Lake Superior Wildlife is unique and plentiful along the Lake Superior Circle Tour! Some of the most popularly sought after animals include Moose, Bear, and Deer. You will always want to have your camera close by as the wildlife on the Circle Tour can disappear just as quickly as they appear. If you’re looking for tips for seeing Lake Superior wildlife you have come to the right place. I have provided some general information on some of the most popular Lake Superior animals, and tips on how to spot them are listed below. If you do manage to take some photos don’t forget to enter them into the Lake Superior Circle Tour Photo Contest! I wish you all happy travels and ask that you remember to not feed any of the animals that you come into contact with.
Moose are the giants of the boreal forest. The largest member of the deer family, bulls (males) can weigh almost one ton, standing over six feet at the shoulders. Only bulls grow antlers, which they shed each year. They have strong muscles lining their shoulders to support those antlers, which can measure 5 feet across and weigh up to 70 lbs. That’s like carrying a Labrador Retriever on your head! Despite their size, moose can run up to 35 mph to escape danger. One of the most unusual features of this unique animal is the “bell”, the sack of skin that hangs from its neck. A bull’s bell is much larger than a cow’s bell. Is it a tool to intimidate rivals, or is it used to impress females? No one knows for sure. What do you think?
How to Spot Moose on the Lake Superior Circle Tour: These intimidating animals are strictly vegetarian. Their long legs are perfect for foraging water plants in streams and ponds. They love water and can be spotted standing and swimming in streams and lakes on a hot summer day. Keep your eyes peeled for moose as you drive by roadside ponds and swamps, or hike near lakes and rivers.
Black Bears can be found as far north as Alaska and as far south as Mexico. Although found in a variety of habitats, their preference is for heavily wooded areas and dense bushland where human presence is low. Unlike other animals, the lips of the black bear are free from their gums. This feature, along with their long, agile tongues allows them to eat tiny foods like blueberries and ants. Although their eyesight is poor, their senses of hearing and smell are well developed. They appear awkward, but they can reach speeds of up to 34 mph when necessary. Black bears will eat almost anything they can find – favorites include blueberries, apples and ants. In spring, some bears may prey upon newborn moose, deer, or caribou.
How to Spot a Black Bear on the Lake Superior Circle Tour: Black Bears are most active from dusk to dawn, so you aren’t likely to see one in the middle of the afternoon. They can be spotted on the move near highways and roadways, searching for insects and berry patches. If out hiking or berry picking, particularly at sunset or sunrise, be aware of your surroundings. If you do see a black bear while enjoying the outdoors, they are likely to be startled and run away. Never run, and never approach a black bear. If it does see you and stands its ground, face the bear directly. Make yourself look big by spreading your arms. Make as much noise as possible, and slowly back away.
Reindeer and caribou are the same animal and are a member of the deer family. In North America, they are called caribou if they are wild and reindeer if they are domesticated. Caribou are well-adapted for life in boreal regions. They have thick coats to help them survive cold winters and large rounded hooves that allow them to dig for food and walk easily on snow and soft ground, such as peat lands. Mature caribou can weigh up to 465 lbs and can reach a shoulder height of just under 4 feet.
Its range has now receded, and the species is generally found north of Sioux Lookout, Geraldton and Cochrane with a few isolated populations further south along the shoreline and isolated islands on Lake Superior. It is estimated that there are roughly 5,000 boreal population caribou in Ontario.
How to Spot Caribou on the Lake Superior Circle Tour: The Slate Islands near Terrace Bay are home to a beautiful and majestic herd of woodland caribou. While calm and passive around humans, they are shy by nature, but do make appearances across the islands for lucky visitors. They have been spotted strolling into campsites to feast on the ashes of finished campfires—a tendency unique to their herd. While the Slates maintain one of the densest populations of caribou in Ontario they are still classified as a threatened species. As such, please do not disturb the caribou and refrain from feeding them. Caribou and the other wildlife are also sensitive to disturbances. As a precaution, visitors should keep their dogs leashed while on the islands. The above photo is from Wabakimi Provincial Park. near Armstrong in Ontario’s Superior Country, which is also home to a great number of Caribou. If seeing a Caribou is really on your bucket list we recommend looking into a paddling excursion with Wabakimi Outfitters!
The White-tailed Deer are the most abundant and widely distributed large animal in North America. Any forested area is suitable for deer in the summer, when they dine on leafy material from woody plants, grasses, herbs and forbs. Delicacies for a deer are blueberries, fiddleheads, and mushrooms. Even during a “good” winter, deer have difficulty surviving, as they need to move through deep snow and compete with many other deer for the little food that is available. A doe (female) will leave her fawn unattended for hours at a time. The fawn’s spotted coat and almost scentless condition effectively conceal it from predators.
