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VENTURE INTO THE WILD: WOOD BUFFALO 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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Darren Roberts @darren_roberts_

In northeast corner of the province, straddling the border of Alberta and the Northwest Territories, you’ll find a vast protected wilderness of sprawling grasslands, crystal salt plains, boreal forests, deep blue sinkholes and the largest freshwater delta in North America.

Welcome to Wood Buffalo National Park – immense in size, rugged in terrain and wild in every way. The World Heritage Site is Canada’s biggest national park and one of the world’s largest. In summer, your best access point is Fort Smith, which you can fly to directly from Edmonton. If you’re looking for the ultimate backcountry wilderness experience, Wood Buffalo is the place to be. So lace those boots, grab your pack and get ready to discover the top six activities in Alberta’s great north.

  • Camp in a Boreal Forest. Wood Buffalo is one of the few places in the world where front country camping feels more like backcountry. Pine Lake, a massive fresh water sinkhole, is just 37 miles south of Fort Smith. It’s the only road-accessible campground in the park and offers a fire pit, tent pad and picnic table at every site. Set up camp and wander down to the sandy beachfront where you can swim, paddle and even powerboat.
  • Walk Barefoot in the Salt Plains. Drive 15.5 miles west of Fort Smith and you’ll discover a unique landscape caked with layers of brilliant white salt – the result of a prehistoric sea that left underground deposits some 390 million years ago. Watch for wildlife through the high-powered telescope at the viewpoint. Hike down the steep switchback trail and walk barefoot in the soft crystal powder, while searching for footprints of bears, bison, wolves, foxes and moose.
  • Take a Hike in Pristine Wilderness. For front country hiking, head to the Salt River Trail System, where you’ll find seven trails of varying difficulty. Your easiest option is Karstland Loop, a half mile interpretive trail cuts through terrain dotted with active sinkholes and the Salt River Meadows, which takes you alongside a saline stream and wildflower meadow. If exploring the backcountry is more your calling, you have two trails to choose from – the moderate 3.7 mile hike to Rainbow Lakes, or the more challenging 7.5 mile trek to Sweetgrass Station – both of which allow for backcountry camping.
  • Paddle Your Heart Out. Wood Buffalo is a paddler’s paradise – whether you want a leisurely scull on Pine Lake, or are after a true wilderness adventure. For serious bragging rights try the 6-10 day Fort McMurray to Fort Chipewyan route along the Athabasca River. Check out the Parks Canada website for area waterway guides.
  • Play beneath the Stars. Wood Buffalo National Park is also the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserve. In celebration of its exceptional stargazing, the park holds an annual three-day Dark Sky Festival in August. Overnight camping, night sky viewing, family friendly activities and astronomical presentations are a few of the highlights.
  • Watch for Wildlife. Created to protect free roaming herds of bison in the early 1920s, Wood Buffalo is a true wildlife mecca. Wolves, moose, bears, beavers, lynx and wolverines are some of the animals that call the park home. If you visit in the spring or fall, look skyward for migratory birds, as all four North American flyways pass over the park’s Peace-Athabasca Delta. The Salt Plains Viewpoint, Grosbeak Lake along the Salt River Trail and Sweetgrass Station are your top spots for wildlife watching in Wood Buffalo.
Activity Highlights
  • Tent Camping
  • Canoeing
  • Hiking
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