Western Canada: Wildlife Destinations
Jasper National Park
Jasper's star species: Bighorn sheep • Pine marten • Lynx • Wolverine • Elk • Black bear • Brown bear
The largest and one of the wildest national parks in the Canadian Rockies, Jasper covers 10,878 sq km of mountain wilderness. The possibilities for backcountry hiking are almost endless. Hit the trails during the quieter spring and fall seasons and you stand a better chance of seeing wildlife. Jasper is home to 69 mammal species, ranging from the common Columbian ground squirrel and alpine-dwelling hoary marmot to bigger critters like moose, elk, woodland caribou, bighorn sheep, coyote and both black and grizzly bear. Wolf and mountain lion are also present, but rarely seen. Wildlife aside, another highlight of Japser is the 90-minute Snocoach adventure to the 389-sq-km Columbia Icefield that will take you out on to the crevasse-riddled Athabasca Glacier.
Getting there 370km west of Edmonton on Trans-Canada Highway 16 which connects with the Icefields Parkway. Via Rail operates trains to Jasper via Edmonton and Vancouver; Greyhound runs buses.
Getting around Snocoach tours (summer, daily, brewster.ca).
When to go Park open year round; peak months July and August.
Visitor centres Jasper Information Centre (open daily).
Things to do Hiking, camping, cycling, fishing, horse riding, boating, canoeing, rafting, guided tours.
Places to stay Campsites in national park; nearby lodges, hostels.
Further information pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/ab/jasper
Johnstone Strait's star species: Orca • Humpback whale • Dall’s porpoise • Black bear • Bald eagle
This glacier-carved channel between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia delves into a realm of giants – where towering red cedars grow to 1,000 years old and where bald eagles, black bears and orcas gain mythological stature in the minds and carvings of the local Kwagiulth people. Boat tours in fast zodiacs are available from various ports, but the best way to explore Johnstone Strait is by sea kayak. Paddling from island to island, carrying your food and fresh water and camping on pebbly beaches or in forest clearings, a kayak tour will enable you to nose about in flat-calm inlets and gain sea-level views of porpoises, seals, sea lions and, with luck, orcas.
There are around 200 resident orca in Johnstone Strait, each one identified by the shape of its dorsal fin or the black and white markings along its flanks. Over several decades, life histories and family trees have been logged, births and deaths catalogued and behaviour recorded. Transient orcas are found further offshore, travelling in smaller pods and feeding predominantly on seals, sea lions and other cetaceans – unlike resident orcas which eat salmon. Out of bounds to all vessels, Robson Bight Ecological Reserve is one of the most mysterious whale sanctuaries in the world. Orcas visit here not to feed on salmon, but to rub their bodies on the steeply shelving beaches that occur along this section of Vancouver Island.
Johnstone Strait: essentials
Getting there Port McNeil on the northern tip of Vancouver Island is the main centre for sea kayaking operations.
Getting around Sea kayaking tours range from multi-day wilderness camping expeditions to centre-based trips, staying at a kayak camp. Mother ship cruises (in which kayaks are carried onboard) are also available. More traditional whale-watching tours using fast motorboats are available from Vancouver or Victoria with Eagle Wing Tours, Orca Spirit and Prince of Whales. Fisheries and Oceans Canada publish guidelines for responsible whale watching.
When to go Year round; best time for whale watching is mid-July to mid-September when orca feed on the salmon run.
Visitor centres Port McNeil Visitor Centre (open daily).
Things to do Sea kayaking, boat tours.
Places to stay Campsites, lodges, hostels, hotels, cruises.
Further information vancouverisland.travel
Pacific Rim National Park
Pacific Rim's star species: Grey whale • Black bear • Steller sea lion • Bald eagle • Vancouver Island wolf
Where British Columbia’s temperate rainforest meets the Pacific Ocean, two of Canada’s richest ecosystems form a vibrant cocktail of habitats where, in the space of a few hundred metres, you might find sitka spruce rearing from thick, springy carpets of moss, giant green anemones studding a tidal pool and grey whales feeding in kelp beds offshore. West Vancouver Island’s Pacific Rim National Park includes the 76km, five- to seven-day West Coast Trail, a backpacking route that links a succession of sandy, log-strewn beaches, sandstone cliffs and old-growth forest. Make sure you’re clued up on tides before you set off, and keep an eye out for bears, wolves, whales and sea lions.
Further information: pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/bc/pacificrim
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wildlife travel essentials: western Canada
Banff Adventures offers a range of guided tours in the Canadian Rockies, while Overlander Trekking & Tours runs both day treks and backcountry adventures in Jasper National Park. Ecosummer Expeditions offers sea kayaking, backpacking trips and coastal cruises in Johnstone Strait, Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands). Sea kayaking, including mothership voyages, is also available from Northern Lights Expeditions, while Orca Kayak Trips operates a sea kayak camp.
WHEN TO GO
Whale watching is generally best from May to October, bear watching in spring and September.
WHERE TO STAY
National parks offer plenty of opportunities for camping – some, like Banff, have hotels and lodges.