Want to know the best time of year to witness Canada’s unique wildlife?

Alberta, Canada
Alberta, Canada. Photo credit: Robin Matanovich.

There’s no ‘bad’ time to visit Canada. But if you’re looking for prime wildlife viewing, gorgeous scenery and epic outdoor adventures, a trip during the autumn ticks all the boxes.

In partnership with Destination Canada

As the second-largest country in the world, Canada is blessed with a rich and diverse geography. Visit the far north, and you’ll be in the grip of the frozen Arctic. Here, ice, snow and glaciers dominate the landscape. Head to the south, and you’ll find the temperate rainforests of British Columbia.

Whichever corner you roam, you’ll find an abundance of amazing wildlife, whether you’re following in the footsteps of polar bears or pulling out your binoculars to spot puffins and eagles. And if you’re planning a trip soon, you’ll be happy to hear the Northern Hemisphere’s autumn months (September through November) are the prime time to witness Canada’s remarkable animals in their natural habitats.

Canada is the polar bear capital of the world

Remote and rugged, Churchill, Manitoba, is the kind of place that will take your breath away – in more ways than one. Yes, this northern Canadian town can get cold. But it’s also starkly beautiful. Think, vast snowy tundra spilling to the edge of Hudson Bay and a small population of humans (900) leaving a light footprint on the land.

In short, these sub-Arctic landscapes are a prime environment for polar bears. And they number more than 1,000 in this part of the country. Small wonder Churchill has been called the ‘polar bear capital of the world’. Polar Bears International is based here, and the team conducts a wealth of research to ensure they will be around for future generations.

During October and November, the cold weather descends. This is when the normally solitary polar bears begin to mingle along the shoreline of Hudson Bay; they’re waiting for the formation of sea ice so they can resume their winter feasting on seals. It’s the ideal time for intrepid travellers to enjoy meaningful encounters through ethical tourism operators. And there are numerous ways you can glimpse the creatures.

Hudson’s Bay, Manitoba, Canada. Photo credit: Destination Canada.

Prime polar bear spotting

A number of companies will take you deep into the wilderness for the day on enormous tundra vehicles; others feature more intimate experiences in 4WDs that explore trails through the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. Some remote lodges also offer daily tundra treks, led by experienced polar bear ‘whisperers’ who give you the chance to view the animals from the ground, without any barriers.

Tour operators such as Frontiers North AdventuresLazy Bear ExpeditionsGreat White Bear and Churchill Wild are experts in the habits and habitat of the world’s largest carnivorous land mammal. The goosebumps when you first see a polar bear in the wild… If you’re visiting at the start of autumn, you may even spot migrating beluga whales. And then there are the Northern Lights.

Nunavut, Canada. Photo credit: Destination Canada.

Where Canada’s bison roam

Aside from polar bears, Manitoba’s most legendary furry celebrity is the bison, reflecting the province’s Indigenous heritage. These majestic beasts are the largest mammal in North America. Did you know they can run up to 60km/hr?

Riding Mountain National Park and FortWhyte Alive wildlife preserves are ideal locations for a personal encounter with these giants. Additionally, Wood Buffalo National Park, straddling both Alberta and the Northwest Territories, has around 3,000 wood bison. In fact, it’s home to the world’s largest free-roaming wood bison herd.

Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba. Photo credit: Destination Canada.

Howl at the moon with wolves

Answer the call of the wolves with Churchill Wild. Join a safari in northern Manitoba and you’ll discover the thrill of tracking, watching, photographing and studying these enigmatic creatures. The company’s expeditions around the Kaska Coast of southern Hudson Bay include excursions in search of wolves and wolf activity. While you’re there, you’re also on the lookout for polar bears, moose and other boreal wildlife.

You can sleep with wolves at Parc Omega in Montebello, Quebec. This vast nature park features everything from moose to bears, mountain goats, wild boar, elk, deer and bison. Stay in a ‘Wolf Cabin’, where the only thing between you and these incredible creatures is floor-to-ceiling windows.

