Africa has its Big 5, and the Galapagos Islands boasts biological diversity, but it’s Canada that’s home to the world’s greatest wildlife safaris. For a holiday that you’ll never forget, don’t miss these 16 incredible wildlife experiences in Canada!
Imagine standing amongst 300,000 migrating caribou as they wander across the Arctic tundra, just you and the local guides casting your eyes on an annual spectacle that few humans have ever seen.
Or sitting amongst the spring wildflowers as a polar bear and her cubs emerge from their winter den for the first time, playfully rolling in the melting snow before beginning their new life as the planet’s largest apex land predator.
Perhaps photographing Atlantic puffins nesting on jagged, seaside cliffs or kayaking with pods of social orcas are the kinds of experiences that sit high on your bucket list.
No matter what your dreams of animal encounters are, few nations offer the abundance and variety of wildlife opportunities that Canada has in spades.
Already one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, now more and more wildlife enthusiasts are flocking to the Great White North in search of wildlife holidays in Canada that can’t be found anywhere else.
There is no shortage of incredible things to do in Canada, and you could easily spend a lifetime working your way from province to province creating a novel’s worth of memories.
However in our minds, its those wildlife experiences in Canada that will cement themselves as the most remarkable chapters.
Table of Contents
- Wildlife Experiences in Canada – The Ultimate Bucket List
- Walk with Polar Bears in Churchill
- See the Wolves at the Northern Lights Wildlife Centre
- Search for the Spirit Bear in the Great Bear Rainforest
- Catch the Salmon Run
- Narwhals in Nunavut
- Zodiac Cruises with Beluga Whales
- Go Searching for Grizzly Bears at Knight Inlet
- Kayaking with Orcas
- Whale Watching on the East Coast
- Go on a Moose Safari in Algonquin Park
- Red-Sided Garter Snake Dens in Manitoba
- Find Puffins in Newfoundland
- See the Bison in Alberta and Manitoba
- Caribou Migration in Nunavut and Northwest Territories
- Spot Bald Eagles on the West Coast
- Find Beavers in Jasper National Park
Wildlife Experiences in Canada – The Ultimate Bucket List
For those in search of Canada’s great wildlife activities, our guide will help with all your planning, from what to do, where to go and of course what to see.
From visiting the polar bear capital of the world, to catching a glimpse of a spirit bear or black bear, to whale watching and more, there are many amazing wildlife experiences to have in Canada.
Charge your cameras, pack your bags and book your plane ticket – it’s time to head to the Great White North in search of the most incredible animal safaris on earth!
Walk with Polar Bears in Churchill
- Where: Churchill, Manitoba
- Best Time: July to November
With a reputation for being the ‘Polar Bear Capital of the World’, there’s little wonder that a huge number of travellers making the journey to Canada every year have seeing polar bears in the wild high on their list of epic wildlife experiences.
This remote town of less than 1000 people lies at the northern tip of Manitoba, set on the Hudson Bay and surrounded by an endless tundra expanse, perfect for the world’s largest apex land predator to wander freely.
Churchill is actually the easiest place to see polar bears in the wild, thanks to its accessibility from the provincial capital of Winnipeg (with flights and trains making regular departures) and the sheer abundance of these beautiful creatures that wander the endless tundra.
The most popular way to catch a glimpse of polar bears is to jump onboard one of the Tundra Buggies that tour the landscapes. Polar bears curiously wander right up to the vehicles for a look, with the oversized trucks keeping people safely out of their reach.
The fantastic, responsible operator Frontiers North pioneered this form of safe tundra tours, and they continue to be at the forefront of accessible polar bear experiences in Churchill.
For a truly immersive experience though you cannot beat the tour packages available from Churchill Wild.
Operating a number of luxury ecolodges in various locations on the edge of Hudson Bay, Churchill Wild is best known for its up-close-and-personal polar bear safaris.
