Wildlife in Jasper National Park is varied and abundant. Fifty-three species of mammals call the park home, from large bull moose and grizzlies to the smallest rodents. There are also hundreds of bird species that live in the park or visit seasonally.
So, what type of wildlife can you see expect to see in Jasper on your visit?
We will go through a variety of the animals that live in the park and where you might want to try looking for them for the best possibility of a sighting. But seeing wildlife is never guaranteed, especially when searching for specific species.
Table of Contents
- Wildlife In Jasper & The Best Places To See Them
- Rare Wildlife In Jasper You Most Likely Won’t Spot
- Safety When Viewing Wildlife
- Jasper Wildlife Tours
- What Camera Equipment Do You Need For Wildlife In Jasper?
- Which Is Nicer, Banff Or Jasper?
- To Finish – Incredible Wildlife In Jasper National Park And The BEST Places To See Them
Wildlife In Jasper & The Best Places To See Them
Grizzly Bears & Black Bears
Jasper National Park, located in Alberta Province, has both grizzly bears and black bears. The park has approximately 100 of each type, give or take, based on various circumstances.
How can you tell the difference? Well, it isn’t based on color as you might think. The black bear’s name is deceiving because it can actually be in various shades, including brown or even white. The difference is that grizzly bears have a distinct hump of muscle right at their shoulder blades behind the head.
The best seasons to visit for bear activity are spring and fall. The bears are fattening up after just coming out of or are preparing to head back into hibernation.
Look along the roadsides while driving Pyramid Lake Road or Maligne Lake Road.
📖 Headed to Banff as part of this trip? Check out Banff’s awesome spots to take photographs.
Elk (aka Wapiti)
Elk are going to be animals you can’t miss seeing during your visit to Jasper. Literally, you can’t miss them. We would be shocked if you came away without seeing any.
With more than 1000 individuals within the park boundary, they can be seen on pretty much every stretch of road. They particularly like the roadways along Hwy 16 and can even be found within the town itself on occasion.
📎 Tip: Visiting Jasper in the fall allows you to be there for the rutting season. This time of year is when the bulls fight for their harems of females. It is the best time of year to hear bugling and to see the elk fighting.
Coyotes are quite a common sight in the park, just like pretty much anywhere in North America. In fact, we spotted a coyote heading into a storm drain in our suburban neighborhood in Kansas City once.
But seeing them in a natural environment is much more appealing, don’t you agree?
These small canines are related to wolves. But because they do not instinctively fear humans the way wolves do, they are more likely to be seen than their larger counterparts.
You might spot a coyote anywhere in the park, including downtown. We found this one along the banks of the Athabasca River right next to Hwy 16.
Bighorn sheep are identified by their characteristic horns. The brown coat with a lighter rump area is reminiscent of elk, but they are unrelated.
The males (called rams) have the large curved horns that they are named for. The females (called ewes) have much shorter, slightly curved horns that do not bend down and around.
Similar to bears, where they feed will depend on the season. Bighorn sheep prefer cooler weather, so they spend the warmer summers in the alpine area.
The winters are spent lower in the valley. Therefore, winter is the best time to see these guys as they descend from high altitudes.
We saw them in the fall, but they were still quite high along the roadways. Look along the main Hwy 16 east of Jasper or on Miette Road. Another place to try is along the Icefields Parkway drive, as they will come onto the road to lick salt.
We typically associate Canada with moose, maple syrup, and ice hockey. And so we naturally expected an abundance of moose within the park.
Turns out there are only about 150 moose in Jasper, and they are harder to spot than you might think. We ran into several people at the tail end of their trip who hadn’t seen a single moose. But we saw them several times, including this big bull moose, so we know they are there.
If you want to try to find moose, consider driving Maligne Lake Road or hiking the Moose Lake Loop.
White-Tailed Deer & Mule Deer
Both white-tailed deer and mule deer can be found in Jasper National Park.
Mule deer have rather large ears and a black-tipped tail. White-tailed deer have smaller ears, and their tail is generally solid brown on the exterior and white on the interior.
Deer are abundant, and we think you will have no problem seeing one (if not one every day) during your trip. Mule deer are more common to the terrain and area and will be the ones you will most likely spot.
There is no specific area to look for mule deer as they are common throughout Jasper. White-tailed will be a bit harder to find. We suggest trying Snaring Road as a starting place.
Marmot & Pika
Marmots and Pika are fond of higher altitudes. So if you are planning on hiking up or visiting higher elevations, then there is a good chance you may see one of these two species.
Marmots are large rodents. Aptly named a “whistle pig,” they will sound a high-pitched whistle noise as an alarm call to the others. Hoary marmots, the species found in Jasper, can weigh up to 25 lbs (11.3 kg).
Marmots hibernate just like bears. So do not anticipate seeing them during the winter.
Pika are not actually rodents even though they remind us most of a gerbil. These adorable little things are harder to spot than marmots due to their small stature. They come in at only about 6 inches (15.2 cm) long and weigh only 1/2 lb (.22 kg).
