While it's thrilling to see wildlife here, the parklands are no zoos! Here, animals roam free, and the natural rhythms of the wilderness are maintained. There are 53 species of wild mammals here, 13 of which are on Parks Canada's "Species at Risk" list. Some animals meander along and across highways and hiking trails, within easy camera range. However tempting, never feed the animals and don't touch them. You can be fined up to C$500 for feeding any wildlife, for one thing. For another, it's extremely dangerous.
As docile as some of these animals may seem, remember: These are wild creatures for whom the first rule is survival. If they feel threatened, they will either run or attack. And while they can seriously hurt you, you might be doing the same to them. Bighorn sheep, for one, get accustomed to summer handouts of bread, candy, potato chips, and marshmallows when they should be grazing on the high-protein vegetation that'll help them survive through the winter. Moose have taken a kindly offered snack as an invitation to join a picnic, and once a moose has decided that's what he or she wants, you won't be able to say no: They sometimes weigh well over a ton.
Then there are bears. Both black and grizzly bears call the parks home; grizzlies, at up to 2m (6 1/2 ft.) on their hind legs, are the more threatening of the two, but don't underestimate the grizzly's smaller cousin, the black bear, which is relatively small at 1.5m (5 ft.) long. Both can be very dangerous when startled or threatened; your best bet is to make plenty of noise on the trails as you walk (singing and clapping your hands work well) to let them know you're coming.
The grizzly spends most of the summer in high alpine ranges, well away from tourist haunts. As one of North America's largest carnivores, its appearance and reputation are awesome enough to make you beat a retreat on sight. But the cuddly looks and circus antics of the black bear tend to obscure the fact that these, too, are wild animals: powerful, faster than a horse, and completely unpredictable.
Hiking in bear country (and virtually all parkland is bear country) necessitates certain precautions; ignore them at your peril. Never hike alone and never take a dog along. Dogs often yap at bears, then when the animal charges, they run toward their owners for protection, bringing the pursuer with them. Above all, never go near a cub. The mother is usually close by, and a female defending her young is the most ferocious creature you'll ever face -- and possibly the last. In the Canadian Rockies, there are more "bear jams" than "traffic jams" as tourists pile up in their vehicles to snap photos of grizzlies or black bears, creating chaos on the roads. Whistling, yelling, running about . . . tourists behave strangely in the presence of a magnificent mammal, causing problems that can turn fatal for the bear and for other drivers. If you see a bear and want a closer look, slow down safely but do not stop. Give the bear space. No matter the circumstances, stay in your vehicle and do not approach the bear. Once alerted to the sighting of a bear, Parks Canada staff and often the police will appear at the scene and urge travelers to keep moving. Remember to call in a bear sighting to tel. 403/762-1470.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.