These safaris range from walking with polar bears to photo expeditions, and they even offer a unique opportunity to attempt to witness polar bear cubs emerging from their den at the end of the long winter.
In northern Manitoba, polar bears rule the land, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more powerful wildlife experience in Canada than here in the polar bear capital of the world.
See the Wolves at the Northern Lights Wildlife Centre
- Where: Golden, British Columbia
- Best Time: Year-round
Wolves are some of the most feared yet misunderstood creatures you’ll find on a Canadian wildlife holiday.
These beautiful and intimidating animals roam the remote wildernesses across the entire country, but despite their huge numbers, seeing one in the wild is quite rare for the average tourist.
If you want to not only catch a glimpse of one but also learn more about wolves, book in for a tour at Northern Lights Wolf Centre, just outside the mountain village of Golden in British Columbia.
Open year-round on the edge of Yoho National Park, the Northern Lights Wolf Centre offers fantastic interpretive tours, led by experienced wildlife guides, where you can watch the wolves going about their business from outside their large enclosures.
For an even more in-depth experience be sure to sign up for their ‘Walk with the Wolves’ photography tour, where you’ll actually go inside the enclosures for a thrilling and educational interaction.
The Northern Lights Wolf Centre is open to people of all ages, making it perfect for families and children too.
Search for the Spirit Bear in the Great Bear Rainforest
- Where: Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia
- Best Time: August to October
The Great Bear Rainforest located on the rugged west coast of British Columbia is a sprawling nature reserve, home to one of the largest sections of unspoiled temperate rainforest in the world, and protecting a dazzling array of some of Canada’s most spectacular wildlife.
The rich waters of the Inside Passage are teeming with orcas, humpback whales, salmon, seals and porpoises, but it’s what can be found on land that is often most sought after.
The Great Bear Rainforest is the only place on the planet where the Kermode bear, an extremely rare subspecies of the black bear, is found.
While these mammals are already special enough, 10% of this subspecies is born with a recessive gene that gives them an all-white coat. It is these white variants that are known as ‘Spirit Bears’.
Due to the remote location of the Great Bear Rainforest, and the small number of Spirit Bears that roam here, the best way to catch a glimpse of a spirit bear is by staying in one of the luxury wilderness lodges that are located in the heart of the reserve.
From the moment you arrive you’re treated to a level of service that is some of the highest in North America, but as wonderful as the lodge and staff are, the real stars of the show is the spirit bear.
Spend your days tracking grizzlies, black bears and the majestic Spirit Bear by boat or on foot, under the watchful eye of your experienced wildlife guides.
Catch the Salmon Run
- Where: Campbell River, Goldstream River and various provincial parks in British Columbia
- When: Late October through to December
In the autumn months, one of nature’s most remarkable and awe-inspiring wildlife events takes place in the rivers of British Columbia – the ‘salmon run’.
Salmon are born in freshwater and then head out to sea to spend their adult lives feeding and maturing, before returning to the exact river they were born to breed for the next life cycle.
They miraculously swim upstream, leaping up waterfalls to their spawning grounds, eventually laying their eggs in the gravel beds.
READ MORE: Don’t miss our comprehensive Canada travel guide to help you plan the rest of your trip to the Great White North!
This hive of activity sees hundreds of thousands of salmon navigating the rivers, attracting grizzly bears and bald eagles who hunt them.
Catching the salmon run in person is possible in a number of places throughout BC, with the Goldstream River on Vancouver Island, as well as Stamp River, Elk Falls and Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Parks being the best places to see the annual event.
Most people who go to see the salmon run are hoping to watch the grizzlies catching the fish as they leap up the falls, but in Campbell River on Vancouver Island, it’s possible to actually snorkel with the salmon as well.
To see the spectacle up close, get in touch with Ocean Fix to book your amazing snorkelling with salmon tour in British Columbia.
- Where: Pond Inlet, Baffin Island, Nunavut
- When: May and June
The peculiar and beautiful narwhal is one of the most unusual whales in the sea, with its long, single tusk giving it the nickname, the ‘Unicorn of the Sea’.
