Where to see wildlife in Canada

From majestic whales to the secretive and sacred spirit bear, Canada's mountains, parks, rivers and coastlines are teeming with life. We look at some of the best places for wildlife enthusiasts to visit – and cover what you might be lucky enough to see in each.

By Saga team

Published 4 May 2024

Mountains reflecting in calm lake at sunrise, Banff National Park, Canada

Canada is a land of staggering mountains and some of the lushest, greenest forests in the world. Such natural spectacle means that Canada is prime wildlife watching territory. With large game to rival an African safari, Canada is a must-visit holiday destination for anyone who loves the great outdoors and its wild residents.

We're all familiar with the famous safari Big Five, but if you're planning a wildlife holiday, don't overlook the huge variety you can see in Canada. Here, the forests rustle with moose, elk, wolves, rare wild cats and three species of bear (polar, grizzly and black). From gentle giants to stealthy apex predators, there's no shortage of animals to see here. And the wildlife isn't just on land – from enormous whales to tiny seal pups, marine life thrives off both the west and east coasts, and twice a year the skies fill with migrating birds.

This is the ultimate naturalist’s holiday, so if you’re looking to indulge your passion on your trip, let us guide you through the best national parks, towns and forests – here's where to see wildlife in Canada…

  • Snowshoe hares

  • Canada lynxes

  • Woodland caribous

  • Bald eagles

  • Harbor seals

  • Pilot whales

Make the same voyage as the first Scottish settlers all those years ago with a trip to the wild frontier of Nova Scotia. You may well believe you’re in a distant section of Scotland, such is the stark beauty of this mountainous landscape – not to mention the Gaelic words still spoken in the local taverns. Be sure to visit the Cape Breton Highlands in search of the shy snowshoe hare, the endangered Canada lynx, and waterborne mammals such as harbor seals and pilot whales along the coast. The local seafood is worth a mention, too – don’t go home without tasting a fresh lobster or two.

  • Grizzly bears

  • Black bears

  • Elks

  • Ospreys

  • Bighorn sheep

  • Wolves

Snow-topped peaks tower above glassy lakes banked by vivid green hillsides in this stunning national reserve nestled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. Whether you visit in the spring to see the meadows bloom around Lake Louise or wrap up for a late season wildlife tour to see elk foraging for food, Banff won’t fail to enchant. If you’ve a penchant for the outdoors, explore by bike, kayak or on foot for a real taste of Canadian adventure.

  • Polar bears

  • Beluga whales

  • Arctic foxes

  • Moose

If you thought you’d have to travel all the way to the North Pole to see a polar bear, you might be surprised by the lesser-known wildlife destination of Churchill, Manitoba – one of the best places in the world to see polar bears.

Enclosed in the circle of Hudson Bay on the northeast coast of Canada, buggy tours here allow rare access to these magnificent animals in all seasons, although their annual migration during October and November is one to mark in your diary. Visiting earlier in the year? As an added bonus, you’ll have a great chance of witnessing the Aurora Borealis in the skies above Canada between January and March.

  • Moose

  • Beavers

  • Wolves

  • Black bears

  • White-tailed deer

  • Red squirrels

Nothing embodies the call of the wild quite so much as a wolf’s howl, and during August you can join in with regular public ‘howlings’ at this beautiful conservation park in Ontario. Listen out, and you might be rewarded with an answer from the native pack. Besides these exciting expeditions, you can enjoy a spot of moose-watching in Algonquin, fish for local trout, or simply come to watch the leaves glow gold and red in autumn.

  • Atlantic puffins

  • Snow geese

  • Woodpeckers

  • Humpback whales

  • Beluga whales

  • Blue whales

Birdwatchers take note: the elegant, French-speaking province of Quebec is the place to see migrating birds in their thousands every spring and autumn. Arrive at the Gulf of St Lawrence in time for October and you’ll see great flocks of snow geese pausing for a breather before heading north for winter. The charming riverside city of Montmagny even hosts a Snow Goose Festival every year to celebrate. Look out for different feathered species around the estuary, including the comical Atlantic puffin. A good way to explore all the natural attractions here is to take a cruise along the St Lawrence River, passing by dizzying waterfalls towards the colonial turrets of Quebec City.

St Lawrence also includes excellent whale watching, with beluga, humpback and even mighty blue whales all seen in the area. The whale watching season runs from May to September.

  • Caribous

  • Arctic foxes

  • Wolves

  • Black bears

  • Beavers

  • Lynxes

  • Arctic hares

Head to the northernmost part of the Newfoundland and Labrador province to discover snowy tundra and extraordinarily deep gorges. It’s worth braving the remote conditions out here to see the caribou migrations, which happen between September and October. Not only will you witness majestic herds of caribou, topped by their huge, crown-like antlers, but you might sneak a glimpse of the wolves, black bears and arctic foxes that follow hungrily in their wake. If you want to see nature in action on your Canada trip, Labrador is the right place.

  • Salmon

  • River otters

  • Black bears

  • Harbor seals

  • Bald eagles

Salmon fishing may be high on your to-do list, but how about swimming with the salmon themselves? Don a snorkel mask and some fins at Vancouver Island’s ‘Salmon Capital’, the Campbell River, and you can follow every splash of the salmon’s epic voyage home to spawn. Spot up to five varieties of salmon jostling just below the surface, including the legendary Chinook, or king salmon. The river is home to several conservation areas, so there’s no shortage of spectacular evergreen scenery to admire, and plenty of excellent hiking trails if you want to explore the landscape more thoroughly.

  • Orca whales

  • Dolphins

  • Porpoises

  • Sea otters

  • Sea lions

  • Black bears

  • Cougars

  • Humpback whales

Always wanted to see an orca in the wild? Now’s your chance as Canada is one of the best places in the world to see this majestic beast. Perched at the southern end of Vancouver Island, Race Rocks Ecological Reserve is a good location for spotting all kinds of whales up close, as well as other marine wildlife like sea lions and porpoises. But it’s those leaping black and white orcas that still capture everyone’s attention – and make truly jaw-dropping photos to show off back home.

  • Grizzly bears

  • Black bears

  • Kermode bears/spirit bears

  • Cougars

  • Mountain goats

  • Bald eagles

Head north of Vancouver in British Columbia to the last major stretch of coastal rainforest in the world. Here, a vast fairytale landscape of fjords and moss-carpeted pine forests awaits.

As the name suggests, bears top the food chain in the region’s Great Bear Rainforest, not least the so-called ‘spirit bear’ that prowls these woods. A rare variety of white-coated kermode bear (a sub-species of black bear), the spirit bear is considered sacred by the Tsimshian people. This is a paradise for lots of animals, including cougars, bald eagles and plenty of salmon in the rushing streams.

The peak time to see wildlife in Canada is between May and October. This is when bears are active (they hibernate over winter) and it’s also a great time of year to spot whales off the coast before they depart for warmer water in winter. Migratory birds will also be visiting over the summer months, but it’s spring when they put on their best displays as they arrive in time for the breeding season. Alternatively, visit in autumn if you’re keen to see enormous flocks of waterfowl.

Ready to plan your wildlife adventure in Canada? Take a look at our escorted tours and independent Canada getaways – all created by experts.

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