A simple walk in the great outdoors can open your senses to the world in a way that few other activities can. For families, exploring a Canadian park or green space is an opportunity to disengage from technology and spend time reconnecting with each other and the natural world.
Since we want our kids to have the same respect for their wild neighbours as they have for their human ones, we take them out hiking whenever we can. We are always on the lookout for fresh places to go on our next family nature walk. Two of our favourites lie side-by-side just outside Edmonton, Alberta’s capital city.
Follow the Leader into the Ministik
Just 45 minutes southeast of the city is a nature lover’s paradise. Recognized early on as an important waterfowl breeding and nesting area, Ministik Lake Bird Sanctuary is Alberta’s oldest bird sanctuary and part of Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area near the hamlet of New Sarepta.
Retreating glaciers left behind this unique knob and kettle terrain and a diverse ecosystem of upland forest, pothole lakes, low meadows and shallow marshes. With more than 80 species of birds here year round and another 150 species migrating through, it’s the perfect place for your budding birder to start a lifer list. In spring and autumn, watch for tundra swans, American white pelicans and double-crested cormorants.
We like to take turns as leader to climb the rising hummocks through the long grasses. Ministik has only one marked trail, so you’ll mostly follow game trails smack in the middle of untouched wilderness. Listen for songbirds, woodpeckers and loons. Search small ponds for skinny-legged water striders skating across the surface – fascinating insects with legs that allow them to walk on water. Keep an eye out for lynx, deer, elk and moose. Last trip, we stopped by the cattails at the edge of a marsh and explained to the kids how wetlands act like a great big water filter.
Picnic with the Swans
Given there are no services or amenities in Minsitik, we made plans to follow on with a drive to the nearby day-use Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Recreation Area for our picnic lunch. Once we refuelled and relaxed, we took the short Swan Trail from Waskehegan staging area to look for the very large and very rare pairs of trumpeter swans that nest by Running Dog Lake. When the children are a bit older we’ll come back and hike the 2 km (1.2 mi) from the Blackfoot staging area to Heron Hollow to see if we can get a look at colony of blue herons who take up residence here every year.
Tips for Hiking in Alberta with Kids
Go early in the morning while everyone is fresh and the park is just waking up. Wear closed-toed shoes. Pack snacks and drinks, hats, bug spray and sunscreen, a blanket for your picnic, your camera and binoculars – we all know that kids love binoculars.