Underneath a bear’s cuddly-looking exterior lies a powerful beast with enormous muscles, teeth, and paws that can rip their prey to shreds within seconds. Bears are one of the largest mammals on earth, and one thing’s for sure – an encounter with a grizzly bear or two in the heart of Canada’s wilderness is an exhilarating experience.
What type of bears might you see in Canada?
Canada has three species of bear; the American Black Bear, the Polar Bear and the Brown Bear (or the Grizzly Bear as it’s also called).
American Black Bear
The Black Bear is the smallest of these three species, and the most common, although they can only be found in North America. Black bears love climbing, and are quite fearless when it comes to heights, for they can often be spotted quite high up among tree branches! They’re great swimmers, and although they tend to lumber around slowly, they are capable of running at speeds of around 25-30mph.
Interestingly, not all black bears are black. You may see a brown, grey, blonde or even white bear of this variety in British Columbia.
Polar bears are considered the largest land carnivores in North America and can weigh between 400-600kg. The Polar Bear’s notable white coat helps it to blend in with its snowy surroundings, both to hide from predators and to stalk its prey which is mainly bearded and rimmed seals.
Polar bears are classed as marine mammals. They’re known for their swimming skills, reaching speeds of up over 6mph. They use their powerful front paws to propel themselves through the water, trailing their rear paws behind them, almost like a rudder. They can cover a distance of around 55 miles before stopping to rest. The Polar Bear is considered an endangered species in the U.S.
Brown bears can be found in Canada, the U.S., Europe, and Asia. One of their physical characteristics is their “shoulder hump” – something that sets them apart from other brown bears. Their strong shoulder muscles, and their impressive claws are used for digging dens and tearing apart logs to find food.
Some of the largest brown bears live in coastal British Columbia. They can grow to be over 300kg in weight and approximately 5-8ft in size. Though large animals, brown bears can move quickly, even at speeds of up to 30mph.
Best national parks for bear watching
Jasper National Park
Covering more than 4,200 square miles, Jasper National Park is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies (in the province of Alberta). It’s home to a fantastic array of Canadian mammals, including moose, deer, coyotes, caribou, wolves, black bears, and grizzly bears. The bird species at this National Park include bald eagles, great horned owls, golden eagles, and bohemian waxwings.
Jasper National Park was founded in 1907. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, along with the three other national (and three provincial) parks that form the Canadian Rocky Mountains Parks.
Banff National Park
Dating back to 1885, Banff National Park is the oldest national park in Canada. Again located in the Rocky Mountains, Banff consists of more than 2,500 square miles of stunning mountainous landscapes. In the summer months, you may see elk, coyotes, bighorn sheep, beavers, and both black bears and grizzly bears.
Many of the park’s bears prefer to reside high up in the mountains. One of the best ways to spot bears within this park is via the Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola, a relaxing 14-minute ride, where you can also check out the spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains and the surrounding flora and fauna.
Wapusk National Park
Located in Manitoba, Wapusk National Park is home to snowy Cape Churchill, a fantastic place to see and photograph polar bears (and their tiny cubs). Wapusk was established in 1996 and is relatively remote – the only way to access Cape Churchill, for example, is by helicopter or via a Tundra Buggy (an all-terrain vehicle that can cope with the region’s climate).
Other wildlife you might see at Wapusk National Park includes moose, wolves, caribou, foxes and many rare and beautiful birds.
Bear watching tours
We offer two fantastic escorted motorhome tours around Canada – one of them, BC and the Canadian Rockies, incorporates a visit to Jasper National Park, Mt Robson Provincial Park, Banff National Park, and Whistler Blackcomb mountain.
Whistler bear tours
Whistler Blackcomb is situated in the awe-inspiring Coast Mountains of British Columbia. Known for its epic skiing and snowboarding activities, Whistler Blackcomb is one of the best places in Canada to spot black bears and cubs.
As well as a gondola trip up the mountain, you can take a guided tour through the ski area habitats in a 4x4 vehicle, where you can do some bear watching from a safe distance. Additionally, you can walk to the bears’ feeding sites and check out some of the forests that bears use for hibernating during winter.
Things to know before you embark on your bear watching trip
The climate varies in Canada, so make sure to research the expected weather conditions before travelling. Take comfortable clothing with you and plenty of layers that you can take off or put back on when you need to.
In the Canadian Rockies, it can rain in the summer months, and temperatures may drop at night. If you’re heading out to Cape Churchill, you’ll need winter clothing that’s insulated, along with hats, gloves, and thermal socks. Wear comfy shoes that are suitable for hiking should you decide to take part in any walks or trails, and pack a lightweight waterproof jacket too.
You might want to take some snacks and drinks on your trip, along with your camera, ready for capturing the sights of those awe-inspiring bears. Consider taking bear protection spray with you (which you can buy online at Amazon), in the unlikely event that you’ll see a bear that’s too close for comfort. For more information on safety around wild animals view our Canada travel factsheet.