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Our favourite wildlife encounters in Canada
Read time: 7 mins
The opportunities to see wildlife in its natural habitat pushes Canada to the top of many a holiday wish-list. Nothing can beat spotting whales, sealions, sealions and other marine life on a boat trip or moose and caribou on a trek in the eastern provinces, with myriad birdlife an added bonus. Or perhaps you’d disagree – perhaps it’s the bears that are drawing you to Canada? Is it the polar bears of Manitoba, the black bears of Whistler, the grizzly bears in the British Columbia wilderness or perhaps even the rare and beautiful white Spirit Bear of the Great Bear Rainforest? Read on ideas on which holidays offer the best wildlife spotting opportunities.
A Self-Drive Tour Itinerary - Whales, Bears & Vancouver Island
This flydrive is a great combination of city exploration and wilderness activities. Start your outdoor pursuits in Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. You won’t have to travel far to discover wildlife in this city, jump aboard a boat tour with a marine biologist and learn about orca, minke and grey whales with the chance to spot them in their natural habitat.
“We chose a covered boat tour as it was a chilly May day but there was still plenty of room outside to see everything up close. It was amazing seeing the huge Humpback and Grey whales swimming through the ocean with their massive tails and bodies surfacing. The surprise was the amount of other wildlife we saw including sealions, seals and eagles, and how beautiful the scenery was – it would have been a beautiful cruise even without seeing the whales.” Kathryn, Programme Director
From Victoria embark on an incredible drive to Tofino - characterised by rainforests, lakes and beaches, Tofino is the end of the road on the west coast of Vancouver Island making it the ultimate wilderness retreat. From here head out by boat on a bear spotting trip. Staying close to the shoreline you will get the opportunity to see bears foraging for food on Tofino’s sandy stretches and in hidden coves. Learn to surf, relax in hot springs or hike along one of the many trails in the Pacific Rim National Park, there are endless opportunities to get lost in the wilderness here.
The next leg of the journey leaves Tofino behind for Sonora Resort on the east coast of the island. Exciting stops along the way include Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, perfect for a picnic lunch surrounded by mountains and waterfalls cascading into rocky gorges. On arriving at Campbell River from here the only way to reach the resort is by water taxi. Sonora Resort is in a beautifully secluded location; combine eco adventure travel with luxury at this wilderness resort. Whilst here you will enjoy an Eco-Adventure boat tour to spot Orca and Humpback Whales, plus seals, otters and eagles. If you visit from mid August to mid October a grizzly bear tour is a must, starting off with a boat ride, followed by a rainforest walk to viewing towers along the Orford riverbank where you can safely view grizzly bears as they feast on salmon.
Continuing the road trip your final destination is Vancouver. En route stop at Fanny Bay and try its famous oysters, take in the sea air on a walk along Rathtrevor Beach in Parksville and a must-see are the goats who live on the roof of Coombs Country Market! The final leg of the journey is a ferry ride from Nanaimo to Vancouver, from where you’ll fly home.
Click here for more information: Self-Drive Whales, Bears & Vancouver Island
Polar Bears & Tundra Experience
Experience the Canadian wilderness in the arctic town of Churchill, found in Manitoba on Hudson Bay. This remote area is cut-off from the rest of Canada as there are no roads into the town. Only reachable by rail or air from Winnipeg, make it the ultimate spot for a wilderness and wildlife break. Known as the polar bear capital of the world winter is an exciting time to stay in Churchill. October and November are the prime months for polar bear sightings as they make their annual move from summer to winter hunting grounds. Climb aboard a Tundra Buggy for an experience like no other. The raised, reinforced buggies will transport you across the frozen landscape into a whole new world; watch out for polar bears and other wildlife with a knowledgeable guide. Temperatures at this time of year can often dip to -26 and below so remember to pack plenty of layers, thermals and cosy outerwear. Dog sledding is another must do while in this part of the world, zoom across snow-covered tracks on a sled pulled by a team of huskies. Afterwards warm up with hot chocolate and bannock, native flat bread with a chance to chat to the mushers. The Northern Lights can often be spotted during the winter months here, as long as the weather conditions are correct look out for the mesmerising shades of green dancing across the night sky. Churchill itself is a small arctic community of around 1000 and has plenty of sights to keep you busy in between wildlife watching such as the Eskimo museum, Fort Churchill and Cape Merry.
Click here for more information: Polar Bear Churchill & Tundra Experience
Experience the Wildlife of Nova Scotia
We created this flydrive itinerary to showcase the beautiful maritime province of Nova Scotia and the great opportunities it offers to view wildlife in spectacular scenery, from June to September. The itinerary can be tailormade for you, if you want to change any ports of call or perhaps add a visit to another province such as Newfoundland and Labrador or Quebec.
You’ll fly into the charming capital of Nova Scotia – Halifax, where you will discover its fascinating maritime history. Book a whale watching and wildlife viewing cruise out into the Atlantic Ocean and Chebucto Head – with the help of experienced naturalists onboard, you will learn all about the whales, seabirds and other marine life. Throughout the tour you will enjoy visits to lovely locations such as Peggy’s Point Lighthouse, Mahone Bay, Lunenburg and the Northumberland Shore. A highlight will be the cruise from Brier Island to spot whales, seals, basking sharks and countless species of birds including puffins, eagles, cormorants, gannets, ospreys, razorbills. Finally you will head to the spectacular Cape Breton National Park, where lovely walking trails will give you the opportunity to spot myriad birds and perhaps a moose.
