Home to old-growth forests, abundant wildlife, and eco-rich sea life, British Columbia—Canada’s westernmost province—is home to more fauna than any other part of the country.
Whether it’s a grizzly bear feeding on salmon in the wild, a colony of sea lions basking in the sun, a pod of orcas gliding through the Pacific Ocean, or bald eagles congregating at the canopy’s treetops, scenes like these are not just something you see in the pages of National Geographic; they’re highly accessible nearby major cities like Vancouver, BC, and beyond.
Counting more than 34 million acres of provincial parks, national parks, conservancies, ecological reserves, and recreation areas, the abundant animal population in these parts is the real deal—no zoo ticket required. Enter wildlife in the wild!
To give you a sense of what you can see along Canada’s West Coast in a matter of days—seriously, it will blow your mind—I’ve rounded up some photos from my recent eco-tours and stay at Sonora Resort, a luxury retreat situated in one of the country’s most wildlife-rich areas, accessible by boat, seaplane, or helicopter.
Up, up, and away
One of the most picturesque ways to view British Columbia’s vast outdoor playground is from the air. I love floatplanes for their ability to fly low (so low I’ve seen pods of whales from my seat) and access areas not reachable by road.
British Columbia’s rugged coastline
British Columbia’s ever-changing coastline makes its way 15,985 miles along mountainous fjords, lengthy beaches, and around 28,000 marine islands—the majority of which are uninhabited (by humans, that is).
The best time to view BC’s resident and transient orcas—one of the West Coast’s most iconic species—is May through October. These spectacular marine mammals come to the North Pacific’s waterways for salmon, socializing, and, when they’re feeling crazy, to rub their bodies on the area’s smooth pebble beaches (a unique characteristic among orca populations). Minke and humpback whales, dolphins, porpoises, harbour seals, and sea lions also thrive in these waters.
Another West Coast marine wonder is BC’s population of sea lions who love to lollygag the day away sprawled out on rocks, or fishing for herring. They can be easily viewed from the shore or via an ocean eco-tour.
Dolphins and porpoises are regulars along Western Canada’s coastline. Here, view Pacific White-Sided dolphins (above), Dall’s porpoises, and many other pods of these uber-athletic and ultra-smart mammals.
Spotting a grizzly is the holy grail of eco-safaris in BC. At once massive and majestic, these big brown bears are best viewed in summer and early fall beside rivers (where they feast on salmon to bulk up for winter hibernation). Get another gorgeous look at these grizzlies in the photo at the top!
Elk thrive in BC both along the coast and in the interior. Watch for these antlered animals in pairs or groups—they are social and like a crowd.
This scene is just one example of the gorgeous natural habitat belonging to grizzly bears, elk, salmon, and many other fish and animals living along BC’s “wet” coast (sometimes given this name since most of the treed territory is actually a rain forest).
While I have seen many of the above wild things throughout BC and Canada, the one time I spotted almost all of them in a three-day period was at Sonora Resort—a wildlife- and luxury-lover’s dream destination.
What animals wow you? Have you traveled to see them in their natural habitat?
Select photos by author. Grizzlies, orcas, dolphins, sea lions, elk, and aerial of Sonora Resort courtesy of Sonora Resort and Wynne Powell.