Wildlife viewing is thrilling year-round, but amid the snowy landscapes of winter it’s especially magical. Against the dazzling snow, animals’ darker coats paint a stark contrast, making them easier to see and photograph. And, although bears are hibernating, many members of the animal kingdom are active and on the move. Here’s where you’ll find some of the top wildlife viewing in British Columbia, Canada
During the winter, tens of thousands of bald eagles fly south (some travel up to 1,500 miles) to BC, marking the largest gathering of bald eagles in the world. In the Fraser Valley and Squamish River Valley, spawning salmon present a hearty feast for the visiting avians. Here’s how to see the show:
Harrison Eco Tours: the Bald Eagle-Fish Viewing Tour takes guests on a jet boat to the middle of Harrison River, where bald eagles congregate to feed on salmon. Underwater action, captured via hull cameras, is projected onto a screen that you can watch from the warmth of the boat. The tour is available between mid-October and mid-February.
Sandpiper Resort: boasting stunning views of the Harrison River, Sandpiper Resort has been designated a prime bald eagle viewing destination. Wander the resort’s eagle trail, see the eagles from a dedicated viewing gazebo, or dine on the patio of the River’s Edge Clubhouse and watch them soaring above while you tuck into locally inspired cuisine.
Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park: this 1,865-acre park is located in the Squamish River Valley, one of the most significant areas for wintering bald eagles. Here, eagle viewing is at its peak between mid-November and mid-December, though you’ll likely see significant numbers into January. Head for the “Eagle Run” viewing area for prime raptor-watching; nearby, an interpretive display explains the eagle and salmon lifecycle.
BC Bird Trail: this collection of self-guided itineraries identifies year-round birdwatching opportunities in five regions of BC. The new Sea to Sky trail includes eagle-watching in Squamish , where North America’s highest concentration of wintering bald eagles can be seen against a spectacular backdrop of snow-capped mountains, glacial lakes and old-growth forests
In winter and early spring, hundreds of Steller and California sea lions gather around Vancouver Island to feed on late salmon and herring, flop on rocks, and bask in the winter sunshine. Most of these behemoths (they can weigh up to 900 pounds, for Californias and up to 2,000 pounds for Stellers) are male—the females spend the season with their kiddos near their breeding grounds. Here’s how to catch sight of the holidaymakers:
Eagle Wing Tours: the winter and spring tours offer exceptional wildlife watching in the Victoria region from December 1 through April 30. In addition to spotting groups of lounging sea lions, the company boasts a 100 per cent success rate of seeing whales in December.
Orca Spirit Adventures: the winter Marine Wildlife Zodiac Tour, which departs from Victoria Harbour between November and March, takes guests on a three-hour cruise along the Pacific Northwest coastline. Along the way, you can glimpse sea lions barking at each other, or snoozing on rocks. The Salish Sea’s abundant wildlife also includes harbour and elephant seals, humpback whales, otters and birds.
Vancouver Aquarium: this marine mammal rescue centre in the heart of Stanley Park includes an active research station dedicated entirely to sea lions.
Big Horn Sheep
In the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, winter’s tableau offers a pristine background that emphasizes the presence of bighorn sheep. However, these social mammals (they usually travel in groups of five to 20, and sometimes up to 100) can be found throughout BC. Here’s where to spot them in winter:
Junction Sheep Range Provincial Park: the rolling grasslands, cliffs, hoodoos and eroded gullies of Junction Sheep Range Provincial Park—located less than an hour’s drive west of Williams Lake—are protected, mainly because of the internationally significant herd of California bighorn sheep that live there. Follow in their hoofprints by walking or cycling the trails and keeping a lookout for the gregarious sheep, which roam freely throughout the area.
Kootenay National Park: this park houses special conservation areas for bighorn sheep. The Radium-Stoddart herd includes 150 Rocky Mountain bighorn living in the south end of the park, and just outside its boundaries. The sheep share space with other at-risk grassland species, including the American badger.
Radium Hot Springs: during winter, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep from the Radium-Stoddart herd are sometimes seen wandering the village in Radium Hot Springs. Stop by the Radium Visitor Centre to view wildlife displays and learn about the local herd.
Estimates of wolves in BC sit at approximately 8,500 individuals, but this number can vary from year to year. Larger than coyotes, highly intelligent and extremely social, wolves are widely distributed throughout the province. Here’s where to see them this winter:
Northern Lights Wolf Centre: located in Golden, the Northern Lights Wolf Centre promotes wolf conservation while educating the public about these playful animals. The wolves live in 0.5-hectare (1.25-acre) enclosures, and guests can join interpretive talks that take place right at the enclosure fence. The centre also partners with Blackwolf Photography on a once-in-a-lifetime experience that involves joining the wolves on a walk into the Rocky Mountains, where forests, rivers, wetlands and snowcapped peaks make for striking photography.
Eagle Bear Lodge: catch a glimpse of timber wolves in the forests surrounding Eagle Bear Lodge, located between Williams Lake and Bella Coola. The Lynx, Moose, Coyote, Eagles and Winter Animals excursion by Hemmings Photo Tours – led by National Geographic photographer David Hemmings – leads guests into the deep wilderness where timber wolf packs are known to roam. Visitors might also see foxes, lynx, deer, eagles and coyotes.
Chilcotin Holidays: the company offers multi-day wolf tracking and conservation trips throughout the winter, with participants learning about the habitats and behaviour of wolves by tracking them via snowmobile, hiking or truck. The guide will share the reason wolves howl, calling out to the creatures across a frozen lake and listening for their haunting reply. By documenting wildlife sightings, guests will also contribute to wildlife conservation research.