We have had the privilege of living in the beautiful Canadian Rocky Mountains over the last few years. Not only do we have stunning natural beauty all around us, it’s like living in a Canadian version of the Serengeti. You don’t have to try very hard to spot wildlife, it can be as easy as stepping out your front door. We’ve done fairly well in seeing the variety of animals in the area, but we have yet to see some of the more elusive creatures such as the lynx and wolverine.
The Rocky Mountain areas are home to a variety of both large and small mammals, as well as many types of fish, and hundreds of bird species. Some of the wildlife that people hope to see when coming to the Rockies include grizzly and black bears, elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, wolves and coyotes.
When Is The Best Time To See Wildlife?
The earlier in the morning the better, get out prior to the sun fully coming up if you can. Later in the day and in the hours before the sun goes down is another opportune time for wildlife viewing. The slower times of year as far as tourism goes (fall and spring) are actually the months with better chances of seeing wildlife. During this time many animals are in the valley bottoms near the roadways where there is less snow. During April and May the bears are waking up and becoming active. In September and into late October they are actively foraging for every bit of food they can get prior to going into hibernation.
During September and into October is the elk rutting season. This is when you can see the large bulls battling each other. It’s a time to be very cautious, keep your distance.
Wildlife In And Around Banff
The town of Banff is often frequented by elk. It is comical to see one of these large creatures positioned as a giant lawn ornament in someones front yard. Another common sighting around town are mule deer.
Vermillion Lakes drive located immediately west of Banff town site is a good spot to see elk in early spring. Other wildlife in the area usually during spring are white tail deer and mule deer. Coyotes frequent the Vermillion Lakes area as well.
Bow Valley Parkway or Highway 1A is accessed just west of the town of Banff. It runs parallel to the main Highway 1. It is not fenced and has a low speed limit of 60 km/hr. Wildlife can often be spotted along the drive. Some animals that may be seen on the 1A are white tail deer, mule deer, coyotes, bighorn sheep, wolves, black bears and sometimes grizzly bears.
The entire area of Banff National Park has over 260 species of birds. Spring and summer are the best times of year for bird watching.
Sulphur Mountain gondola, big horn sheep can sometimes be spotted at the top once you get off the gondola and start walking around.
Minnewanka Lake, the roads around the lake or Minnewanka Loop as it’s called are another area that you can often see wildlife alongside the roads in the the distance of the open meadow areas. Don’t forget to look up on the cliffsides for bighorn sheep, sometimes they will even be on the road. We often see elk sitting in the open meadow areas.
The road to Mount Norquay is a drive where you can often spot bighorn sheep and mule deer. The drive to Sunshine ski area is where we saw the grizzly below. It has a tracking collar that has been put on it by Parks Canada for monitoring purposes. It walked right in front of our vehicle. I can tell you that the hairs on the back of your neck raise, even when you have a car in between you and the bear. Cougars are a rare sight but can sometimes be seen in both the Norquay and Sunshine areas.
Lake Louise Wildlife
Lake Louise is a prime grizzly bear breeding area. The campground has an electric fence around it to help improve the conditions for both people and bears in the area. Grizzly bears are often spotted on some of the hikes in Lake Louise. Grizzlies have been spotted at the very back of the lake, and often feeding on the mountain slopes while hiking to the Plain of Six Glaciers. Sometimes in fall when the bears are scavenging for food prior to hibernation they have come closer to the front of the lake towards the Fairmont Hotel. While working at the hotel we have had a grizzly wandering around the staff residence area that is situated not too far from the hotel. We have spotted mountain goats high up on the cliff sides on the hike closer to the glaciers.
Lake Louise gondola can be a great way to see grizzlies feeding on the ski slopes, particularly in June.
Around Moraine Lake bears can be spotted. There are a few trails that start near the lake area that at certain times of the year have hiking restrictions. The trail head will be marked with a sign stating you must be in a party of six or more to hike. This is the magic number. There is no recorded documentation of a bear attacking a party of six.
Ground squirrels can be seen running all over the place in Lake Louise, particularly around the hotel area.
At the back of the lake in the rocky area you can get a glimpse of pikas. Usually you’ll hear them before you see them. They make a funny squeaking noise.
Some of the birds that can be frequently seen around Lake Louise are the Whiskey Jack, Clark’s Nutcracker and the raven.
Columbia Icefields Parkway
Columbia Icefields Parkway or Highway 93 north is a route that goes from the area of Lake Louise to Jasper National park. Sometimes moose can be seen in pond and lake areas along the parkway. A rarer occurrence can be a grizzly spotting along the roadside, but more often you will see black bears. There are mineral deposits or salt lick areas approximately 2/3 of the way to Jasper where you can often see mountain goats or bighorn sheep.
Wildlife In And Around Jasper
Although certain wildlife can be spotted year round in Jasper National Park, March to June or September to November are some of the best months for large variety of wildlife viewing. The park is home to grizzly and black bears, mountain caribou, moose, elk and wolves. The smaller creatures are marmots, pikas and ground squirrels. During the rutting season large groups of elk can be seen in the Jasper town site.
On Jasper hiking trails black bears can be spotted and sometimes on higher elevation hikes you can see grizzly bears.
On the drive to Maligne Lake and Miette hot springs black bears are often along the roadside. Medicine lake is on the way to Maligne. We have often seen pika running around the rocky area near the lake shore.
Yellowhead Highway or hwy #16 from Jasper town site eastwards towards Jasper park gates is another area known for wildlife viewing.
If you take the Jasper gondola you are likely to see a hoary marmot. They hang out in areas of higher elevation, usually above the treeline.
Canmore And Kananaskis Country, Some Lesser Known Areas For Wildlife Viewing
Canmore is a small town located just minutes of the east Banff park gates, and where we currently live. The Spray Lakes road that goes up past the Nordic Center is where we often see coyotes. We have spotted them running across roads right in the town itself. We have a fair amount of cougar or mountain lion sightings on some of the hiking trails in the Canmore area.
Kananaskis Country is located on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, just east of Canmore. It is an area that consists of several provincial parks and ecological reserves. There are plenty of areas throughout Kananaskis where you can see wildlife, such as bighorn sheep, whitetail deer, cougars, coyotes, and sometimes moose. Driving along highway 40 is often a good bet for spotting something.
Waterton National Park
Waterton National Park has opportunities for seeing bighorn sheep and deer. It can be a much better place than Banff or Jasper National parks for spotting bears.
In several areas of Waterton we were greeted by squirrels begging for food. They had obviously been fed a number of times by tourists, we saw many of them that looked very overweight.
Radium Hot Springs Wildlife
The drive from Banff to Radium Hotsprings, highway 93 south often has deer along the roadside. Bighorn sheep are a common site around the town of Radium.