Find a kindred Spirit (bear)

In British Columbia, the magical Princess Royal Island in the Great Bear Rainforest is home to a healthy population of grizzlies. But more than that, it’s also the habitat for the rare Kermode (Spirit) bear. This is a sub-species of black bear found only in this part of the world, carrying a recessive gene that gives them a naturally white coat.

Companies, including Spirit Bear Lodge, operated by the local Kitasoo/Xai’xais Indigenous people in the nearby village of Klemtu offer tours to view the bears. Meanwhile, two floating lodges in the Great Bear Rainforest, Knight Inlet Lodge and Great Bear Lodge, also offer grizzly bear-viewing tours from spring through autumn (May to October).

Toba Inlet, British Columbia. Photo credit: Destination Canada. (left), British Columbia. Photo credit: Johan Lolos (right)

Get close to more grizzly bears

You don’t have to go far to have a grizzly encounter in British Columbia. Grouse Mountain Wildlife Refuge is just 15 minutes from downtown Vancouver and is home to orphaned and endangered grizzly bears. You can meet them over breakfast and learn about bear conservation from a ranger.

Moose and wolves and bears in the wild

Situated in Canada’s northwest, Yukon Territory is one of the few natural havens on Earth where wildlife is not just surviving – but thriving. Here, the population of moose, bears, caribou, wolves, deer, elk, mountain goats and beavers (to name a few), far exceeds the 40,000 human residents.

You’re in with a great chance of spotting wildlife walking alongside roads and hiking trails. But for a fail-safe way to encounter these magnificent creatures, head to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. Here, 300 hectares of lush green hills, marshes, steep cliffs and flatlands are the perfect ecosystem for 11 species of northern Canadian mammals. You can walk, ski, snowshoe or bike the 5km viewing loop. Or jump on a bus tour with a knowledgeable interpreter.

Yukon Wildlife Preserve. Photo credit: Destination Canada.

All in the wild in Alberta

You’re similarly spoilt for wildlife abundance in Alberta. Take a ride on the Banff Gondola or cruise Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park to spot grizzly bears, elk, deer and big-horn sheep. Jasper National Park is also a hot-spot for wildlife during autumn. The park is home to caribou, elk, moose, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, bears and wolves. Join a ‘Wildlife Discovery Tour’ for your best chance to photograph these beauties in their natural habitat.

Autumn is also a great time to visit to catch the region’s leaves change colour in a fiery blast.

A winged encounter

Bird lovers, rejoice! Visit FortWhyte Alive and Oak Hammock Marsh in Manitoba during September and October to witness an incredible autumn bird migration. Just 30 minutes after sunset, thousands of geese descend for a night’s rest on the lakes and ponds of these nature reserves.

Meanwhile, Quebec is home to an enormous 300 bird species. The St. Lawrence River provides a huge marine playhouse for winged creatures. You can linger to observe their aerial ballet performances, acrobatics, dives, and their swoops and dances of seduction. In October, and again in the spring, thousands of snow geese stop along the St. Lawrence River. It’s a breathtaking sight to watch them take off in a gigantic flurry of white.

Newfoundland. Photo credit: Dylan Furst.

A pleasure of puffins

With their big, bright beaks, clumsy flying ability and unassuming plumage, the puffin is impossible not to love. The Bonavista Peninsula, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, and Cape St Mary’s Ecological Reserve lie in the eastern Atlantic province of Newfoundland and Labrador. They’re the prime places in Canada to witness adorable puffins in their natural habitat.

Snap a photo of the iconic ‘Puffin King’ rock formation on your way to the windswept viewing site overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Here, more than 2,500 puffin pairs nest along the grassy cliff between May and September.

Jump on a boat or a guided kayaking tour for a mind-blowing up-close encounter with more than 500,000 puffins on the four islands that make up the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve near the Avalon Peninsula. This incredible seabird rookery is not only home to Atlantic puffins, but also tens of thousands of osprey, razorbills, cormorants and gannets.

While you’re in the province, why not add on a stay at the amazing Fogo Island Inn?

Want to know more about visiting Canada in the autumn? Visit

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