Encountering the Wild in British Columbia: the best wildlife experiences around Vancouver

Photo by Pete Nuij on Unsplash

The largest city in British Columbia, Vancouver, is one of the biggest in Canada. This West Coast jewel is a city with a population of millions, where different cultures from around the world combine to make something unique.

But as big and bustling as the city of Vancouver can be, part of its appeal is that the wilderness Western Canada is famous for is never far away. All you need to do is hop in a car, bus, boat, or plane, and you’ll have incredible access to some pristine natural environments and the charismatic animals that call them home.

Leave your bags behind at a Bounce luggage storage in Vancouver so that you can enjoy some of these incredible encounters with wildlife for yourself. With your bags safely looked after, it will be much easier to enjoy the exceptional access to the backcountry this world-class city provides.

Stanley Park

Photo by Kieran Wood on Unsplash

Stanley Park is one of Vancouver’s most popular tourist attractions.

It’s not hard to see why.

This huge thousand-acre park sits on a peninsula right next to the built-up downtown core of the city, and it offers a glimpse of how Vancouver was before the bulldozers arrived. 

The park is famous for its Seawall, a 22 km walking and cycling path that runs around the perimeter of the park and is the world’s longest continuous waterfront walkway. The park is also home to the Vancouver Aquarium, some great beaches, and a couple of excellent restaurants.

But the park is also an incredible place to encounter local wildlife without leaving the city.

Visit the Nature House on Lost Lagoon and walk the paths around the pond, and you’re almost guaranteed to run into cute and incredibly tame raccoons that will take food right out of your hand if you let them. Nearby, you’ll also find a huge treetop colony of around 90 nests of Great Blue Herons located on Beach Avenue.

The dense forest of the park provides an ideal vantage point for bald eagles to survey the coastline. And on the trails through the park, you’ll encounter more raccoons, skunks, beavers, and even coyotes.


Whale watching in Steveston

Photo by Luc Tribolet on Unsplash

Head south from Vancouver to the nearby fishing village of Steveston for an incredible encounter with the wildlife of the Pacific Northwest.

Several tour companies here offer whale-watching tours through the Gulf Islands and the Salish Sea. The operators report a 95% success rate at seeing whales on your trip and often allow you to come back for free if you don’t see a whale the first time.

From April to October, migratory species like gray whales and majestic humpbacks pass through this area, so this is the best time to see these giants of the deep. Additionally, this area is the permanent home of a huge pod of orcas, so your chances of seeing these incredible apex predators are good all year round.

As you explore the islands, you’ll also see bald eagles, seals, bighorn sheep, and other animals. That makes this one of the best wildlife experiences you can have without going far from the city.

Bears in Whistler

Photo by Geoff Brooks on Unsplash

Whistler is a ski resort located in the mountains 125 miles north of Vancouver. Made famous for hosting the events of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler is where Vancouverites come to play in both summer and winter.

It’s also bear country.

Bears are some of the most popular animals you’ll find in Canada, and Whistler is a great place to find them. Even as you drive the highway to the resort, keep your eyes peeled for black bears grazing on flowers along the roadside.

For a better chance of seeing these charismatic creatures, consider taking a bear-watching tour from spring to fall. The tours will take you out in a four-wheel-drive vehicle to explore the ski slopes and back roads while the snow is gone. The knowledgeable local guide knows exactly where to find these beautiful creatures, so make sure you bring your camera to capture one of the most iconic species of Canadian wildlife.

Bald eagles in Brackendale

Photo by Ivan K. Fox on Unsplash

The US may have adopted the bald eagle as its symbolic animal, but the truth is more bald eagles live in Canada than in the United States.

Keep your eyes open, and you may see these huge birds even in the city itself, where several active nests can be found in treetops near the water.

However, for an unmissable spectacle, consider visiting the tiny town of Brackendale near Squamish, just outside Vancouver. During the salmon run, which takes place from November to January, this small town is home to the world’s largest gathering of bald eagles.

Hundreds and sometimes thousands of eagles converge on this stretch of river to feast on spawning salmon. It’s an incredible natural spectacle to witness for yourself if you happen to be in Vancouver at the right time of year.

Grizzly bears in Knight Inlet

Photo by Rudi De Meyer on Unsplash

The black bears in Whistler are certainly impressive. But the larger and more dangerous grizzly bear, though harder to find, may be even more majestic.

Fortunately, you won’t find any grizzly bears all that close to Vancouver itself. But if you’re willing to go on an adventure, you can travel by boat to Knight Inlet to the north of the city and see wild grizzly bears for yourself.

First, you’ll need to travel to Vancouver Island, then take the boat back to the mainland from there. You can see the grizzly bears on a day trip or spend a few nights at the Knight Inlet Lodge to soak up the remote atmosphere. You’ll see the bears from fenced blinds and viewing towers, and a licensed guide will be on hand to keep you and the bears safe.

It’s an incredible experience to see these powerful animals in their natural habitat, and one no wildlife lover should miss.

Spirit Bears in the Great Bear Rainforest

Photo by Jasper Malchuk Rasmussen on Unsplash

Finally, perhaps the ultimate wildlife viewing adventure from Vancouver is to travel to the Great Bear Rainforest and see a kind of bear you can only see in this part of the world.

British Columbia’s legendary Spirit Bears are technically regular black bears, but they have a mutation that means their coats come in all kinds of colors. Probably the most striking is the pure white Spirit Bears that occupy a prominent place in the folklore and mythology of the First Nations of the area.

To see the Spirit Bears, you can fly into the Spirit Bear Lodge and stay in the rainforest. Alternatively, you can head out on a cruise that will explore the many inlets and islands of this remote area.

Neither option is cheap. But if you really love wildlife and want to see one of the world’s rarest animals in the planet’s largest temperate rainforest, there is no place better than this.