How to Spot Deer on the Lake Superior Circle Tour: Unfortunately, deer are one of the most common animals to be hit by vehicles. Pay attention to signed deer crossing areas, and slow down particularly from dusk to dawn, when deer are more active. Deer can be spotted in open “field” areas on roadsides, highways and on recreational trails, feeding on grasses and leaves. If you see one deer run across the road in front of you, slow down. They often travel in groups and there may be a few deer following behind. If you are lucky enough to spot a fawn on its own in the wild, do not approach it or touch it. Human scent on the fawn may cause the mother to desert it. One of the most common places to see Deer on the Lake Superior Circle Tour is between Duluth, Minnesota and Thunder Bay, in Ontario’s Superior Country. Remember to stay vigilant. Even when a Deer is standing still it can quickly jump out onto the road in a blink of an eye.
The wolf has a highly organized social structure, centering on a dominant male and a dominant female. They hunt in packs, and most live their entire lives with other wolves. Studies in Alaska, Minnesota, Michigan (Isle Royale) and parts of Canada show that a family of male, female and pups is the basic pack unit. Wolves work hard for their food. A pack will kill one large animal for every 10 chased. Wolves howl as a form of communication – to assemble their pack, attract a mate, mark territory, scare off enemies, signal alarm, or relay their position. Sometimes they howl when they wake up, like humans yawning during a stretch!
Wolves get a bad rap in fables and fairy tales, but there are no records of wolves killing humans in Canada or the United States. In North America, wolves have been exterminated in Mexico, the United States (except Minnesota, Alaska and some western states), in Canada’s Atlantic provinces, and in southern Ontario.
How to Spot Wolves on the Lake Superior Circle Tour: Wolves can be spotted at Isle Royale National Park in Michigan, and near the highways and roadways along the Lake Superior Circle Tour, usually between dusk and dawn when they are most active. When sitting around the campfire, listen for wolves howling.
Beavers are famous for their large, flat tails that function like a boat rudder, steering them as they swim and carry out their work. They also use it as a communication tool, slapping it on the water to warn other beavers of danger. Their front teeth stick out in front of their lips so they can chew underwater wood without getting water in their mouths. Beavers spend much of their time building and maintaining their houses: dams and lodges—large dome-shaped piles of branches in lakes, rivers and larger streams. Beavers have clear membranes over their eyes that act like goggles to help them see underwater. The beaver has long been an animal of importance to Indigenous Peoples, and beaver pelts formed the basis of trade with European settlers starting in the 1530s. In recognition of its importance to the fur trade, the beaver was made an official emblem of Canada in 1975.
How to Spot Beavers on the Lake Superior Circle Tour: Beavers spend much of their time in water. As such, they can be spotted on hiking/biking trails that follow rivers, lakes or ponds. It is more likely a beaver will see you first! The first thing you may notice is the splashing sound of its tail, as it slaps the water to warn others of your presence. If you hear a splashing in the water, look for its source quickly, as the beaver will soon be diving under the water to hide! Seeing a beaver can be rare, but evidence of its presence is common – look for lodges or dams as you drive by swamps and ponds. On a recreational trail also look for small and medium sized tree stumps with the telltale chew marks.
The Lynx is a medium-sized North American wildcat that ranges across Alaska, Canada and many of the northern United States. It is characterized by its long, dense fur, triangular ears with black tufts at the tips, and broad, snowshoe-like paws that help it travel easily over deep snow. More than 75% of its diet in winter are snowshoe hares. In summer it adds voles, mice, grouse, squirrels, and foxes to the menu. Although they are excellent climbers, lynx are not often found in trees. They can only run fast for short distances, so they stalk and ambush their prey as opposed to chasing it down. For the most part, males hunt alone, at night. A mother lynx will teach her young to hunt, eventually working as a family to increase their hunting success.
How to Spot Lynx on the Lake Superior Circle Tour: Lynx do not often venture into areas where humans are present, so it is rare to spot one. If you are lucky and paying attention, you may see one cross your path as you snowshoe a wilderness trail. You might see a family moving single file across a frozen river or lake as you drive by. A lone male hunter could be spotted slinking along the highway on a summer’s night, stalking its prey. The above photographed Lynx was spotted by the Executive Director of Ontario’s Superior Country, the organization that produces the Lake Superior Circle Tour Adventure Guide. He spotted the Lynx from his boat while fishing salmon in the Nipigon River. He said that the Lynx was sitting next to “what looked like a Beaver trail going into the river”.
Western Painted Turtle
The painted turtle is a living dinosaur – did you know that fossils show that it existed 15 million years ago? It is a cold-blooded reptile, meaning it does not regulate its own body temperature, relying on its environment for warmth. The Western Painted Turtle dines on aquatic vegetation, algae, and small water creatures including insects, crustaceans and fish. As eggs or hatchlings, they have a challenging start in life as they are easily consumed by rodents, canines, and snakes. As adults, the turtles’ hard shells protect them from most predators. While habitat loss and road killings have reduced the turtle’s population, its ability to live in human-disturbed settings has helped it remain the most abundant turtle in North America. Adults in the wild can live for more than 55 years.
