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As well as spectacular scenery and lots of adventurous activities, Banff National Park is also home to a ton of interesting wildlife.
In fact, there are over 53 different species of mammals in the park, including grizzly and black bears, elk, and moose. Plus, with over 280 types of birds to spot, it’s no wonder that so many visitors flock to Banff to experience its incredible wildlife.
When it comes to the top tours in Banff, wildlife tours deserve a special mention. Some creatures 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 lived in Canmore, which is right on the edge of Banff National Park, for quite a while and spent lots of time hiking, exploring the area, and seeing the wildlife. There’s nothing quite like spotting a grizzly bear from afar or even a cute pika scampering by!
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.
What are the chances of seeing bears on a wildlife tour?
The tours we’ll talk about in this blog only operate during the summer months in Banff 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.
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 one 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 grand that is until you see it in person, but it is a sight to behold I promise!
Related Read: Don’t let weather dampen your plans, spotting wildlife is one of the activities you can do in Banff when it’s raining!
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.
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 can add a light meal to your tour package for an extra $15 CAD per person, which includes a sandwich or wrap, some fruit, and a trail mix, or you’re welcome to bring your own 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 for free 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’s the exact opposite of a cookie-cutter tour!
Plus, at $126 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 late afternoon at either 4, 4:30, or 5 pm so that you’ll visit the best spots at the most active times for wildlife.
You can be picked up at either the Peaks Hotel or the Samesun Banff Hostel, depending on what’s more convenient for you, and you’ll be dropped back there again after the tour. There is some walking and hiking involved, 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. Private sunset safari in Banff (Best budget option)
If you’re traveling on a budget, then this sunset safari is an excellent way to see some of Banff’s best wildlife for $95 CAD (or $65 CAD for kids aged 3-12). It lasts for 2.5 hours and takes you to some wildlife hotspots close to town, including certain streets that have been named after iconic local creatures.
Then, you’ll drive past Tunnel Mountain towards beautiful Lake Minnewanka, where you can see elk, bighorn sheep, and maybe even some grizzlies around the shore.
Lots of Banff’s most iconic wildlife species are most active at dusk and dawn, so a sunset drive is the perfect time to spot animals. Plus, although it’s a budget tour, you’ll still get binoculars to help you scope them out and spot birds of prey hunting in the distance, too.
One thing that we really love about this tour is that, although it’s a budget option, it’s actually a private experience so only your group will be in the vehicle. This means that you can ask lots of questions, take as long as you want to look at something, and just generally have a much more relaxed and intimate experience.
Plus, you’ll get to stop at Mt. Rundle for an incredible photo opportunity in front of the mountain, and the tour includes pickup from most central hotels in Banff and Canmore, so you don’t need to worry about finding the meeting point.
Check availability and book this sunset safari online!
Related Read: Up for a roadtrip? 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 $276 CAD for adults or $134 CAD for children aged 6-12s. It 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!
Related Read: Another way I’ve seen grizzlys is from the air while riding on the Lake Louise Gondola! It’s one of the best things to do in Lake Louise – only a 40-minute drive from Banff.
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 impossible at Moraine Lake!), 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 cafes, or grab patio drinks along Banff Avenue in the afternoon. To avoid traffic, check out the pedestrian-only Bear Street, with even more restaurants, cafes, 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. The selection can be overwhelming and expensive. 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 some amazing hotels we recommend:
Samesun Banff Hostel – Budget-backpacker Hostel
A great budget hostel with dorm rooms. Perfect for those on a tight budget who want to stay in the heart of Banff town. This is only a backpacker place though, as there are no private rooms available. Dorms can be booked on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.
Banff Inn – Budget-friendly Hotel
The Banff Inn is the perfect mix of comfort and affordability. It has a budget-friendly price tag but also comes with lots of luxuries. The hotel is located right on Banff Ave and all rooms are air-conditioned. In the hotel, you’ll find a hot tub, steam room, and sauna, as well as a restaurant and bar. You should book the Banff Inn well in advance as this is one of the most popular hotels in Banff.
Banff Rocky Mountain Resort – Mid-range Hotel
Pushing up into the mid-range budget, this hotel has a swimming pool, hot tub, gym, and all the rooms have kitchenettes or full kitchens. It is the perfect place for families since two and three-bedroom units are also on offer. The location is peaceful on Tunnel Mountain but yet only a 5-minute drive from Banff town. You can check availability and book Banff Rocky Mountain Resort online here.
Fairmont Banff Springs – Luxury Hotel
This is easily the most luxurious hotel in Banff. It’s not cheap but the place is simply incredible – it seriously looks like a castle! Inside the hotel, you’ll find 11 restaurants, 14 shops, bowling, bars, a top-rated spa, a couple of pools, and so much more. It’s a luxury resort-like stay and the only one of its kind in Banff. If you’re visiting Banff on a honeymoon then this should be the hotel you choose! 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!
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 $10.50 CAD
- Senior (65+) is $9.00 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.)
- $21.00 CAD gets your entire vehicle entry for one full day
Parks Canada Discovery Pass
The “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) – $72.25 CAD
- Senior (64+) – $61.75 CAD
- Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $145.25 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.
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!
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:
BANFF ITINERARY – How to Spend 1, 2, or 3 Days in Banff
Guide to Planning the Most Romantic Honeymoon in Banff & Lake Louise
The Four Banff Gondolas – Our Comparison After Riding Them All!