Something large, white and moving catches my eye high up on a rocky ridge on a hiking trail near Canmore, Alberta. My first thought is that it’s a mountain goat, but it’s not the right shape and doesn’t have a goat-like gait. We’re about 100 m (330 ft) away but our telephoto lens confirms that it’s a bear—a creamy white one. It turns out to be a rare, white-phase black bear. We’ve just witnessed something that is only spotted about once a year in the Alberta Rockies. I’m over the moon.
White black bear in Kananaskis Country
Despite its contradictory name, this bear is just like any other American black bear, except it has a white coat. We learn from an Alberta Park’s wildlife official that black bears have the widest colour variation (called phases) of any North American mammal. They can be black, brown, cinnamon, blond, blue-grey, or white. Don’t be misled by the term “phase”; this black bear was born white and will remain white. Unlike the Kermode bear (Spirit bear) in coastal British Columbia, which is a subspecies of the American black bear, the white-phase black bear is not a genetic anomaly or the product of a recessive gene.
We spotted the seldom-seen bear in Kananaskis Country, just south of Canmore. We’ve been cautioned not to share the exact location of the sighting, for fear of people swarming the area to catch a glimpse of the rare bear (the bear is safe given my paltry social media presence).
While the bear spotting was the highlight of the hike, our Kananaskis adventure was filled with gorgeous scenery and lovely wildflowers. It’s a really beautiful area not far from the much more popular Banff National Park. If you’re looking for trail recommendations, check out fellow blogger Monkey’s Tale for 10 great hikes in Kananaskis.
Stanley Glacier, Kootenay National Park
On the same trip, while visiting my sister in Canmore, we did an outstanding hike to Stanley Glacier, in Kootenay National Park, which is just across the provincial border in British Columbia. It has one of the best reward to effort ratios of any day hike I’ve done. The entire hike is only 11 km (6.8 mi) return with an elevation gain of 606 m (1988 ft), and you don’t even have to go the whole way to get stunning views. It’s an out and back hike with a short lollipop route option near the end. Find detailed directions/map here.
The first few kilometres travel up easy switchbacks through a pretty forest that has regenerated after a huge burn caused by a lightening strike in 1968.
After just a couple of kilometres, the forest opens up to high alpine meadows, soaring peaks and numerous waterfalls. The photo above is about 4.5 km into the hike and if you’re short on time or energy, this would be a completely satisfying turnaround spot. Beyond this point, a narrow but defined trail over rock fields and scree leads to a small plateau (the rocky outcropping with trees at mid-photo). We took the trail going right on the way up to the plateau and looped back on the left side. It’s a heavenly little extension with stellar views down the valley and up to the Stanley Glacier.
White black bears, fabulous hiking and time with family—what an amazing experience on our first out-of-province trip since the pandemic struck.
Next posts: Backpacking adventure in British Columbia’s South Chilcotin Provincial Park
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An extraordinary sight! I’ve never thought that there is such a variation of black bears 🙂
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