Wildlife of the Canadian Rockies
The park has thousands of elk and you will almost certainly see them wandering around town. Mule deer are also frequently spotted, usually on Mount Norquay or grazing along the Bow Valley Parkway. Moose sightings are rare, but stop by Waterfowl Lake on the Icefields Parkway for a chance to see one wading in the shallows.
Without a lot of effort, you can see red squirrels and ground squirrels scurrying from tree to tree. Big horn sheep are a common sight near Lake Minnewanka and at the top of the Banff Gondola on Sulphur Mountain. Our shaggy white mountain goats prefer a more remote habitat, though you might see some along the Icefields Parkway, where they gather to lick minerals from the road.
Cougars and lynx live in Banff National Park, though both cats are rarely seen. Coyote sightings are more frequent: you’ve spotted one if you see what looks like a lean gray dog patrolling near Vermilion Lakes. You’ve seen a wolf if the animal is a bit larger and has a wider muzzle.
Banff’s subalpine forest and rocky terrain is ideal for Grizzly bears. There are actually more Grizzlies than black bears in the Park, though black bears live closer to people and are seen more often, especially near the Saskatchewan Crossing. Both black and Grizzly bears hibernate in the winter and are most active in the spring and fall.
There are 260 bird species in Banff, including great owls, osprey, Canada geese and many kinds of waterfowl and songbirds. The bald eagle is always a thrilling sight—spot them nesting around Vermilion Lakes in the spring and early summer.
Wolves were reintroduced to Banff in 1982 after a 50-year absence. Today there are about 45 wolves in Banff National Park, living in five different groups or packs. One of these packs resides in the area between Banff and Lake Louise, and its members are sometimes spotted trotting alongside the Bow Valley Parkway.
The hoary marmot is the largest rodent in Banff, often reaching up to 14 kilograms (30 pounds). Marmots prefer alpine regions above 2,150 metres (7,000 feet), and can be found at the top of Sulphur Mountain, near the Plain of the Six Glaciers and at the Cascade Amphitheatre.
Elk, or Wapiti, are the most frequently seen large mammals in the Park. Male elk can weigh up to 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) and have massive antlers, which they use to fight each other for dominance. Every fall the elk shed these antlers and then grow new ones in the spring.
Black bears are not always black—their coats can also be cream or brown. It’s still easy to tell black bears from Grizzlies, as Grizzly bears have rounder faces and large humps of muscle on their backs. Grizzlies are also much larger than black bears, sometimes reaching 350 kilograms (770) pounds) or more.