Elk Island National Park - Edmonton - Hiking Alberta

 

Bison in Elk Island National Park east of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

 

Bison Loop Road, Elk Island National Park, 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.

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada Yellowhead Hwy signage at the west boundary of Elk Island National Park east of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada Typical marshland common to Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada  Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

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.

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

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.

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada Buffalo at  Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada Buffalo Mom nursing her calf at Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada A very large buffalo at Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada Two more very large bison at Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada Catching a bit of shade at Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada Driving slowly past the tree for a closer view at Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada The animals seem very comfortable beside the car as we drive slowly past at Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada Bison viewing at Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

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.

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada Sandy Beach at Astotin Lake in Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada Sandy Beach at Astotin Lake in Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada A seagull waiting for left overs at Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

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.

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada The clubhouse for the Elk Island Golf Course in Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada The final hole at the Elk Island Golf Course in Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada The view over Lake Astotin from the clubhouse at the Elk Island Golf Course in Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

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.

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada Interpretive plaques along the Living Boardwalk Trail educate about plant and marine animal life at Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada The boardwalk floats on water through dense marine plant life on Astotin lake in Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada Images and aromas are unique on this walk through marshland bordering Astotin Lake in Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

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.

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada A muskrat deftly negotiates Astotin Lake in Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada The Elk Island Golf Course Clubhouse appears at photo right above the rich plant surface of Astotin Lake in Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada Floating ramps extend from the Living Waters Boardwalk Trail into Astotin Lake in Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada Marshland adjacent to Astotin Lake generates fascinating visual, audible and aromatic experiences at Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

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.

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada The beginning of early fall color at Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada Fall colors begin to absorb marshland plants on the shore of Astotin Lake in Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada Small patches of color enhance the tranquil view over Astotin Lake in Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

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.

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Photographs for this post were captured on September 16, 2013 at Elk Island National Park east of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

I am not sure the vehicle would do all that well against a charge from one of the huge bulls. They are massive animals. Within the Buffalo Loop they are accustomed to vehicles and were very calm and unaffected by our presence. It was very fortunate for us to be there when there were so many of the large animals present. Thanks for your comment, Bill.

Great idea to stay in vehicle. Not sure a one on one charging event would work in your favour. Beautiful animals. Great pictures.

Thank you for your comment, Sheryl. Mel and I were very fortunate to be on the loop when it was heavily populated with bison. In the off season there were very few people around and it all worked in our favor.

One of my favourite places to visit! Your photos of the bison are fantastic. Incredible animals.

Nearly all Edmonton residents are familiar with Elk Island National Park. It was my first visit and my expectations of this small National Park were substantially exceeded. It is a unique area and very beautiful. Thank you for your comment, Helen.

What a wonderful sanctuary and how fortunate was the timing of your visit to be able to see the buffalo so close up. Just love the shot of them taking the shade of the tree.

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