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FIRST TIME CAMPERS LOVE ELK ISLAND NATIONAL PARK

Author: Mhairri Woodhall

Born in Hong Kong and raised in Vancouver, Mhairri now lives in Calgary with her husband and daughter. Specializing in family, luxury and culinary focused travel, Mhairri loves exploring her new province, nourishing her wanderlust and writing about her adventures.

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I watch my daughter closely as she bites into her very first, perfectly toasted marshmallow. Her eyes widen with joy when she breaks through the golden caramelized shell and reaches the sweet gooey centre. It seems like we have another win for camping.

We’re snuggled beside the crackling fire, watching my husband expertly prepare our roasted dessert. Above us a gazillion stars dazzle the night sky. Tomorrow we’re going to Elk Island National Park’s Star Party Campfire to learn all about the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve – a 300 sq km (116 sq mi) region that encompasses Elk Island and neighbouring Cooking-Lake Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area. We’re just 40 minutes east of Edmonton, yet it feels like we’re a million miles away.

Equipped Campsites Offer Effortless Experience

Although we both camped with our families as kids, my husband and I have never actually camped together. Rather than having to buy all of the required gear, we opted to book one of the fully equipped sites Parks Canada offers at the Sandy Beach campground in the Astotin Lake area of Elk Island National Park. I mean how cool is that? The great outdoors experience, with zero set-up. We arrived to perfectly pitched tent with sleeping pads inside, camping chairs arranged around the fire pit and a dining shelter with lantern, propane stove and cooking gear. Parks Canada even provides a packing list on its website, so it was impossible to forget the essentials – you know, like sleeping bags and food. No muss, no fuss and a totally brilliant concept for city slickers like us.

Play and Paddle at Astotin Lake

Our campsite is a short walk to the lakeshore and beach. We spent the morning building sandcastles and watching kayakers glide past. When the wind picks up you’ll see sailboats on the lake as well. Canoe, kayak and stand up paddleboard rentals are available, so we may hit the water for an early morning paddle tomorrow. You’ll also find a playground, golf course with full service restaurant and visitor centre. The biggest hit so far – apart from the marshmallows – has been the Astotin Theatre, where we dressed up like elk, watched a bison stampede on the theatre’s big screen and learned a lot about park wildlife from the onsite interpreters.

Hiking for Every Age and Ability

Elk Island National Park is a wilderness paradise. Most famous for its herds of free roaming buffalo, the park is home to tons of wildlife including elk, moose, white tailed deer, coyote, beaver and more than 250 species of birds. A leisurely half hour walk along the Living Waters Boardwalk is a great way to experience some of the wildlife and beautiful scenery. Our daughter loved the looping boardwalk trail through Astotin Lake’s marshland where we watched some industrious beavers working on their dam.

Tomorrow we’ll try the 3.5 km (2 mi) Beaver Pond Trail loop, which I’ve heard is fantastic for viewing bison, moose, waterfowl and beaver. The 11 hiking trails in Elk Island, which range from an easy stroll to an intense 16 km (10 mi) trek are perfect for burning off all those marshmallows.

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