Autumn wildlife watching in Kootenay National Park

Mountain goat

A mountain goat -- part of the incredible diversity of wildlife in Kootenay National Park (Photo by Graham Osbourne / Parks Canada)

The scenery is exploding with the brilliant yellows and golds of autumn leaves and the rich reds of spawning kokanee salmon. We can hear the iconic crashing sounds as the bighorn sheep rut deep in the forest and we draw our jackets closer as we breathe in the clean fragrance of the nippy early-morning mountain air. Autumn must be right at the top of the list of our favorite seasons of the year –- and easily the best time to discover Kootenay National Park’s abundant wildlife.

This is the time of the year to come across grizzly and black bears in the park as they seek out the last of the berry crop before they make their way to cozy dens for their winter hibernation.

It’s time for the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and their families to make their way down the steep hillsides to winter safety in the valley, where the food is rich and plentiful. Just a drive around the streets of Radium Hot Springs will provide plenty of viewing opportunities to see the young lambs with their moms and dads as they bask in patches of sunshine on front lawns and golf courses in the village. Don’t forget to bring your camera.

The birds are migrating at this time of the year too, and as they work their way south to winter nesting grounds, they offer plenty of viewing opportunities for anyone with a pair of binoculars or a camera.

Pika

The pika is a gerbil-like member of the rabbit family. (Photo by Jenny Clark / Parks Canada)

With binoculars, you can sometimes see mountain goats on the steep cliffs of Mount Wardle (just pull off the highway through the park at Hector Gorge). Or hike the Kindersley-Sinclair loop trail to see the bighorn sheep in their natural habitat. The Stanley Glacier offers opportunities to see small mammals such as hoary marmots, chipmunks and squirrels and hear the unmistakable “eek” of the pika, a gerbil-like member of the rabbit family.

In places where forest fires have sculpted the landscape — such as Floe Lake, Marble Canyon, and the Paint Pots — you may see woodpeckers, birds of prey, snowshoe hare, deer and moose. Aquatic creatures such as bull trout and kokanee salmon are abundant in the Kootenay River and Meadow Creek.

Here are some timely tips for wildlife watching in Kootenay National Park:

  • Only stop where and when it is safe to pull over and make sure you are off the path of traffic.

  • Give the animals space. Remaining in your car is the best way to ensure you don’t disturb them. Stay at least 100m from bears and 30m from other large animals. If you notice the animal changing its behavior, it is because you are too close.

  • Don’t touch, feed or harass wildlife. It is dangerous and it also could get you a hefty fine!

  • Leave the family dog at home or keep it on a leash at all times.

  • The best times to view wildlife is at dusk or dawn. A mid-week morning in October might also be a good time.

  • Have binoculars or a spotting scope to see mountain goats and water birds, and sunglasses or visor caps help with viewing fish.

  • For trips into the backcountry, make sure you have bear spray and know how to use it.

For further information about Kootenay National Park, go to http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/bc/kootenay/index.aspx

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