’s Landing Bed and Breakfast, Lax Kw’alaams
Knott’s Landing B&B is tucked away in the village of Port Simpson, in the heart of the traditional territory of the Ts’mysen people. One of the only accommodation properties located in the area, Knott’s Landing, owned by Eddie and Karen Knott, is a great home base for visitors looking to take in the spectacular natural beauty, wildlife viewing, and outdoor recreation in Lax Kw’alaams territory. The property includes four bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, a full kitchen, and plenty of space to rest and relax after a day spent exploring.
Self-guided Auto Tour Route
Nisg̱a’a territory is a place of preternatural beauty. There’s the site of an ancient lava field, the mineral waters of Hlgu Isgwit Hot Springs, aquamarine rivers, breathtaking mountains, lush forest, and the soaring glass-and-steel Hli Goothl Wilp-Adokhshl Nisg̱a’a Museum, which houses repatriated Nisg̱a’a items of cultural significance.
The story of the Nisg̱a’a people is written on this land, and it’s why the Nation developed a self-guided auto-route tour, bringing visitors to eighteen stops of natural wonder in a stunning introduction to Nisg̱a’a lands and culture.
U See Food U Eat It
The village of Gingolx is located at the mouth of the Portland Inlet where the Nass River drains into the ocean. With the bounty of the ocean at its doorstep, it’s no wonder Gingolx is also known as the “Seafood Capital of the Nass.” Capitalizing on the area’s access to ultra-fresh seafood is local restaurant U See Food U Eat It. This small cafe serves classic fish ‘n chips, along with other staples, and is only one of a few restaurants in the Nass Valley region — filling a much-needed gap for both locals and visitors.
Vetter Falls Lodge
Recognizing the need for more visitor accommodation within Anhluut’ukwsim Lax̱mihl Angwinga’asanakwhl Nisg̱a’a Nisg̱a’a Memorial Lava Bed Park, the Nisga’a Nation purchased Vetter Falls Lodge to support the growth of its burgeoning tourism economy.
The lodge is centrally located in the Nass Valley and along the Nation’s auto-route tour. Owned by the Nisg̱a’a Lisims Government, this bed and breakfast style property features a main lodge, smaller cabin, and offers mountain bike and kayak rentals.
Welcome House Cafe
Part gift shop, part cafe, the Welcome House does more than just provide visitors with souvenirs and a bite to eat — it’s a central hub for tourism in the village of Gitwinksihlkw. Designed to act as a “main street” in Gitwinksihlkw, the cafe offers a select menu of Indigenous-inspired foods, along with locally-sourced crafts and goods.
Hiellen Longhouse Village
To meet the demand for more ecotourism opportunities at the north end of Haida Gwaii, the Old Massett Village Council built Hiellen Longhouse Village, a series of seven self-contained cabins, plus a 10-room building and tent sites on the site of an ancient Haida village. Hiellen was built by local carpenters, using local cedar, hemlock, and spruce from a local mill.
The accommodations are intentionally rustic, encouraging guests to disconnect from the outside world and form deeper connections to, and respect for, Haida land and culture. The village also doubles as a venue for job fairs, training, weddings, retreats, and Haida-led events that contribute to the Nation’s ongoing cultural revitalization.
Note: Hiellen Village is closed for renovations and expected to reopen this summer.
Haida House at Tlaal and Ocean House at Tlaga Gawtlaas
At the Haida House, HaiCo transitioned a former trophy bear hunting lodge into a world class accommodation property (on 64 acres of river and oceanfront) that centers Haida culture and wild nature. Here, guests are paired with a cultural interpreter from the Nation to help educate them on Haida protocol and to share knowledge about the land, the language, and the people.
Building on the success of this venture, the Haida Enterprise Corporation (HaiCo) added 12 two-room oceanside cabins for guests wanting a more private all-inclusive experience.
Closer to G̲aw Tlagee Old Masset, HaiCo built Ocean House, a 24-room boutique hotel.
