Once a month, we’ll feature a wildlife hotspot. We want to aid you with getting ‘the shot’ in order to help rekindle your love for nature, to enable you to become inspired by wildlife and to equip you to become an advocate for a wilder world at home.
This month’s focus:
Waterton Lakes National Park might be the most underrated national park in Canada and certainly one of the most underrated anywhere in the world.
Yet even those who spend time in the postage stamp-sized protected area gravitate toward Red Rock Canyon Road and the Akamina Parkway.
These two main corridors are great locations to find many of the park’s common black bears, but it’s hard to park, the light is rarely ideal, and it’s tough finding openings to capture images of bears without grass in the way. So instead of choosing the obvious, we offer up the counter-intuitive: Waterton Valley Overlook.
This paved pull-off halfway along the Chief Mountain Highway between the main entrance on Highway 5 and the US border is far from a wildlife hotspot sure-thing. So why even mention the location? Because when it is good, it’s very good. Like very, very good.
The best part of this road in general is how infrequently you’ll come across traffic, especially in the early mornings and late evenings, when the border crossing closes. Even during the day, most people gravitate to the interior of the park and the few people who do drive the highway are focused on reaching the Waterton townsite or neighbouring Glacier National Park.
In other words, when you spot an animal, you rarely have to share it.
The black bears might not be as common along this stretch, but they’re more wild. And bigger. And just plain more beautiful.
How about moose? The biggest bulls I have seen anywhere have been found around the overlook, albeit at very early hours.
Deer, coyote, eagles, hawks, and beavers are all a common sight. We even found this frog.
And then there is the view.
But the main reason to spend time at this hotspot is to look for Red Fox.
For the second time in fives years, a family of fox built a den just east of the pull-off.
Though the complications that come along with a den site being so close to speeding cars is obvious, the den does allow for the rare opportunity to gain insight into the habits of fox at close range and over a long period of time.
In the summer of 2014, we witnessed hunting…
…and family interaction.
Tragically, we also witnessed mourning, along with the family’s heartwarming resiliency in the face of losing one of its own.
The foxes have been known to hunt in and around the physical pull-off…
…and enjoy the view…
…or learn about the geographic history of the reason.
and parking in this location is a smart idea. You can look both north and east along the highway and have the best vantage point in trying to determine the movement of the foxes.
There is no guarantee of a fox den every year at Waterton Valley Overlook, but we’ve seen them often enough to know that at some point the den will be active again. And even without the den, your chances of finding a fox hunting in the nearby meadow or crossing the road with voles or even a hare in its mouth are pretty good.
Just please be sure to drive slowly here – and on all park roads. Too often animals pay with their lives when we’re careless.
Location: Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
Accessibility: Halfway between the junction with Hwy 5 and the US border on the Chief Mountain Hwy
Photographic Focus: Fox, Black Bear & Moose
Best Time: Before 7am & after 7pm
Season: Spring & Summer
– Waterton Valley Overlook is the large turn-off with flags and an outhouse, that is the first or last view of the valley (depending on which direction you’re driving) on the Chief Mountain Highway.
– Look for foxes, moose and bears in the large meadow to the east of the overlook, and especially watch for foxes near the sandy embankment on the south side of the road between the meadow and the overlook.
– The speed limit is far too high on the Chief Mountain Highway, in our opinion, so please slow down and encourage others to do the same.
– Though other roads are more well known for wildlife, this road is not heavily travelled and usually means that you have the animals to yourself, especially before 8am and after 8pm.
– Light in Waterton is never ideal, but is much better here than in other spots in the park and we’ve found we use our 70-200mm lens more here than the bigger glass we use in other parts of Waterton.