Canada’s national parks are gateways to nature, adventure and discovery. The chance to observe wildlife as they go about their natural lives is one of the most fascinating experiences that Canada’s national parks offer. Along with this opportunity, however, comes the responsibility to treat wildlife with the respect they deserve and need.

1. Learn about the wildlife in the park you will be visiting

A Parks Canada employee at a desk is pointing a map to visitors.
Check in with Parks Canada staff when you arrive to find out what wildlife lives in the park.

Each of Canada’s national parks is home to different wildlife species. Find out what species live in the national park you will be visiting by checking the park website or go to the visitor information kiosk or desk to ask for relevant information.

Parks Canada manages 46 national parks and one national urban park from coast to coast to coast. These protected areas are home to thousands of different species of mammals, birds, reptiles, plants and other wildlife.

2. Feeding wildlife is never allowed

Chipmunk eating an acorn.
Wildlife have evolved to find their own natural food sources… there is no need to help them out.

Feeding wild animals, accidentally leaving food out or not properly disposing of garbage teaches animals that humans provide food. Once the animal has had a taste of human food, it may begin to seek it above all other sources of natural food.

Feeding wildlife in a national park is illegal and you can be charged (up to $25,000) under the Canada National Parks Act. This includes feeding them directly by offering them food, or indirectly by leaving garbage behind for them to find.

3. Keep your dog on a leash

Two visitors and a dog walk along a boardwalk in a national park. The dog is on a leash.
Visitors walk with their dog on leash on the Attikamek Trail, Sault Ste. Marie Canal, Ontario.

We know how much you love Fido, but keep him on a leash and under control at all times and this will help keep you and your pet stay safe. Dogs may kill or injure wildlife, or can cause some wild animals to feel threatened and become agitated or aggressive.

Studies have shown that dogs off-leash is one of the most common causes of wildlife attacks.

4. Keep your campsite clean

A clean campsite with nothing left out to attract wildlife.
a picnic table with all kinds of food stuff and food containers left out all over the site.
Can you spot the differences between the two pictures? The campsite on the left is not likely to attract wildlife. The one on the right contains items that smell good to wildlife. Those items should be stored in your vehicle, or in designated food storage lockers, and never in your tent.

Many already know that leaving food out in a campsite can attract wildlife but did you know that wildlife is also attracted to non-food items that smell like food? This includes garbage, dishes, pots and pans, stoves, coolers and even toiletries (like soap, shampoo and toothpaste).

Keep your campsite “bare” of attractive smells by storing all those “good-smelling” items in your vehicle, or in designated wildlife-proof containers. As soon as you are done using it, put it away properly.

5. Hike after breakfast and before supper - travel in groups and keep kids close

Four people hiking along a trail in a national park. They are in a line and spaced within a few meters of one another.
Travelling in groups and keeping kids close can help reduce the risk of having a dangerous encounter with wildlife.

Wildlife are most active in the early dawn and late evening. For your safety, always hike during the day and check the weather and trail conditions before leaving. Surprise encounters don’t give wildlife much time to decide on how to react. Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.

Did you know?Travelling in a group and making noise along the way is safer than travelling by yourself.

6. Only stop if it is safe to do so

Several cars are stopped along both sides of a narrow highway in a national park.  People are standing in the middle of the road taking pictures of something that is just behind one of the cars.
Stopping to view wildlife can create a dangerous “Wildlife Jam".

Pulling over to observe wildlife on highways can cause a few serious hazards. It teaches animals that vehicles on highways are nothing to be afraid of. In our national parks, across the country, too many animals are killed along highways each year.

Pulling over is also dangerous because stopped vehicles become visual obstructions for other drivers. If you see an animal along the highway, slow down but keep driving unless there is a safe place to pull over. If you do pull over, it is best to observe the animal from the safety of your vehicle.

7. Keep a safe distance from wildlife

Two people looking at something in the distance. One is taking a photograph.
With the right equipment, you can get that unique photo of wildlife from a safe distance.

Bring your binoculars, or a telephoto lens to capture that once-in-a-lifetime photo of a wild animal in its natural environment. Remember that although this is a once in a lifetime experience for you, these types of encounters may be happening many times a day for the animal.

Stay at least 30 m away from large animals and 100 m away from bears, wolves, coyotes and cougars. Approaching wildlife or allowing wildlife to approach you can lead to them no longer being wary of people. Once habituated, they are at greater risk of getting into conflict with people.

If you see others trying to approach wildlife, warn them of the dangers to themselves and to the animal. If you see someone trying to take a “selfie” with wildlife, remind them that it is never a good idea because they are probably way too close.

8. Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings

Two people hike along a trail surrounded by dense vegetation.
Learn to see the “signs” what wildlife may be nearby.

Surprising a wild animal can causes stress to the animal, and could provoke a problem. You can help eliminate the element of surprise by noticing the “signs” that wildlife might be close including fresh tracks, droppings or freshly scraped soil or tree bark.

If you find yourself in an area with a lot of signs that wildlife might be nearby, make noise, travel closely with others and leave the area.

9. Carry bear spray and know how to use it

A person is holding a can of bear spray.
Carry bear spray and keep it handy to use - just in case!

If a large animal such as a bear, wolf or cougar approaches you, bear spray can be an effective deterrent. Check out the webpages for the park you are planning to visit to find out if carrying bear spray is recommended.

Bear spray can be purchased at sporting goods stores and online videos can help you learn how to use it. Make sure it is quickly accessible and ready to use.

Bear spray contains capsaicin – a chemical found in chili peppers. It irritates an animal’s eyes and skin and could affect breathing but the spray is not lethal.

10. Stay on designated trails and respect all park signs

Three backpackers hike along a trail in the woods in a national park.
Be a model visitor! Stay on designated trails while visiting national parks.

Trails in national parks are designed to take you to the most interesting places in the park while keeping you safe from hazards and protecting the environment. Always stay on designated trails and find out about closures from Parks Canada staff in advance. Be prepared to adjust your travel plans if necessary.