Where to See Wildlife in Banff National Park

The Canadian Rockies are made up of vast forests and towering mountains. Learning where to see wildlife in Banff National Park is important if you want a chance of seeing animals. This is because the distances are so vast, and the chance of crossing paths with wildlife can be low if you are not prepared.

However, with planning and research – such as reading through this article – you stand a much better chance of seeing wildlife in Banff National Park.

As a wildlife photographer frequenting the Rockies, there are a number of tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way that will help you increase your success rate.

First, we’ll look at the best practices for finding different wildlife in Banff. Then, we’ll look at some specific locations you can try to maximise your chances.

where to see wildlife in banff
Exploring the highways and side roads through Banff National Park can be a great way to see wildlife. Photo: depositphotos.com

What animals can you see in Banff National Park?

There are many “big” predators that get a lot of the limelight in Canada, and you may well want to find these on your trip to Banff. But there is a wide variety of wildlife around the national park, and even some animals you may not have considered looking for.

This guidance is geared towards tourists and casual wildlife viewers, rather than professional outdoorsmen and women who know what they are doing around dangerous animals.

If you want to find animals on foot, consider paying a professional photographer or guide to accompany you through the park and teach you about the outdoors. Every year people are killed by wildlife in Canada, and this usually comes from a lack of experience and care.

1. Grizzly bears and black bears

Your best (and safest) chance of seeing a grizzly bear or black bear is from a vehicle. Driving up and down the Icefield Parkway between Banff and Jasper will no doubt result in a bear sighting. This is particularly true if you explore the side roads as well as the main thoroughfare.

where to see wildlife in banff
Black bear foraging for berries in the summer in Banff National Park. Photo: Will Nicholls

The time of day is important for seeing wildlife. Heading out in the early morning and evening will maximise your hit rate, although bears can be seen throughout the day.

Safety around bears

Bears are dangerous animals and it is essential that you take precautions and behave appropriately around them to avoid incidents. Carrying easily accessible bear spray (such as in a holder on your hip, and not with your belt threaded through the ringlet) is paramount if you are going to explore on foot.

If you see a bear from your vehicle, remain in the car and take pictures from an open window. Sometimes you will see tourists getting out of their cars to get a better view. This is never a good idea, and can result in terrible accidents. Bears can move fast if they want to, and the chance of getting back into your car in time is low.

grizzly bear backlit
A backlit grizzly bear. Photo: Will Nicholls

Do not chase or harass wildlife with your car. Instead, think about the direction the bear is travelling naturally and position your vehicle appropriately. If you make a bear run, then you have already pushed it too far.

It’s worth remembering that feeding bears (or leaving food out) is often a death sentence for them, as once a bear learns to approach vehicles or picnic areas they will likely be destroyed by the park rangers for safety reasons.

Bear hibernation during winter

Bears hibernate during the winter season, so you’re not going to have much luck in the colder months.

Exactly when bears go into hibernation varies, but typically they will start to disappear after a big cold snap during October or November. Sometimes, a short-lived cold snap will not be enough to send the larger bears into hibernation. In such cases, they will typically dive for cover once the second cold snap of the winter rolls in.

brown bear
Bear looking out into the distance. Photo: Will Nicholls

Late March or early April sees the bears come out of hibernation as the cold weather subsides. Timings will vary if the climate is not running “to schedule” due to climate shift or particularly mild years.

Important: If you are away from the major trails or high traffic areas, you should ensure you still carry bear spray in the winter. Contrary to belief, a bear does not necessarily stay asleep solidly through the entire winter. Sometimes they are seen stretching their legs, and therefore there is a chance of crossing paths with a bear in the winter.

2. Moose

Another very popular animal to see is the moose. Everyone knows that moose are big, but when you see one in person for the first time you’ll be surprised just how big they are.

Moose are solitary animals, and it is not particularly common to see them. This is because of the large areas in which a moose could be hiding. As soon as it steps away from the road, you will likely not see it. Your best chance is to spot one across a vista from a good viewpoint, or one walking down the side (or middle) of the road.

moose near car in banff
Moose can be known to approach vehicles. It is best to move away before this happens, but if you do find a moose near your car it is important to remain calm and quiet so as not to spook it. Photo: Jill / depositphotos.com

Just as dangerous as bears, if not more, moose are known to have foul tempers and will happily “stomp” anyone they take a dislike to. Therefore, all of the precautions you would take around a bear should be followed around a moose.

Particularly in the winter, moose will be attracted to carparks and vehicles on the road. This is because they like to lick the salt from vehicles, and it is referred to locally as the “Canadian carwash”.

Ideally you will not find yourself in a position where a moose is licking your car whilst you are inside the vehicle. However, if this happens, remain calm and quiet inside the car as the moose will not have seen you. Don’t open windows or turn on the engine as you may spook it, and instead enjoy the moment until the moose moves on.

moose with antlers in banff
A bull moose with antlers in the fall. Photo: woodkern / depositphotos.com

Bull moose (the males) will have antlers in the fall and for most of the winter season. When they fight over territory and mating rights, they joust with these antlers during the rutting season.

Once the rut is over, often in late winter, the moose will violently shake its body and the antlers will break off! They are regrown each year for the rutting season.

