Finding Bears in Banff National Park
People are drawn from all over the world to Banff National Park for a number of equally compelling reasons. The park is nestled in the amazingly scenic Bow Valley surrounded by formidably named mountain peaks such as Rundle, Cascade and Sleeping Buffalo (actually named Tunnel but most locals use the traditional name). The park features turquoise blue water which settles in great lakes or flows fiercely down the trout filled rivers as if it is in a hurry. The walls of the valley are lined by a plethora of varying tree species. In spring, the scent of the Christmas, Englemann Spruce, trees tickles the senses while in the fall the bright golden glow of soon to fall leaves on the Trembling Aspen and White Poplar trees shine.
However, despite the amazing flora and scenery that find home in Banff National Park, the true draw to visitors is the wildlife. Here on the pasture lands huge bull elk protect their harem of mates as they graze gently. Along the roadsides
deer skiddishly nibble on their favourite treats while their ears remain in constant sense of their surroundings before dancing off through the forest in search of serenity. Giant moose awkwardly trample through the wet lands crashing through shrubs as they feed. Fierce predators such as the elegant Grey Wolf and the ever adaptive Coyote hunt constantly as they track over immense areas of land. More elusive animals such as the Lynx, the Wolverine, and the Cougar also find refuge here in the park. But the true draw is the presence of a large population of highly visible bears.
Through the summer months (May-Sept) two different types of bears can be found playing
their way through the primary forests, along highway sides, and on the desolate paths of previous years’ avalanches. Black bears paddle their way through bushes of berries spending nearly the entire day nibbling. Over-sized Grizzly Bears can grow to as large as 900 pounds in weight and dig for the majority of their food. Huge holes can be found through the forest where they have dug up edible tree roots as well as unsuspecting, and hibernated, ground squirrels. While visiting the park, witnessing the majestic stature of this gentle beast is a treat in itself.
These creatures truly are the kings of the forest. They roam at will undisturbed by anything, other than perhaps the presence of far too many over excited tourists who feel the need to get as close to the beasts as possible. These bears are often too busy to be disrupted as they need to feed on thousands of berries per day to fill their caloric quota. Unlike bears in neighboring British Columbia, these animals do not get any of their nutritional value from Salmon swimming upstream to spawn. Thus, these great being need to be at constant work chewing away at anything that will give them the strength they need.
Photographing bears is often a challenge, getting close enough to the great animals is one thing, getting a clean shot free
of the bushes that they eat from is another. The majority of shots taken result in fuzzy black or grey spots seen in the middle of green foliage as to which tourists return home to their families and friends swearing by the fact that the dot in their picture frame is actually a bear. However, some things aren’t meant to be photographed, and spending a few sheer minutes watching this majestic creature alone is worth any photograph brought home to brag about.
Written and Photographed by Brendan van Son