I always earn huge bonus points with my kids every time I bring them to Elk Island National Park, just east of Edmonton. Seeing a herd of free roaming bison grazing a few feet from our car is pretty impressive. With the window rolled down we can even hear the giant beasts breathe and gaze into their bright eyes.
Bison aren’t the only creatures that call Elk Island home, though. Over the years we’ve seen whitetail and mule deer, moose, elk and coyotes. And with over 250 species of birds, including white pelicans and endangered trumpeter swans, the park is considered nirvana for birders. Nature feels so, well, close here that it’s hard to believe we’re less than an hour’s drive from the city.
Paddle and Play at Astotin
When the kids were little, we’d always have a lakeshore picnic and then spend some time at the beach, building sandcastles, or burying one of us – usually my husband – up to the neck in sand. Now that they’re older you’ll find us out on the water. Summer weekend rentals of canoes, kayaks and stand up paddleboards are available at the north end of Astotin Lake. I find that paddling is an exceptionally peaceful way to experience the park’s beauty.
Haskin Canoe also offers a two-hour Blue Moon canoe and kayak tour that sets off at sunset to paddle under the light of a full moon. We’re planning on booking it for next summer. Elk Island is part of the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve so I imagine that stargazing, while floating across a calm lake in the stillness of night, will be an exceptional experience.
Guided or Self-Guided Exploration
Elk Island does a fantastic job with park programming as well. Take a behind the scenes walking tour to learn about the park’s wildlife conservation. Gather around an evening campfire and hear the story about Canada’s bison. Or join a star party and discover what is so special about a dark sky preserve.
You’ll also find more than 80 km (50 mi) of multi-use trails that can be hiked in spring, summer and autumn and explored on cross-country skis or snowshoes in winter. We love coming here in autumn, when the air is crisp and our feet crunch through the fallen red and gold leaves. It’s a great time of year to catch the sunrise as well. A quiet morning with a thermos of coffee, hot chocolate for the kids and sizzling sausages cooked on the campfire near Astotin Lake is my idea of heaven. No matter the season, I promise you’ll find something extraordinary to discover in this magical place where the bison roam.