Canadian wildlife is usually the number one reason why people visit the magnificent nature. Watching wild animals in their element creates life-lasting memories.
In this post, I’m going to show you ten beautiful animals that you can see in Canada, particularly in the province of British Columbia and Alberta (where we live).
Furthermore, you’ll learn about:
- the best places to see them
- our personal stories about wildlife in Canada
- videos to watch if you’d like to know more about Canadian wildlife
- what is the best time see wildlife in the Rockies
- things to know before wildlife watching
We’ve been living near the Canadian Rockies for more than five years. If you know us or read our blog, you know that mountains are the centre of our universe and we spend all our free time among the mountain peaks.
Needless to say, we had our share of wildlife encounters throughout the years. Luckily, none of them were scary, but all of them were very humbling experiences.
Keep reading to get inspired and create your own Canadian Rockies wildlife adventure.
Wildlife in Canada
Shortly after we moved to the Canadian Rockies, Michal and I became slightly obsessed with wildlife. You can’t blame us; they’re everywhere.
For any animal lovers, Canadian Rockies are a dream. Let me show you the most beautiful wild animals you can see in Canada.
1. Black bear
Seeing a black bear is for many people a highlight of their trip to the Canadian Rockies. And it’s more common than you think.
While you can see a black bear just about anywhere (sometimes even in the city), the best and safest place to see them is actually by the roadside. There is an abundance of buffalo berries they like to feed on. Driving the roads in the provincial or national parks is your best bet to see black bears.
According to the Government of Alberta, black bears can be found in 75% of the province.
Our experience with black bears
We saw our very first black bear the week we moved to Banff National Park. We went biking around town to get to know our new home better when I noticed a black bear walking on the biking path just a few hundred meters in front of us. It was a new and surreal experience.
He didn’t notice us and was just casually walking on the bike path, sniffing the grass and looking for flowers to eat. We stopped biking and waited. Shortly the bear moved into the forest, and when we saw him far enough, we continued with our bike ride.
Seeing a black bear so soon after our arrival to Canada was a real surprise as I call it now – a warm welcome to Canada from its residents.
I stopped counting a long time ago how many bears we saw, or any other wildlife for that matter. But we always stop to watch them for a while. Watching mama bear with their cubs, how they play and behave in their natural habitat is a memory I will never forget.
2. Grizzly Bear
Grizzly bears are less common to see than black bears. Mostly because there are fewer grizzlies than black bears, and they tend to avoid noise and people and hunt in unoccupied areas.
How do you know you see a grizzly bear? The most common sign is their brown fur and a big hump between their shoulders (black bears don’t have a shoulder hump). They must have both of these features; otherwise, you can quickly get mistaken.
We’ve recently seen a brown-furred bear, but without the shoulder hump, so we knew it’s not a grizzly bear. It was a Cinnamon bear, a subspecies of a black bear. See below how gorgeous they are.
You can learn about the differences between black bears and grizzly bears here.
The largest amounts of grizzly bears in Alberta are located in Waterton Lakes National Park and Kananaskis, but you can spot them in other national and provincial parks as well.
While Alberta has around 700 grizzly bears, approximately 15,000 live in the neighbouring province of British Columbia.
Our experience with grizzly bears
When I saw a grizzly bear, it looked huge, dangerous, like an animal that can kill you, demanding a certain level of respect. Meanwhile, black bears I’ve seen always seemed to have an ‘I don’t care’ attitude and looked cute and cuddly (even though they’re not!).
The best place to see grizzlies is on bear-watching tours in British Columbia when they stuff themselves with fish on the annual salmon run.
Watch: a stunningly shot documentary Bears by Disney Nature
And if you’d like to see polar bears, head to Manitoba for a guided tour and once in a lifetime experience.
Moose are huge! I knew that from my research, but nothing prepares you for its huge size when you see them live. They have long skinny legs, massive bodies, funny-shaped heads and bulls have gigantic antlers. They make a whistle-like high pitched noise, which you would never guess is from a moose.
They can be commonly seen on the side of the road in Banff and Jasper National Parks. They live in forests and munch on the bark of the trees, twigs, and water plants. The last time we saw a moose was on the Maligne Lake Road in Jasper National Park just before the sunset.
Our experience with moose
Our first encounter with a moose was in Fernie, British Columbia.
We went on a mountain biking trip to Island Lake, a beautiful area in the mountains for hiking and biking. Apparently, the moose is a resident of the Island Lake.
We sat down by the lake, tired from the uphill ride, to enjoy the sun and quietness. As I was looking around on the scenery, we saw a cow (female moose) on an island in the middle of the lake.
She started to cross the lake towards us and stopped to wait for her calf that looked hesitant to go in the water. When the calf began to swim, the mom resumed her walk across the lake. So we did the only thing we could: stood up and left.
We observed them from a distance with other hikers walking in the forest around the lake. As one of them was hunter, he pointed out that an aggressive moose is the most dangerous wild animal in the Rockies. We gave them even more space. It’s their home after all.
4. Elk & deer
These are the most commonly seen wild animals in Banff and Jasper National Parks. During the elk rutting season, from late August to mid-October, you can often hear their high pitched calls before you see them.
You can often observe herds of elk on the golf course in Banff or a barbeque area by the Bow River.
Elk and deer are often confused. While elk are large animals weighing around 350 kg, deer are smaller with a maximum weight of 150 kilograms for mature males.
You can often see both animals right in town, accustomed to people walking around. While they often look like they mind their own business, be aware that they can charge without warning if they feel threatened.
Unfortunately, some unaware and some ignorant tourists get too close to a wild animal for a selfie only to be surprised when the animal charges.
Our experience with elk & deer
The first day we arrived in Banff, our new home and the oldest national park in Canada, deer were having lunch just in front of our apartment door. We lived right by the forest and saw deer walking around daily.
