Photo: Shutterstock/BGSmith

Elk Island National Park

Roam wild with Alberta’s bison

Trail / Hike

Beginner-friendly

Full day

If you want to spot larger-than-life wildlife on your next weekend outside, check out Elk Island National Park. Boasting tremendous views across Astotin Lake and eye-opening wildlife viewing opportunities, the park is home to a well-designed trail system that makes for epic day hikes where you can see Alberta’s famous bison.

Elk Island National Park

53.582670, -112.837276

Get Directions

Driving time from Edmonton

40 minutes

Campgrounds

3

Hiking trails

11

Planning your day hike

Prepare to meet the wildlife of Elk Island

When to go

Elk Island National Park is open to visitors all year round, but a few facilities within the park follow a different schedule so check the Parks Canada site as part of your planning. If you’re looking for a bison photo opp, try to time your trail session for early morning or at dusk, since that’s when you have a better chance of seeing wildlife. Day hikes are easy to turn into a weekend trip (especially useful if you’re up at dawn) since there’s camping at select sites from May to October.

Finding your way (and the bison)

A day on Elk Island’s trails can be as long and strenuous or short and easy as you like, so be sure to take a look at the detailed trail maps before you head out. For a beginner hike that gives you the best chance of seeing bison, try the Beaver Pond Trail. If you’re up for more of a challenge, the aptly named Wood Bison Trail is your best bet.

 

You’ve likely heard of being bear smart when you’re out on a hike, and in Elk Island park you also want to be “bison wise.” Bring a zoom lens for your camera so that you can let the bison roam at least 100m away – part of the 7 ways to be a good hiker.

Stay awhile

If one day on the trails just isn’t enough exploring for you, then spend the night. You can hike in to backcountry sites or set up camp at drive-in sites. Are you a first-time or beginner camper? There are equipped campsites where all the gear you need to sleep and eat outside is covered (tents, lanterns, stove and more), which makes things easy.

Grab a front row seat

Before you head back to the city, see if you can find the red Adirondack chairs that Parks Canada has in 5 different parts of the park. Have a seat with your camping buddy, snap a #sharethechair shot, and take a moment to unwind. You might have one final chance to the bison grazing before you head home.

Get your Discovery Pass

Don’t forget to pick up your free Parks Canada Discovery Pass before heading out to Elk Island National Park. You can grab one at either the MEC South Edmonton Common or newly opened MEC Brewery District locations before you hit the highway east.

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