3. Elk

If you are looking to see wildlife in Banff, it is almost guaranteed that you will come across elk. This deer species is what makes the iconic bugle sound that echoes through the mountains.

Elk can be seen on the roadside throughout the national park, as well as on the edges of Banff itself. In fact, driving into Banff town you’ll often see elk hanging out on the grassy verges. This is because it’s a safe area from predators with ample grazing nearby.

Banff Springs Golf Course is known to be a good place to look for elk and mule deer. They can often be seen on the grass, especially in the morning and evening time.

Male elk making its bugle call in the fall season. Photo: Jill / depositphotos.com

Elk and the rutting season

Despite being common, elk can still be dangerous. During the rutting season, the males sport huge antlers which are used to fight. If you get too close, they can very easily turn these antlers on you!

There is a popular video making its way around social media of someone fooling around with a vehicle near a male elk. Jeering at the elk, the drive moves forward slowly towards the elk as if playing a game of chicken. The elk simply bows its head and charges the vehicle, piercing the tyre to the satisfying “hiss” of it deflating. The driver is then stranded in the park, requiring roadside assistance.

Even so, the rut is a fantastic spectacle to watch. Listen out for the sound of clashing antlers as you move through the park. This sounds like someone fighting with wooden swords, and will almost always be the sound of two males battling it out.

4. Bighorn sheep

Another iconic animal of the Canadian Rockies, bighorn sheep are always a wonderful sight to behold.

The males have large, curved horns that grow larger as the animal gets older. They do not drop their horns like moose and elk do with antlers.

Male bighorn sheep are called rams and will fight during the mating season. Photo: Jill / depositphotos.com

Bighorn sheep can be seen throughout Banff National Park, but one of the best places is around the village of Radium Hot Springs to the west of Kootenay National Park. In fact, the village even has a giant sculpture of ram horns in the centre of the main roundabout.

Look high and low for bighorn sheep. Often, they will be atop rocky outcrops or sitting underneath trees in the shade.

Males will fight during the fall in what is a particularly dramatic display. They rams will rise up on their hind legs, before coming down and clattering into each other.

5. Pika

A small but very cute relation of the rabbit, and likely the inspiration for Pikachu in Pokémon, the Pika can be seen scurrying about rockfalls foraging for vegetation.

pika near banff
Pika can be seen scurrying around rockslides and foraging for vegetation. Photo: Will Nicholls

These are small animals and give a loud “Piiiik” call. If you’re lucky enough to see one it’ll probably dive for cover at first. But if you sit quietly for a while they should come out and resume foraging.

Pika will be found in large groups, too. These are not solitary animals, and so there are plenty of photography opportunities if you do stumble upon a group.

Where to see wildlife in Banff

We’ve looked at some of the species you can find, including some specific tips for locating them. Now, let’s look at the best place to see wildlife in Banff – including the surrounding areas.

Exploring by road

You have probably worked out by now that the best way to find wildlife in the Canadian Rockies is by using a vehicle. Cars allow you to travel large distances, rather than focusing in on one small area where there may be no animals at all.

It’s a good idea to explore the side roads. Often, these roads will lead to lakes such as Lake Louise or Lake Moraine, as well as hiking trails and viewpoints. Side roads are quieter than the highway, allowing you to travel more slowly without the risk of holding up traffic.

where to see wildlife banff
Exploring the highways by car is one of the best ways to find wildlife whilst moving through Banff National Park. Photo: depositphotos.com

But quiet roads also mean they are more popular with wildlife. Animals often use roads to move through areas simply because they are easier to traverse than navigating thick forest. This is why you have a good chance of seeing animals on the roadside.

One of the best roads near Banff to explore is the 1A – also known as the Bow Valley Parkway – between Lake Louise and Castle Junction. This quiet road has plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities, as well as some great viewpoints such as Morant’s Curve.


If you’re looking for bird life, the forests around lakes are often frequented by eagles and ospreys during the summer. They like to fish from the lakes, and can be spotted swooping high (and sometimes low) through the landscape.

Ravens are large corvids and look particularly beautiful in the winter months with their black feathers against the snow. They can be seen along most roadsides and in carparks. They are also very bold, so it’s worth pulling up near to one and trying to capture some photos.

What is the best time of year to see wildlife in Banff?

You can see wildlife all throughout the year in Banff National Park, although in the winter you won’t find any bears.

For me, I prefer the winter time. This is because of how beautiful the scenery is and the backdrops look so dramatic. It can be harder to find animals in winter, but when you do the photography opportunities are great.

The summer will see more tourists frequenting the park, and that also means more eyes looking for animals. You’ll often come across a “bear jam” to other wildlife related traffic jam. Multiple cars pulled up on the side of the highway usually means an animal is nearby.

So whatever time of year you come, seeing wildlife in Banff is a definite possibility. Just remember that early mornings and evenings are the best time for viewing wildlife, and it’s worth getting out at first light.

In conclusion

Now you know where to see wildlife in Banff, you’ll surely have some good luck within time. Persistence is key.

The most important takeaway, however, really is safety around animals. This is for both you and the animal in question.

Rangers do not want to shoot bears and other wildlife, but they are forced to do so when tourists feed them and encourage dangerous behaviour.

If you’re a photographer, be sure to read this guide on the ethics of wildlife photography and make sure you adhere to the best practices when working around animals.

Now, head out and enjoy the park!