Only an estimated 80,000 narwhals still roam the oceans today, with the vast majority of them living in the icy waters around northern Canada.
Due to the remoteness of the Arctic where they are found, it can be quite an expedition to see a narwhal in the wild.
However, the Canadian company Arctic Kingdom offer a truly incredible ‘Narwhal and Polar Bear‘ safari at the floe edge, known as the ‘line of life’ in Pond Inlet, Baffin Island in the isolated Nunavut territory.
These 8-day all-inclusive adventures will take guests right to the floe edge to spot narwhals and polar bears, all under the watchful eye of local Inuit guides.
Staying in a tented safari camp surrounded by spectacular scenery, every day is different, with the ultimate goal of spotting narwhals proving to be one of the rarest wildlife experiences in Canada.
Zodiac Cruises with Beluga Whales
- Where: Churchill, Manitoba
- When: June-August
The nutrient-rich waters of Canada’s Arctic are also home to another curious whale that is as friendly and playful as much as it is unique.
The beluga whale is one the smallest species of whales and is instantly recognisable thanks to its all-white skin and roundish head.
Beluga whales can be found throughout the Arctic, but the highest concentration in the world is right in Hudson Bay, with the wildlife capital of Churchill seeing over 60,000 gather in its waters every summer.
While you can spot beluga whales from the shore, the best way to experience their social behaviours is to book a Beluga Whale Dream Tour with Lazy Bear Lodge.
This 2-night tour allows you to go whale watching right on the water with the belugas, using either zodiacs or kayaks to get as close to them as possible.
Kayaking with beluga whales is a fantastic experience to add to your trip while you’re in the polar bear capital of the world.
Go Searching for Grizzly Bears at Knight Inlet
- Where: Knight Inlet, BC
- When: Late April to November
Seeing a grizzly bear in the wild is a humbling experience for any traveller, but it’s usually something you would prefer to happen when you are expecting it rather than stumbling upon one on a hiking trail.
Grizzlies are found all across the western parts of Canada, however for your best opportunity to see one safely, head to British Columbia’s grizzly bear capital at Knight Inlet.
Located a short 25-minute seaplane flight from Campbell River on Vancouver Island, Knight Inlet has one of the largest concentrations of brown bears in all of Canada, making your chance to see one almost guaranteed.
The Knight Inlet Lodge, owned by the local First Nations community, operates a floating, modern accommodation in Glendale Cove, surrounded by prime berry plantations that are a favourite food for the grizzly population.
Every day during your stay you head out on boats to search for the bears, observing them from a safe distance so as not to disturb them.
If you join one of the multi-day tours, your stay at Knight Inlet Lodge includes all your meals, flights, guides, First Nations and environmental levies, as well as the boat trips and grizzly bear viewing trips.
Kayaking with Orcas
- Where: Vancouver Island, British Colombia
- Best Time: July and September
The coastal passage between the mainland and Vancouver Island in British Columbia is home to one of the largest resident orca populations on earth.
While it’s entirely possible to see orcas from the scheduled ferry or on a whale watching tour, there’s no better wildlife experience than to be on the water with them, kayaking with killer whales as they hunt for salmon and socialise.
Sea Kayak Adventures in Port McNeill offers magnificent 6-day adventure tours where you spend your days kayaking amongst the orca pods in Johnstone Strait and your nights ‘glamping’ on a number of smaller, remote islands, with full-size canvas tents protecting you from the elements and your guides cooking up healthy, locally-sourced meals.
Your expert guides will teach you all about the orcas’ behaviour, and while spending a significant time with the killer whales is the obvious highlights, the wildlife-rich waters of Johnstone Strait are also home to other species, such as humpback whales, dolphins, sea lions, eagles and black bears.
Whale Watching on the East Coast
- Where: Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador
- When: May to October
It’s not just the west coast that is brimming with incredible wildlife experiences in Canada. The eastern provinces, known as the Maritimes, are filled with their own stunning opportunities for spotting animals.
