There is a wealth of wildlife in Canada. From moose to polar bears, whales to puffins. Plan your Canadian wildlife bucket list with this helpful guide.
Last summer I celebrated a major milestone for my travels in Canada. I officially touched down in every province and territory in the country. And the feeling of knowing that I had truly experienced my home country was remarkable. It all culminated with a visit to Churchill Manitoba where I went with my kids to see polar bears and beluga whales in what was one of the coolest wildlife experiences in Canada. That adventure got me thinking about all of the amazing experiences I’ve had exploring the wildlife in Canada.
Canada is rich with natural beauty. The country is home to the Taiga, the largest boreal forest in the world. This rich habitat covers a huge portion of the inland portion of the country from Newfoundland all the way across to Alaska. We’re also home to the world’s largest coastline. An unbroken stretch of sea that covers not one, but three different oceans. Combine all of these incredible features with all of the unique microclimates from desert to rainforest, and it’s clear that there are some absolutely amazing places to see wildlife in Canada.
Wildlife and nature have always been a huge driver in our choice of destinations for world travel. In fact, this piece that I wrote on family-friendly wildlife experiences around the world has acted as somewhat of a bucket list for how we plan our travels. But the sheer vastness and variety of wildlife in Canada has made it one of our all-time favorite places for observing animals in the wild.
Whether you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the mystical Spirit Bear, kayak with whales, or walk through an island absolutely covered with seals, these Canadian wildlife experiences will give you an entirely unique perspective on this amazing country.
12 Breathtaking Canadian Wildlife Experiences
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Grab your camera (make sure to put on your long lens), and let’s get started with this list of the most amazing wildlife in Canada. From coast to coast, mountain to ocean, the Arctic to desert, these are some of my favorite Canadian wildlife encounters.
Spot The Polar Bears In Churchill, Manitoba
The king of wildlife in Canada is without a doubt the polar bear. The great white bear of the north is the largest land predator on earth. And the small town of Churchill, which sits on the shores of Hudson Bay, offers one of the most accessible places in the world to see these magnificent beasts in the wild.
In Churchill, the polar bear population outnumbers the human population. Visit in the autumn season as the sea ice is just beginning to form, and you’re almost guaranteed to experience polar bears in the wild.
There are a number of ways to see polar bears in Churchill, remote lodges, local tours, and massive tundra buggies are just a few of them. While a visit to Churchill isn’t without its challenges, this guide to Churchill, Manitoba will help you plan your visit.
Experience The Narwhals In The Arctic
We may not have discovered unicorns in the wild yet, but seeing narwhals in the wild is almost as rare. Canada is home to the world’s largest population of narwhals. And the only region where you can see them is high up in the Arctic ocean. Seeing the narwhal in the wild is one of the ultimate experiences for those searching for the best wildlife in Canada.
Narwhals are near-mythical. The chances of seeing these fairy-tale-like creatures in the wild is remote. But the best opportunities lie on whale tours out of Nunavut into the high Arctic. In fact, no whale lives further north than the narwhal.
Canadian expedition experts Arctic Kingdom are one of the few outfitters that run narwhal tours in Canada. Their expert team understands the high-arctic like few others. But their tours are not for the faint of heart or the light-of-wallet.
Search for Spirit Bears in BC
Just as legendary, and nearly as rare as the narwhal is the aptly named “Spirit Bear.” The spirit bear, also known as the “ghost bear or “kermode” is a rare subspecies of the black bear that is born with white fur.
Spirit bears are incredibly rare. And one of the few places to catch a glimpse of them is deep in the rainforest of central British Columbia. Princess Royal Island and the remote coasts of northwestern BC are among the very few places where it’s possible to spot these incredible animals.
See The Orcas In Coastal British Columbia
Killer whales or orcas are one of the most popular Canadian wildlife experiences. And it’s incredibly easy to see these gorgeous marine mammals within British Columbia’s inside passage. This stretch of water separates the Pacific-side islands from the mainland of lower Alaska right down to the base of Vancouver Island.
It’s experiences such as this that make inside passage cruises such a popular trip. But there are plenty of ways to get up close with orcas in the wild without joining an Alaskan cruise. Companies such as Kayak BC even offer kayaking tours where visitors have the chance to get remarkably close with the largest of the dolphin family.
You can book a 3-hour whale watching tour out of Victoria B.C. here.
Flutter Among The Puffins In Newfoundland and Labrador
In our house, it’s always been a toss-up as to which is the world’s most adorable bird. Battling for position number one for years has been penguins and puffins. While penguins can only be seen far down in the southern hemisphere, the adorable, and much more colorful puffins can be seen right in Canada.
We first saw puffins during our travel in Iceland, and since then we’ve traveled throughout the Canadian Maritimes to catch them closer to home. And who wouldn’t want to catch a glimpse of these energetic and fun, and wildly lovable birds?
There’s no denying that a visit to Newfoundland and Labrador offers the best chance to see puffins in the wild. In fact, the puffin is the provincial bird of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The best place to see puffins in Newfoundland and Labrador is the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve near Elliston, which is home to North America’s largest puffin colony. Elliston, which is also known as “Bird Island” sits on the Bonavista Peninsula in the far-eastern section of the province.
Boat among The Whales On The St. Lawrence River
The St. Lawrence River is one of Canada’s most unique and beautiful water systems. And in a country that is home to more lakes and rivers than every other country in the world combined, that is a pretty big statement. Not only is the St. Lawrence River home to the magical Thousand Islands, but, as you head further toward the Gulf of St. Lawrence, it becomes one of the world’s most incredible sanctuaries for whales.
