Where to Spot Wildlife in the Canadian Rockies

Where to Spot Wildlife in the Canadian Rockies
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If watching animals from a new region of the planet is one of the best parts of traveling for you, you should plan a trip to the Canadian Rockies.

Viewing wildlife in the Canadian Rockies is easy. As easy as knowing what species we can find, where they live and at what time they are usually more active.

In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know to make your trip to Canada a real safari.

Also, we will tell you how to keep the wildlife wild and protect both animals living in the Canadian Rockies and yourself.

CANADIAN ROCKIES WILDLIFE

On our trip to the Canadian Rockies, we find different landscapes: high peaks covered with snow, glaciers, valleys with lakes of intense colors, canyons, and waterfalls.

Therefore, depending on the area where we are we can see different animals in the Canadian Rockies.

GRIZZLY BEARS

If there’s one animal that everyone who travels to the Canadian Rockies wants to see, that’s the Grizzly Bear. There are just a few areas inhabited by Grizzlies in the world, and one of them is the Canadian Rockies, where this species is seriously endangered.

15% of Grizzly bear’s diet is based on meat; they feed on moose, deer, goats and even black bears … and of course fish. An adult Grizzly bear male can reach standing on its legs a height of 100  inches and can weigh up to 1200 pounds.

 grizzly bear banff national park Canada wildlife

The only safe way to see this animal is from a vehicle. Encounters during hikes can end tragically. Some campsites that are located in areas frequented by Grizzly bears are surrounded by electrified fences to avoid encounters ansd possible Grizzly attacks.

grizzly bear lake louise canda wildlife

WHERE TO WATCH GRIZZLY BEARS IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

There are only about 200 Grizzly bears living in the Canadian Rockies, distributed as follows:

We only saw Grizzly bears in Banff National Park, (Lake Louise area and Bow Lake surroundings).

BLACK BEARS

We can also watch Black bears at the Canadian Rockies. They are the most abundant bear species on the planet. Despite the name, black bears can have fur from tan to dark black, but you shouldn’t get confused with Grizzly bears. Although the black bear is usually much smaller (550 pounds max) than the grizzly bear, size should not be used to determine the species of bear.

black bear jasper national park best places to viewing wildlife

Black bears are also omnivorous, although they rarely hunt large prey. They mostly feed on insects, fish, and plants. However, they are not harmless for that reason. There are also attacks of black bears on humans, some even mortal. These attacks usually occur when a female with small cubs is surprised, being in most cases defensive attacks instead of predatory attacks.

wild animal watching tour Canadian rockies

Like Grizzlies, it’s better to see this species through the safety of our car.

bear encounters in Canada best time to see wildlife

WHERE TO WATCH BLACK BEARS IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

Black bears are quite abundant in all the Canadian Rockies so you will see them easily; especially in Jasper National Park, as they prefer green meadows than high mountains.

We could see Black bears in the area of Pyramid Lake, Maligne Road, and Miette Hot Springs.

Black bears are more active before and after sunset, so the best way to find them is by driving roads such as the Icefields Parkway or Maligne Road before the sun goes down.

In this article, we tell you how to differentiate Grizzly bears from Black bears and how to avoid encounters and how to survive a bear attack.

MOOSE

Following the list of animals to see in the Canadian Rockies, the moose is one of my favorites. And you can not imagine how big this animal is until you can see one with your own eyes.

They can be as tall as 80 inches, not counting the antlers that can measure up to 130 inches from one end to the other. These antlers grow in the adult males during the summer, and when fall arrives, they lose them. If you travel to the Canadian Rockies in the spring, as we did, it is possible that adult males still have short antlers.

Moose maligne road how to behave during a wild animal encounter canada rocky mountains

Despite their peaceful and harmless appearance, the National Park rangers warned us that moose are more dangerous than any other animal in the Canadian Rockies, even bears.

Having an encounter with a female (cow) with her calves will probably end up on a sudden attack. Unlike other cervids that we will find, moose are rarely frightened, but if they feel intimidated they will not hesitate to charge and taking into account that they can weigh up to 1000 pounds, they can be very dangerous. Like the other wildlife of the Canadian Rockies that we have already mentioned, the best way to observe this species is from the safety of our car.

where to spot moose at the Canadian rockies

WHERE TO WATCH MOOSE IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

The best place to view moose in the Canadian Rockies is in humid and marshy areas, for example in the Jasper National Park, as it is the most remote and wild of the parks.

