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Along with its iconic landscapes, one of the biggest draws for visitors is the high chance of seeing wildlife in the Canadian Rockies. Same goes for us, we couldn’t wait to see a grizzly bear with our very own eyes.
Viewing wildlife in the Canadian Rockies is actually pretty easy. Especially if you know where to look and when you have the highest chance of spotting wildlife.
In this guide I will tell you about our own experience traveling the Canadian Rockies and how you can turn your road trip into a real life safari.
I will also share my biggest tips on photographing wildlife and most importantly how to stay safe while doing so.
But maybe the most important thing to take away from this article is how you can keep the wildlife in the Canadian Rockies wild and safe. Always remember, when visiting the great outdoors you’re entering their world, not yours!
Where To See And Photograph Wildlife In The Canadian Rockies
The Rocky Mountains are home to some of the most impressive North American mammals including bears, elk, moose, wolves, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and more.
The best time to spot wildlife in the Canadian Rockies is at either dusk or dawn, since a lot of them rather avoid the heat during the middle of the day.
Canadian Rockies animals and where to find them
There are so many different wild animals to spot in the Canadian Rockies that it would be nearly impossible for me to list them all. But to give you an idea of what to expect I’ve listed the most iconic ones for you below.
When thinking about the Canadian Rockies the first animal that comes to mind is usually the grizzly bear. There are over 25.000 grizzlies in Canada of which 15,000 inhabit British Columbia.
While the grizzly bear is at the top of people’s list it’s also at the top of the food chain and its name refers to its grizzled fur and character.
We had our first encounter with a sow and her cub when we were driving the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Road in the early morning. This is one of the best places close to Banff where you can spot a lot of wildlife.
Luckily we were able to capture this beautiful moment from the safety of our campervan.
Our second encounter was with another sow and 3 cubs right next to Lake Louise. But by the time I had switched my camera lens she already disappeared into the forest.
Our third and final encounter with a grizzly was an older female roaming one of the campgrounds in Kananaskis Country. Apparently she’s pretty much the local star who visits the campground nearly every day, roaming the streets for dandelions.
Other popular grizzly spots: Bow Valley Parkway, Maligne Lake Road in Jasper, Tonquin Valley.
Season: April to October. The best time to see grizzlies in the Rockies is in the spring and early summer when they browse for food lower in the valley.
Black bears are a lot more common to spot than grizzly bears. We spotted our first black bear around the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Road and it was also our first wildlife sighting of our Canadian Rockies road trip. A moment that we’ll never forget. Even that we weren’t able to get closer it’s a moment that we will never ever forget.
Our second black bear sighting was at dusk while driving the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper. It was already late in the evening and we were the only ones on the road so we decided to pull over, roll down the window of our camper and snap some photos. This is the only time that we actually did this and I do not recommend pulling over in the middle of the day cause this can literally create a ‘bear jam’.
Other popular black bear spots: Maligne Lake Road in Jasper, Cypress Mountain near Vancouver, Bow Valley Parkway and Pyramid Lake Road in Jasper.
Season: April to October
Elk and Deer
Elk can be spotted pretty much throughout all of the National Parks in Alberta, especially during rutting season. Rutting season is the annual mating time for deer, elk and moose. It occurs from late October to December, with the most activity seen in mid-November.
During the rut, male deer show increased interest in female deer, as well as increased aggression toward other male deer, often causing animals to move quickly with little regard for their surroundings.
Another time to look out for elk is when their calfs are still young. They will be extra protective so make sure to keep your distance!
We saw elk at Maligne Lake Road in Jasper, at Lake Minnewanka Scenic Road, Wapiti Campground and Tunnel Mountain Road.
But beware, they are some of the most dangerous animals in the Rockies. People are injured by elk every year, usually by getting too close to take pictures.
Another easy to find animal in the Canadian Rockies! Chances are high you’ll encounter a few of those during your road trip through the Canadian Rockies. We encountered our first bighorn sheep during a hike next to Lake Minnewanka and while driving through Kananaskis Country.
Squirrels and Chipmunks
Chipmunks and squirrels are very easy to spot during any of your hikes in the Canadian Rockies. And boy, these little fellas aren’t shy at all! Make sure to watch your food cause they can be pretty bold and try to steel it.
And remember, it is very important to keep the wildlife wild!
Seeing a whale in its natural habitat is an indescribable feeling and a once in a lifetime experience. The most common types of whales to watch out for around Vancouver Island include resident and transient Orcas, humpback whales, and Pacific gray whales
The best time to see an Orca in Vancouver is between May and October. This is when they return to the Vancouver area to feed on all of the fresh salmon. They are pretty used to human activity and aren’t afraid to reveal themselves.
🐳 This is the exact whale watching tour from Vancouver that we booked – Vancouver, BC: Whale Watching Tour
Canadian Rockies Bear And Wildlife Safety Tips
The best way to view wildlife in the Canadian Rockies is to do so with as little disruption to the wildlife as possible. There are so many visitors throughout the entire year that it’s very important that the animals don’t become habituated. For instance, a bear only becomes dangerous when it’s used to eating human food.
There have been cases where a bear has to be put down cause it lost its natural instinct and comes to human territory to look for food.
Below are tips and rules that you should follow at all cost when visiting the Canadian Rockies.
- It’s against the law to disturb wildlife. Never harass or touch a wild animal and never feed it either. Fines for approaching and feeding wildlife can be up to 25,000$CAD.
- If vehicles have stopped to watch a bear be very cautious driving past, it may be nervous and dart out into the road at any time.
- Carry bear spray with you and know how to use it. This is a good video where they show you how to use bear spray. Make sure you can reach your bear spray at any second if necessary. Don’t put it inside of your backpack!
- Be alert while driving, especially during dusk and dawn. Watch for shining eyes that your headlights might catch.
- Don’t just pull over when seeing a wild animal on the side of the road. Only do so if you don’t block other traffic. Never get out of your car either.
- Obey warning and closure signs. If a hike is closed due to a bear in the area it might be that there is a mother with her cubs. She can become very protective of her young and act aggressive.
- Keep your distance. Stay at least two bus lengths away from large mammals and twice that length when it comes to bears.
- Don’t go hiking alone in bear country. It’s best to hike in small groups and make noise when you’re on the trail.
- When camping make sure to store all of your food either in your camper/RV or in a bear canister.
Tips for photographing wildlife in the Canadian Rockies
Photographing wildlife can be very tricky at times, especially since most animals love to come out during dusk and dawn. During these hours there is still low light which means that your photography settings will be less than ideal.
One of the most important settings on your camera will be your shutter speed. When photographing wildlife 99% of the time you’ll be dealing with a moving subject. This means that you want your shutter speed to be as fast as possible so your subject won’t become blurry.
When photographing wildlife at dusk or dawn I usually crank my ISO up to 1250 and my aperture will be around f5 to f5.6. This way I can keep my shutter speed as fast as possible.
For photographing wildlife in the Canadian Rockies you’ll also need a proper zoom lens. Below you can find my personal favourites:
- Tamron 150-600mm Di VC USD f/5-6.3 G2 Canon: This one fits every Canon camera with an EF mount
- Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 Nikon: Compatible with Nikon F (FX)
- Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM
When driving around the Canadian Rockies you have to make sure you’re ready with your camera! Make sure that when you start driving you already have your zoom lens mounted on your camera and that your settings are accurate. You’ll often only have a couple of seconds to take a proper photo and you don’t want to waste an opportunity cause you still had to switch your lens.
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