Wildlife and Nature

Wildlife Watch: Best places in Canada to spot wild animals

Shaun Edmond

6th March 2024

Black Bear in Shenandoah National Park

With its wilderness of forests, mountains and polar regions, it’s little surprise that Canada offers a wealth of iconic wildlife for visitors to spot.

Long has this country had an infatuation with the wild things: the indigenous considered white bears, buffalo and other large animals sacred and the early European settlers made their livings from the fur of beavers and cod so abundant it was said that one could walk from the ship to the shore on their backs. Nowadays, the country’s nature is one of the top reasons to visit. Canada offers kayaking with orcase, hikes through moose-filled forests and excursions to see bears of every colour.

Despite its vast size, planning a wildlife holiday to Canada is actually quite simple since many of its highlights are clustered into specific areas. Here is a selection of the most wildlife-rich regions:

Tadoussac, Quebec: belugas and black bears

Brown Bear
Starting with the easiest to access from the UK, the estuarine town of Tadoussac is a red-roof village of 800 people with a thriving sustainable whale-watching industry. Whale watching is fantastic across the entirety of Atlantic Canada, with large humpback and fin whales congregating in the summer, joined by comparatively minuscule porpoises. What sets Tadoussac apart is its resident population of white beluga whales, normally an Arctic resident, which can often be seen from the ferry across the Saguenay River.

On land, the local forests support a large population of black bears and moose – Ferme 5 Etoiles has a specialised observation post from which one can watch black bears feeding, and the scenic Saguenay Fjord National Park is a good place to go looking for moose. Tadoussac is best accessed from Quebec City, the oldest city in North America.

Churchill, Manitoba: polar bears and beluga whales

Polar Bear
Labelled the Gateway to the Arctic, the Polar Bear Capital of the World and the Beluga Capital of the World, Churchill does not lack for titles.

A large population of polar bears inhabits the surrounding coastline and tundra, and this is the best place in the world to see these magnificent animals in their natural surroundings. Safari-style trips operate from here in tundra buggies, whose huge wheels and fortified sides make them the safest way to observe the bears.

Polar bears are much more active and photogenic in the winter, though cubs are present during the summer – as are belugas, the town’s other top draw. The white whales congregate in the bay in their thousands to calve, and frequently approach boats and kayaks. They’re also the only whale species that can look upwards, meaning you may come face-to-face with one.

Other animals that are often spotted here include Arctic foxes, sandhill cranes and bald eagles.

Churchill is a teeming metropolis compared to other Arctic towns but it is still very remote, with only plane and rail access to Winnipeg.

British Columbian coast: bears, sea otters and whales

Killer whale
With verdant swathes of moss and fir trees clinging to the mountainsides as they plunge into the coastal channels, British Columbia’s coastline has been wowing visitors long before Race Across the World aired.

Both black and grizzly bears can be found here, and you’d have to be quite unlucky to spot neither on a tour. If you visit in the autumn you may be fortunate enough to watch the salmon run, a staple of many a David Attenborough documentary in which the fish swim upriver to lay their eggs, running the gauntlet of various predators. The sight of a bear standing atop a waterfall, its mouth agape as a salmon careens towards a grizzly end, is one to behold, even if it’s over in a split second. Tweedsmuir Park Lodge is one of the best places to admire this spectacle.

That’s not the only million-pound shot to be had around here. While Canada’s Pacific Coast is a huge area, there are a few particular sites that bear mentioning:

• Ucluelet, for its boat trips along the shoreline to see crab-eating bears and marine life: dolphins and porpoises are common, and grey and humpback whales congregate during the summertime. Vancouver Island’s unique subspecies of wolf, which lives off a seafood-based diet, can occasionally be found here too.
• Zeballos, a small village on Vancouver Island’s northwest with a high concentration of sea otters, a species known for such adorable acts as wrapping itself in kelp as it sleeps and pairs holding hands so they don’t drift apart.
• Port McNeill, one of the best places in the world to spot orcas.
Klahoose Wilderness Resort, a First-Nations community-run lodge from which one can spot the rare Spirit Bear. This breed of black bear is completely white, and sacred to the local indigenous people.

Banff National Park: elk, moose and black bears

Moose
One of Canada’s most popular outdoor getaways, Banff National Park has no shortage of wildlife. The best time to visit for wildlife-spotting is spring and autumn, when the lower numbers of visitors mean less disturbance yet the weather is still pleasant enough for humans and animals alike. Some of the sites within the park to visit include:

• Banff town itself for elk.
• Icefields Parkway for moose.
• Bow Valley Parkway for bighorn sheep and black bears.

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