Yrene lives in the Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada, and is the founder of BackcountryCanadaTravel.com. She was born in Switzerland, lived and worked on different continents and has travelled the world. Yes, that's me, an Entrepreneur, wilderness nut and animal lover who prefers off-the-beaten-track places. I write about things I love. Mostely.
10 Best Wildlife Viewing Sites In The North
Wildlife is a big part of Canada’s wilderness. Find out about the 10 best Wildlife Viewing Sites in Northern Canada before planning your trip.
1. Polar Bears
Easily one of the best viewing places is around Hudson Bay near Churchill, Manitoba. The perfect time to visit is in October and November when the bay is about to freeze over for winter. Freezing signals the hunting season.
Churchill is known as ‘the polar bear capital of the world which is no surprise. Dozens of bears come up from the south of the bay in search of the first freeze over and gather around Churchill, Manitoba. For many wildlife enthusiasts, there is nothing quite like seeing polar bears in their natural habitat.
The local outfitters are geared up for this event. You can choose many different ways to see Churchill’s polar bears. Unique tundra vehicles are used to take out passengers and protect passengers from curious or hungry bears. You can stay in a wilderness lodge near the bears’ migration route. Maybe you want to canoe Seal River or take guided walks to areas where the bears are at.
In summer, an equally impressive natural event occurs near Churchill. Some 3,500 beluga whales return to the estuary where the Churchill River flows into Hudson Bay. Churchill can be easily reached by plane or train.
Another amazing place to view polar bears is Wager Bay in Nunavut. Regularly scheduled flights to Rankin Inlet are available. Facilities are more limited than in Churchill.
2. Wood Bison
Two places in the Northwest Territories come to my mind when it comes to an encounter with the largest land mammal in North America.
Wood Buffalo is Canada’s largest national park. Larger than Switzerland, it sprawls across northeastern Alberta and into the southern part of the Northwest Territories. It is home to incredible numbers of free-ranging buffalo. Wood Buffalo is also a breeding place for the endangered whooping crane and the peregrine falcon. No wonder this amazing place is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Guides and outfitters can be organized from Fort Smith, NWT.
MacKenzie Bison Sanctuary near Fort Providence in NWT is another place to consider visiting. The numbers of the Mackenzie Herd are ranging from 2000 to 3000 buffalo. However, you might get the best viewing along the main highway between Fort Providence and Yellowknife.
Both parks can be reached by plane or by road. Limited facilities are available.
3. Grizzly Bears
The best place to view grizzly bears might be Dalton Post on the Tatshenshini River during August, September, or October. This is the time when the bears come down from the hills to feed on the spawning salmon. Three species of salmon are running the river, making the river the perfect feeding place for Grizzlies.
Outfitters in Haines Junction, Yukon offer wildlife and grizzly-watching tours. Haines Junction can be reached by road or air.
4. Dall’s Sheep
Kluane National Park in the Yukon is a good place to see Dall’s sheep. The closest town to Kluane National Park is Haines Junction. Haines Junction is a true wilderness town, surrounded by a beautiful and rugged landscape.
5. Musk Oxen
If Musk oxen viewing is on your travel list, you have to visit Cambridge Bay in Nunavut for this. You will see musk oxen on the edge of the town most days. These big furry beasts are fairly timid in summer before the rut.
The community of Cambridge Bay is located on the southeast coast of Victoria Island. It is the largest stop for passenger and research vessels traversing the Northwest Passage. This ancestral region of Nunavut has been inhabited for 4,000 years. It is rich in archaeological history and blessed with an abundance of fish, seals, geese, musk oxen, and caribou.
Although walruses are quite common in the north, it is difficult to reach them. Coral Harbour in Nunavut is one of the best places to see marine wildlife. The nearby Coats Island is a resting place for walruses. One great way to see Walruses is to take a boat from Coral Harbour and go south to Coats Island and Walrus Island in the north of Hudson Bay.
Coral Harbour is known for artisans who make treasures out of ivory, whalebone, soapstone, seal skin, and more. Facilities and accommodation are available in this Inuit town.
Calm Air and First Air operate flights from Rankin Inlet throughout the week. First Air also operates a flight from Iqaluit three days a week.
Nunavut is a birders paradise. The prime bird-watching season begins in May and continues through August. Outfitters offer special bird-watching trips.
Bylot Island is a Migratory Bird Sanctuary 25 km north of Pond Inlet on Baffin Island. Pond Inlet can only be reached by air. Large numbers of thick-billed murres and black-legged kittiwakes make the cliffs on the island their summer breeding home.
Bylot Island has also the largest breeding colony of greater snow geese in the Canadian High Arctic. A total of 74 unique species of arctic birds thrive on this island.
Along the floe edge, you also might see walruses, orcas, bowhead whales, narwhals, and seals. The floe is a flat chunk of floating sea ice up to 10 km wide. Outfitters can take you there, but the facilities are limited.
8. Narwhals and Bowhead Whales
The waters around Repulse Bay are the summer home for narwhals and bowhead whales. You also see belugas here and seals.
Repulse Bay lies directly on top of the Arctic Circle in central Nunavut. Repulse Bay is the only North American community located on the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Circle is a line that delineates the points on the earth’s surface north of which the sun is above the horizon for 24 hours on June 21. It’s also the point where the sun is entirely below the horizon for 24 hours on December 21.
Calm Air and First Air operate flights from Winnipeg and Rankin Inlet.
Caribou are common throughout the north. Every year, many thousands of animals migrate from the tree line to the calving grounds on the remote Arctic tundra, and then back again during the summer and autumn.
One place to see this wildlife spectacle is east of the Thelon Game Reserve near Baker Lake in Nunavut. The Beverly caribou herd, now 300,000 strong, migrates across the Thelon river twice each year en route to their calving grounds. This caribou migration is the largest movement of land mammals in the world.
Local Outfitters in Baker Lake organize wildlife viewing trips up the Thelon River where the caribou are. Baker Lake has various accommodations available as well as the great Iglu Hotel.
Calm Air and First Air operate flights from Winnipeg and Rankin Inlet.
Moose can be seen in many areas of Canada. Two Moose Lake along the Dempster Highway 102 km north of Dawson city is a good place to see moose. Moose are often seen here feeding on aquatic plants along the lakeshore.
Do you know of any other wildlife viewing places up north? Leave a comment below!
Read more about the North
- Northwest Territories Travel Guide
- Tor 5 Epic Gravel Highways in Canada’s North
- 17 Best Towns in Northwest Territories to visit