Deep in the heart of the Canadian wilderness is a treasure trove of secrets that can only be discovered while you are there. Those secrets lie tucked away off Canada’s beaten path, where grizzly bears, wolves, moose, polar bears and other wildlife roam free. Thanks to a myriad of national parks, along with regional parks and local nature preserves that dot the nation, Canada is blessed with a variety of locations from which to watch rare and endangered animals in their natural habitats. Pick one of these Canadian wilderness adventures and put it on your bucket list now.
While travelling around Canada, there’s every chance you’ll stumble upon unexpected moments with the wildlife such as these:
But there’s also a roster of professional tour operators, many of them award-winners, who have knowledgeable staff to lure you into the animal kingdom for up close and personal encounters with wildlife in Canada.
Be it watching whales breach off the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec or hearing the cry of the wild at a wolf sanctuary or kayaking by the magnificent fjords off Canada’s east coast to view pods of whales or to watch sky-high icebergs mysteriously shift down the coastline, Canada’s nature experiences are an impressive show.
Here are 10 wildlife in Canada opportunities for your bucket list:
Bears in Canada
1- Grizzly Bears in British Columbia
In the middle of a great rainforest surrounded by thick tall western cedars on B.C.’s fabled west coast lies great big grizzly bear country known as the Great Bear Rainforest.
Conservationists declare this spot a rare jewel. Why? Because it’s one of the few remaining places on the planet where the ecosystem remains relatively intact.
For the best viewing seasons, late summer and early autumn are when the bears enjoy snacking on spawning salmon streams feeding into the coastal inlets.
One remote haven aptly known as Great Bear Lodge has even been lauded by the BBC and National Geographic Channel as ‘one of the best adventure travel companies on earth.’
2- Polar Bears in Churchill, Manitoba
Jump inside a heated buggy, the size of a monster truck, for an outdoor adventure that guarantees sightings of the world’s largest land carnivore with Frontiers North Adventures or Great White Bear Tours.
The action intensifies when a polar bear approaches the scene.
Once you’ve seen a polar bear in the wild, it’s easy to see why Churchill, Manitoba is called “The Polar Bear Capital of the World.”
Another bucket list experience is a polar bear walking safari with Churchill Wild at Seal River Heritage Lodge.
Depending on what time of year you’re visiting, there’s a good chance you could find yourself kayaking with the beluga whales and seeing polar bears in one trip.
3- Grizzly Bears in the Yukon
While in Whitehorse, take a tour around Yukon Wildlife Preserve for a close look (through fences) at elk, caribou, Dall sheep, muskox and arctic fox.
For a small window of time, the curious can have a bear of a time in northern Yukon wilderness exploring Bear Cave Mountain at the Ni’iinlii Njik Ecological Reserve.
Picture rugged mountains, gentle slopes and caves. Between mid-September and mid-November small groups can experience wilderness grizzly bear viewing in a rich natural habitat.
Whales, Orcas and Dolphins in Canada
4- Whale Encounters off Newfoundland and Labrador
Feel small in a big way when you dive into the North Atlantic Ocean only to see an otherworldly presence of a massive humpback whale.
Diving with the whales is a bucket list experience. It only gets better. The whale decides to frolic giving off a Mother Nature show of a lifetime.
Newfoundland’s other legendary whale watching experience is tucked away in picture-pretty Cape Broyle.
Sea kayakers smile upon this great escape in the North Atlantic Ocean as paddlers are led on an ocean fantasy loaded with ancient icebergs and magnificent whales that like to frolic past them.
5- Tadoussac Whale Watching in Quebec
By the confluence of the ancient rivers called the St. Lawrence and Saguenay, board a zodiac and ply the deep waters for the most memorable whale watching experience ever.
If you’re lucky, and chances are you will be, don’t be surprised when a leviathan humpback whale towers over the blow-up boat high above the salty sea showcasing its famous breech.
Off Quebec’s salty shoreline in Tadoussac, whale watchers bask in the glow of an eastern Canadian breeze (it’s nippy on the best of days) and zoom their lenses on one of the most spectacular views care of Mother Nature.
