Banff National Park is famous for its diverse and accessible wildlife. Millions of tourists visit Banff each year with hopes of catching a glimpse of a grizzly bear or the beautiful antlers of a bull elk. For many, the Banff wildlife species are foreign; animals that have only been seen on Instagram or enclosed in a zoo.
Spotting Canadian Rockies wildlife in Banff can be an exciting and in some instances, a very quick experience. Hopefully, these wildlife spottings tips will help you experience an aspect of what makes Banff National Park area so special.
Banff National Park Wildlife
Banff National Park and the surrounding Bow Valley corridor is home to many wildlife species ranging from small rodents and birds of prey all the way up to big game predators like cougars and grizzly bears.
Here are some of the animals in Banff you might have an opportunity to see:
- Black bears
- Grizzly bears
- Bighorn sheep
- Mountain goats
In very rare cases you may even spot a cougar or wolverine. (Many people live here their whole lives without spotting one!)
The Best Places To See Animals in Banff National Park
Wildlife can be spotted from almost any vantage point in and around Banff National Park, but these scenic routes offer a good chance at spotting some animals with the consolation prize of incredible mountain views!
Take a Drive up Spray Lakes Road
Just about every species of Rocky Mountain wildlife can be seen along this beautiful stretch of road! The Spray Lakes Road travels up the side of E.E.O.R. (East End Of Rundle mountain) giving incredible views over the Town of Canmore below. It then loops into the Kananaskis Valley eventually meeting up with Highway 40, creating an almost 2 hour loop through the backcountry.
This is probably the best place around Banff to take a drive and spot bears, bighorn sheep, lynx, snowshoe hare, moose, and coyote! Pay close attention near the base of Ha Ling and E.E.O.R. as bighorn sheep love to hang out on the rock faces right beside the road!
Take a Drive Along the Bow Valley Parkway
The Bow Valley Parkway is a stretch of single lane road that runs along the centre of the Bow Valley from Banff to Lake Louise. This is a great stretch of scenic road spotted with pull off areas and educational viewpoints.
Not only is it a great opportunity for a self guided tour, there are excellent chances to spot Banff National Park wildlife along the way. Keep your eyes peeled for bears eating berries alongside the road, and even moose can be seen grazing in the willow-filled meadows.
Where To See a Bear in Banff
Most opportunities for viewing bears happen roadside along our highways. This is where bears often find bushes of wild berries and will graze for hours at a time in clear view. These situations often cause “bear-jams”; a bear induced traffic jam.
If you find yourself in a bear-jam, it is best to stay in your vehicle. Pull over a safe distance from the bear, put your hazards on and turn off your vehicle. Never position your vehicle in a way that might impede the route of the animal.
The Lake Louise Gondola has one of the best opportunities to spot grizzly bears in Banff. We’ve even seen a lynx at the top of the Lake Louise Gondola.
Banff Wildlife Spotting Tips
Wake up early – Many Banff National Park animals use the cover of nightfall to go about their business. Dawn and dusk offer the best chances to see Banff wildlife while they are most active.
If you can manage to wake up before dawn not only will you catch wildlife at its most active time, but also witness what’s known as “alpine glow”; a phenomena that sets the mountain peaks aglow in beautiful orange sunlight.
Drive slow – You would be surprised at how easily a large animal like an elk or bear can seemingly “disappear” against the backdrop of Banff’s dark shadowy forests. Driving a bit slower (when safe to do so) will give you not only the best chance to scan for critters, but also help in not spooking wildlife.
Have patience – While the area is known for its dense populations of beautiful animals, remember that Banff’s animals are wild and any opportunities for viewing them should happen on their terms. Trying to force an encounter never works and puts a lot of stress on the animal.
If you aren’t pressed for time, try parking your vehicle at a viewpoint putting on a podcast and just wait! Chances are, some sort of wildlife will eventually cross into your plane of sight, and if you’ve been sitting quietly and patiently, you might get to witness some behaviour that most people chasing after an animal never will!
Stay in your vehicle – In Canada’s National Parks it is illegal and punishable by fine to leave your vehicle in pursuit of wildlife. The best way to observe is to shut off your vehicle and watch quietly from a safe distance. This will also give you a chance to witness the most natural behaviour possible.
Planning and education – Do a little research on what animals are in the areas you are visiting, as a little information will go a long way in helping locate them. What times are they active? What habitats do they frequent?
For example, Bighorn Sheep like higher elevations with steep rock faces that offer safety from predators, so driving the highway low in the valley will not likely yield any bighorn sightings.
Don’t feed the animals – These animals are wild and food conditioning from humans is a big conflict that often ends poorly for the wildlife involved. Please keep your food to yourself!
Backup plan – If all else fails, head into the Town of Banff to visit one of the several galleries, museums, or markets that feature great wildlife photography from several local artists!
Thanks for reading along with me. I hope you’ve learned some new tips that can help boost your photography, wildlife viewing or holiday experience!
Banff Wildlife Tours
When it comes to spotting Banff wildlife, you can improve your odds greatly by joining a wildlife spotting tour with a knowledgeable guide. There are many great Banff wildlife spotting tours to choose from:
- Banff: Sightseeing and Wildlife Minibus Tour
- Evening Wildlife Safari
- Discover Grizzly Bears
- Discover Banff & Its Wildlife (Winter)
- Wolfdog Intro Tour
- Wolfdog Interactive Tour
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Jayden's images are taken only of wild Canadian animals in their natural environments. He takes special care to not entice animals towards the lens in any way; instead trying to capture the most organic behaviours.
One of the primary draws to living in western Canada is the proximity and immersion in wild landscapes. These landscapes are home to many incredible species. It is Jayden's hope that in a modern society that puts increasingly strong pressure on the few wild spaces we have left, that his images might inspire a greater appreciation for co-existence with the natural world.
To see more of Jayden's work or purchase prints of the Banff wildlife pictures in this article, please visit www.jdwildimagery.com.