When visiting Banff, the best place for seeing, watching and photographing wildlife are along Vermilion Lakes Drive, the Bow Valley Barkway and the Icefields Parkway early in the morning or later in the evening. Overall the best times to wildlife watch are the slower tourist seasons which are fall and the spring. In total, Banff National Park has a total of 56 recorded mammal species including grizzly and black bears who are commonly found in the forested regions as well as cougar, lynx, wolverine, northern river otter, and wolves to name a few.
The population of black bear in Banff National Park is continuingly threatened with only 35 – 40 bear left. That being said, black bear sightings are still common in the spring and summer and are mostly made along the Bow Valley Parkway and the Trans-Canada Highway between Banff and Lake Louise. Black bear go into hibernation in October and usually don’t emerge until the end of April or early May. To most people’s surprise, there are more grizzly bears in Banff than black bears. Researchers estimate a total of 70 grizzlies in Banff National Park. While sighting grizzlies is a rare occasion, the best place to find these great bears are along the Bow Valley Parkway or Icefields Parkway.
Banff has a very robust elk population numbering in the thousands and they are commonly found in the valleys of the park with mule deer and white-tailed deer. Vermilion Lakes Drive, the Buffalo Paddock and The Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course are the best places to view these species. Often, they venture into the town of Banff to enjoy eating the greenery in local’s backyards and escaping the predators they would typically face anywhere else in the park.
It’s a rare occasion to see moose that tend to be more elusive, staying mostly in the wetland areas and by streams deep in the forest. As well, moose are on the decline in Banff National Park, due to in part a deadly liver fluke and the return of wolves after a long absence. There have also been an unnaturally high number of deaths on railways and highways. Moose sightings have been reported in and around the ponds and lakes of the Icefields Parkway in the northern part of the park.
The mountain caribou’s population is also dwindling. Their range in Banff National Park consists of a small heard of 10 -15 who live northeast of Lake Louise. They are rarely sightings in Banff; however, sightings have mostly been made in Jasper National Park.
Bighorn sheep, mountain goats, marmots and pika are widespread throughout the alpine regions. Bighorn sheep are easily sighted throughout the park, and are most commonly seen along the Bow Valley Parkway at Backswamp, on Mount Norquay and Lake Minnewanka roads, and at the top of Sulphur Mountain which you can reach via the gondola ride. The largest of the rams are easier to find in the winter months when they are at lower elevations. In the summer they venture up to the high alpine meadows which require a day of hiking. While Banff National Park has a robust population of mountain goats, there are not a lot of easily accessible places to view them. When looking for mountain goats you must look up to the high cliffs along the Icefields Parkway or take a hike to Bourgeau Lake where many herds call home.