Canada’s Atlantic Coast has the most varied and numerous whale watching opportunities in North America, with countless operators heading out every day in the summer months to spot these majestic mammals.
The different species you may see while whale watching include humpbacks, minkes, finbacks and even blue whales, spotted during their annual migration between the Arctic and warmer southern waters
Head to the St Lawrence River in Quebec, the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, Halifax or the eastern stretch of Newfoundland for a huge array of remarkable whale watching tours, but Cape Breton Island north of Nova Scotia is often heralded as one of Canada’s premier whale destinations.
Go on a Moose Safari in Algonquin Park
- Where: Algonquin Park, Ontario
- Best Time: June and July
If padding in a canoe along a calm river surrounded by moose sounds like your idea of a fun adventure, then you can’t miss a trip to Algonquin Park in Ontario.
Just 3 hours driving from Toronto, Algonquin Park is known as Canada’s best destination to see moose in the wild.
As most of the park is only accessible by canoe, your best bet to see one is to join Voyageur Quest on their fantastic 3-day Moose Photography Safari.
Experienced photographer and guide Rob Stimpson leads guests on a memorable journey through the heart of Algonquin Park, paddling into secluded coves and pitching tents on the banks of the rivers while moose wander all around.
Your moose safari includes all park fees, meals, camping equipment, canoeing gear and expert photography advice.
Red-Sided Garter Snake Dens in Manitoba
- Where: Narcisse Snake Pits, Manitoba
- When: late April to early May; early September
Some wildlife experiences in Canada are a little bit more niche than others, and while this particular one may not appeal to everyone, casting your eyes on the world’s largest snake den is a sight you’ll never forget.
The small town of Narcisse in Manitoba has a curious geology, with a thin layer of topsoil sitting on top of limestone that has eroded away over the millennia to form small caves – perfect hiding spots for red-sided garter snakes to hibernate over the long, cold winters.
In the spring up to 70,000 garter snakes leave their caves and flock to the Narcisse Snake Dens to mate in enormous, slithering balls, where one female may be furiously courted by over one hundred males.
Once the ritual is complete they disperse throughout the Prairies, returning again in the fall to the same dens to wait until cooler temperatures force them back underground.
The local government has built a 3km-long interpretative trail that connects the four active dens, allowing visitors to stand safely on elevated platforms and stare straight into the heart of the chaos.
It’s a fascinating sight, and if you’re exploring Winnipeg in the spring or autumn months it’s worth renting a car and driving out to see the snake dens.
Find Puffins in Newfoundland
- Where: Newfoundland and Labrador
- Best Time: April to August
The cute Atlantic puffins are a small seabird found in the northern coastal regions of Europe, Iceland and Canada, with more than 400,000 of them calling the island of Newfoundland home.
While they spend most of their lives out to sea, these migratory birds return to the sea cliffs every April to breed, lay their eggs and hatch their chicks.
Their distinct plumage has made the puffin a favourite for birdwatchers the world over, and Newfoundland and Labrador even declared the Atlantic puffin to be their official provincial bird.
You can spot puffins all throughout Newfoundland during the season, but the best place to see puffins in their thousands is in the small village of Elliston.
Elliston has a dedicated puffin viewing site where you can safely get within just a few metres of the nesting puffins.
See the Bison in Alberta and Manitoba
- Where: Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba
- When: June to September
Bison populations, once numbering in the tens of millions across North America, were brought to the brink of extinction at the end of the 19th century due to overzealous hunting.
The loss of the plains bison and wood bison was almost a complete ecological disaster until federal governments and conservation groups stepped in to save the species.
In 1909, three hundred plains bison were brought to the newly-established Buffalo National Park in Alberta, and under careful protection the population flourished, growing to astonishing numbers.
