The last rays of warm, golden sunlight descending on the surrounding hills announce that evening is falling fast in Waterton Lakes National Park. My timing is perfect as dusk is ideal for a cruise down the Red Rock Canyon Parkway in search of wildlife.
At the end of the parkway I leave the car behind to explore some trails. A light August breeze follows me down as I cross the bridge over the red-stained chasm en route to Blakiston Falls. Game trails emerging onto the path and small piles of scat reveal this is home to more than just birds. I wonder who’s been here recently.
Why is this UNESCO World Heritage Site such a hotspot for wildlife? The secret lies in the park’s distinctive topography. When you enter from the east, you gain no elevation. Rather, the mountains rise dramatically around you, straight out of the grasslands. This creates a collection of habitats, plants and wildlife so unique that the area has been called one of the most biologically diverse places in North America.
The relatively small region – just 505 sq. km (195 sq. mi) – is home to moose, bear, elk, lynx, 250 bird species and 24 species of fish – to name a few. Your chances of seeing wildlife are better than good.
Waterton Wildlife Weekend
Autumn is prime time, when migration and the rutting season present spectacular conditions for wildlife encounters. Every September, the town of Waterton hosts the Waterton Wildlife Weekend. Professional photographers will help you get incredible shots of wildlife, such as the gathering of over a thousand elk as they migrate through the area. You’ll see extraordinary jousting and bugling right along the roads. And if you time it right you may witness hundreds of golden eagles heading south for winter.
An Intimate Wildlife Experience
The next morning I drive the twists and turns of Waterton’s Akamina Parkway, delighting in the scenery and fresh mountain air. It’s midday so I’m not expecting to see any animals. But, all of a sudden, a cinnamon-coloured black bear emerges from the forest onto the road directly ahead of me. The bear seems unfazed by my presence, and with no one else around I relish a few minutes with this magnificent creature before it saunters back into the woods.