Other cool sightings: minke whales, the pure white beluga whales, fin whales porpoises, and plenty of puddles of krill in the sea.
6- Whale Watching in British Columbia
A short ferry trip from Vancouver will land you in possibly one of the best places to go whale watching on earth.
The waters around Vancouver Island are a playground for orcas in their natural habitat, sea lions and other marine wildlife.
Victoria, Telegraph Cove, Port McNeill and Campbell River are great for Orcas. Tofino whale watching season starts in March, with the grey whale migration and the Pacific Rim Whale Festival each year.
Caribou, Moose and Bison in Canada
7- Canada’s Great Caribou Migration in Nunavut
Come each spring in Nunavut, in Canada’s Far North; there’s a rare spectacle of thousands of migrating caribou.
Witness the spectacular event play out beneath the Midnight Sun and overnight at a remote eco-lodge that offers unrivalled views.
Further south, visit the neighbouring Northwest Territories in autumn to watch the migration of the Qamanirjuaq caribou herd.
There are a few narrow sections of Ennadai Lake that are natural crossing places for the caribou herd.
Hundreds of thousands of caribou leave their summer calving grounds to travel 500km to their winter stomping ground.
8- Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta
Wood Buffalo National Park is where you will find North America’s largest land mammal, the eponymously named wood buffalo.
Straddling northeastern Alberta and the southern Northwest Territories, Canada’s largest national park is a nature lover’s dream that offers unique wood buffalo viewing tours during July through September with local Aboriginal tour operators.
9- Moose safaris in Ontario and Quebec
Did you know this four-legged critter is a powerful swimmer within days of birth? And did you know the largest member of the deer family usually hangs out on the margins of lakes, muskegs and streams?
In Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, you can stay in a lodge and take a day-trip to look for moose or sign up for an adventurous multi-day moose viewing safari by canoe.
Another ideal spot for moose encounters is the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec. The Matane Wildlife Reserve reportedly has the largest number of moose per square kilometre in all of Quebec.
Wolves in Canada
Canada has more than 50,000 wolves and is home to the second largest gray wolf population in the world. Wolves can be found in many national parks, where you’re likely to hear them howling but can be difficult to spot. If you’re wild about wolves, read on:
10- Adventuraid Parc Mahikan in Quebec
Sleep in a hut or a yurt in Adventuraid Parc Mahikan in Quebec. The wolf park has 40 wolves, including Arctic wolves and gray wolves.
Enclosures are spacious and visitors are allowed into the wolf enclosures for up-close experiences with the wolves.
Not far from Calgary, there’s a place where you can get close to wolfdogs, which are part wolf and part dog. The Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary offers small group escorted visits into an enclosure where you can commune with Canadian wolf dogs.
Canadian wildlife Q&A
How many polar bears are left in the world?
There are approximately 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears in the world. Two-thirds of them are in Canada. Polar bears are a “vulnerable” species that face losing their habitat due to the melting ice caps in the Arctic.
How many grizzly bears are there in Canada?
There are around 25,000 grizzly bears in Canada. You’ll find them mostly in British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Manitoba. The difference between a grizzly and a black bear is black bears have smaller claws, a flatter profile, larger ears and no visible shoulder hump.
What is the difference between a whale and a dolphin?
Blue, minke, gray and humpback whales are baleen whales. They have baleen and two blowholes. Dolphins are toothed whales with teeth and one blowhole. The orca is not a baleen whale, even though it’s known as a killer whale. Orcas are the largest of the dolphins. Related to the orca is the narwhal, a toothed whale with a long tusk. Found in the Canadian Arctic, narwhals are known as the unicorns of the sea. The beluga whale (or white whale) is from the same family as the narwhal.
Where can I see spirit bears?
British Columbia’s central and north coast regions are the only place in the world you will find spirit bears. Also called the Kermode bear (Ursus americanus kermodei), it is an extremely rare subspecies of the American black bear.