British Columbia’s Wildlife A Sight to Behold
British Columbia is known for its magnificent mountains, pristine lakes, lush green forests and the Pacific Ocean. It’s therefore not surprising that residing within this bountiful environment are well over 1,000 different species of wildlife including hundreds of birds and fish, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles.
Wildlife viewing continues to grow in popularity. Viewing platforms have been installed in some of the more popular areas but often you will see wildlife as you drive BC’s highways. In the spring when the grass is sprouting, black bears can be found grazing along the roadside verges and deer have a propensity to dart across any road in every corner of the province, so drivers should beware.
Mountain goats, big horn sheep, elk and caribou are seen in some areas of the province. In remoter regions are plains bison and grizzly bears. Moose can be spotted in the mountains in Manning Park, the Rockies, and Northern British Columbia. The aptly named Moose Valley Provincial Park near 100 Mile House in the Cariboo and Bowron Lake Provincial Park are well-known for moose viewing. And if you are very lucky you may even glimpse the white spirit bear, also called the Kermode bear, which lives in the coastal mountain ranges.
For bird lovers, many species reside in British Columbia, either year-round or during the warmer seasons. In the spring and fall, birders line pathways and fields photographing the thousands of birds on their migration routes. The Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Delta is a popular viewing area in the south-west area of the province. Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area and the Columbia Wetlands, both in the Kootenay Rockies, offer waterfowl viewing in abundance. There is a bird trail in the Okanagan and many of the lakes in the Cariboo and Northern BC are home to well-known as well as rarely seen bird species.
Eagles and hawks, trumpeter swans, waterfowl, songbirds, herons and cranes, and the well-known Canadian loon with its recognizable call are just a few of the species seen throughout BC. Bald eagles enjoy feasting on salmon and are often found soaring through the skies in coastal areas. One of the most popular places to find bald eagles is on the Sea to Sky Highway between Vancouver and Whistler in Brackendale, near Squamish.
Killer whales (orcas), grey whales and sea lions are just some of the marine life found in and around British Columbia’s Pacific coastline, with popular whale watching tours offering excellent viewing opportunities during April to October.
Tips on Viewing Wildlife
- Use a viewing guide
- Understand when you are most likely to see wild animals – time of day, time of year
- Be patient and quiet – it could take a while
- Wear proper clothing and protect your skin from insects and the heat of the sun
- Stay on designated roads and trails to avoid damaging the vegetation
- Respect private property
Wildlife Viewing Safety
- View wildlife from a distance to avoid scaring the animals. These are wild animals and some can be dangerous
- Don’t approach young animals as their protective mothers will be nearby
- Control pets
- Do not feed wildlife
- Pay attention to posted notices and warnings about wildlife that may be in the area
- Deer and other wildlife can be found on BC’s roads and highways, so be alert and take care
Other Useful Information
Ministry of Forests, Lands & Natural Resources is an excellent resource for information on viewing wildlife in BC. They provide brochures of the province’s regions, as well as specific areas within those regions, some communities, bird checklists, and more. You can review and download brochures from Wildlife Viewing Publications.
The BC Nature Guide is published by BC Nature Federation of BC Naturalists. It provides viewing maps as well as tips on viewing wildlife in BC.
The BC Parks Bear safety guide offers tips on how to be ‘bear safe’.
Best Places to Spot Wildlife in British Columbia – Travel Blog
Read Blogs on the Camping & RV in BC website that include wildlife spotted on visitors’ travels in British Columbia.
For places to camp in British Columbia go to the Camping Map
Share your BC camping and travel photos using hashtag #campinbc, #explorebc, #bcnice
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Plan a Memorable Vacation in BC’s Stunning Telegraph Cove and the Broughton Archipelago
Wildlife lovers rejoice! Telegraph Cove and the Broughton Archipelago are an ideal destination if your perfect holiday includes a chance of spotting whales, bears, eagles, and more.
Broughton Archipelago Provincial Park, sandwiched between Northern Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia, is certainly in contention for one of the most beautiful parts of the province. With towering cliffs, midden beaches, rocky islets, and protected passageways through lushly forested islands, the Broughton Archipelago makes up the largest marine park in British Columbia. The park, established in 1992, is a mecca for boaters, and it is known worldwide as a premier kayaking destination. When we were in the Broughtons, we spoke with an experienced kayaker who had flown from South Africa, purchased a kayak off Craigslist in Vancouver, rented fishing equipment, and planned to spend five nights (longer if he could stretch his food by catching dinner!) in what he considered one of the world’s best kayaking areas.