We honestly wouldn’t have noticed the pikas if they hadn’t been alarming. Their alarm call reminds us most of a bird call (similar to a crow caw), though another website called it similar to a “bleat of a lamb.” It is a single high-pitched call.
If you hike any of the alpine trails that take you above the tree line or ride the Jasper Gondola up Whistler Mountain, be on the lookout for either of these species.
There are tons of birds within the park. From some of the most common ones you can see throughout North America to more specialized ones.
In particular, we want to point out the larger birds of prey as they will be a bit easier to spot. Maybe? At least based on their size, they will be.
You can find both bald eagles and golden eagles in the park. There are five types of owls to find, including the Great Gray Owl, which we desperately want to see someday. And Jasper has their fair share of hawks as well.
There are grouse, pigeons, shorebirds, ducks, swallows, woodpeckers, and much more.
If you are a birder, then we highly suggest a visit. You certainly won’t be disappointed with the variety you will see.
Birds can be found anywhere within the park, but bald eagles, in particular, have been found nesting at Medicine Lake. And we spotted multiple juveniles on Hwy 16 on the banks of the Athabasca river.
Other Wildlife Species In Jasper You Might Spot
As we mentioned, 53 species of mammals are within the park, and we only discussed a handful above.
Squirrels, chipmunks, and hares are a common sight. Skunks, porcupines, mountain goats, and beavers all call Jasper home. Minks, otters, and martens can also sometimes be found.
We had a particularly good sighting of a marten, who was super curious about us and was so adorable we wanted to scoop it up and give it lots of pets.
So while driving or hiking in the park, just keep your eyes peeled for the wildlife.
📎 Tip: Most people want to see large mammals like elk and bears. But you never know what you might spot of the small stuff if you drive slowly and be on the lookout for movement.
Rare Wildlife In Jasper You Most Likely Won’t Spot
There is wildlife in Jasper that we all wish we could see, but the chances of spotting them are unlikely. So if you get the opportunity, you should be really excited.
Wolves are the first ones that come to mind.
Wolves move often and cover a lot of ground. Add onto that they are quite shy and wary of humans, and you have a species that will more likely than not remain hidden.
We were told the best chance to see them was along Snaring Road. You can also try Maligne Lake Road or Hwy 16 west of Jasper.
We never saw the wolves ourselves. But Snaring Rd was a beautiful drive, and it is where we spent our incredible time with the marten. In fact, we didn’t see another car during the hour we had with it.
While a couple of herds can be found in the park, there are not enough females to grow the population. In fact, without intervention, the caribou will most likely die out in the area.
If you happen to find them, it will be sheer luck. You will have your best chance in winter when they descend the mountains for food.
Cougars & Lynx
Last, let’s talk about the cats. Jasper National Park has both Cougars and Lynx.
Solitary and mainly nocturnal, your chances are very slim of seeing either. Most likely they will see you, and you still won’t see them.
Safety When Viewing Wildlife
Keep Your Distance
Jasper National Park, like most national parks, has distance guidelines set in place to keep both you and the wildlife safe during encounters.
For elk and moose, you must stay about 100 ft (30 m) away. And for bears and wolves, that distance is about 325 ft (100 m).
Tourists are injured by wildlife each year within national parks, so don’t take these distances lightly. Animals can be aggressive at any time, but more so during mating season.
We found the gentleman below taking a photo way too close. You should never be this close. But during the rutting season, elk, in particular, are known to be extremely aggressive. He was lucky that this elk was busy following a female at the time and so had other things on his mind.
But we saw another tourist chased to her car on the same visit by an elk she had tried to walk up to.
These are not pets. They don’t take kindly to you intruding on their space. Respect them and enjoy them at a distance.
Do Not Feed Wildlife
Feeding wildlife in Jasper National Park can be a death sentence to the animal. They learn that humans can be a food source and can become destructive and dangerous in their pursuit to get human food.
We always hear about bears in this type of situation. But it applies to small animals as well. Chipmunks are notorious for being cute and getting fed. Don’t do it. By enforcing the behavior, the chipmunk now relies on handouts.
With larger animals, when the animal starts to become a danger to humans, it is often removed from the situation…permanently.
So when you are in the park, do not feed animals directly. Don’t litter. And don’t leave food outside unattended under any circumstance.
If you are eating a packed lunch that is one thing. Any other time it needs to be locked up in your car or if you are camping, stored appropriately according to park rules.
Pullover Safely Along Main Roads
Seeing wildlife, particularly elk, along the main highway that runs through Jasper is common. But it is important to be safe if you want to stop.
Please don’t stop right in the middle of the driving lane. It blocks traffic and can cause accidents. Pull over to the shoulder and use your hazards so people can see you.
Try not to spend too much time parked along the roadway. It is time to move on if you feel like you have some good photos. This allows someone else the ability to stop and see without causing a traffic jam.
We also can’t stress enough to follow the speed limit signs.
When you are in a national park that has an abundance of wildlife like Jasper, you will obviously find animals crossing the road. Keep them safe by following speeds and keeping a close eye on roadsides as you drive so you know if an animal up ahead might be getting ready to cross.
