Down there, right below me, is a real and very alive grizzly in its natural habitat. But I feel perfectly safe and totally thrilled from my bird’s eye perch on the Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola. The leisurely 14-minute ride takes me upwards of 2,088 metres (6,850 feet), from the mountain’s base to the Wildlife Interpretative Centre. The wilderness slopes that the gondola – or open chair lift – pass over are a wildlife sanctuary closed to humans in summer.
The Bear Essentials
The strands of fur feel soft and coarse at the same time. They also feel real and wild. I can’t help but wonder about the grizzly bear that they were attached to before biologists snagged them from scratching posts. I’m grateful that the visitors’ display at the Interpretative Centre allows me to touch real fur without getting too close to a living, breathing bear.
The lush vegetation and abundant streams and natural springs that keep the mountainsides moist create a perfect habitat for the Canadian Rockies’ largest mammal. As omnivores, grizzlies use their impressive claws to dig roots and to eat meat. They also eat grasses, dandelions and their favourites, the buffaloberries, which begin ripening in August. After hibernating through a cold Rocky Mountain winter, bears emerge in the spring to forage from May through October.
Take a Walk in Wilderness
Grizzlies’ eating habits are just one of many fascinating things I’m learning from our knowledgeable guide during the Interpretive Centre’s 45-minute Trail of the Great Bear. The purpose of this guided walk is not to see a bear – although it’s possible – but rather to learn how to travel safely in bear country by recognising signs that indicate a bear’s presence, such as fresh tracks or diggings.
Lake Louise is home to one of the highest concentrations of breeding female grizzly bears within Banff National Park. The area also welcomes five million visitors each year. To help keep all parties safe, Lake Louise makes sure that all humans, including resort staff, are off the mountain by 7 p.m. This ensures the grizzlies have what they need most – privacy during their peak foraging hours.
Beyond Lake Louise, wildlife tours and viewing opportunities abound in Alberta’s five national parks and 75 provincial parks. You may also be lucky enough to spot our splendid animals from your vehicle on an Alberta road trip. Pull over safely, stay in your car, and grab your camera for a great photo to post for your friends.