It was hard for us to see moose. However, two of the three moose that we saw were on Maligne Road.

The third time was on a section of the Icefields Parkway close to the Athabasca River.

WOLVES

One of the trickiest animals to see in the Canadian Rockies is the Wolf. We were lucky to watch a wolf at the end of May on the Maligne Road in Jasper National Park. However, the last sighting that the visitor center had registered was in March.

where to see wolf at canada jasper national park

WHERE TO WATCH WOLVES IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

Although in Jasper the current wolf population is growing, in Banff National Park it became extinct and is currently being reintroduced (there are approximately 40 wolves that spend part of the year in this park).

The chances of seeing a wild wolf in the Canadian Rockies are very slim, especially because in the warm months the wolves are moving away from the populated areas. In winter it is easier to see them at lower latitudes, so you could cross paths with some on the side of the roads.

wolf in jasper national park Canada animal wildlife

Remember that they are nocturnal animals, so it is more likely that you find them when driving on roads like Maligne Road after sunset.

WAPITI OR ELK

The Wapiti is the largest species of deer, only surpassed by moose. It is common on the West Coast of North America and it is the most abundant deer in the Canadian Rockies. It certainly could not be missing from our list of animals to see in the Canadian Rockies.

wapiti or elk in the Canadian rockies

It can reach up to 94 inches and weigh 800 pounds. For this reason we must be cautious with the elk, especially during two periods of the year, in spring during the calving season (May – June) where the females are taking care of their new fawns, and during the fall, in the known as rut season (September – October), when males trying to mate become very aggressive.

deer in the Canadian rockies where to see them

In this Canada Parks guide, they explain the security measures that we must take during these periods.

MULE DEER

Mule deer are also easy to see in the valleys, for example in the Bow Valley Parkway or on Maligne Road.

guide to spotting wildlife in the Canadian rockies

They are characterized by being smaller, having long ears, grayish fur and a black spot at the tip of the tail.

don’t feed wild animal how to approach

They are usually quite scared, but as with any wild animal, it is best to contemplate it in the distance.

WHITE-TAILED DEER

The white-tailed deer is quite similar to the mule deer in terms of morphology and size.

west coast wildlife where to find them

The best way to differentiate both species is by looking at its ears, smaller than the ones of the mule deer, and especially in its tail. The white-tailed deer raises its tail when it feels intimidated and never have a black spot on its tip.

white tailed deer best place to see in the Canadian rockies

Like the mule deer, the easiest place to find it is in the lower part of the valleys, such as Bow Valley Parkway or Maligne Road. However, the number of individuals of this species is lower.

mule deer animals you can see at the Canadian rockies

MOUNTAIN GOATS

The mountain goats are the most difficult animals to photograph in the Canadian Rockies. This goat has long white fur, goatee and two thin black horns curved backward.

They live at a  very high altitude at the top of the mountains so spotting them is quite complicated. We could see them at a point that you can find below on the map known as “goat lookout” that is in the middle of the Icefields Parkway.

best time to see wildlife in Canada rocky mountains

As you can see, the photo is a bit poor as the goats were very far from the road. If we regret something during our trip it was not having a quality telephoto lens. We really missed many photographic opportunities especially for photographing wildlife in the Canadian Rockies.

Bighorn sheep

The bighorn sheep are common in mountainous areas although they are also located in lower areas. After elks, they are the most numerous ungulate animals of the Canadian Rockies so it won’t be difficult to see them.

bighorn sheep in Canadian rockies

These goats are brown, with a white rump and lining on the backs of their legs. The males are characterized by having big backward-curved horns,  whereas the horns of the females are thin and short.

where to find wildlife in the canadian rockies

We saw them on the Icefields Parkway, on Abraham Lake and on Maligne Road. Although at first glance they may seem domestic or that are easily frightened, do not trust, like any wild animal, if they feel intimidated, they will charge and attack.

BALD EAGLE

The bald eagle is one of the most important raptors that we can find on the West Coast of Canada. This majestic eagle stands out for the white head that adults have.

bald eagle best place to spot birds at the Canadian rockies

In Jasper National Park we were able to contemplate twice the national symbol bird of the United States.

bald eagle fishing in Canadian rockies jasper national park

To see them you have to keep your eyes wide open to the sky or to some lagoon where they could be fishing. We saw one in the Edith Lake area and another one on the Maligne Road in Jasper National Park.

porcupine

The porcupine is another animal you can see in the Canadian Rockies. This rodent covered with about 30,000 quills usually lives in forests and weighs about 11 pounds.

porcupine lake louise where to find animals

We saw one in the area of Lake Louise in Banff National Park and it is true that as we approached, it raised the barbs as a sign of threat.