The marine park makes up only part of the area considered the Broughton Archipelago. To start our trip, we took an hour-long water taxi from Telegraph Cove to the Burdwood Group – a collection of small islands at the meeting point of Fife Sound, Tribune Channel, and Penphrase Passage. When we landed on the main group site in the Burdwoods, it was like we had been transported to a tropical island. The area was established as a BC Conservancy in 2009 in order to protect both aquatic and forest habitats as well as sites of cultural significance in the traditional territories of the Mamalilikulla-Qwe’Qwa’Sot’Em First Nations, including the shell midden beach on which we landed.
An afternoon paddle had us marvelling at Deep Sea Bluff – a towering cliff on mainland British Columbia near where Captain George Vancouver reportedly anchored during his exploration of the BC coast in 1793. When we arrived at the bluffs, the tide was low and the barnacle-covered intertidal zone (in this case, entirely vertical) was taller than me. After the mandatory photo “touching the mainland” we headed back to camp. Our two days in the Burdwood Group consisted of circumnavigating small islands, exploring the rather desolate feeling Echo Bay Marine Park – complete with a collapsing community recreation centre and a picturesque but condemned wharf – and visiting the fascinating personal museum collection of Billy Proctor, a lifelong resident of the Broughton Archipelago and passionate beachcomber, fisherman, and logger. Bring your wallet and pick up a copy of one of Billy’s books for a fascinating read about the Broughtons.
After two days in what can only be described as beachfront paradise, we packed up and headed for the ominously named Insect Island – hoping all the while that the name had nothing to do with mosquitos! After a mostly mosquito-free night in a lovely campground (despite the decidedly uphill hike to the tenting area), we continued our travels by paddling down Misty Passage, past Monday Anchorage, through the Coach Islets, to Sedge Island. At this point, so inspired by the wide-open vistas we had seen for most of the day and not wanting to camp on the rather boxed in Sedge Island campsite, we carried on to the spectacular White Cliff Islets – one of my favourite locations from the entire trip. These tiny rock islets on the edge of Queen Charlotte Strait are nothing short of spectacular. When we visited, the few trees on the islets were filled with keen-eyed eagles and fish darted through the kelp beds below us as we paddled along.
After exploring the islets, we headed for the campsite on nearby Owl Island. Perfectly placed on the island, the campground offers a protected bay with morning sun for launching and a short trail through the trees to a gorgeous sunset viewing beach. A sunset paddle around the aptly named Fire Island was spectacular as the sun sank below the horizon. One of the best parts of kayaking is the connection immediately forged with nature and your campground compatriots. At the recommendation of some fellow kayakers, the next day we headed for Flower Island where, we were told, we “wouldn’t be able to sleep because of the whales.”
The paddle from Owl to Flower was another gorgeous day on the water. Once we passed Bold Head on Swanson Island it became apparent that Blackfish Sound was indeed where the whales congregate. The four-or-so kilometre paddle along Swanson Island was a non-stop show of whale blows, with our heads constantly swivelling to try and catch sight of the whales. Just after arriving at Flower Island we were treated to one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen – a nearly five-minute performance of a humpback whale blowing and slapping its tail (known as tail lobbing) just offshore. The marine activity carried on throughout the evening with appearances from dolphins, porpoises, sea lions, humpback whales, and orcas. It was truly one of the best wildlife experiences of my life.
In the morning we paddled back to Telegraph Cove, completing our journey from the mainland back to Vancouver Island. Telegraph Cove is the perfect launching point for a kayak trip to the Broughtons, and there are numerous tour operators on the North Island who provide guided trips. If kayaking is not your speed, consider a trip with Prince of Whales Whale Watching and Wildlife Adventures or spend a full day observing grizzly bears in Knight Inlet with Tide Rip Grizzly Adventures.
Telegraph Cove is also a great destination in its own right. The community balloons in population during the summer months and as such, it is one of the most tourist-focused destinations on the North Island. Several coffee shops provide drinks and snacks, a pub on the pier offers plenty of choices including BBQ salmon dinners, and the excellent Whale Interpretive Centre is a must-visit for those wanting to know more about the creatures that call the Johnstone Strait home. Telegraph Cove Marina & RV Park offers camping and moorage. Camping is also available at Telegraph Cove Resort Forest Campground part of the Telegraph Cove Resort.
Telegraph Cove is a first-class destination for those wishing to get in touch with nature. From self-guided trips for experienced kayakers to afternoon whale watching excursions, the Broughton Archipelago is sure to delight your whole family.
For places to camp in British Columbia go to Camping & RVing BC Camping Map.
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BC’s Gulf Islands National Park Reserve Offers Rich Opportunities for Exploring
The Gulf Islands are one of those places I forget how much I love until I revisit them. Recently my husband and I packed up our truck and camping gear, loaded our motorcycle into the back, and set out to explore Gulf Islands National Park Reserve on Pender and Saturna Islands.
Gulf Islands National Park Reserve was established in 2003 and stretches over 15 islands in the Salish Sea. Pender Island and Saturna Island have the largest park areas accessible by BC Ferries. Many of the other parts of the park are accessible only by kayak, sailboat, or powerboat.
