Just when I was about to give up – I saw the coyote along the side of the snow-covered road. It turned and looked at us. Assessing our big vehicle determining friend or foe? Friend was the answer as it turned away and didn’t seem to care in the least that a big white van filled with people and cameras was slowly moving towards it. Our guide had told us to watch carefully for a sighting, but my eyes weren’t as trained as his when it came to spotting big horn sheep, elk, and coyotes. We slowly followed the coyote at a distance – it seemed to be leading us as it kept turning to look over it’s shoulder. Leading us to where?
I knew in Jasper National Park wildlife was abundant in the winter, it’s actually known for it’s wildlife photography workshops that run there in the summer and the winter. Yet I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to get any super professional shots, at least I was hopping to spot a few animals. I went on the Jasper Winter Wildlife Safari with Sundog Tours – not necessarily a photo tour but more of a park tour including wildlife and landscapes.
Sundog picked me up at the scenic Pyramid Lake Resort - and explained of course there was no guarantee we would find wildlife to photograph, but we would spend time searching for various wildlife while also getting a great overview of the park in the winter. Since I didn’t have a car, and neither did the other guests on the tour (they had arrived by train), this was the perfect way to see and photograph more of the park’s spectacular scenery.
The little town of Jasper is located in a National Park which comes with good and bad. They have amazing support from the park and great sustainability programs, but there are also a lot of restrictions that go with that sustainability. They can’t offer some of the activities other places can (dogsledding and snow mobiling) due to the restrictions. However on the plus side, you get incredible insight into nature and conservation – a real natural experience where people and wildlife intermix and share the land. The area the town occupies is the largest inhabitable valley in the Canadian Rockies, which means more food for “All Creatures Great and Small!” and that means more wildlife to see!
As we drove around the park via back roads our guide explained the unique geology around the area. I was surprised when among the snowy mountain peaks we came across a floodplain and sand dunes. We made numerous stops and were able to take pictures as the sun brightly lit up the mountain peaks. As we drove along the highway our guide’s eagle eyes spotted Big Horn Sheep grazing among the rocks and various bird sightings I never would have noticed on my own.
However it was the coyote who led us to our best find – a herd of elk grazing among the snowy trees. We all got out of the van and walked around in the deep snow covered fields for a closer look. It was picture perfect with tree branches bending from the weight of the snow and a herd of elk quietly grazing around it. The silence enveloped me – it was a beautiful sight to simply watch the animals in their environment.
Suddenly a brown blur caught my eye so I spun around to see the coyote, that led us to the herd of elk, dart off into the woods. His guiding job was done and it was time for him to get back to his own winter wonderland.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Tourism Jasper for this trip. However all of the opinions expressed here are my own. I had been wanting to see the Canadian Rockies in the winter for a long time and getting to the lesser known town of Jasper is the perfect destination for my style of travel.