Whether you plan to drive the roads, hike the trails, or relax in town, there are many opportunities to observe wildlife in Waterton Lakes National Park. Please take the time to learn some important precautions when viewing wildlife. Your responsible behaviour affects the survival of wildlife, and your own safety.
Bighorn sheep, deer and ground squirrels are commonly seen in the townsite. Small mammals, birds, deer and bighorn sheep are commonly seen along mountain trails, and the park's grasslands provide important range for elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer.
Late summer and fall are particularly good wildlife viewing times. The grasslands covering the lower mountain sides provide important food sources which attract wildlife; as well as open views which make them more visible. Black bears are often seen feeding in berry patches in the lower valleys at this time of year.
Ungulates such as deer, elk and bighorn sheep mate in the fall, so they are looking their best at this time; with antlers at peak growth and thick, shiny coats. This is the time of year when you can experience bugling elk and their large harems, or head-butting tests of strength by bighorn sheep.
A small herd of plains bison are maintained near the north entrance to the park off Highway 6. The bison can be seen from the narrow road which winds through the paddock. Please do not leave your car. The bison are unpredictable and aggressive. A short walk from a nearby pullout leads to an overlook of the paddock and the rolling prairie surrounding it.
Rules and regulations
The chance of seeing wildlife is one of the most exciting things about visiting Waterton. However, it is important you treat wild animals with respect. You can start helping from the moment you enter the park.
Photographers who travel the park in search of good photo opportunities have a responsibility to wildlife and fellow visitors. If you don’t have a telephoto lens (at least 300-400 mm), show the animal in its natural surroundings.
- Do not surround, crowd or follow an animal.
- Never put people (especially children) at risk by posing them with wildlife.
- Do not stalk or pursue wildlife.
- Never follow an animal into the bush.
- Do not try to entice wildlife by feeding or by simulating animal calls (i.e. elk bugling).
Be alert along the road. Hundreds of large mammals are killed on roadways in national parks. These accidents often result in injuries to the driver and/or passengers. Roadways attract wildlife because they provide easy travel and roadside forage. To prevent collisions with wildlife, be alert. Use quick glances to scan ahead for animal movements or shining eyes. If you spot one animal, look for others. They often travel in groups. Most importantly, stay within posted speed limits.
If you come across a traffic jam caused by roadside wildlife:
- Slow down. You have more reaction time when you travel slowly. Be aware of traffic, both in front of and behind you.
- Watch the road. Both wildlife and people may suddenly run onto the road. Pull over only if it is safe to do so, keeping your tires within a foot of the road. Never stop in the middle of the road, close to a hill or curve, or in heavy traffic.
- Remain in your vehicle, safe from both wildlife and traffic.
We recommend you keep at least three bus lengths (30 metres/100 feet) away from large animals and about three times that distance away from bears.
Don't entice wildlife by feeding, reaching out or simulating calls. Feeding or approaching animals too closely causes them to lose their natural fear of people. Once 'habituated', animals are likely to become increasingly aggressive. Approaching too closely threatens their survival, and your safety. While you may feel you can accept the personal risk of this action, you should remember that your actions can help create wildlife behaviours which may cause others to be injured, especially children.
Keep the animal's line of travel or escape route clear. If it approaches you, move away. Retreat immediately if you notice signs of aggression or any behaviour change. For your safety and to protect the bears, Park Wardens may move bears that are persistently too close to people, by using hazing techniques (eg. cracker shells, rubber bullets) to scare them away.
Winter wildlife viewing
Winter can be the best or worst time for watching wildlife - depending on winds and snow. Strong winds push wildlife into sheltered areas and deep snow can make travel difficult for you and the animals.
The Blakiston Fan (south of the Entrance Parkway, between Lower and Middle Waterton Lakes) often hosts hundreds of elk, easily seen along the parkway. At the gate area or Lower Waterton viewpoint, you may see elk crossing the Waterton River or river otters swimming by.
Along the Akamina Parkway you might see moose, mule deer, red squirrels, snowshoe hares and marten. Watch for playful river otters at Cameron Lake.
Deer and bighorn sheep are common, especially in the community. A very rare highlight would be sighting one of the park’s wild cats (cougar, bobcat or lynx).
The Red Rock Parkway is only accessible in winter by foot, snowshoes and skis, so head out and enjoy tranquil vistas while keeping your eye out for wildlife.
If you don’t see many animals, you will see tracks in the snow. Bring a field guide so you can figure who’s been there (and maybe hiding nearby!)
To report wildlife, call: 1-888-WARDENS (927-3367).
Try to identify the species and note the animal’s description, behaviour and location.