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As well as spectacular scenery and lots of year-round adventurous activities, Banff National Park is also home to a ton of interesting wildlife. There’s nothing quite like spotting a grizzly bear from afar or even a cute pika scampering by!
So when it comes to the top tours in Banff, wildlife tours deserve a special mention. Some animals are easy enough to spot by yourself, but others will require the help of a professional. In fact, to see certain animals, it’s best to join a wildlife tour and go in search of them. We were amazed at what our tour guide could find!
We’ve selected the three best wildlife tours in Banff National Park to help you spot all of the amazing animals in this beautiful part of Canada. Whether you’re budget-conscious, desperate to spot a grizzly bear, or just want to see as much of the park as possible, these tours have you covered.
Don’t have time to read the full article? Here is a quick breakdown of our favorite tours in Banff National Park.
- Best overall – This 3-hour wildlife experience offers an incredible and personalized tour, and it’s also limited to just 15 people per tour!
- Best on a budget – For my thrifty readers, on this year-round tour you can watch wildlife and your wallet.
- Ideal for sightseeing – This full-day excursion gives you the best possible chances of seeing the local residents, plus you’ll get to meet Boo the Bear!
Our TOP Banff Wildlife Tour
In my opinion, the best wildlife tours are small-group tours, where you get to know your guide and listen to all the wildlife stories they have to tell. Here in Banff National Park, this 3-hour Banff highlights and wildlife tour does that to a T!
With the chance to see bighorn sheep, elk, bears, and more, this tour takes you to some incredible hidden spots (my lips are sealed!), making this experience a real gem. Tickets cost just under $100 CAD per person, and you can secure your spot on the tour here.
The BEST Wildlife Tours in Banff
1. Banff highlights and wildlife (Best overall)
We’ve chosen this small group tour as our top pick for wildlife tours in Banff because it offers a personalized experience that takes you off the beaten path for a reasonable price.
Your guide will tailor the itinerary according to weather conditions, your interests, and recent wildlife sightings to maximize your chances of seeing Banff’s most interesting creatures. You’ll visit Lake Minnewanka, where you’re likely to spot bighorn sheep and elk grazing close to the shore, and Two Jack Lake, a beautiful and underrated spot also teeming with wildlife. These are easily two of the best lakes in Banff!
Other possible stops include Bow Falls, the Vermillion Lakes, Surprise Corner, and the Hoodoos trail, but as we said, the trip will be customized to what’s best for you and the animals!
One thing we love about this tour is that it takes into account the big group tour schedules (and where they might be) so that you can avoid the crowds and enjoy some local hidden spots all to yourself. The maximum group size is 15, so you won’t have to worry about competing for the best views.
Your expert guide will help you to see some of the more difficult-to-spot animals along the way, like foxes, coyotes, and bears. You’re also welcome to bring your own meal and keep it in the cooler box on board the vehicle. And if you bring your own water bottle, you can keep on refilling it with filtered mountain water along the way.
This tour really does give you excellent odds of seeing wildlife while also enjoying the incredible beauty of Banff National Park. It’s incredibly well-organized and a lot of thought goes into the itinerary for each day to make sure that you really get the most out of your experience. It really is the exact opposite of a cookie-cutter tour.
Plus, at $100 CAD per person, we think that it offers pretty good value for money given the amount of wildlife you’re likely to see. It lasts for 3 hours and departs in the early afternoon at 2 pm, so there’s plenty of time beforehand to grab your morning coffee at a café in Banff!
The folks organizing this tour do offer hotel pickup if you contact them in advance, or you can choose to meet them at the Banff train station. There is some walking and hiking involved on this tour, but this is always optional. If you prefer to hang back and relax, you’re totally welcome to do so.
All in all, we think that this is the very best tour for getting off the beaten path and spotting wildlife in Banff National Park.
As this is a popular tour option that’s likely to sell out, make sure you book online now!
2. Year-Round Tour: Banff and its Wildlife (Best budget option)
If you’re traveling on a budget, then this 3-hour tour is an excellent way to see some of Banff’s best wildlife. Best of all, it’s offered year-round, so you can see some truly unique animals no matter if you’re visiting Banff during the summer or winter!