Both Haida House and Ocean House place Haida culture at the forefront. The culinary program features a tide-to-table and ocean-to-table menu, highlighting local providers and Haida staples. Haida Tourism also has conference space, for corporate retreats, yoga retreats and larger gatherings.
Note: Ocean House will be open in 2024 (closed for renovations in 2023).
Shearwater Wilderness Resort & Marina, Haíɫzaqv
Shearwater, on Denny Island, hosts a resort and marina, as well as a marine shipyard, restaurant and bar, laundromat, seabus service, post office, grocery and liquor store, and other businesses to support locals and visitors to Haíɫzaqv territory on the central coast.
In 2021, the Heiltsuk Tribal Council purchased Shearwater Wilderness Resort and Marina, reclaiming ownership of an important part of their territory and creating new employment and training opportunities for their Haíɫzaqv people.
In just a year, the Haíɫzaqv have launched new eco-cultural tour packages, offering guests a more authentic experience that includes wildlife viewing, storytelling, and visits to culturally safe archaeological sites in the Nation’s territory.
Copper Sun Journeys, Nuxalk
Nuxalk territory is home to abundant wildlife, the dramatic mountain peaks of the Coast Mountain range, lush temperate rainforest, and ancient petroglyphs that were carved into rock some 5,000 years ago. It’s a sacred and spiritual place for Nuxalk people, and with Copper Sun Journeys, visitors can witness the powerful elemental forces of the area, learn about Nuxalk history, and hear traditional songs and stories on guided tours throughout the Bella Coola Valley. Copper Sun Journeys is a sister business to the well-established Copper Sun Gallery, a space for Nuxalk artists to show and sell their work.
Spirit Bear Lodge, Kitasoo Xai’xais
Connect with the Kitasoo Xai’xais people, the lands and waters of their traditional territory, and the magnificent wildlife that call it home. Spirit Bear Lodge offers all inclusive multi-day adventures that build an understanding, respect, and connection to the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest and a culture that has roots as deep as the trees.
Named for the Spirit (Kermode) bear, a genetically unique subspecies of the black bear found only in parts of the North and Central Coast, the lodge places a focus on sustainable, conservation-based wildlife viewing, honouring this culturally-significant bear and the Kitasoo and Xai’xais peoples’ heritage and values. In doing so, the Nation has created one of the most desirable and sought-after destinations in North America. The lodge employs about 10 per cent of the working-age population in Klemtu and supports youth cultural programs.
North Vancouver Island and South Coast
Homalco Tours, Xwémalhkwu
The territory of the Homalco First Nation extends into Bute Inlet, a long, deep fjord on the mainland across from Vancouver Island. It’s a place of spectacular beauty and abundant wildlife, including grizzly bears. For over a decade, Homalco Wildlife & Cultural Tours has been running bear viewing tours deep within Bute Inlet, offering visitors the chance to safely see bears in their natural habitat and learn about Homalco culture and their relationship to these legendary giants.
For the Xwémalhkwu Nation, Homalco Tours creates family-supporting jobs, celebrates their culture and language, and uses tourism to support conservation. Homalco Tours is the result of the Homalco Nation’s conservation efforts to restore salmon populations in the area and bring a thriving grizzly bear population back to the valley.
Knight Inlet Lodge, Na̲nwak̲olas Council
When an internationally-recognized grizzly bear viewing eco-lodge in the heart of Knight Inlet came up for sale, Na̲nwak̲olas Council was ready for the opportunity. Today, Knight Inlet Lodge is owned by Na̲nwak̲olas member nations, including the Mamalilikulla, Tlowitsis, Da’naxda’xw Awaetlatla, Wei Wai Kum, and K’ómoks First Nations.
The relationship between those First Nations, their territories, and wildlife, is at the heart of Knight Inlet’s tourism model. Guests can choose from premium, multi-day expeditions that combine grizzly bear tours with whale watching, easy sightseeing excursions on land and water, packages centered around activities like nature photography, and more.