Be Responsible For Yourself
Finding out what will keep you safe and then taking responsibility for yourself is one of the best things you can do in a national park. Ask the rangers for tips upon your arrival.
Common tips we know are:
- when hiking, travel in a group if possible
- make noise when you are walking in the wilderness, so animals know you are in the area
- carry bear spray with you…and know how to use it!
- be familiar with what to do should you have a run-in with an animal
- always be aware of your surroundings; look and listen as you are hiking
If you take on the responsibility for yourself, you are also naturally protecting the wildlife around you.
Jasper Wildlife Tours
We found Jasper to be easily drivable on our own. So you certainly don’t have to do a tour.
But there are benefits of a wildlife tour with an expert on Jasper as they have inside information about where animals have been recently spotted. You will likely have a better chance of seeing certain animals on a guided tour.
We recommend two options, depending on whether you want to take a boat cruise as part of the excursion.
The first is a 3-hour tour that has you up at dawn to discover what wildlife awaits. The guide’s expertise will take you to specific areas based on the season or where there has been recent activity for the best chance to find wildlife.
Our second recommendation is a 5.5-hour tour that has you on the lookout for awesome wildlife in the Maligne Valley area. Take a cruise on the lake as part of the excursion.
What Camera Equipment Do You Need For Wildlife In Jasper?
You are going to want a good quality camera for wildlife.
It is important that you find one that has a decent range of ISO options as you don’t know what kind of lighting you might have and need to adjust for. And changing the ISO is a great way to still get the shutter speed you need for moving subjects.
You also need to check how many frames per second your camera can shoot. In wildlife photography, you want to be able to use continuous shooting and have a high frame per second rate in case there is action unfolding.
We currently have a Canon 5D, which has worked quite well for almost all situations. It has a 7 frames per second rate. But if you are serious about wildlife photography, the Canon 1D will get you the fastest shooting ability with up to 20 frames per second.
You don’t want to be out photographing wildlife in Jasper just to have your battery run out, and you didn’t bring an extra. Or worse yet, during the action, your card is full.
ALWAYS bring extra fully-charged batteries and empty cards.
And we can say from experience to keep an eye on how many more images you can take before your card is full. Don’t be us and be amidst an incredible encounter and have your camera blink “card full.”
A long telephoto is going to be your best friend for wildlife. Remember when we said earlier that you should keep your distance from wildlife? That means you need a longer lens to still get “close” to the subject.
We recommend the Canon 100-400 mm for wildlife. Canon will be pricey, so a good substitute would also be a Sigma 150-600 mm.
While we use a long telephoto for 95% of our wildlife shots, there is a place for a medium telephoto. Sometimes you will get lucky, and the animal will be close enough to use a medium lens. We found that this is true when we are in the car and happen upon wildlife next to the roadway.
A medium telephoto can also be excellent for wildlife within a landscape shot. When you aren’t looking for a close-up of the animal but instead want to show the animal in its environment.
We use and recommend the Canon 24-70 mm for this.
Tripod Or Bean Bag
Long telephoto lenses are heavy to handhold. This can cause photo blurriness because you can’t keep it steady enough for the shot.
Using a tripod eliminates the shaky arms and gives you a solid platform for the heavy lens to rest upon during the photograph. A tripod will be used if you are outside of the car.
If you are INSIDE the car, invest in a bean bag support. Look for one that is U-shaped so that you can slip it over the side of your car when the window is down.
We always use one while photographing from the car, and they provide an excellent resting place for a long lens. But make sure you pick an appropriately sized one based on the lens you have, as they have different sizes.
If you go the bean bag route, our tip is to travel with your bean bag empty and hit the grocery store when you arrive. We put rice inside ours, but others use dry beans, etc.
Which Is Nicer, Banff Or Jasper?
Banff National Park and Jasper National Park are both amazing in their own rights. We have been to both and enjoyed both immensely. You really can’t go wrong with either park.
If we were discussing a different topic, like hiking, our answer might be different. But as this article is all about seeing wildlife, that is how we will answer this question.
Which is nicer for wildlife? Jasper, without a doubt.
We visited these parks back to back, so the type of animal activity should have been similar. We were there in late September, during elk rutting season. And we did have amazing elk experiences in both parks. In fact, our BEST elk experience was actually in Banff.
But in terms of our overall wildlife experiences, we saw 10X more animals within Jasper.
On top of that, we found that many of our experiences in Jasper were close to the road. So if you don’t like hiking or aren’t physically able to hike, you can still see many animals within the park.
To Finish – Incredible Wildlife In Jasper National Park And The BEST Places To See Them
We had amazing experiences seeing wildlife in Jasper.
There is such a variety of species you can catch a glimpse of during your visit. There are never guarantees of what you will see, of course, but we think you will absolutely come away happy with your time there.
And while we have suggested where you can begin your “hunt” to find specific animals, the rangers are always happy to assist. They will have more information about what has been recently spotted and where to help you best find the animal you wish to see.