The Bears of Canmore and the Bow Valley

Where to See Bears

Bears are a common sight in the Bow Valley, both black bears and grizzly bears. They are often seen within the town of Canmore and places near to town.  Bears are a huge draw to our surrounding national and provincial parks.  I often get asked where is a good place to see bears.  One of the best and safest places to see bears, for you and the bears, is on the summer gondola at the Lake Louise ski area.  The winter ski runs transform into summer flower and grass filled meadows that bears feast on.  They are often spotted and photographed from the lift.  During the summer bear-viewing season, the resort posts a calendar that documents all the sightings.  

My second tip for bear viewing is to take a drive down highway 40 south from the Trans Canada Highway (20 minutes from Canmore) to Peter Lougheed provincial park.  When the dandelions first emerge in spring is when you are most likely to see a bear along this drive.  If you don’t see a bear, do not despair as the scenery is spectacular and there is a very good chance you may also see big horn sheep, elk and deer.  If you are really up for an adventure, rather than double back up the highway, return via the Smith-Dorrien (also called Spray Rd. and hilariously, Highway 742) to Canmore.  This is a rough, gravel, pot-holed road that can be dusty in summer but it has awesome wildlife viewing potential and even more splendid scenery.  You can add moose to the prior list of wildlife you might see. 

What If You See a Bear on Your Drive?

Seeing a bear in the wild is truly a thrilling experience but please, please, please for the sake of your safety and the bear’s, never ever get out of your car for a better view or to snap a photo.  Parks’ Canada has some excellent tips here for roadside bear viewing.   Please do not cause a bear jam to form.  Chances are, unless it is very early in the morning, you will cause or be part of a bear jam if you stop on Highway 40 due to the volume of traffic.  However, if you journey up the Smith-Dorrien Rd., which has a fraction of the traffic, chances are you can pull over and enjoy a wonderful and safe bear encounter.  Last year, on June 21st, we did the Highway 40/Smith-Dorrien circuit with family members visiting from Ontario.  Two young grizzly bears were spotted near the side of the Smith-Dorrien Rd.  We pulled over and watched this pair voraciously feeding on dandelions and grass for about 20 minutes.  They did not pause for a second but chowed down non-stop.  Two cars passed but didn’t stop. We had this incredible wildlife viewing opportunity all to ourselves.  What a treat!  

What If You See A Bear on Your Hike?

A very common question I get is, have you ever seen a bear?  Oh yes!  Frequently.  While soaking in my hot tub in the back yard.  In the little parkette across the road from our house.  While out hiking a number of times.  Crossing the road right in front of me near the Canmore Nordic Centre.  Sauntering through West Canmore Park.  While paddling on Upper Kananaskis Lake.  While camping at Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.  While driving the Bow Valley Parkway through  Banff National Park.  While driving the Icefields Parkway.  On the course, while golfing at Stewart Creek. A grizzly sow and her three cubs from several hundred metres away, while stopped at the Highwood Pass day-use area (highway 40).  It was such a treat to watch the cubs cavorting through binoculars! 

Because bears are common in and around Canmore, it is very important to know how to deal with a bear encounter.  Bow Valley Wildsmart has excellent information on living smart with wildlife that covers all animals including bears here.  More specific information on what to do in the case of a bear encounter is here.  A recent survey was done that revealed very few people were recreating with bear spray, despite all the education being done to encourage people to always carry bear spray.  I have encountered people who didn’t have bear spray on them because they were only visiting for a day or two and didn’t want to purchase it or were not aware of its importance.  An option is to rent bear spray.  In Canmore, it can be rented from Rent-A-Tent or from Trailsport, located in Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park.  Other people thought they would not encounter bears on popular trails in town or on the trail to Grassi Lakes or the Ha Ling peak trail…. WRONG!   For details on carrying and using bear spray, check out this Wildsmart page.

The bears of the Bow Valley are treasured by residents and visitors alike. They are a magnificent symbol of wildness. But their continued existence in the Bow Valley is threatened by our presence.  Please join us in doing everything we can to minimize our impact on their lives by being…. WildSmart.  Thank you!   

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