Beavers

As a symbol of Canada, we could not leave the Rocky Mountains without seeing beavers. This rodent with flat, scaly tail spends much of its time in the water, so the easiest way to see them is while they swim. Beavers are known to form wooden dikes in rivers and streams, so in some areas of Canada, they have been unfortunately hunted down near to extinction because they changed river flows damaging the activities of humans.

photograph beavers in Canadian rockies wildlife

Finding it was very difficult since it is a nocturnal animal. Our only occasion was at sunset in the Cottonwood Slough near Jasper.

Squirrels

The easiest animals to see in the Canadian Rockies are squirrels. We could see two different species, the Red Squirrel, which stand out for being reddish and with abundant fur in the tail and the Least Chipmunk in whose back they have black and white lines.

 red squirrel in canada jasper

It might seem funny, but the only wildlife attack in the Canadian Rockies that we witnessed was a squirrel biting a tourist who was trying to feed it. His finger was bleeding for more than an hour.

 least chipmunk Canadian rockies wild animals

Feeding wild animals in the Canada National Parks is illegal and dangerous and also it has a very negative impact on wildlife.

Columbia ground squirrel

The Columbia ground squirrel can be found living in numerous colonies in meadows.

Columbia ground squirrel best place to viewing wildlife Canadian rockies

We saw them in large numbers at the Kicking Horse Campground in Yoho National Park and the Wapiti Campground in Jasper National Park. They are like a common squirrel except that they have a thin tail and do not climb trees. They look like marmots of tiny size.

OTHER ANIMALS AT THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

In addition to the animals mentioned before, there are other spectacular animals that we couldn’t see on our trip.

If you are lucky enough to see any of this list do not hesitate to contact us and send us a photo and we will add it to this guide to viewing wildlife in the Canadian Rockies.

COYOTE

The coyote looks like a medium-sized dog. It has a thick tail, and its fur has a grayish brown color.

It is a nocturnal animal that usually lives in packs. Although an individual who goes alone may seem harmless, in a pack, they can become dangerous.

They told us there are many in the area of Vermilion Lakes and Bow Valley Parkway, although we could not see any.

COUGAR

The cougar or mountain lion is the largest of the felines that live in the Canadian Rockies (and the largest cat in the world capable of purring). They are found throughout the Americas although its population has been reduced due to human activities.

Although the chances of encountering a cougar are minimal, since they are nocturnal animals that live in the high mountains, you should know that the possibility exists and that you must get away from them without losing eye contact.

Cougars usually know that it is better to stay away from humans, but it would not be the first time someone is attacked by a cougar.

In the Canadian Rockies, the population of cougars is less than 100 specimens, of which about 70 live in Jasper National Park.

LYNX

The other feline that we found in the Canadian Rockies Park is the lynx. It is quite rare to see them since they have nocturnal habits.

There is no estimate of how many lynxes live in the Rockies.

WOLVERINE

The Wolverine is the largest of the weasels with up to 40 pounds of weight. This animal is in danger of extinction, so it is extremely rare to spot one.

They eat everything from plants to elk or wapitis. But it is an opportunistic eater, and it tends to eat what is close and accessible. Sometimes it steals corpses from other predators. They have a very aggressive character, so they can even scare bears away. Also, just like skunks, they have glands next to the anus that allow them to spray their food with musk to keep other animals away and eat them later.

CARIBOU

Another animal in danger of extinction in the Rocky Mountains of Canada is the Caribou. This deer is similar in size to an elk but with lighter colored hair. It is also different because both females and males have antlers with a peculiar shape.

Nowadays, there are only about 150 specimens in the Canadian Rockies, although seeing them is very difficult since in summer they retreat to the high peaks far from humans.

In winter and with luck you can see them on the Maligne Road and the Icefields Parkway in the area of Jasper National Park.

HOW TO AVOID ENCOUNTERS WITH wild animals IN CANADIAN ROCKIES

We know that all of us here love to watch wildlife. However, not all encounters are a positive experience at all.

For example, if you are hiking in a remote place and suddenly you find a cougar or a bear with their cubs, it may end up being your nightmare.

