This page gives an overview of the most impressive and most visited parks in Canada, mostly situated on the west of Canada. The most well-known are the Canadian Rockies (Canadian Rocky Mountains). This consists of a couple of national parks and provincial parks. Going from South to North, the famous national parks are Waterton Lakes National Park, Kootenays National Park, Banff National Park, Yoho National Park, Jasper National Park & Mount Robson Provincial Park.
Some activities you can do in these parks: backpacking, boating, mountaineering, horseback riding, and fishing. In winter, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding, and ice skating are popular activities.
Waterton Lakes National Park
Waterton Lakes National Park is the smallest national park in the Canadian Rockies (525 km²) and was formed in 1895 (Canada’s fourth national park). It’s found in the very southwest corner of Alberta. The national park borders British Columbia (B.C.) to the west and Glacier National Park, Montana, USA, to the south. The park has a very special location as the prairies and the mountains meet very abruptly. With a lot of different habitats comes a variety of species. Waterton Lakes National Park offers a lot of opportunities to view wildlife: two parkways, numerous look-out points, a variety of hiking trails, boat trips, …
The Visitor Centre is situated just before you enter Waterton Townsite. Around Waterton Town, you could see already quite some animals, and sightings of all the ungulates (mule deer, white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, elk & moose) are not that rare. From camera trap footage, researchers figured out there are a couple of cougars rooming around the town at night as well. Although these elusive predators are very hard to see, definitely during winter, Waterton might be one of your best bets. Besides all the wildlife, the scenery in Waterton Lakes National Park is spectacular.
- Bison paddock: Near Pincher Creek entrance from Highway 6, you can find this drive-through bison paddock with during the summer time a number of bison.
- Red Rock Parkway: A very good, if not the best, route to watch wildlife (Closed in winter to vehicles to help protect wildlife)
- Maskinonge & Lower Waterton Lake: birdwatching hotspot (apparently one of the best in the Canadian Rockies), definitely during migration, as it’s situated both on the Pacific and Central migration flyways.
- Grizzly bear viewing deck: It’s a viewing deck situated along the Cameron lake at the end of Akamina Parkway. It’s a 1.5 km trail. No grizzly sightings guaranteed, but it definitely has a nice scenery!
- Waterton Town: good for birdwatching and easy spotting of wildlife. A high density of ungulates around. Mule deer and bighorn sheep come into town year-round. And where there is prey, there are predators like cougars.
- Boat trips along Upper Waterton Lake
Official website: https://mywaterton.ca/
National Geographic: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/parks/waterton-lakes-canada-park/
Kootenay National Park
Kootenay National Park was established in 1920, as a kind of compensation for the construction of the Banff-Windermere Highway. The park has a variety of ecosystems. The mountain goat is the symbol of the park and is quite abundant. It’s a very scenic route with views on nice ridges. A lot of wildlife can be found here, and sadly the road through the park is known as one of the places with a lot of wildlife-vehicle collisions. The long straight road is also a good place to see wolves.
- Overall a good road to spot wildlife
Kananaskis Country is a diverse multi-use region. I’ve included it here, as I have seen quite some wildlife in this area. It’s situated south of Canmore on the east side of the Rocky Mountains. Highway 40 is known for Grizzly bear activity. Along the Smith-Dorrien Road are some lakes good for birding. Along this road, you can find the Mount Shark Parking place. From here you can start hiking towards Mount Assiniboine (which is in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park). For the experience during this hike (and others), check my blog post. In the Kananaskis Country, trails are often closed due to grizzly bears (or at least some warning signs.
- Parking Mount Shark: for a multi-day hike to Mount Assiniboine.
- Crossing Smith-Dorrien Road & Highway 40: bighorn sheep, deer.
- Highway 40: Good for spotting wildlife, including moose, black bear, Grizzly bear, coyote, bighorn sheep. Grizzly bear hot spot south of the above crossing.
Banff National Park
Banff National Park is the oldest and most famous park in Canada. It’s situated ‘in the middle’ of the Canadian Rocky Mountain parks. It has two nice roads: The Icefields Parkway and the Bow Valley Parkway. Look around, as there are several underpasses and overpasses for wildlife to cross the 2 roads. Banff can be quite busy (as can be the other parks). Banff has over 1 500 km of tails, so escaping to the remote places is always an option. Besides wildlife, the scenery is great. One of the most famous places must be Lake Louise.
- Banff Park Museum: Easy to get yourself familiar with the local wildlife.
- Icefield Parkway & Bow Valley Parkway: Watch for all kinds of wildlife.
- Lake Louise: Magnificent view (together with a lot of tourists) and Columbian ground squirrels.
Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park can be found on the west-side of the Continental divide in B.C. and borders with Banff and Kootenay National Parks. Yoho is a native word that apparently means something like ‘wow, incredible, awesome, cool’, … Not sure if I need to say more. Yoho National Park is characterised by large peaks and thunderous waterfalls. Yoho National Park is most famous for its past (some 530 million years ago). The Burgess Shale Fossil Beds is one of the most famous fossil sites in the world, situated high above the Emerald Lake. One of the other famous lakes is Lake O-hara.
- Burgess Pass: Fossils and Mountain goats
- Yoho National Park has a high density of Mountain goats. Scan the mountain slopes.
- Porcupines are often seen around Yoho.
- Large waterfalls
Jasper National Park
Jasper National Park is situated on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains in west-central Alberta. This park is the largest park in the Canadian Rockies. There are a variety of habitats, but the Athabasca Valley montane forests and grasslands, which is an excellent place to find elk, deer, and bighorn sheep. There is about 1 000 km of hiking trails and the Icefield Parkway and Maligne Road are excellent places to watch wildlife. In the ‘true wilderness’ parts of the park, there are possibilities to observe woodland caribou, wolves, and wolverines.
The Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Icefields are part of Jasper National park. They are large areas of ice and are impressive to see. Besides icefields, there are also a couple of hot springs in the area. Miette hot springs are one of the more famous ones.
- Town of Jasper: Around Jasper are great birding opportunities. Elk and bighorn sheep are also frequently seen on the town edges.
- Icefield Parkway: Wildlife viewing opportunities along the way (‘Goats & Glacier viewpoint)
- Maligne Road: During winter you might have a chance of seeing some woodland caribou here.
- Disaster Point mineral lick: Along the Yellowhead Highway from Jasper toward Hinton. Slow down, mountain goats are often seen here.
Mount Robson Provincial Park
Mount Robson Provincial Park is named after the highest peak of the Canadian Rockies (Mount Robson – 3 954m) and is one of B.C.’s oldest and largest provincial parks. It can be found at the northeast border of Jasper National Park. The park is characterized by rugged peaks and extensive marshes and lakes.
The Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16) is going straight through the park and gives a lot of opportunities to explore the area. The Visitor Centre is situated near the western park boundaries. The marshes and lakes are a hotspot for moose observations. The Mount Robson Provincial Park is known for the migration of the Chinook salmon from late July till early September (although the spot is not in the park itself.
- Rearguard Falls: migration of Chinook salmon from late July to early September. The falls are situated 10 km west of the west park entrance.
- Visitor Centre: Mountain goats can be viewed with binoculars or spotting scope on the slopes. Far away.
- Moose lake & March: Watch for moose and birds.