Ready to take a walk on the wild side? There’s a reason Canada’s westernmost province is called “Super, Natural British Columbia.” BC is known for its lush forests, majestic snow-capped mountains, and pristine lakes, and it isn’t just humans that enjoy them. According to the BC Wildlife Act, the province is home to more than 1138 species of vertebrates, including 488 bird species, 142 mammal species, 18 reptile species, 22 amphibian species, 83 freshwater fish species and 368 saltwater fish species. If you’d like to encounter some of these furred, feathered and finned inhabitants of Canada’s most beautiful province, here’s some ideas to plan your brush with nature.
The Great Bear Rainforest
Care to behold one of the world’s rarest and most magical beasts? The Great Bear Rainforest on the Pacific coast of British Columbia is home to the renowned “Spirit Bear” – or Kermode – a sub-species of Black Bear celebrated for its unusual white fur. This mystical rainforest is the only place on the planet to see the Spirit Bear in its natural habitat. It is the perfect escape from city life, a tranquil oasis where towering pines and lush mosses line the banks of crystal clear, fresh-water lakes, and wandering inlets carve into the Coast Mountains, creating maze-like alcoves for bears and other wildlife to make their homes.
Along with the Spirit Bear, you are likely to encounter eagles feasting on spawning salmon, whales and dolphins breaching and playing, and other marine life like sea lions and otters building dens and snacking on the plentiful bounty of the area. If you are looking to refresh your spirit in the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest that is nothing less than magical, this is a must-see.
BC Wildlife Park
Since 1965, the BC Wildlife Park in Kamloops, BC has been home to over 40 wildlife species, from moose to mountain goats, and turkey vultures to tarantulas. The park is passionate about conserving the province’s amazing wildlife, and it is definitely worth checking out if you want an interactive, educational experience! Take a guided tour with one of the park’s zealous guides, enjoy presentations at the huge outdoor amphitheater (like the popular “Bird of Prey” demonstration during summer months), or hop aboard the Wildlife Express Miniature Train for only $1 (CAD) and enjoy a ride around the 50-hectre sage and ponderosa pine-lined grounds.
Want something a little more intimate? Book a VIP tour or a private animal encounter, and get up close and personal with everything from bears to turtles! The park also boasts the largest burrowing owl breeding operation in the world, in an effort to boost the population of this endangered species in their grassland habitat.
BC Whale Tours
The waters on the West Coast of BC are teeming with marine life, most notably the magnificent orca (killer) whale, and the impressive humpback whale. While these species are viewable in aquariums worldwide, there’s nothing like experiencing them in their natural habitat with the ocean spray on your face and the cool breeze in your hair.
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There are several tours to choose from in Vancouver and Victoria that will escort you onto the open waters of the Pacific Ocean for several hours in custom-made zodiacs specifically designed for comfort, speed, safety, and the most epic view of the whales. Qualified, friendly, and knowledgeable skippers will guide you along the best deep-sea paths known for marine sightings, where pods of whale clans assemble to snack on the spawning salmon. (Turns out they love to go out for family sushi dates, too!) While the success rate is high (90% or more), most companies have a guaranteed sighting policy, so on the off chance that the whales are feeling shy, you can go on the tour again – for free. If you want a more historical, laid back adventure, you could choose to embark on a week-long whale watching excursion on a stunning sailboat, or spend an entire day lounging on the spacious deck of a luxury cruiser.
Considering the hundreds of species of fowl that inhabit BC, one may say that the province is “for the birds”, or perhaps, for the birdwatcher. Depending on what region you decide to set your perch, you may encounter eagles, falcons, herons, woodpeckers, owls, or swans, to name a few. The National Bluebird Trail and Vaseux Lake in the Thompson/Okanagan region is a popular spot for bird watching, as migrating birds either make a pit stop here or decide to stay for the summer. Although sightings occur all year, the bird population is especially dense in the spring and fall. The region’s unique topography of both desert-like dry brush and subalpine tundra allows for birders to enjoy the unique species that inhabit both of these drastically different regions in one day. So if you, too, decide to migrate to BC, be sure to bring your binoculars.
Let’s Keep it Wild
Because we share these diverse and delicate ecosystems with so many other furred, feathered, and finned friends, it bears repeating that we take only pictures and leave only footprints. Our respect will ensure that generations to come can continue to experience and appreciate wildlife just as its meant to be – free and untethered – and allow it to touch our own wild hearts.