If you’re looking for amazing wildlife in Canada, a visit to the St. Lawrence River near the town of Tadoussac can knock a number of them off of your list. From roughly May till November, the river is absolutely teeming with fins, belugas, greys, humpbacks, and even the most majestic of all whales, the blue whale.
The region around the town of Tadoussac offers some of the best whale watching tours in Quebec. On our last visit there we did a Tadoussac whale watching tour with a local Indigenous company out of Essipit. That was part of our amazing tour of Quebec Indigenous tourism experiences.
You can book an unforgettable 2.5-hour whale tour in Tadoussac here.
Watch The Caribou Migration In Yukon and The Northwest Territories
Some of the most fascinating people in the country end up in the capital of the Northwest Territories, Yellowknife. This small city boasts an amazing art scene, loads of fantastic restaurants, and some of the country’s beautiful Indigenous culture.
But heading further into the territory from Yellowknife offers a glimpse of the country’s pristine nature at its finest. And a visit to Inuvik in the high Arctic offers the chance to visit a herd of over 3,000 domesticated caribou migrating from their winter to summer feeding grounds.
There are two ways of getting to Inuvik, you can either take a tour that includes snowmobiling along the Mackenzie River, or you can make the drive along the famed Dempster Highway from Dawson City to Inuvik. Once there, why not continue your journey up to Tuktoyaktuk on the edge of the Arctic Ocean.
You can book a magical Yukon tour to see the Caribou herds here.
Glimpse The Shaggy Muskox In Nunavut
Canada is teeming with rare animals that can be found in few other places in the world. One of these incredible Canadian wildlife species is the Muskox. These shaggy members of the cattle family are found only in the Arctic Tundra of Canada, Alaska, and Greenland.
Your best bet to knock the Muskox off of your Canadian wildlife bucket list is by visiting the northern town of Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island in Nunavut. The animals live in small herds of around 30 in the summer, and larger herds of up to 60 during the winter. And they can be often seen right on the outskirts of town in Cambridge Bay.
Walk Among Harp Seal Pups on Ile de la Madeleine
Where Muskox offers a gruff (and kind of smelly) wildlife experience in Canada, this next one is for those who want something just a little (ok, a lot!) cuter. Ile de la Madeleine, which sits smack in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, has one of the most adorable wildlife experiences in Canada.
This unique island is a haven for harp seals. Every March, countless numbers of these seals give birth to their pups on the ice floes that surround the island. These white fur balls literally blanket the surrounding ice canopy making for one of the most mesmerizing Canadian wildlife experiences.
Drive Among The Bison Herds In Alberta
The Canadian prairies were once teeming with herds of bison. But when Europeans arrived, these herds were culled in a dramatic way. At one point the Canadian bison was on the brink of extinction. Even now, the grasslands that these animals call home are swiftly being converted to farmland. But through the tireless work of Canada’s wildlife experts, bison in Canada are beginning to see a resurgence.
The best chance to see bison in Canada is in Wood Buffalo National Park, which is the largest national park in Canada. This park has a herd of over 5,000 free-roaming bison. This makes it one of the largest bison herds in North America.
But those who want to save themselves some traveling will have an equally good chance by visiting Elk Island National Park just outside of Edmonton, Alberta. Elk Island is home to between 400-700 wood and plains bison that have been moved here from Wood Buffalo NP. The incredible park is very accessible, and you have the chance of seeing bison by car, bike, or on foot.
Walk Among The Moose In Algonquin Provincial Park
There are few things that can prepare you for the sheer size of the moose. Moose can reach heights of up to 3.4 m (10.5 ft) and weigh upwards of 700 kg (1500 lbs). They are fast, agile, and are incredible swimmers.
If you want to add the moose to your Canadian wildlife bucket list, one of the best places to see them is in Algonquin Provincial Park in the Muskoka region of Ontario. It’s not rare to be driving the HWY 60 corridor near the town of Huntsville and see these incredible animals grazing near the side of the road.
But for a better experience, head into the park to experience some of the amazing scenery. Or join an Algonquin park canoe tour and see the moose exploring majestically in their natural habitat.
See Grizzly Bears And Black Bears In Banff National Park
Seeing bears in Canada is a pretty special experience. Black bears, which are abundant across Canada, are magnificent in their ability to climb. When I was in Quebec I saw an adult black bear climb to the very top of a spindly pine tree that looked like it would barely hold a squirrel.
But the massive cousin of the black bear is the grizzly bear or brown bear. These beasts can rival polar bears in size, and are known as some of the most fearsome predators in the world. If you want to add the grizzly bear to your wildlife in Canada bucket list, head west to Banff National Park
This sprawling and beautiful national park in the Canadian Rockies is one of the best places to see grizzly bears in Canada. And spending your time in the spectacular local towns of Jasper and Banff are the icing on the cake.
You can read about my friend Tara’s family trip to Bella Coola Lodge in the Great Bear Rainforest here. You can book a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of Banff National Park here.
How To Plan Your Tours To See Wildlife in Canada
If you’re hoping to visit Canada and experience all the incredible wildlife in Canada in a week, I’m sorry to say, but you’ll be out of luck. My home country is huge. The second-largest in the world, and the third-largest by land area. To add to that obstacle, many of the Canadian wildlife experiences are spread out among seasons. Some are best viewed in the summer, others the autumn, and still others in the winter months.
Many of the Canadian wildlife experiences are remote, so visiting with a Canadian wildlife tour company will help you navigate these experiences safely and as environmentally conscious as possible. Please remember that many of these wildlife habitats in Canada reside in ecologically fragile places. Tread lightly.
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