Canada's Top Destinations for Close Wildlife Encounters

Bordering three oceans and encompassing everything from temperate rainforest to rugged mountains and Arctic tundra, Canada is gloriously, exhilaratingly wild. From whales to eagles, bears to moose, salmon to seabirds, the possibilities for animal-related adventures are limitless.

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Here are some of the best places in Canada to see a variety of species.

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Vancouver Island: Whales, Bears & Snorkelling with Salmon

Between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia lies the Johnstone Strait, renowned for its whales, including orcas, humpbacks, and minkes. Day-trips and excursions to see the whales operate from several island communities.

The Salish Sea, where Canada meets Washington state, is another great spot for orcas, with whale watching trips out of Victoria.

Campbell River is a jumping-off point for grizzly bear viewing in late summer/early fall. From mid-July through September there’s also the exhilarating opportunity to snorkel with thousands of salmon.

On the west coast, Tofino is a popular base for viewing whales, sea otters, sea lions, black bears, and more.

Grey whale off the coast of Tofino, British Columbia. Photo credit: iStock

Mainland British Columbia: Eagles & Spirit Bears

Squamish, north of Vancouver, attracts one of the world’s largest concentrations of bald eagles each winter. Float trips on the Cheakamus and Squamish Rivers are the best way to see them.

Bald Eagle soaring over British Columbia. Photo credit: iStock

The remote Great Bear Rainforest offers a chance of sighting a spirit bear, a subspecies of black bear with a recessive gene that makes its fur cream-colored.

A spirit bear watches for fish in the river. Photo credit: iStock

Alberta: Bison, Wolves & Beavers

In the Canadian Rockies, Banff and Jasper National Parks provide plentiful opportunities to spot bears, moose, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and other wildlife.

Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta is a huge wilderness famous for its 5,000 free-roaming wood bison. It’s also home to wolves, beavers, sandhill and whooping cranes, and much more.

A smaller translocated bison herd can be seen at the more accessible Elk Island National Park, east of Edmonton.

A bison in Elk National Park. Photo credit: iStock

Manitoba: Polar Bears in Churchill

Churchill is famous for its polar bears, which gather along the Hudson Bay shoreline each autumn. Another reason to visit is to see thousands of beluga whales that throng the Churchill River estuary every summer.

Beluga whales frolicking in Hudson Bay at sunset. Photo credit: iStock

Ontario: Moose on the Loose

Algonquin Provincial Park is one of Canada’s best places to see moose, particularly in spring along the Highway 60 corridor.

A few other wildlife encounters you might experience include wolves, black bear, deer, beavers, and 272 species of birds including seasonal migrants.

A moose in the water, Algonquin Provincial Park. Photo credit: iStock

Maritime Quebec: Beluga Whales & Gannets

Wide and deep, the St. Lawrence River near Tadoussac boasts as many as 13 whale species between May and October, including a large population of belugas as well as humpbacks and blue whales.

Off the Gaspé Peninsula, Bonaventure Island has one of the world’s largest colonies of northern gannets. Boat tours with time ashore operate from Percé.

In the peninsula’s interior, the heavily forested Chic-Chocs Mountains offer good chances to see moose.

Northern gannets covering a cliff-side on Bonaventure Island. Photo credit: iStock

Bay of Fundy: Whales & Puffins

Between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the Bay of Fundy is famous for the world’s highest tides. Up to 12 whale species frequent the area, with humpback, fin, and minke whales the most common.

The bay is also a great birdwatching destination, with more than 260 species including puffins, eagles, and sandpipers.

A puffin in the Bay of Fundy. Photo credit: iStock

Newfoundland: More Whales & Moose

Newfoundland’s rich waters attract 22 species of whale including large number of humpbacks, along with minke, sperm, blue, orca, and pothead whales. Seabirds number in the millions, and include North America’s largest population of Atlantic puffins.

Gros Morne National Park has a dense population of moose, frequently seen along roadsides.

Wildlife Safety

No matter where you choose to explore Canada's amazing wildlife, always take care to maintain a safe distance and avoid acting in any way that might disturb the animals or cause them to modify their natural behavior. Remember that wildlife is just that – wild –and do your best to ensure that it remains so long after your visit is over.

Want to know more about Canada? Check out our podcast. We discuss when a traveler becomes a snack; the perils of wilderness adventure, a culinary tour of the provinces for foodies, and we speak to World Nomads photography scholarship mentor Richard I'Anson.

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