Festivals Make Fall Travel Bear-able

Waterton Wildlife FestivalFeel depressed when summer holidays end? Staying home until its time for a winter escape to someplace sunny has me wanting to give a bottle of wine mouth-to-mouth resuscitation! So it’s great to see destinations using festivals to reinvent shoulder-season travel.

One of the best fall celebrations is the Waterton Wildlife Festival in southwest Alberta. Waterton is one of those places you want to see, but the drive and the horizontal wind -it is one of Alberta’s windiest places – make it easy to delay visiting. If you can rationalize the big winds as an excuse not to waste time on hairstyles, you can focus on the natural beauty. Waterton is jam-packed with wildlife including 250 species of birds, 60 species of mammals, 24 species of fish, ten species of reptiles and amphibians, and a major bat migration route!

With only 100 winter residents you more likely to encounter wildlife than locals but seeking out the latter will give you something to talk about. At the Waterton Wildlife Festival local experts share their animal expertise and turn a stroll through gale-force winds from a chance to weigh down your hiking boots with rocks into some of the best nature experiences of your life.

Local expert, John Russell, son of famed author, photographer and conservationist, Andy Russell, shared his love of bears in a hike that felt like being a bear for a day. Giving us a taste of bear life, John led us off the road into the bush, eschewing the trails in favor of stumbling – me, not John- through skunk cabbage and berry bushes.

We checked out a bear bulletin board – a tree with numerous scratches and bites where bears leave their marks and scents to let others know they are in the area. We poked at bear scat and listened to John tell how he replaced his birdbath with a bear bath when the bears started hogging the water.

John said, “When you live with the bears you get used to being around them. I’ve been in a chair reading a book while a bear eats grass under me.” I did not see reading with bears on the festival program, but I enjoyed walking with someone who had.

As I headed for home, the wind seemed less obnoxious. I realized the abrupt meeting of mountains and prairie that caused it, also creates one of the few North American places where all species of major carnivores are still found.

Shoulder-season travel just got a lot less boring! To learn more go to www.watertonwildlife.com

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