The Wildlife of BC’s Northeast
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There is an entire corner of British Columbia that is full of wide-open roads, adventure, and never-ending wildlife sightings: Northeast BC.
One of the highest concentrations of wildlife in North America is found in Northeastern BC. This vast wilderness is home to the Alaska Highway, where sightings of wood bison are almost guaranteed, and the Muskwa-Kechika, one of the largest and most diverse protected wilderness areas in North America. It’s no wonder this region of BC is often referred to as the ‘Serengeti of the North’.
Here is your go-to guide for the different wildlife you can see, where you’re most likely to spot them, and tours you can book to immerse yourself in the wilderness these animals call home.
Wildlife to See
Most of North America’s largest mammals are found in Northeast BC, and you don’t have to look very far, long, or hard to spot them. Moose, caribou, wood bison, grizzly bear, black bear, elk, and Stone’s sheep all call this place home. These impressive creatures roam this untamed wilderness while living in harmony with nature and local residents. Wood bison—nonexistent in many other areas of North America—are some of the most impressive creatures you can spot in this region. The sheer size of a wood bison is unmatched in this animal kingdom, with some weighing up to 2,000 pounds. While grizzly bears are another common sighting here—weighing up to 800 lbs with four-inch claws—these creatures are best observed from a distance (get those binoculars out!).
Smaller animals like red fox, wolverine, mountain goat, lynx, mule deer, timber wolf, coyote, Arctic fox, and Dall’s sheep can be spotted from roadside pullouts, campsites, and in provincial parks and protected areas. For bird lovers, there is no shortage of both resident and migratory winged creatures with common sightings of the trumpeter swan, sandhill crane, bald eagle, great grey owl, and red-tailed hawk.
Where to Spot Wildlife
There are no lines, boundaries, or territories for animals in this vast region. Here, most stretches of roadway are free of fences, farms, and pastures, making it a great place for wildlife to roam free. You’d be hard-pressed not to catch a glimpse of wildlife from the car window on a road trip along the famous Alaska Highway or along a journey from Prince George to Dawson Creek.
Fort Nelson is your basecamp for wildlife viewing in the Northern Rockies, and in winter, you might just spot a Canadian lynx on the prowl for snowshoe hare. In Dawson Creek, birders flock to McQueen Slough, a prolific waterfowl breeding habitat. Along the Alaska Highway, Stone Mountain Provincial Park and Muncho Lake Provincial Park, are surrounded by cliffs and embankments where Stone’s sheep and mountain goats cling to rock faces.
For a prehistoric look at the wildlife that once roamed this area, head to Tumbler Ridge where you’ll find the only known dinosaur trackways in the province. Fast forward a few hundred million years to present day, and the area’s ridgelines, riverbanks, and mountain tops offer great perspectives for wildlife spotting.
Stretch your legs on any number of trails in Hudson’s Hope, Mackenzie, Taylor and Fort St. John and keep watch for signs of smaller animals, such deer, birds, foxes, and coyotes, also moving throughout the area.
For adventure seekers, the 6.4-million hectare expanse of the Muskwa-Kechika is the place to truly immerse yourself in wildlife habitat. This large protected area is home to a high density of wildlife because of the limited and regulated motorized, roadway, and human access. A unique ecosystem of wildlife—from creatures in low-lying wetlands and valleys, to subalpine and alpine environments—all thrive together in unity. To access this area by foot, horseback, or ATV, it’s best to go with a knowledgeable local guide or outfitter.
In this neck of the woods, there are plenty of professional guiding services, from single day guiding experiences to multi-day, full-service adventures. Depending on your knowledge of wilderness areas, backcountry experience, and viewing aspirations, there are a few options to choose from.
To see animals from above, opt for a flight-seeing trip from Muncho Lake. If you long to be in the backcountry, a tour of the Muskwa-Kechika is a must. There are multi-day horseback trips with Wayne Sawchuk or hiking day tours with Northern Rockies Fitness. For tours in Tumbler Ridge, Wild River Adventure Tours can take thrill seekers on a jet boat up the Murray River to see impressive Kinuseo Falls and a chance to spot creatures and critters along the way.
Wildlife Viewing Tips
Located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, this UNESCO Global Geopark offers more than 50 hiking trails, cascading waterfalls, unique rock formations, dinosaur tracks, alpine meadows and lakes, canyons, caves — The chances that you will see wildlife while in this region of BC are high. This is a highly concentrated area of vast wilderness, many animals, and few people. There are always ways to increase these odds, and here are a few tips and tricks to make sure you see as many animals as possible.
Early Bird Gets the Worm
Wake up early, before or around sunrise, and be on the lookout for wildlife roaming the landscape before the heat of the day.
Keep your eagle eye out for wildlife from the car window while exploring the roads of BC’s Northeast. Designate a few wildlife spotters to be look-out at all times while you drive.
Search at Sundown
Animals also roam after sundown when it’s cooler and calmer in the forest. Wildlife viewing is all about getting in sync with the high-activity hours of various animals.
Always have your camera or binoculars at the ready for the moment you spot movement. Wildlife doesn’t always stick around and you won’t want to miss your glimpse. Better yet, be alert and ready to enjoy the moment with your own two eyes.
Safe and Responsible Wildlife Viewing
This area of BC is a place where wildlife roam free. It’s important to respect the animals and the natural environment for the safety and protection of the animals, the environment, and the residents and visitors alike.
While travelling in this region, you should know what to do if you encounter or startle an animal. Always keep your distance and never approach or feed any wildlife. If you are travelling in the backcountry or rural areas, always dispose of garbage correctly and pack out what you bring in. As much of the wildlife seen is from roadways, it is essential to always be aware of your surroundings; avoid making sudden stops, and never stop or park in blind spots.
How to Get to Northeast BC
Direct flights are available into Fort St. John and Dawson Creek from Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. Vehicle rentals are available from local airports; make sure to reserve in advance.
By road, there are multiple points of entry to Northeast BC. From Vancouver and the Okanagan, expect a two-day drive via Highway 1 and 97. Coming from Edmonton and Grande Prairie? Highway 43 is an easy one-day straight shot; from Calgary, Highways 2 and 22 will connect you to the main artery heading west in a longer but scenic route.
Highway 16 in Northern BC will connect you to Prince George, then onto Highway 97 north. Make sure you have all-season tires and check road conditions before you embark.
What To Know Before You Go
Some operators and accommodators close for the season in mid-September. Make sure to check availability in advance. The weather at this time of year is unpredictable and changes rapidly; pack seasonally appropriate clothing.