Today the gigantic bison have made a remarkable comeback, and it’s now possible to see them in the wild across huge expanses of the country, from Northwest Territories to Yukon, Alberta and the Prairies.
Alberta’s Elk Island National Park is a prime spot to see a bison, as is Wood Buffalo National Park.
If you’re in Manitoba, Riding Mountain National Park also has a small, protected group of plains bison.
- Where: Ennadai Lake, Nunavut and Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories
- When: August and September
Far in the north on the edge of the sprawling Ennadai Lake lies one of Canada’s most remote wildlife viewing experiences.
Every autumn 350,000 caribou make their way across the Arctic tundra of Nunavut as part of their annual migration, one of the largest such wildlife events on the planet.
Due to the isolated location of Ennadai Lake it’s not a scene that many humans get to witness, but there is an option for those who are intrepid and passionate enough to see the spectacle.
Canadian operator Weber Arctic runs the Arctic Haven Wilderness Lodge, right on the shores of Ennadai Lake in Nunavut, allowing guests to fly in from Yellowknife and spend a week tracking the caribou.
Using ATVs, boats, bikes and your own two feet, you’ll be led right to the path of the migrating caribou where they graze amongst the lichen, fattening up for the long winter ahead.
It’s not just caribou you can see at this time of year. Wolves and wolverines are also common, and if you’re really lucky the Aurora Borealis may also make an appearance.
In the rugged expanses of the Northwest Territories another opportunity to wander with the reindeer exist.
At the end of Canada’s only highway running to the town of Tuktoyaktuk on the edge of the Arctic Ocean you can join a mind-blowing 4-day tour to see a separate herd of caribou during their annual migration.
Here the caribou outnumber humans 2000-to-1, and seeing them move across the tundra is like witnessing the entire earth pulsating in one fluid motion.
This different type of experience includes snowmobiling alongside the traditional reindeer herders as they muster and care for their animals.
While the days are filled with adventure, the nights are just as magical with the Aurora Borealis lighting up the skies outside your ocean-side BnB.
The Northwest Territories offers an insight into a different world to what you’ll see in the rest of Canada, so for an unrivalled wildlife experience make the long and remote trek to Tuktoyaktuk.
Spot Bald Eagles on the West Coast
- Where: The Pacific Coast
- When: Late November to March
With all the spectacular land and water animals that are found all across Canada, it’s no wonder that the Great White North is also home to one of the world’s most majestic, and arguably famous, birds of prey as well.
The bald eagle plies the salmon-rich rivers of BC and the Yukon, nesting in towering pine trees and hunting in the wind vortexes that are formed above the mountain peaks.
Around 20,000 bald eagles live in British Columbia, primarily along the coast, but they are also spotted high up in the popular mountain villages of Squamish and Whistler.
While you can see bald eagles year-round, the best time for photographers and bird watchers to see them in their element is during the winter months.
In the Brackendale area north of Squamish the Canadian Outback Rafting Company runs a dedicated eagle viewing float so you can float down the river and see the eagles in their natural habitats.
If you’re staying in Vancouver you don’t have to go far from the city to see the eagles. The lower Fraser Valley has a large population, best seen in winter.
Travelling the Yukon? You’ll have no issues finding bald eagles by driving the legendary Golden Circle Route out of Whitehorse.
Find Beavers in Jasper National Park
Finally in our list of the best wildlife experiences in Canada we have to pay homage to the nation’s official animal, the beaver.
The large rodent is best known for the huge dams they build out of driftwood, blocking fast-flowing rivers so they can live in calm ponds away from cougars and wolves, with the largest beaver dam ever found in Wood Buffalo National Park even being visible from space.
Some of the best destinations to see a beaver in the wild are in the national parks of BC and Alberta, with the Rockies being a particularly abundant place.
Just an hour north you’ll find the appropriately named Beaver Boardwalk, an easy and accessible hiking trail that skirts the edge of Maxwell Lake.
Be sure to bring your zoom lens and keep an eye on the banks for movement.