Click here for more information: Experience the Wildlife of Nova Scotia
Manitoba Big Five Safari
Let's identify the Manitoba Big Five first - black bear, polar bear, moose, beluga whale and bison. You will see all five on this unique holiday, along with enjoying night-time displays of the Northern Lights plus a Dog Cart ride…. Dog sledding without the snow!
Begin your adventure in the Riding Mountain National Park, where you will go on a wildlife drive to search for moose, bison and black bear. Then north to the town of Churchill on the edge of the tundra, where you will take a boat tour into the Churchill River estuary where schools of beluga whales gather to feed.
You’ll have a second Beluga boat trip, this time on a Zodiac so you'll be close up and personal with the beluga whales. The final part of your adventure is on board a Tundra Buggy - specially designed to travel the tundra, you may be lucky and spot a summer polar bear cooling itself in the waters of the Hudson Bay. You certainly will be able to spot and photograph may species of birds and wildlife, before heading back to Winnipeg.
Click here for more information: Manitoba Big Five Safari
Backcountry Lodge & Riding Adventure
The backcountry lodge and riding adventure will take you right back to nature. Ride through the wilderness of Alberta, beginning and ending in Banff you will be on horseback for the duration of the trip. Your horse will be handpicked for you and will be your noble companion over the course of the 6 days. Daily rides are around 5.5 hours in duration, ending each day at an outback lodge, many of which have an old western feel. Halfway Lodge at the base of Allenby Pass has been looking after riders since the 1920s and is steeped in history; its wooden clad walls have many a backcountry story to tell. Heated by wood burning stoves and with propane candles and lanterns as the only light sources, you will certainly feel like you have gone back to the days of the Wild West.
Sundance Lodge is another tiny backcountry cabin, priding itself in its hearty, home cooked meals and hot showers; just what is needed after a full day in the saddle. Ride past hot springs, along the turquoise Bow River and through alpine forests and valleys surrounded by the snow capped Sundance Mountain Ranges. Follow the steep winding trails and end up high above the clouds on the Rocky Mountain passes. Allenby Pass is a ride that won’t be forgotten in a hurry; follow the pass 8,000 feet up for unbelievable views of the Canadian wilderness. This is a trip where you will get to experience a lot that others visiting this area wouldn’t normally get to see. The bonus is that you only need basic horse riding experience to enjoy this once in a lifetime opportunity, so saddle up and get into cowboy mode.
Click here for more information: Backcountry Lodge & Riding Adventure
Canada boasts a whole host of unique accommodation for exploring its wilderness and wildlife, and here are our top picks
Watching grizzly bears feast on salmon in the middle of the British Columbia wilderness is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and there are few better places to experience this than at the Sonora Resort nestled in the Discovery Islands. The season runs from mid August to mid October and you can take a guided tour, travelling up the Bute Inlet to Orford Bay where a Homalco First Nations guide will take you by vehicle along logging roads to covered viewing towers to safely view the bears pluck salmon from the riverbank.
You can also enjoy their Eco Adventure Tour where you will see otters, seals, sealions schools of white-sided dolphins and humpback whales. You may also be able to spot Orca and the prime time for seeing these magnificent Killer Whales is July and August. You can spot Black Bear feasting on mussels on the rocks in May and June.
Click here for more information: Sonora Resort
Knight Inlet Lodge
Nestled 80km from Campbell River, Knight Inlet is a beautiful, remote wilderness that will propel you into a world full of natural beauty and incredible wildlife sightings. The utterly charming Knight Inlet Lodge you’ll be staying in is tucked away in Glendale Cove, home to one of the highest concentrations of grizzly bears in British Columbia.
This is why grizzly viewing is so prevalent during your stay here. It’s not uncommon to see one of the magnificent creatures hunting for salmon close by to the lodge, and venture here in the spring and you’ll get to enjoy a wonderful two-hour bear watching cruise. You’ll also be treated to a two-hour Knight Inlet sightseeing cruise through the cove, taking in vibrant views of forest-shrouded landscapes and majestic eagles swooping overhead.
With no TV’s or phones in the rooms, the lodge offers an escape for every day, modern stresses, focusing solely on creating an authentic experience deep in the wild. Embark on a wildlife tracking tour to create plaster casts of animal prints, hike through the luscious Kwalate River Valley, and venture to Johnstone Strait to spot the area’s amazing marine life.
Click here for more information: Vancouver & Wildlife Watching at Knight Inlet
Emerald Lake Lodge
Found deep in Yoho National Park the lodge sits on Emerald Lake which certainly lives up to its name, stunning turquoise waters surrounded by a thick alpine forest and the incredible Rocky Mountains make for an unforgettable backdrop. All of the rooms have fireplaces, which are stocked daily with complimentary firewood. Hearty meals such as local game will keep the inner explorer satisfied and the outdoor hot tub is the perfect place for relaxing and taking in the stunning lakeside views. The surrounding area has plenty of wilderness activities to keep you busy from witnessing the thundering Takakkaw Falls, one of Canada’s highest waterfalls to rock climbing, horse riding and of course hiking in this natural playground; Yoho National Park has over 400 kilometres of trails waiting to be discovered.
Click here for more information: Emerald Lake Lodge
Sprit Bear Lodge
The Kermode bear, also known as the “Spirit Bear” is a rare subspecies of the Black Bear which is conversely white in colour. The Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nations people are owner/operators of Spirit Bear Lodge, a charming and welcoming hotel nestled on the waterfront in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest. During your stay, you will take a number of bear tracking tours to see the Spirit Bears and also Grizzlies, and also take a whale watching trip in the Finlayson Channel
Click here for more information: Bear & Wildlife Watching at Spirit Bear Lodge