When visiting Banff National Park in the autumn, we often see herds of female elk lounging around eating grass while the male is walking around them anxiously and loudly. Elks tend to be particularly dangerous during this time.
This used to be a common occurrence in front of our apartment when we lived in Banff:
5. Bighorn sheep
Bighorn sheep are easily recognizable. They’re bigger than domesticated sheep, and males (rams) have big spiral horns. They can be found in British Columbia, and in even larger numbers in Alberta.
They usually move on the rocky terrain of the mountains or lounge in family circles high in the alpine area, enjoying the sun.
Funnily enough, the best way to see them is right on the road where they cause congestions or looking up high on the rocky walls while driving through the mountains. The reason they spend time on the road is that bighorn sheep like to lick the salt.
Our experience with bighorn sheep
A prevalent spot is also Bow Valley Parkway, right pass the exit off of Trans-Canada Highway when driving from Banff.
While Indigenous hunters hunted bison (or buffalo) in the past, they almost became extinct in the 19th century.
The world’s most abundant free-roaming bison is in Wood Buffalo National Park, the largest national park in Canada.
In Alberta, you can visit Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to learn more. The buffalo jump was used for almost 6,000 years by native people to kill buffalo by guiding them off the 11m cliff. It’s worth a stop on an Alberta road trip.
Most recently, Parks Canada reintroduced bison to Banff National Park with a big success. I highly recommend watching their documentary Banff Bison Reintroduction.
Our experience with bison
We enjoyed the tour by a native Blackfoot guide at Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump to learn about bison.
Seeing these vast animals, though, was a real treat. The easiest way to see them is while driving to Waterton Lakes National Park. It’s a small detour to Bison Paddock where you drive through and watch the herd roam the grasslands.
Humpback whales, killer whales, beluga whales, you can see them all when visiting Canada. The most popular way to see them is a whale watching tour departing from Vancouver or Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Some tour companies even offer a whale spotting guarantee, or you get the next tour for free.
Our experience with whales
When we were on a road trip on Vancouver Island, we saw whales swimming in the ocean while walking on the beach.
Canada has the most significant grey wolf population after Russia, with about 4,000 animals in Alberta alone.
Wolves are excellent hunters in the wild and are rarely seen by humans. They live and hunt in packs, and I was amazed to learn how important they are to keep our ecosystem healthy in the documentary How wolves change river.
Our experience with wolves
We’ve visited a Wolf Centre in Golden, British Columbia, where you can see nine wolves during an interpretative tour or book a longer private Walk with wolves.
Beaver is Canada’s national animal; of course, I had to include it. Its long history with Canada is mostly due to the fur coat.
Beavers are large rodents known for building dams and canals living in the slow flow rivers. Fun fact – the largest beaver dam of 850 metres is in Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta.
They spend half of their lives in the water, but their skin is never wet even if swimming for several minutes. Their secret weapon is the oil they produce to waterproof the fur.
Our experience with beavers
We live close to downtown Calgary, and the Prince’s Island Park is a favourite place for beavers. Bow River flows right through downtown, and few beavers are living in the park.
When we go for an evening walk to the park, we can usually see at least one beaver swimming around or building a dam. Last time we’ve met a local photographer who said that beavers had babies and now there are seven of them. We were lucky and saw four of them at once.
If you’re surprised to see turtles on the list, imagine our surprise when we found out wild turtles are living in the Canadian Rockies.
Painted turtles live in southern Canada, usually in ponds, rivers, lakes or creeks. They can live up to 50 years old if they survive their childhood due to a lot of predators.
Our experience with turtles
The biggest wildlife surprise so far was seeing a wild turtle. Yes, that’s right – a turtle!
When we visited Fernie in British Columbia for the first time, we were having a picnic by Elk River and saw a turtle on the grass. My first thought was that it was a pet that someone got rid of. Thinking about possibilities on how to save the turtle, we asked our local friends.
As it turns out, painted turtles are very common. Can you believe that?
Best time to see wildlife in the Rockies
The best time for wildlife watching is usually early or late in the day when the traffic is at its lowest and animals are most active.
If you’d like to see most animals on the list in the shortest amount of time, visit Banff or Jasper. Even though you can see them year-round (except for bears), I would highly recommend coming to the Rockies in spring – late May to June.
Calves are born in spring and let me tell you; there’s nothing more precious than seeing bear cubs with their mom playing in the grass or munching on dandelions.
What to know before wildlife watching
It’s important to remember that these are wild animals. To protect them, there are wildlife watching rules in place, and all visitors are expected to follow them.
Common rules include:
- Never approach or surround a wild animal
- Do not feed any animal
- Be especially alert around mamas with their calves
- The minimum distance from a bear is 100 meters
Unfortunately, there are several cases every year when a tourist approaches the wild animal, and it charges against him. In some cases, when you provoke a bear, and it charges, they have to put him down. And you’re the one responsible for its death.
In national parks, Parks Canada is on patrol and fining visitors who do not comply with the rules. It is highly recommended to carry a bear spray within arm’s reach and make noise while doing any outdoor activity in the Canadian Rockies. Read more recommendations from Parks Canada here.
When you visit the Canadian Rockies, it’s almost guaranteed that you will see a lot of wildlife. An excellent place to start is taking a road trip through Canadian national parks. See our suggestions below.
Resources for a great Canadian Rockies road trip
- The ultimate guide to visiting the Canadian Rockies
- Western Canada road trip from Calgary to Vancouver
- Adventure travel guide to Banff National Park
- Complete guide to Camping in Banff National Park
- Canadian Rockies road trip itinerary
What do you think about wildlife in Canada? Which wild animal would you like to see the most?
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