Best Wildlife Spots in Western Canada
Western Canada is renowned for its abundance of wildlife, and luckily for you much of it is accessible to casual observers. But for those who want to make wildlife viewing a focus of their travels, opportunities exist to see grizzly bears, whales, and bison.
Black, Grizzly, and Kermode Bears
In British Columbia, black bears are very common, and you will most often see them while driving through forested regions such as the Kootenays. To view the kermode, an extremely rare subspecies of black bear with a white coat, you will need to travel to Princess Royal Island. Grizzly Bears are also widespread; Fish Creek, near Stewart, is a reliable viewing spot each August, when these magnificent creatures descend from the mountains to feed on salmon.
Black bears are commonly seen in forested regions of the Northwest Territories, and Kluane National Park, in the Yukon, is a remote wilderness where backcountry enthusiasts see grizzly bears, moose, caribou, and mountain goats.
Bison, Bighorn Sheep, Musk-Ox and Caribou
Bighorn sheep have a reserve set aside especially for them in Kananaskis Country, but you may also see sheep driving the roads to Mount Norquay or Lake Minnewanka, or in the south around Waterton Lakes.
In the far north, musk-ox are protected within Aulavik National Park. A trip to this park requires the services of a local guide.
Caribou are the most numerous of all northern mammals, migrating across the northern reaches of the continent in massive herds. The largest of these is the Bluenose herd, which summers in Tuktut Nogait National Park. More accessible is the Porcupine herd, which crosses the Dempster Highway each spring when traveling to Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from the northern Yukon.
Whales and Salmon
Pacific gray whales migrate up and down the coast each spring and fall. Whale-watching trips depart from Victoria and Tofino, but on the Queen Charlotte Islands, you can watch from the comfort of your vehicle as they frolic in a shallow bay near Queen Charlotte City. Humpback whales and orcas are also sighted on organized whale-watching trips.
To see Arctic Canada’s beluga whales, you’ll need to fly north to Inuvik for a flightseeing trip, where you can see them frolicking in the Bering Sea.
Most people searching for salmon are looking to catch them, but you can watch them migrate up many tidal waterways in late summer, such as the Capilano River in Vancouver. North America’s largest salmon run takes place every four years (2010, 2014, etc.) through October in the Adams River, attracting thousands of spectators to viewing platforms in Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition