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.
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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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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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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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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 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.