You don’t need to hop on a plane to embark on a wildlife adventure. Not when 587 species of mammals, birds and fish live in Alberta’s extensive parks and natural areas. Check out these prime spots for wildlife viewing close to Calgary and learn a little about conservation while you’re at it.
Grizzlies at Louise
It’s one thing to see a grizzly on the side of the highway, but it’s quite another to see this mighty bear beneath your dangling legs. Take the gondola at Lake Louise Ski Resort during the summer months and see if you can’t spot several grizzlies foraging through the meadow. At the top, you can hike with a guide, strike out on your own or chow down at Whitehorn Bistro, one of the best restaurants in the Bow Valley. lakelouisegondola.com
Moose at Mount Engadine Lodge
You’ve gotta love a backcountry lodge that takes zero hiking to get to. Even if you’re not staying overnight (though you really should!), visitors can pop in for afternoon tea or Strudel Sunday at Mount Engadine Lodge. Mosey onto their massive patio to watch moose meandering through the meadow during the summer months. Wildlife are most active at dusk, and reservations for dinner are required 24-hours in advance. Call 403-678-4080 to book in. mountengadine.com
Wildlife Safari in Banff
It seems super touristy to take a coach tour to spot wildlife, and it is, but the guides with Discover Banff Tours know just where to find them. The best time to view animals in their natural environment is early evening, so it’s worth going on a 5:30, 6:30 or 7:30 pm Evening Wildlife Safari. In addition to safe views of several Rocky Mountain species, interpretive tours deliver a natural history lesson on the sly (read: not a snoozer for kids). The best part? Tours are free for children aged five and under. banfftours.com
Bison in Waterton
If it’s bison you’re after, cruise through the herd situated in Bison Paddock Loop Road in Waterton Lakes National Park. It’s a short drive through the paddock, but this self-guided safari brings you right up to bison grazing in their natural grasslands habitat.
Discovery Wildlife Park
A 90-acre zoo situated near Innisfail, Discovery Wildlife Park cares for over 40 orphaned species. Their new campground offers 65 powered sites and an opportunity to listen to the call of the wild all night long. Children over the age of six can walk with wolves or learn how to care for cats on guided tours, plus there are tons of animal presentations on tap throughout the day. This facility is open from May to October. discoverywildlifepark.com
Bison at Elk Island National Park
A short drive from Edmonton, Elk Island National Park played a key role in bringing bison back from the brink of extinction. So many bison roam around this park, it’s not uncommon to get stuck in a bison traffic jam (for real!). Families do well taking a bison backstage tour at their handling facility and camping overnight in an oTENTik. pc.gc.ca/elkisland
Grizzly at Golden
Just outside the town of Golden lies Kicking Horse Resort, and the largest enclosed grizzly bear habitat in the world. Boo is an orphaned bear who now calls the 20-acre Kicking Horse Grizzly Bear Refuge home. Families can learn about bear behaviour during interpretive tours, and can assist a refuge ranger with behind the scenes experiences. After your adventures, be sure to check out the kid’s playground located in the parking lot in front of the main lodge. kickinghorseresort.com
Big Horn Sheep in Radium
A herd of 140 big horn sheep traipse around this town best known for its thermal hot springs. (Pro tip: bring your swimsuit!) It’s just under a three hour drive to get to Radium from Calgary, but accommodation is much less expensive than what you’d find in Banff. Fall is when rutting season begins, but when two males cross paths, it’s not unusual to glimpse some spectacular head banging. Remember to always keep your distance, kids. radiumhotsprings.com
Wolf Dogs near Cochrane
Families can learn about wild wolves and the role they play in Alberta’s ecosystem at the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary. Open year round, this not for profit rescue centre allows visitors (over six-years-old) to sit with and feed the wolf dogs during guided tours. Interactive tours require advance booking, but drop-ins are welcome for Sanctuary and Intro Tours. Note: the facility is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. yamnuskawolfdogsanctuary.com
Can’t make it out of the city? Get a glimpse of local wildlife at the Canada Wilds exhibit at the Calgary Zoo. Here, you’ll come face to face with cougars, caribou, bison, bears, bighorn sheep and mountain goats. Afterwards, be sure to checkout the recently opened Land of Lemurs exhibit.