When people think of Canada and wildlife, their mind tends to go to one animal in particular: the beaver. While we do love that furry little lumberjack, the country’s wildlife viewing extends well beyond our buck-toothed national icon. In fact, Canada has some of the most unique and extreme wildlife experiences in the world.
Here are six breathtaking Canadian wildlife experiences that will leave you with the memory of a lifetime.
Spot Kermode (spirit) bears in British Columbia
The magical Princess Royal Island in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest is home to the rare Kermode (Spirit) bear, a subspecies of black bear found only in this part of the world and the official mammal of B.C. About 10 percent of the black bears born in this area carry a recessive gene that gives them a naturally white or cream coat. Dubbed moskgm'ol by the local Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nations, the elusive bears inspired generations of Aboriginal myths.
Join a tour on land or by boat and head into the rainforest for a wilderness adventure. When you finally come across a spirit bear in the wild, you’ll be awed by the sight of its massive white coat moving among of the evergreens. Don’t forget your camera.
When: June to October
Where: Princess Royal Island in the Great Bear Rainforest
Live alongside belugas in Nunavut
Every year, playful beluga whales squeak and splash, congregating in pods at the mouth of several Nunavut rivers for five weeks in the summer. Seeing the stark white whales emerge from the blue waters of the Arctic is something that can only be fully appreciated in person.
Local guides in the communities of Arviat, Chesterfield Inlet, Rankin Inlet, and Whale Cove can take you out to see belugas on land or by boat. But if you really want the absolute best beluga-watching experience, pay a visit to Arctic Watch. At this incredible camp in the remote Cunningham Inlet, some 2,000 beluga whales play, molt, mate, and nurse their young just offshore. Nowhere else in the world do more whales gather so consistently. You can literally walk 15 minutes, set up a camera, and take pictures of hundreds and hundreds of whales, or climb a special tower and photograph them from above. You just won’t beat this beluga-viewing.
Where: Cunningham Inlet, Somerset Island
Operator: Arctic Watch
Cross paths with 150,000 caribou in the Yukon
Every year, well over 150,000 Porcupine Caribou thunder through the Yukon’s Vuntut National Park, representing one of the largest mass migrations on earth. In the spring, the pregnant cows rush towards Alaska, trying to make it there before they calve. Then in the summer, the mosquitos drive them back inland into the Yukon.
During this mass migration, the caribou pass quite near to the village of Old Crow. Though many locals will provide wildlife tours and can get you even closer to the action, you really don’t need to join a tour to observe this incredible migration. You just have to make the trek to this remote area, with your binoculars, camera, and sense of adventure in tow.
When: Spring and fall months
Where: Vuntut National Park
Marvel at polar bears in Manitoba
When it comes to Northern animals, one always stands above the rest: the polar bear. Seeing one of these legendary, powerful creatures in the wild is an experience that’s impossible to forget, and your best chance to do so is probably in Churchill, Manitoba. Nicknamed “The Polar Bear Capital of the World,” Churchill lies on the migratory path of these incredible animals, where the boreal forest meets the tundra and the Hudson Bay, and offers prime polar bear-viewing for much of the year.
Whether you want to photograph polar bears from a distance as they frolic in the flowers, get face-to-face with them in the comfort and safety of a Tundra Buggy®, or watch them pack it in and head underground for the winter, there’s a tour out there for you.
When: Year round, but best viewing is often from October-November
Cuddle up to baby seals in Quebec
Quebec’s Magdalen Islands are more than just beach destination. The collection of eight islands attracts hundreds of thousands of harp seals for two to three weeks every single winter. The furry, silver-gray seals are pretty friendly, and you can get right up close and personal with the unbearably cute pups.
Travel by boat or helicopter right into the seals’ habitat until you’re brushing shoulders with the newborn “whitecoats.” Seeing the massive herd of harp seals out on the ice floes is a remarkable experience, but nothing compares to looking right into the big black eyes of a pup. You won’t be able to contain your “aww!”
Where: The Magdalen Islands
Share the water with whales in Atlantic Canada
Over 20 species of whales travel along the East Coast of Canada, making it one of the best places in the world to get close to these incredible marine mammals. Everything from blue whales, to humpbacks, to orcas can be observed in their summer habitats along the Atlantic coast.
There are so many different ways to share the water with these whales. You can hop on a boat — be it a fast-moving inflatable, an old-school tall ship, or a modern cruiser — and enjoy incredible photo opportunities. You can head out in a kayak and feel the spray of a whale spout from only yards away. You can even strap on a snorkel and bob in the Atlantic, sharing the water with these magnificent and curious animals.
When: May to October
Where: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador
Love to experience the wild? Check out one national park in every province and territory that's worth a visit.