This tour takes off in the morning, which is usually when wildlife is most active. You’ll head out of town towards iconic Banff sites like Bow Falls, and the Banff Springs hotel, and eventually get to Lake Minnewanka, the Hoodoos, and the Bow Valley Lookout.
During this time of day, you’re likely to see elk, big horn sheep, deer, and bears (hopefully!). If you are visiting during the winter, you’ll see a different scope of wildlife and get to marvel at the snow-covered landscape. They also provide hot chocolate during winter, which I must say, is a nice touch! Visiting Banff in the fall is also a great time to spot wildlife, as they are out hunting before winter hits.
This tour is a bit more budget-friendly than other tours, which is something we love! There aren’t always a ton of free things to do in Banff, so any chance to save a few bucks is welcomed.
The guides on this tour are super friendly and informative. In addition to learning about the wildlife in the area, you’ll also get a nice overview of Banff – perfect for first-time visitors. This tour includes transportation from Banff (hotel pickup upon request), transportation all over the national park, your informational guide, and light refreshments.
It is $88 CAD during the winter and $93 CAD during the summer. I recommend booking this tour in advance, as it’s a popular one!
Related Read: Up for a road trip? There’s also plenty of wildlife to see if you drive from Banff to Jasper!
3. Discover grizzly bears from Banff (Best for sightseeing)
This full-day excursion combines some of the most beautiful sights that Banff National Park has to offer with lots of opportunities to spot amazing wildlife as you travel to grizzly bear country near Golden, BC.
We think that it gives a really well-rounded overview of the park, plus it includes a two-course lunch at Eagle’s Eye Restaurant at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, which is actually Canada’s highest restaurant!
You’ve got really good odds of spotting grizzly bears with this one because it includes a ride on the Golden Eagle Express Gondola to the Grizzly Bear Interpretive Center. Here, you’ll pay a visit to Boo, the resident grizzly bear who was rescued by the sanctuary as a cub.
You’ll get to learn more about Boo’s story and watch him hunting and playing in his natural habitat. This is a really great opportunity to not only spot a grizzly bear (and probably Canada’s best-known one at that!), but also to discover more about the behaviors, habitat, and conservation of this majestic species.
After Kicking Horse, you’ll also visit Emerald Lake and Takakkaw Falls, which, aside from being incredibly beautiful, are also home to grizzly bears and lots of other local wildlife. So you’ll not only get to see grizzlies but also do some fantastic sightseeing!
What we love about this tour is that not only do you have a 95% chance of spotting wildlife, but you also get a grizzly guarantee, so if you don’t see Boo or another bear on your tour, you’ll get to go on another one for free. Plus, visiting the sanctuary means that you get to see a grizzly at a much closer range than you could otherwise – and the gourmet lunch with panoramic views isn’t bad, either.
This tour costs $311 CAD per person and includes your gondola pass, entry to the wildlife refuge, lunch and a soft drink at Eagle’s Eye, and all of your transportation from the pickup point in Banff.
We really like that it’s a pretty small group tour with a maximum capacity of 24 travelers, so it’s a close and friendly experience, and you’ll have lots of time to ask all of your burning questions about Banff’s wildlife.
If you’ve got room in your budget and are looking for a comprehensive wildlife tour that includes beautiful scenery, great food, an up-close encounter with a grizzly bear, and lots of chances to spot different animals in their natural habitat, then we think that this is an excellent tour to choose!
Make sure you book a spot on this tour online to secure your spot!
What are the chances of seeing bears on a wildlife tour?
The summer months in Banff are the best time to spot wildlife when bears are out and about rather than hibernating. The guides work hard to compile information on recent bear sightings so that they can take you to areas where bears are most likely spotted. The Banff highlights and wildlife tour and the full-day excursion are only offered during the summer, giving you the best chances of seeing some animals. The Banff and its wildlife tour is offered year-round, and while it’s not impossible to see wildlife in the winter, it is much less likely – just keep that in mind!
There are no guarantees, but some tours have up to a 95% success rate, so the odds are in your favor!