No matter which island(s) you choose to visit, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve offers a wide variety of hiking, wildlife viewing, cycling, and watersport opportunities. The Gulf Islands are a place where time slows down, so make sure you plan lots of time for simply sitting by the ocean and relaxing.
What to Do
Gulf Islands National Park Reserve requires some extra planning to visit as destinations and park sites are scattered across many islands. Pender Island (actually two islands separated by a shipping canal dredged in the early 1900s) makes a great home base as it is (relatively) easily accessible via BC Ferries, offers several National Park sites on the island itself, and provides a great jumping-off point to visit other islands. On Pender Island, make sure you visit:
- Roesland: A former holiday resort, Roesland today houses the Pender Islands Museum and serves as the operational headquarters for Gulf Islands National Park Reserve on Pender Island. Download the Parks Canada Explora App for a GPS-guided tour of the property and step back in time as you wander through the apple orchard, past the former seaside cottages, and out to the end of Roe Islet.
- Mount Norman: Get your heart pumping with a short but steep 1.5 kilometre hike to the highest point on the Pender Islands. With spectacular views westward towards Victoria, Mount Norman is an excellent place to be as the sun dips low in the sky.
- Roe Lake: For an easier stroll, take the moderate 1.5 kilometre loop around Roe Lake to visit one of the only freshwater lakes in the Gulf Islands.
- Oak Bluffs: Another excellent place to take in the sunset, Oak Bluffs is another short but hilly walk with great views. From this location, make sure you keep your eyes peeled for passing Orca whales.
Saturna Island has the largest “chunk” of Gulf Islands National Park Reserve all in one area. The vast majority of Saturna’s interior is protected area, and as such, it is an ideal destination for an off-the-beaten-path experience. On Saturna, take time to visit:
- Mount Warburton Pike: As the highest spot on Saturna, and in all of Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, Mount Warburton Pike offers commanding views over the Salish Sea and the surrounding islands. Take an old logging road to the top for great views, and then carry on along the ridge of the island by foot.
- East Point: Home to a lighthouse since the late 1800s, East Point marks the transition between Boundary Pass and the Strait of Georgia. Pack a picnic and spend the day exploring sandstone cliffs and grassy meadows, and watch wildlife pass by right in front of you. East Point is home to the Saturna Island Marine Research and Education Society (SIMRES), so you are in the right place to spot Orca whales, sea lions, seals, and a variety of sea birds.
- Winter Cove: Make use of the Explora App you downloaded on Pender Island, and take a 1.5 kilometre guided walk at Winter Cove to explore the many types of vegetation found on the Gulf Islands. Take your time, and enjoy beautiful views of the Strait of Georgia along the way.
In the Area
On Pender Island, Brooks Point Regional Park is worth the trip all the way to the Southeastern tip of the island. The park offers grassy meadows and rocky shores, and the perfect place to enjoy a picnic lunch. Pender Island also offers a variety of excellent places to eat and drink. Plan to have at least one breakfast at Jo’s Place, pick up beach snacks and a coffee or two at the Vanilla Leaf Bakery Café, sample local and amazing cider at the brand new Twin Island Cidery, and enjoy a glass of wine on the patio and a meal at the food truck at Sea Star Vineyards. Check in at the Pender Islands Community Hall to see what events and activities are on the menu for a truly local experience.
On Saturna Island, plan your visit to take in the Saturna Saturday Market where almost the whole island (all 350 residents!) shows up to buy local produce, preserves, locally made crafts, and artwork. Check the schedule ahead of time to see if you can time your trip to attend one of the excellent and informative SIMRES SeaTalks. We were lucky enough to catch a double feature about the Southern Resident Killer Whales and the Transient Orca Whales when we visited. As you leave from or return to the ferry, pop in to the Wild Thyme Coffee House – housed in a retro double-decker bus – for a drink and a snack. My favourite: the Orange Creamsicle tea latte.
Where to Stay
On Pender Island, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve offers up three camping locations. There is a drive-in site at Prior Centennial, a walk-in site at Shingle Bay, and a boat-in site at Bedwell Harbour’s Beaumont Marine Park. All three sites are quite small, and reservations are highly recommended to guarantee your spot. On Saturna Island, hike or boat access camping is available and can be reserved at Narvaez Bay. Reservations are strongly recommended.
Gulf Islands National Park Reserve offers rich opportunities for exploration. You can easily fill a long weekend exploring the islands accessible by BC Ferries, but if you want to go further afield and into the boat accessible only areas, you will certainly need more time. Visiting the Gulf Islands is the perfect break from the rush of everyday life as it truly allows you to reset yourself to “island time” and get in touch with the beauty that surrounds you at Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.
Check out more blogs in the National Parks & Historic Sites series:
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Published: June 8th, 2017
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