How to Spot Western Painted Turtles on the Lake Superior Circle Tour: During winter, the Western Painted Turtle hibernates, usually in the mud at the bottom of water bodies. However, they can be spotted late spring through fall basking for hours on logs and rocks, in or near rivers, lakes and streams. A great spot to gaze upon Western Painted Turtles is the lagoon in Nipigon, Ontario from Turtle Point! This is all accessible from the Nipigon Marina.
The fox is the smallest member of the dog family, although it has many similarities with cats – such as vertical slit eyes and retractable claws. Foxes also hunt like cats, stalking their prey and playing with it before killing it. There are 21 species of fox, with the red fox being the most common. Foxes adapt very easily and can thrive in a dense forest or a suburban neighborhood. The fox does not live in a pack. It hunts alone for its prey, which includes rabbits, rodents and birds. A fox’s hearing is so sharp they can hear their prey moving underground and can even hear a watch ticking 40 yards away! Natural enemies of the red fox include lynx, eagles, wolves and coyotes. Did you know that a group of foxes is called a “skulk”?
How to Spot Red Foxes on the Lake Superior Circle Tour: Red foxes remain active all year and do not hibernate. They can be active at any time of day but appear to hunt most often during dawn and dusk. It is not unusual to observe foxes during the daytime trotting along a roadside, or exploring a rural community, searching for food. Red foxes make their home in the hollow of trees, and in ground burrows, so keep your eyes peeled if you are hiking, cycling, snowshoeing or skiing on a recreational trail.
Great Blue Heron
The largest of the North American herons, the great blue heron stands up to 4 1/2 feet tall and can have a wingspan measuring up to 6 ½ feet! great blue herons hunt alone, usually standing in water. They also feed in fields or drop from the air, or a perch, into water. They locate their food by sight, and usually swallow it whole. Their menu consists primarily of small fish, but they have been known to consume insects, rodents, reptiles and even ducklings.
How to Spot Blue Herons on the Lake Superior Circle Tour: Great blue herons can be seen standing and foraging in the shallows of streams, rivers and lakes. They rarely venture far from bodies of water but are occasionally seen flying over upland areas. They usually nest in trees or bushes near water’s edge, often on islands (which minimizes the potential for predation) or partially isolated areas.
The bald eagle has been the national emblem of the United States since 1782 and an important symbol for Indigenous Peoples for thousands of years. These regal raptors are not actually bald, but their white-feathered heads gleam in contrast to their chocolate-brown body and wings. With a height of 2 ½ feet and a wingspan of 6 ½ feet, the bald eagle is Canada’s largest bird of prey. Of the world’s 59 species, only the bald eagle and golden eagle are found in North America – but the bald eagle is the only species exclusive to North America. Bald Eagles eat mainly fish, aquatic birds and mammals. They will take food however they can, stealing from other birds, scavenging, hunting in flight, from a perch, the ground, or in shallow water.
How to Spot Bald Eagles on the Lake Superior Circle Tour: Bald eagles prefer to settle in proximity to lakeshores where suitable nest trees are available. They may be spotted in the winter near moving rivers, as they will remain in an area all year if their fishing waters do not freeze over. Look for them feasting on deer remains near the highway or fighting a turkey vulture for a piece of salmon carcass at river’s edge. Bald eagles occasionally hunt cooperatively with one flushing prey towards another, so you may be lucky enough to see more than one soaring near a water body.
The porcupine is the prickliest of rodents, though its Latin name means “quill pig.” There are more than two dozen porcupine species, and all boast a coat of needle-like quills to give predators a sharp reminder that this animal is no easy meal. It is estimated that they have about 30,000 quills! In the winter, they primarily eat evergreen needles and the inner bark of trees, often feeding heavily on a single tree causing damage or death to the tree. In the spring and summer, porcupines switch to a menu of berries, seeds, grasses, leaves, roots and stems. Porcupines do not hibernate in winter but remain close to their dens. For this reason, the porcupine was an important winter food source for Indigenous peoples. They also dye porcupine quills for use in decorative work.
How to Spot Porcupines on the Lake Superior Circle Tour: The porcupine spends much of its time in its den or up a tree, so it is not easy to spot. It can be found in mature forests, or in alder thickets along a river’s edge. It is most common where there are rocky ledges and rock piles suitable for dens and stands of aspen, hemlock, or other trees. Being short sighted and slow moving, it is not difficult to approach when found. But do not get too close, or you may regret it! In winter, its tracks can be recognized by the firm print of the whole sole placed heavily on the ground, long claw marks, and sometimes a tail drag mark is visible. Around feeding trees and especially outside winter dens, porcupine scat is often visible. In the winter, it is rough and irregular shaped. In summer it is rounded and soft with fresh scat having a greenish tinge.
Remember to treat all Lake Superior Wildlife you find on the Lake Superior Circle Tour with respect. Do not feed them and do not get too close to them. They are all best enjoyed from a distance. Happy travels to you and yours on your Lake Superior Circle Tour. I hope that you found this article helpful in your efforts to spot animals along the tour.