Spotting a bear in the wild is a thrill. But it's not easy and safety should always be the top concern—both your own safety and the bear's. And it's important for visitors to understand the realities of wildlife in Banff.
You probably have questions about seeing bears in Banff. Here are some helpful answers!
Where can I see a bear in Banff?
Seeing a bear in the wild is a rare and treasured experience. If you are determined and you are aware of all the safety precautions (see below), you may count yourself among the lucky visitors who see wild bears in Banff. A few good spots to potentially see bears in the wild include the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A) and the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93-N).
When is the best time to see bears in Banff?
Your chances are always greatest of spotting wildlife at dawn or dusk. Get up early to catch animals including bears during their active feeding hours. Bears are generally out of hibernation from early April through November.
How can I be safe when exploring bear country in Banff National Park?
Bears are solitary, wary and sensitive to human activity. They can be dangerous. The safest bet is to avoid encounters with them altogether—both for their sake and yours.
Here are a few ways to avoid an encounter while out hiking or biking in the mountains, as suggested by Parks Canada:
- Carry bear spray in an accessible location on your body, and read the instructions before you go. Know how to use it properly!
- Look for signs of bears in your vicinity (poop, tracks, turned-over rocks or logs). Leave the area immediately if the signs are fresh.
- Make noise (call, sing, talk loudly) especially near dense vegetation or streams. We like to yell "Hey there bear!" as we go along the trail a couple of times every minute.
- Travel on marked trails and in large, tight groups of at least four. Stay together at all times.
- Do not let children wander alone.
What if I see a bear in the Banff backcountry?
If you run into a bear, stop where you are and remain calm. Get ready to use your bear spray. Do not run away. Move away slowly and carefully. For a full rundown of the important steps to take if and when you see a bear, follow these instructions from Parks Canada.
What if I see a bear by the road? What's a bear jam?
It's exciting to spot a bear. Slow down but maintain a respectful distance. For the bear's sake, consider not stopping and letting it forge and feed at its will. Be aware of traffic. Remain in your car. And never, ever feed a bear. Follow Parks Canada's tips for what we call 'bear jams' around here (it's a traffic jam caused by people viewing a bear on the road from inside their cars and it can be a real problem).
Photo: Times have changed in Banff National Park. Parks Canada recommends viewing bears only from the safety of your vehicle.
Is it a black bear or a Grizzly?
It’s pretty easy to identify a Grizzly, if you happen to see one. You may already know that colour is not an indicator. Grizzlies can be black; black bears can be white. Both species come in many colours. The most noticeable differences between black bears and Grizzlies are in their snout and back. Here are the key differences:
- Grizzlies have a hump between their shoulders and a rounded “dished” face. Black bears have a longer snout and bigger ears.
- If you spot a bear track, you’ll know it’s a Grizzly if it shows prominent claw marks (at least 5 cm or 2 inches from the toes); their claws are longer than a black bear’s.
- Size matters. Male Grizzlies can be up to twice as large as a male black bear (up to 300 kg or 661 lbs).
Are there many bears in Banff these days?
While the Prairie population of Grizzly bears is locally extinct in Alberta, according to Parks Canada there are around 20,000 Grizzlies in western Alberta, the Yukon, Northwest Territories and British Columbia.
- There are roughly 65 Grizzly bears in Banff National Park (6,641 km2 or 2,500 sq. miles). Jasper has around the same amount, relative to size of the park: about 109 Grizzlies, across 10,878 km2 or 4,200 sq. miles.
- The species is threatened in Alberta mainly due to habitat loss caused by human population and activity.
- These mammals have very low reproductive rates relative to other land mammals. Female bears in the mountain parks birth infrequently, at every four to five years.
Are there bears in the town of Banff?
Bears on Banff Avenue? Maybe not, but bears have a keen sense of smell and certain attractants like food, or just the smell of food and garbage, is enough to draw a bear into residential neighbourhoods. The Town of Banff and Hamlet of Lake Louise take bear safety very seriously. As a visitor, it's important that you do as well. Take a few precautions to protect both bears and humans:
- Make all food and garbage inaccessible to bears.
- Use wildlife-proof bins for disposing of all garbage and recycling, making sure the doors on these bins close completely.
- Never leave any food waste, recycling or food wrappers out where bears can smell and track them.
Learn more about bears in Banff
Make a stop at the Parks Canada Information Centres in Banff, Lake Louise, Field, BC or Jasper and ask all the questions you can think of about bears and bear safety. It's extremely important to be educated, in order to protect both bears and yourselves.
For more information visit Parks Canada online.