For guests, it’s an experience of a lifetime, and for Na̲nwak̲olas Council, it’s a way to secure long-term support for their stewardship programs: a portion of the guest fees goes to the Ha-ma-yas Stewardship Network, a network of Indigenous Guardians that monitor and protect the lands and waters of this wildlife-rich area.
Kwa’lilas Hotel, Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw
Kwa’lilas Hotel, a luxury property in Port Hardy, is a testament to the strength and hospitality of the Gwa’sala and ’Nakwaxda’xw people. In 2016, the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nation acquired the aging hotel, hired local workers to renovate the property, and incorporated their art and culture into the design of the space.
Kwa’lilas features original artwork, including a stunning copper mural on display in the lobby that tells the story of the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nation. Indigenous motifs are present throughout the hotel, from textiles to woodwork to masks, and the on-site restaurant and cafe feature Indigenous-inspired cuisine. Guest services connect visitors with eco-tours and cultural experiences that are guided by community members and local experts. For many, Port Hardy has been a hub for travellers heading to the Central and North Coasts, but now, thanks to the Kwa’lilas Hotel, it’s a destination in its own right.
k’awat’si Tours, Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw
Where Kwa’lilas Hotel made it easy for visitors to find luxury accommodation, k’awat’si Tours brings guests onto the lands and waters of the Gwa’sala and ‘Nakwaxda’xw homelands. The company offers a selection of eco-tours and cultural experiences, including cedar weaving, drum-making, and cultural dances, all while sharing the powerful story of their peoples’ forced relocation and subsequent cultural resurgence.
Sea Wolf Adventures, Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis
Cultural sustainability and visitor education are at the heart of each and every tour offered by Sea Wolf Adventures. Visitors are treated to a premier wildlife viewing experience, and immersed in the Kwakwaka’wakw stories and culture. Mike Willie, a member of Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation, founded Sea Wolf Adventures as a way to make a living by reconnecting to the land and language of his people. It’s been a highly successful venture, connecting thousands of visitors each year to the heritage and homelands of the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples. Visitors aren’t the only ones who benefit from Sea Wolf’s tours either. The operator employs a roster of guides from Kwakwaka’wakw communities, generates revenue, and sustains food sources for Indigenous families and communities in the area.
H’aiagal’ath Grizzly Bear Tours, W’ui’kinuxv
W’ui’kinuxv territory sits deep within the Great Bear Rainforest, on the banks of the Waanukv River, northeast of Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. It’s a place where bears roam, salmon come to spawn, waterfalls crash into rivers below, and mountains soar above miles of pristine rainforest. For the W’ui’kinuxv, stewardship responsibilities are shared with the keepers of the land: grizzly bears.
To celebrate this connection, H’aiagal’ath, a W’ui’kinuxv Hereditary Chief, created H’aiagal’ath Grizzly Bear Tours, an immersive wildlife viewing company, offering visitors the chance to witness grizzly bears in their natural habitat and learn about the W’ui’kinuxv people’s relationship to these magnificent creatures.
Thunderbird RV Park & Resort, Wei Wai Kum
Since 1992, the Wei Wai Kum Nation’s Thunderbird RV Park & Resort has been a popular destination for tourists who come to the shores of Tyee Spit to camp and fish. To add to the park’s camping and RV facilities, the Nation expanded the resort, adding four brand-new beachside cottages, 18 fully-serviced RV lots, and amenities like laundry, storage, and guest showers.
Thunderbird RV Park & Resort is just the tip of the Nation’s tourism offerings, with restaurants, cafes, a gift store, marina, and annual fishing derby all offering a draw for visitors in the Campbell River area.
And that’s just a taste. There’s plenty more tourism businesses to be found in the region, with more offerings and opportunities being developed each year. With so much to do, there’s never been a better time to support Indigenous-owned businesses, experience coastal hospitality, and learn from local guides and hosts.