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Bird Watching

Banff, Alberta

Lisa Pugsley
Staff Writer

See the majestic Canadian Goose in Banff National Park.
See the majestic Canadian Goose in Banff National Park.

Grab your binoculars and set off to enjoy the bird watching in the Canadian Rockies. Banff National Park is home to over 260 species of birds and with a good guide, you’ll be able to identify a multitude of feathered friends.

Early risers will enjoy bird watching in Banff because the best times to catch all the action falls in the hours from the wee hours before sunrise to about 10 in the morning.  The spring and early summer months are aflutter with activity as species prepare for the mating season. Specifically in Banff, the lower Bow Valley wetland and mountain habitats have the greatest diversity of species.

Best Bird Watching in Banff National Park

Town of Banff

Birdwatching doesn’t necessarily have to take place far out in the wilderness of Banff National Park. In town, head to the older residential areas whose streets are lined with pine, spruce and poplar trees. Next to the horse barns on Cave Avenue you will find spruce, willows and marsh areas. Other great areas in town are upstream from the Bow River Bridge and the base of Tunnel Mountain. The top of birding season in Banff runs from late March to mid July and the winter months.

Cave and Basin Marsh

Venture outside of town into the Canadian Rocky wilderness to Cave and Basin Marsh. You don’t have to drive far (only 2 km west) out of town to reach the Bow River. Follow one of the footpaths through spruce and pine forest to arrive at the willow populated marsh. The best time of year to bird watch runs from late March to July.

The Vermilion Lakes

See Trumpeter Swans in the Canadian Rockies.
See Trumpeter Swans in the Canadian Rockies.

The Vermillion Lakes are a haven for bird watching in Banff National Park. The lakes consist of marshes and wetlands that are connected by small channels and populated by willows and sedge. White spruce surround this collection of shallow bodies of water. Drive west of the town of Banff and runs parallel to the TransCanada Highway for 4 km. Enjoy bird watching in this area from April to mid July, mid August to November and in winter months.

Johnston’s Canyon

This shaded and narrow canyon is surrounded by spruce and pine forests. To reach this prime bird watching area, take Highway 1A west for 23 km and park at the trailhead. The trail will lead you up Johnston Creek towards the lower falls (3 km) or the upper falls (5 km). The best times to go are June to mid September.

The Bow River from Banff to Lake Louise

The Bow River meanders through subalpine and mountain willows as well as lodgepole pine and spruce forests. The river runs from Banff townsite to Lake Louise parallel to the TransCanada Highway and Highway 1A. There are plenty of access points from either of the highways. The top of the season for the Bow River runs from mid May to mid July and the winter months when the river is frozen.

Bow Summit

Catch a glimpse of your favorite Canadian Rockies birds after a short walk to Bow Summit. To reach the trailhead, take Highway 93N or the Icefields Parkway for 20 km north from the TransCanada Highway. A short 1.5 km walk through scenic Subalpine Fir and Englemann Spruce forests will lead you to heath and herb meadows. The best time to bird watch in this area is from June to mid July.

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