7 Best Places To See Wildlife In Banff National Park

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Banff National Park is a treasure trove of outdoor activities and wildlife. Take it from a local, there are some places where you’ll see more wildlife than others.

 

Tourists flock to Banff National Park in Canada for the impressive peaks, crystal blue lakes and of course for the beautiful wild animals that the region is known for.  Another plus is that it’s easy to get to Banff from Calgary.

moose
Moose photo courtesy of: Jonathan Brennecke on Flickr

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At the end of any trip, ask any tourist how their time in Banff was and almost always the first thing they’ll comment on is the wildlife or lack thereof.

As in “It was great, we saw a grizzly bear.” or “All we saw was a couple of deer.”  I’ve hiked a lot in Banff and the surrounding area, and more often than not I don’t see wildlife. 

Obviously, this is very disappointing if you’ve come to see the wildlife. So here is a list of some of the best places to spot wildlife:

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Grizzly bear and 2 cubs
Grizzly bear photo courtesy of Lake Louise Gondola

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Lake Louise Gondola Tour for Grizzly Bear Sightings

At the top of the Lake Louise Gondola, is prime grizzly bear habitat.  The area is a ski hill in winter so the open area also makes sightings easier.  It is a prime place to see wildlife in Banff. Besides grizzly bears, visitors may also see black bears, cougars, lynx, mountain goats, wolves, elk, mule & whitetail deer, moose, bighorn sheep, wolverines, and birds.

At the top of the gondola is the Wildlife Interpretation Centre where various wildlife interpretive programs are offered at no charge.  You are free to explore and can venture off on a number of hikes ranging from easy walks to challenging peaks, but groups of four or more are recommended due to the high concentration of grizzly bears.

Visitors can also sign up for the Trail of the Great Bear, a 45 minute guided hike about bears and bear safety for only $5.   Reservations are based on a first come first serve basis and are offered three times a day.

The gondola ride is $26.75 for adults and $13.40 for children.  You can also add lunch for $6 more, which is a steal for a lunch in Banff.  For more information see Lake Louise Gondola.

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grey wolf
Photo courtesy of: Sakarri on Flickr

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Northern Lights Wildlife Wolf Centre for Grey Wolves

The Northern Lights Wildlife Wolf Centre is located near Golden, British Columbia 140km west of the town of Banff.  Here visitors can enjoy an interpretive talk about grey wolves and see grey wolves through a fence.

Admission is $12 for adults and $6 for children.  For photographers and those that want to hike with the wolves this option is also available, but it doesn’t come cheap – a 1.5-hour hike is $295 for two people.  If you are going alone, the price is still $295.  For more information see:  Northern Lights Wildlife Wolf Centre

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Grizzly Bear Refuge: Wildlife in Banff

The Grizzly Bear Refuge is in Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, also located in Golden.  The Grizzly Bear Refuge is home to one orphaned grizzly bear Boo, who lives in a natural enclosure, but it is an enclosure so you won’t be seeing a grizzly bear in the “wild” per se.

However, you will be more likely to see a grizzly bear, given that he is in an enclosure.  Several tours are offered throughout the day but times and rates are not given on the website. You can see their site at Grizzly Bear Refuge

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mountain sheep with baby
Mountain sheep photo courtesy of Laurel

The Icefields Parkway A Great Way To See Wildlife In Banff

The Icefields Parkway or Highway 93N is a road that runs through Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. The road is known for its wildlife spotting. There is nothing better than seeing animals in their natural environment. You will need a vehicle for this, but the drive is worth it whether you get lucky and see wild animals in or not. 

The road takes roughly about 3 hours without stops from Jasper to Lake Louise. You have to keep your speed in check as there is a lot of wildlife in the area and you have to make sure not to hit any crossing animals. 

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You will have the opportunity to see wildlife such as Bighorn Sheep, Grizzly Bears, Cougars, Elk, Moose and Caribou among other smaller animals. The best time is to visit between June and September as the weather is good but note that during the summer holidays it does get pretty crowded. If you are visiting outside of those months then make sure to check the weather before you go, it can snow at any time which makes the road difficult to navigate.

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Sulphur Mountain for Bighorn Sheep

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So Sulphur Mountain is better known for its hot springs (which are great) but there is a great gondola that takes you to the top. You can even hike to the top but make sure you’re in good shape as the hike can get difficult. It is just a few minutes outside of Banff and at the summit you are likely to find bighorn sheep and smaller wildlife such as chipmunks and grey jays. If you’re not lucky enough to spot anything then you’ll still be lucky enough to take in some excellent views from the top.