There are around 35 to 40 black bears in the park, but most people are shocked to know your chances of seeing a grizzly are actually higher. That’s because there are nearly 70 grizzlies to be found. Yes, that’s twice the number of black bears! The grizzly you see pictured above was actually seen at Bow Lake!
What wildlife can you see on a Banff wildlife tour?
Some of the most popular animals to spot on a Banff wildlife tour are bighorn sheep, elk, grizzly bears, coyotes, and deer. You can also spot black bears, moose, and even wolves (although these are some of the rarest to see).
There are lots of predators to see, but the great thing about taking a wildlife tour is that you’ll be at a safe distance with a trained guide who knows exactly how to handle any potential encounters.
There are also some small and cute little creatures to spot, like pikas, which are adorable and look just like rabbits, except with rounded ears instead of long ones. Some tours also provide binoculars to help you spot birds, such as the famous bald eagle!
Bald eagles are frequently seen coasting above the park, especially during their mating season during the early spring, as they make their nests above the park.
Characterized by the brown body and white head and tail, bald eagles have a wingspan of over 7 feet (2 meters). It’s hard to imagine just how huge that is until you see it in person, but it is a sight to behold, I promise!
Related Read: Don’t let the weather dampen your plans, spotting wildlife is one of the activities you can do in Banff when it’s raining!
Parks Canada Pass Quick Info
If you plan on spending time in Canada’s national parks (including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Kootenay, and more) then you’re going to have to pay for a Parks Pass.
Single Daily Admission:
This type of pass is valid for one person for one day. It is ONLY the best value if you are traveling alone and only plan to visit a national park for a couple of days.
- Adult (ages 18-64) is $11 CAD
- Senior (65+) is $9.50 CAD
- Youth/Child (17 or younger) is FREE
Group Daily Admission:
If you’re traveling in a group or with family, you can buy a single-day admission for your entire vehicle (up to 7 people in one vehicle.)
- $22.00 CAD gets your entire vehicle entry for one full day
Parks Canada Discovery Pass
The “Discovery Pass”Discovery Pass” is what Parks Canada calls their year-long (365 days from the purchase date), multi-park entry pass. This pass will give 365 days of access to all participating national parks in Canada. This includes the most popular parks like Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and so much more.
- Adult (age 18-64) – $75.25 CAD
- Senior (65+) – $64.50 CAD
- Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $151.25 CAD
Hot Tip: Although more expensive up front, if you plan on spending more than 7 days in different parks in Canada within a 12-month period, then the Discovery Pass is actually the better deal!
Parks Canada Passes can be bought online here or at one of the Visitor Centers or booths at the entrance to many national parks.
Other Things to do While You’re in Banff
Looking for wildlife is just one of many things to do in Banff. But with so much to choose from, it might feel overwhelming. So below, I’ve picked some of my other favorite activities in the area to help you out!
- Hike Johnston Canyon – There are tons of amazing hikes in and around Banff, but I especially loved hiking Johnston Canyon and seeing its spectacular waterfalls. You can drive to the trailhead on your own or book a tour. This e-bike and hiking tour is excellent for those who want to combine both activities. Or if you just want transport, take the hop-on-hop-off bus that stops here. If you visit Johnston Canyon in winter, this Icewalk tour will show you ice formations and frozen falls!
- Visit Lake Louise and Moraine Lake – If you want to see more stunning lakes in the area, check out these two! Parking at Lake Louise can be tricky (and parking at Moraine Lake is now impossible!), so we’d recommend this Banff National Park Tour. You’ll get to visit Lake Louise as well as Moraine Lake in one go – with enough time to walk around, learn the local history, and snap postcard-worthy photos.
- Ride the Banff Gondola – If you want the best vantage point in town, ride up the Banff Gondola! You’ll climb 698 meters (2,292 feet) to the top of Sulphur Mountain, where you’ll have a view of six different mountain ranges. Tickets do sell out in the busy season, so make sure to purchase yours ahead of time!
- Explore Banff town – While many nature-based activities are nearby, you shouldn’t neglect Banff town itself! Start your morning by visiting one of the cute local cafés, or grab patio drinks along Banff Avenue in the afternoon. To avoid traffic, check out the pedestrian-only Bear Street, with even more restaurants, cafés, and shops. And if that’s not enough, there’s also a Farmers Market every Wednesday in the summertime.
