Wildlife around Kootenay Lake

Wildlife around Kootenay Lake

If you’re dreaming of visiting a mountain paradise with lush forests, fresh water, and all kinds of wilderness, you’re not alone. There are all kinds of mountain folk who dwell along the shores of Kootenay Lake and in the mountains, but they’re not the only creatures to call this special place home. 


From the top of the food chain to the bottom, a wide range of species can be found throughout the region. One of the densest concentrations of grizzly bears in North America resides north of Kootenay Lake amidst old-growth trees and the crystal clear Lardeau River. These iconic animals are also known to frequent higher elevations throughout the area’s dramatic inland temperate rainforest. 

Black bears are a more common sight, especially closer to townsites. Although it’s common to think that bears can be identified just by their colour and size, it’s best to consider multiple attributes to be sure. Black bears lack the grizzly’s pronounced shoulder hump, tend to have a flatter face, and have shorter claws and more pointed ears (if you can zoom in that closely). They also have more of a tendency to scavenge for human food, so it’s critical that you have a “bare” campsite. 

Without access to a high protein salmon diet like their burly relatives on the coast, our bears rely on a mainly vegetarian diet, with an emphasis on berries. If you’re in the bush huckleberry picking, do the bears a favour and leave them most of the buffet. Although bears are rarely seen near valley bottoms outside of spring, it’s important to be bear aware; make lots of noise when in the backcountry, carry bear spray, and know how to use it.  

Deer are the most spotted large mammal in the region. White-tailed deer favour the valley bottoms, while the mule deer is more common the further you head uphill. Watch for them on our twisty and turning roads, particularly when you see the bright yellow jumping deer signs. Elk are also known to graze on meadows around Kootenay Lake, including a large field just south of Kaslo. Be particularly cautious if you come across them in the fall rutting season, or protective mothers and their calves in the spring. 

Skunks, coyotes, otters, muskrats, beavers, marmots, chipmunks and ground squirrels are just some of the other animals that make this area home. The Western Toad, Pacific Treefrog and Columbia Spotted Frog all sport their own signature camouflage to blend in with their surroundings and avoid predators. Painted turtles and the Western Garter Snake can also be found around the lake. 


Pint-sized to prehistoric fish can be found under the surface. Minnows are the most common aquatic species and provide nourishment for larger fish, including Kokanee sockeye salmon. These iconic red fish can be seen spawning each fall in streams at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park, Redfish Creek and Meadow Creek. Rainbow trout, including the prized Gerrard species, feast on Kokanee and can grow to more than 30 pounds, although it’s more common to find them under 10 pounds. But the real beast of the deep is the White Sturgeon. These ancient bottom dwellers are massive, with the largest catch from Kootenay Lake weighing 350 kilograms. Dams have created impediments to their reproduction, but longstanding conservation efforts are hoping to help the species thrive.


It’s not just fishermen that seek a prized catch from the lake. Birds also depend on fish, including ospreys. These migratory birds can be seen in aerial nests around Kootenay Lake when not chasing the winter sun in Central and South America. With a wingspan of over two meters and a white head and tail, bald eagles live near the lake year-round but are harder to spot than ospreys. Owls, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, ravens and kingfishers flit amongst trees, while turkeys and grouse can often be found near waterfront roads. Loons, swans, mergansers, herons, buffleheads and colourful mallards are just some of the other birds commonly found on the lake. The bird sanctuary at Harrop is a quiet refuge, and it you are a birder, gear up and spend the day huddled in the tall grasses and in lookouts gazing at and photographing the wildlife. The Selkirk Loop is one route to travel to explore the many birds, in Canada or the USA. You can even order their handy Birding brochure or view their online map.


From high above to under the water, from the forests to the streams, all kinds of wildlife have found a mountain paradise around Kootenay Lake. We encourage you to tread lightly, safely, and with respect for these special creatures. To learn more visit WildsafeBC.


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