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Vermilion Lakes 

 

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Vermilion Lakes is a popular area with many locals and tourists and its no wonder. Besides the beautiful lakes themselves, the area is well known for its excellent hiking, biking, and watersports. It is just a few minutes from Banff and is also a great place to spot Canadian wildlife. You will find everything from mink, otter, and marmots to elks, bighorn sheep and grizzlies. If you are lucky you might even spot an elusive timberwolf. 

If you are planning to stay over near the lakes then you might hear the wolves howling off in the distance. It is an experience you don’t want to miss.

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Evening Wildlife Safari Tour From Banff

Early morning and dusk are when you’re most likely to see wildlife and Discover Banff Tours offers a 2 hour starting at  6:30 pm taking you to all the wildlife “hotspots.”

Visitors are likely to see deer and elk and perhaps even a coyote or a bear.  They report that they see wildlife on 95% of their tours, but keep in mind that deer, which are plentiful in Banff National Park also count as wildlife.  For more info see Discover Banff Tours.

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Accommodation in Banff

Banff Inn offers simple yet charming accommodation. The inn also has a hot tub, sauna, and steam room that guests are welcome to use. It is centrally located and there is a pizzeria located at the premises that serve other foods as well.

The Moose Hotel and Suites has a beautiful wooden structure that is offset by the magnificent mountains behind it. Each of the rooms has a balcony where you can sit and enjoy the views in summer. The spa center offers a heated outdoor pool and an indoor pool as well as 10 treatment rooms where you can treat yourself to a massage. 

Have you done any wildlife sightseeing tours that you would recommend?

15 thoughts on “7 Best Places To See Wildlife In Banff National Park”

  1. I spent 14 months living in the Canadian Rockies and the best piece of advice I can give to people looking to spot wildlife is to get out early. As soon as roads, hikes, road side stops or lakes become busy, the wildlife that frequent the area soon make themselves scarce.

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  3. @Barry – Don’t give away all the secrets, that’s for another post :). I thought the one day trip down from Sulphur Mtn was still free during off peak season? Maybe it’s changed. Would be so nice to meet up with you but unfortunately I don’t think I’m going to have a chance as I will be visiting my family in P.C. and only spending a couple of days in Calgary visiting friends before my fiance and his family arrive.

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  4. Nice post, Laurel. Black, brown and Grizzly Bears retreat from their lairs in snow-bound higher altitudes to feed on fresh vegetation in the warmer and snow free valleys. Highway 1 A between Banff and Castle is a good bet. Also the TransCanada between Lake Louise and Field, BC. The draw is the river delta and the railroad tracks where grain carrying cars unintentionally leak feed onto the tracks. Bears know this. Often the outcome is not so good. I have seen tourists leave their parked cars with children in tow to approach bears and cubs on the river delta east of Field. It is not a risk I would assume or recommend.

    Did you know the Sulphur Mountain Gondola charges for a one way trip up the mountain in Banff? Years ago, if you hiked up, there was the choice to take a free ride down. No more.

    Maybe we can fit in a coffee during your summer visit. My son and I are planning to attempt the Triple Crown in Waterton the first week of August.

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  5. @Inka – Hiking in Germany is very strange for me since you don’t have to listen for every sound or branch to see if it’s a bear or a cougar. I actually miss that about hiking in Canada, although it does make hiking in Germany more relaxing.

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  6. @Explore Rockies – Agreed, there are so many great places to go.

    @Cathy – The wolves have been raised in captivity since they were young, so they’re used to people. I can imagine there would be a ton of grizzlies in Glacier, I love seeing them, but wouldn’t want to surprise one of them.

    @Dalene – I think you have to be pretty lucky to see a grizzly bear. I hiked a lot when I lived in Canada and have only seen them 8 times. Great feedback on the wolf hike, thanks for sharing and nice to hear from someone who has done it.

    @Banff is truly amazing. My plan is to write about another destination once a week, since as much as I love Germany, there are a lot of other wonderful places too, but I’ve been so caught up with Germany it hasn’t been happening as regularly as it should. Now that I’m going back to Canada in the summer I’ll be writing more posts on Canada.

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