Bison in Elk Island National Park east of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Elk Island National Park is a wildlife sanctuary 35 KM (21⅞ miles) east of Edmonton, Alberta along the Yellowhead Hwy (Hwy 16). This unique conservation area was founded in 1906 to protect the dwindling elk population in Beaver Hills and remains the only completely fenced National Park in Canada.
Staging from Edmonton provides the opportunity to visit this peaceful sanctuary harboring herds of free roaming plains bison, wood bison, moose, deer, and elk plus more than 250 species of birds. The first stop at the parks west boundary sign yields photos of the area's typical marshland with buffalo roaming nearby.
The short drive east from Edmonton leads to a well-signed left turn off the Yellowhead Hwy into the South Gate of Elk Island National Park. The Visitor Centre is closed but a short drive north on Elk Island Parkway provides a right turn into Bison Loop Road. The wood bison is North America's largest mammal. Good fortune arrives here when the vast majority of occupants around the short loop are buffalo providing a huge opportunity to take photographs of these massive animals from the safety of the vehicle.
Having so many of the huge animals in such close proximity allows spending considerable time here appreciating the peaceful grace of the large animals grazing with little to no concern about our presence. The car is carefully navigated through animals crossing the road with a stop every few meters to view buffalo, including their calves, at roadside and in fenced fields beyond. Elk Island is a sanctuary where bison are protected and allowed to live naturally.
Elk Island National Park protects the natural growth of herds and stocks other Parks and countries internationally who wish to establish herds of their own. Banff National Park is considering the introduction of a buffalo herd in the northern, more remote part of the park.
The slow tour around Bison Loop Road is an exhilarating experience but staying in the vehicle is wise. If a buffalo chose to charge, with young animals to protect, there would be no contest. The bison are huge and powerful.
Continuing north on Elk Island Parkway takes the right branch at the fork. Lunch is enjoyed at the shore of Astotin Lake near the north end of this small but well-appointed National Park. Lunch is consumed under the sun beside Sandy Beach. There are many nearby amenities including a pavilion, a large playground and a full service campground. Clearly, this is a popular recreation facility for residents of Edmonton and other nearby communities. There is a golf course nearby.
The Elk Island Golf Course is small and well-groomed. The clubhouse is quiet this day and a short stroll past the entrance offers a beautiful view over Astotin Lake.
There are over 80 KM (50 miles) of hiking trails within the relatively flat and unique terrain of Elk Island National Park which vary from easy to moderate with one trail considered difficult. All trails are lucrative for potential wildlife viewing and bird watching. The 11 trail possibilities vary in length from 300 m (984 yards) to the 16.5 KM (10¹⁄₃ mile) Tawayik Lake Trail.
The modest, 300 m Living Waters Boardwalk Trail is a very unique hike on land and floating boardwalk through marshland and over water. Using access from the golf course will create a short fairly flat hike for a couple of kilometers. The interpretive Living Waters Boardwalk Trail is a unique and excellent choice through lofty water plants interrupted by beautiful lake views and the color of early fall shrubbery.
Beautiful images throughout the hike include sighting of fish in the water and a single muskrat swimming swiftly and silently in open water. Insects are non-existent under the control of many birds and a mild breeze. Beaver live here.
This hike is far more interesting, relaxing and beautifully peaceful than anticipated. Early fall colors tinge foliage and create a visual cornucopia of variable hues.
The Living Waters Boardwalk ends in a transition to traditional trail past the Astotin Interpretive Centre for the final section of the hike to parking at the Elk Island Golf Course. Busiest in summer, the shoulder seasons may be the best time for a more peaceful visit. During winter the trails are occupied with cross-country skiers.
This initial visit to Elk Island National Park has been an excellent experience. On the drive leaving the park there is an opportunity to pull over to the side of Elk Island Parkway just south of the entrance road to Tawayik Lake for a few photographs of a beautiful and tranquil pond.
Photographs for this post were captured on September 16, 2013 at Elk Island National Park east of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.