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20 of Canada’s wildest animal encounters

by Adam Bisby

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Sometimes the zoo just won’t do. Few thrills compare with seeing graceful, majestic, ferocious, or adorable wild animals in their native Canadian habitats, and for the best ways and places to watch them run, soar, swim and climb, read on!

Spot the spirit bear

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The Spirit Bear Lodge, set right in the heart of B.C.’s remote Great Bear Rainforest, is the ideal starting point for catching a glimpse of these rare white-coated black bears. The highest concentration of the animal is found in the 6.4 million-hectare coastal region, after all, and the lodge offers a range of wildlife excursions that focus on bear-watching in the fall, when the beasts gather to feed on migrating salmon.

Canoe past moose

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Algonquin Adventure Tours’ canoe-camping safaris in its namesake provincial park provide plenty of opportunities to spot the largest member of the deer family in its verdant natural habitat.

Cruise past puffins

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With 500,000-plus adorable Atlantic puffins calling Newfoundland’s Witless Bay Ecological Reserve home, it’s no wonder several tour companies offer cruises from mainland communities to the four-island sanctuary.

Snorkel with beluga whales

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To get as close as possible to the Arctic’s rare and beautiful belugas, several tour operators based in Churchill, Manitoba, offer summer snorkel excursions where guests don dry suits and are towed behind a small boat to watch pods of the curious whales follow along behind.

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See thousands of slithering snakes

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If you’ve watched Snakes on a Plane and Anaconda too many times to count, listen up: each spring at Manitoba’s Narcisse Snake Dens, you can observe tens of thousands of red-sided garters as they emerge from their underground winter lairs for a two- to three-week mating frenzy.

Wonder at wild horses

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Sable Island, a slender sandbar 180 kilometres southeast of Nova Scotia, is famous for the feral horses that were introduced to the island centuries ago and are now protected by law from human interference. These days, air charters and boat tours carry visitors to Sable.

Trundle past polar bears

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Each fall, the world’s largest land carnivore migrates across the tundra surrounding Churchill, Manitoba. This prompted Frontiers North Adventures to develop tractor-wheeled “tundra buggies” so visitors can view the bears safely. There’s even a “Tundra Buggy Lodge” for overnight stays, with portable “modules” containing bunks, showers, and dining facilities.

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Kayak past killer whales

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Human access to the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve off Vancouver Island isn’t allowed, as the 5,460-hectare sanctuary is reserved for orcas. Of course, killer whales don’t care about park boundaries, so there are plenty of them in the surrounding waters — along with tour companies offering a variety of guided kayak trips.

Raft past bald eagles

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The Squamish River north of Vancouver is home to the world’s largest population of wintering bald eagles, with hundreds of the majestic birds flying in to feed on salmon. Because the eagles cluster along the river, what better way to see them than on a guided rafting trip?

Hone in on humpback whales

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Famous for their elaborate courtship songs and displays, these enormous marine mammals thrive in the Bay of Fundy. And like other whales — minke, Atlantic right, and finback — as well as seals and myriad sea birds, they can be spotted from Fundy Tide Runners’ 12-seat Zodiac Hurricanes.

Marvel at mountain goats

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On cliffs along the spectacular Icefield Parkway between Banff and Jasper national parks, herds of hairy, horned, and bearded mountain goats show off their incredible mountaineering skills to passing drivers. Fun fact: they’re not actually goats, but a species of mountain antelope.

Honk at bighorn sheep

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With rams sporting impressive spiral-shaped horns — hence the animal’s name — it’s no wonder these ungulates sometimes cause traffic jams in Banff National Park when visitors pull over to snap photos.

Wander past wood bison

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For decades, Alberta’s Elk Island National Park has played a key role in protecting North America’s wood bison population. These days, the refuge is home to more than 800 wood and plain bison, which should be viewed from a safe distance of at least 100 metres.

Witness the caribou migration

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As one of North America’s widest-ranging land mammals, barren-ground caribou migrate hundreds of kilometres to their Arctic calving grounds. A day trip to see the enormous herds from Nunavut’s Arctic Haven Wilderness Lodge is just one of many tour options.

Howl with wolves

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At the Parc Mahikan wildlife observation centre in the boreal forest surrounding Girardville, Quebec, visitors can come face-to-face with normally elusive wolves and even interact with the largest member of the dog family.

See salmon complete their cycle

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Every four years, a “dominant” sockeye salmon run takes place in the Adams River east of Kamloops, B.C. In early October on these years — and 2018 happens to be one of them — millions of huge fish can be observed spawning, and then dying, in the chilly waters that flow through Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park.

Jet ski past seals and sea lions

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The 2.5-hour Ocean is Yours Tour by Vancouver Water Adventures lets guests zip across the Pacific on Seadoo GTI 130s to view seals and sea lions around Bowen Island, as well as at the Pam Rocks seal colony.

Twitch to your heart’s content

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Jutting seven kilometres into Lake Erie, Point Pelee National Park is much more than Canada’s southernmost point. It lures busloads of birdwatchers — aka “twitchers” — to an intricate network of trails and boardwalks that winds through serene marshland teeming with some 360 bird species.

Mingle with musk oxen

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This shaggy-haired and incredibly hardy relative of the mountain goat can be spotted in its native habitat on remote Somerset Island, Nunavut, on guided tours with Weber Arctic.

Get your grizzly on

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B.C.’s remote Knight Inlet is home to many grizzlies, which makes its eponymous lodge an ideal option for spotting them. In the fall, guests can watch from viewing platforms near spawning channels as grizzlies catch salmon in the Glendale River.

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