Follow the following tips to avoid encounters with wild animals:

  • When you hike, make noise. Let the animals know that you are approaching before they can see you. There is nothing more dangerous than an animal taken by surprise. Go singing, speaking loudly, etc. The bear bells, although they are very popular, are not useful.
  • Be aware of recent wildlife signals. If you find stools, broken trunks, excavations or tracks and you think they are fresh, leave the area.
  • Try to walk in groups of four or more people. Never leave children or pets out of sight.
  • If you find a large dead animal (deer, elk, bear, etc.) leave the area immediately. A predator is probably close.
  • Store your food properly. Try to reduce the food you are carrying as much as possible if you go trekking. Just take a snack if it is essential. Similarly, if you camp, never put food inside the tent if you do not want to have unexpected visitors at night. Food should always be stored in the car or preferably in food lockers.
  • Avoid nocturnal or low visibility hikes. Also, if you decide to run or ride a bicycle along the park routes, bear in mind that you are taking a risk since you are more likely to take by surprise the animals that you find on the road.

HOW TO ACT DURING WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

However, even if we follow all the guidelines indicated above, we may have a wildlife encounter on our trip to the Canadian Rockies. Here are some tips to follow during our encounters to stay safe both us and the animals.

  • Never feed a wild animal. An animal used to humans is a dead animal. Keep wildlife wild. Also, Take with you your trash, so it is not accessible to wildlife. Not doing it is another way to feed them.

Bears, cougars, coyotes or wolves that usually go to populated areas or campsites in search of food are killed by the rangers of the park because they are considered a danger to people. If you don’t want that, avoid wild animals access food possible thanks to their interaction with the human being.

  • Never approach an animal and if the animal is the one approaching, get away. Always keep a safe distance. It is recommended to leave a 100 feet security distance for wapitis, moose, elk and goats and a distance of at least 300 feet for bears, cougars, and wolves.
  • Do not corner the animal. Always leave an escape way. An animal that feels trapped is more likely to attack.
  • In case of encounters with wolves, cougars or coyotes, never turn your back on them. Get away slowly without losing eye contact. Try to look as big as you can. For this, you can place an object on your head.
  • In the case of an encounter with a bear, our reaction will depend on the type of bears and type of encounter, as we tell you in this article. Having the bear spray ready is always the best solution.
  • Don’t run under any circumstances, as it could awaken its predatory instincts.

If you come across a cougar, grizzly bear, black bear or wolf, you must report it to the park, since these species populations are being monitored and controlled. Also if you have an unfortunate encounter with any other type of wildlife, you should also report it.

For Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay you can call 403-762-1470 and for Jasper at 780-852-6155.

WILDLIFE MAP – WHERE TO VIEWING ANIMALS IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

In this map, we have pinned the places where we could see the Canadian Rockies wildlife. In addition, as we discussed in the Jasper National Park article, at the reception of the Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge on the Icefields Parkway, there is a map where everyone can point out the sightings made in recent days. That map will be more updated than the map that we show you here, but this way you make a general idea of where to spot wildlife in the Canadian Rockies.

WILDLIFE ON THE WEST COAST OF CANADA

Finally, I wanted to mention other animals that we can see on the West Coast of Canada. We spent in Vancouver the first two days of our 15-day Canadian Rockies trip.

Watching orcas in freedom has been my dream since I was a child and It became true there.

Although in this article you can see more fully which animals you can spot at a whale watching tour, I don’t want to end this post without at least mentioning them.

KILLER WHALES

Seeing the largest dolphin in the world sailing the oceans is priceless. The best time to see orcas in Vancouver is from May to October since apart from the resident whales, many transients will be crossing this waters.

animals to watch at the west coast of Canada

HUMPBACK WHALES

Another whale that is common in Vancouver waters is the humpback whale.

best time to see wild animals Canada humpback whale

BALD EAGLE

As in the Canadian Rockies, you can see Bald Eagles fishing in Vancouver.

bald eagle best place to see them Vancouver canada

CALIFORNIA SEA LIONS

California sea lions can also be seen basking in the dukes of the harbor.

animals in the Canadian rockies California sea lion

STELLER SEA LIONS

We can also find Steller Sea Lions. These are quite larger than the previous ones. They can weigh 1 ton and measure a length of 10 feet.

fauna Canada steller sea lions where to see them

And with this, we end our guide to spotting wildlife in the Canadian Rockies.

PLEASE Let us know IF YOU SEE OTHER SPECIES SO we can ADD THEM TO THE LIST and help other travelers

written by Ascenphotography by danzafra

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