The Wildlife Along the Alaska Highway

I admit that I was a bit disappointed.

After all, when I drove the Alaska Highway in the Yukon from Whitehorse to Beaver Creek, Canada’s westernmost community, I hadn’t seen much in the way of wildlife. Well, there were the two grizzly bears, one on the way to Beaver Creek and one on the way back, which was amazing, although it’s likely it was the same bear.

But truth be known, I expected to see more.

Alaska Highway Wildlife - Grizzly

A Grizzly along the Alaska Highway.

Heading back south along the Alaska Highway toward Watson Lake, once again, I didn’t see anything other than Arctic Ground Squirrels, some crows, and the odd hawk. It wasn’t all that everyone said it would be.

But then something changed when I crossed the border into British Columbia. It was like Mother Nature kicked all of the animals out of hiding. “Get out there and be noticed,” she must have said.

It started with the Bison Crossing sign you can see above. Was this a joke? I wondered.

How many times have we seen a deer crossing sign on the highway? Plenty of times. And how often have we actually seen a deer near these crossings? Almost never. Right, that’s why I thought it was highly unlikely I would see a bison in the wild on this stretch of highway.

So imagine my screech of delight when a full-grown male bison stepped out of the grass onto the shoulder of the highway. Well I could hardly believe my luck. I couldn’t pull the camera out from my pack quickly enough. How rare, I thought. How amazing.

I watched this magnificent animal for five minutes before he wandered back into the grass. I started my car and drove off, thinking how perfect a world it was that I could see this bison, alone, without any other vehicles disturbing us. I was so happy; this had to be a one in a million chance sighting.

As I rounded the next corner, there was a herd of about 20 bison feeding in the grass along the highway. A few kilometers further, and I saw 50 more.

Turns out that a bison herd lives year round by the Alaska Highway close to the Yukon border. Sigh.

But the bison wasn’t the only wonder along the highway to Fort Nelson. It seemed that every turn in the road provided another surprise. I saw at least a dozen black bears on this stretch, also moose, mountain sheep, porcupines, red foxes, and every kind of hawk and eagle. It was fabulous. Pictures are below.

FIELD NOTES:
• The part of the Alaska Highway that seemed most abundant in wildlife was in the 512-kilometer stretch between the British Columbia/Yukon border and Fort Nelson, BC.
• I saw most of the animals at dawn or just before dusk, when there were the fewest number of vehicles on the highway.
• The gas stations are few and far between on this stretch of the highway, and some close early, so gas up whenever you have a chance. I boondocked near a resort one night waiting for the gas station to open at 7:00 am the next morning.
• I do not recommend driving at night on this highway. It is virtually impossible to see a deer or porcupine in time to avoid a collision. In fact, I saw two porcupines that had been killed by vehicles. Also, 20 bison are killed each year on this highway. They often sleep right on the highway itself. Please be careful.

Alaska Highway Wildlife - Bison

My first bison in the wild. Bison are the largest land mammals in Canada.

 

Alaska Highway Wildlife - Bison 2

One of the bison herds along the Alaska Highway.

 

Alaska Highway Wildlife - Black Bear

One of about a dozen black bears I saw.

 

Alaska Highway Wildlife - Red Fox

A Red Fox. There were three when I first saw them. The other two fled, but this one waited for me to find my camera, and then posed for me.

 

Alaska Highway Wildlife - Porcupine

A Porcupine. Cute little fella.

 

Alaska Highway Wildlife - Moose

One of a couple of moose I saw along the highway. I didn’t know that they dropped to their front knees to drink.

 

Alaska Highway Wildlife - Mountain Sheep

Mountain sheep.

 

Alaska Highway Wildlife - Raven

This raven was so patiently posing for me.

 

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