BRITISH COLUMBIA

Best B.C. Wildlife Viewing Places

07/21/2013 12:05 EDT | Updated 07/21/2013 12:06 EDT
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Transient Killer Whale - Monterey Bay, CA.

Wildlife is a serious business in B.C. — from whale watching to eagle counting, there are numerous opportunities to get up close and personal with these beautiful beasts.

Whether it's with marine life, birds or bears, a wild encounter in British Columbia is always something to write home about.

If it's humpback whales you're after, head west on Vancouver Island to Tofino and take a Zodiac boat out into the Pacific. If you're lucky, you'll see the great sea mammals leap out of the water before you.

To see orcas, sometimes you only need to be on the ferry from Tsawassen or be jogging along Vancouver's seawall on the right day. To be assured of a sighting, you might want to try Victoria's Orca Spirit Adventures three-hour tour with marine naturalists who will take you out into the Straight of Juan de Fuca.

The annual Adams River Salmon Run is a magnificent sight, the river turning red with sockeye returning to spawn.

You don't have to travel far to see black bears — as Vancouver's North Shore residents can attest. But one of the best places to seek them out is Whistler, where Whistler Blackcomb offers ecology tours that take you to see the animals' feeding and hibernation sites.

Journey to B.C.'s far north and you'll find plains bison grazing the mountainous terrain of Pink Mountain Provincial Park. Bison were introduced to the area in 1968 and have thrived there ever since, despite not being native to the region.

Elsewhere in the north you'll find roaming gangs of elk, deer and caribou.

Check out our B.C,. wildlife slideshow. Our round up of the best viewing spots follows underneath:

Animals Of British Columbia

Killer Whales - Orca Spirit Adventures, Victoria: Orca Spirit Adventures offers three-hour tours led by marine naturalists in the Strait of Juan de Fuca that allow tourists to get up close to killer whales. The best time to go is in mid-May, when tours claim a 95 per cent success rate of sightings.

Humpback Whales - Tofino Whale Watching: Tofino is home to several whale watching companies that operate trips year-round. The trips typically last two to three hours and provide glimpses of mighty sea mammals such as Pacific grey whales and humpbacks.

Salmon - Adams River Salmon Run, Kamloops: The salmon pour in once a year, sometimes in hundreds, sometimes in millions. This year, you can expect to see over 10,000 salmon return to the Adams River in October to spawn. If you wait just one more year, you might see millions.

Grizzly Bears - Grizzly Bear Ranch, Selkirk Mountains: The Grizzly Bear Ranch has guided tours, by 4x4 or river raft, that show grizzlies in their natural habitat feeding on salmon alongside bald eagles and black bears.

Black Bears - Whistler Blackcomb Bear Viewing Tour: Whistler Blackcomb Bear Viewing and Ecology Tours offer a unique sightseeing experience by SUV, taking you to the areas where black bears feed and hibernate.

Bald Eagles - Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park, Squamish: This Squamish park is a wintering habitat for bald eagles. The park saw a world record 3,769 eagles counted in 1994. The best place to see them is along a dike that borders the Squamish River. The best time to see eagles is from late November to March, according to Tourism Squamish.

Big-Horned Sheep and Golden Eagles - Haines Road, Haines Junction: You have to go about as far northwest in B.C. as you can to see golden eagles and the big-horned Dall sheep at Haines Junction, near the border with Alaska and the Yukon.

Bison - Pink Mountain Provincial Park, Peace River region: Bison were introduced to the Pink Mountain area in 1968. Vehicle access is limited to late spring until fall, so plan accordingly.

Beavers - Mike Lake, Golden Ears Provincial Park, Maple Ridge: City folk don't have to travel too far if they want to see beavers. Mike Lake is home to a small population of the natural lumberjacks. If you want to see them, officials advise you to look for recently removed trees and other plantlife.

River Otters - Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary, Victoria: A 2.5-kilometre loop trail surrounds Swan Lake, where you can see river otters basking in the summer months. There are also muskrats, turtles and birdwatching opportunities.