Where to Stay in Banff
Along with booking a wildlife tour, finding a place to stay is one of the most important parts of your trip to Banff. That said, there are lots of different areas to consider when it comes to deciding where to stay in Banff National Park! There are also plenty of great hotels in Banff town to consider.
Below are four amazing hotels we recommend:
Samesun Banff Hostel – $
Samesun Banff Hostel is a great budget hostel with dorm rooms – perfect for those on a tight budget who want to stay in the heart of Banff town. Their common real is ideal for meeting like-minded travelers, and they also have an on-site restaurant where you can grab a meal before your wildlife tour!
As this is a backpacker place, you won’t find any private rooms available, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a great stay here. Dorms start from $53 CAD in the low season, but this does rise come summer! That’s why it’s a great idea to check your dates ahead of time, and to book your space on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.
Banff Inn – $$
The Banff Inn is a fantastic midrange hotel that combines comfort with an incredibly welcoming atmosphere. I love staying here as not only is the hotel is located right on Banff Ave, but all rooms are air-conditioned, and the staff are so friendly! In the hotel, you’ll find a hot tub, steam room, and sauna, as well as a restaurant and bar.
Rooms here at the Banff Inn start at around $266 per night, and I highly recommend booking well in advance, as this is one of the most popular hotels in Banff.
Banff Rocky Mountain Resort – $$
Another fantastic midrange hotel is Banff Rocky Mountain Resort, which has a swimming pool, hot tub, gym, and all the rooms have kitchenettes or full kitchens. It’s the perfect place for families, since they also have two and three-bedroom units to pick from.
The Banff Rocky Mountain Resort is located in a peaceful spot on Tunnel Mountain that’s only a 5-minute drive from Banff town! With rooms starting at around $143 CAD, you can check availability and book Banff Rocky Mountain Resort online here.
Fairmont Banff Springs – $$$
The Fairmont Banff Springs is by far the most luxurious hotel in Banff. It’s definitely not cheap, but the place is simply incredible – it seriously looks like a castle! Inside this one-of-a-kind hotel, you’ll find 11 restaurants, 14 shops, bowling, bars, a top-rated spa, a couple of pools, and so much more.
If you’re celebrating something special, such as a honeymoon, then this should be the hotel you choose! A one-night stay starts at around $744 CAD, and you can check prices and room availability for Fairmont online here.
Important info: Accommodation in Banff can be tricky. For starters, you need to book well in advance if you want to have a large selection. I still suggest booking a place ASAP! Using Booking.com is great too because lots of hotels offer free cancellation, so just lock in a place (or two) for now and make the final decision later!
Renting a Car in Alberta
If you’re arriving in Alberta via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. Canada is a large country and traveling between cities and even just getting out to some of the best places to visit in Alberta requires transport. Although you can use public transport, on some occasions, it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.
Renting a car will definitely make exploring all of the fun things to see and do in Alberta easier.
Car rental in Canada isn’t super cheap, but it isn’t overly expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year and the type of car that you rent. For car rentals, I use the website DiscoverCars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used them all over the world including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.
Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!
Don’t get Caught without Travel Insurance!
We never travel without travel insurance! We’ve had a few instances during our travels when one of us has ended up in the hospital, and travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars over the years!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance, we both have policies with them whenever we travel.
They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!)The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!) While most travel insurance companies left people stranded, SafetyWing fully reimbursed us for our last-minute, pricey flights!
Also, because it is so affordable, there really is no excuse not to take out a policy. Check prices and get a quote online here with SafetyWing (you can even take out a policy if you’re already traveling!)
Thanks for reading!
Banff is one of the best places to see wildlife in the Rocky Mountains, and joining a wildlife tour gives you a better chance to see more animals. We love how the guides on these tours in the Rockies know exactly where to go and really go out of their way to make sure you see something.
These wildlife tours in Banff are a great addition to your trip. If you’re looking for more ideas, check out our other Banff blogs, including these popular ones: