Worth a Trip: Elk Island National Park

In case you hadn’t noticed, there are five national parks in Alberta, and three of them aren’t Jasper or Banff. Overshadowed by the Gothic Rockies, tiny Elk Island National Park attracts just 5% of Banff’s annual visitor count despite its location only 50km east of Edmonton. Not that this detracts from its attractions. The park – the only one in Canada that is entirely fenced – contains the highest density of wild hoofed animals in the world after the Serengeti. If you come here, plan on seeing the ‘big six’ – plains bison, wood bison, mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk and the more elusive moose. The wood bison live entirely in the quieter southern portion of the park (which is cut in two by Hwy 16), while the plains bison inhabit the north. Most of the infrastructure lies in the north, too, around Astotin Lake. Here you’ll find a campground, a nine-hole golf course (with a clubhouse containing a restaurant), a beach and a boat launch. Four of the park’s 11 trails lead out from the lakeshore through trademark northern Albertan aspen parkland – a kind of natural intermingling of the prairies and the boreal forests.

Public transportation to the park is nonexistent. Either hire a car or join a guided tour from Edmonton with Watchable Wildlife Tours Group, led by wildlife expert Wayne Millar. It’s a lovely way to watch the sunset surrounded by animals on a long summer evening.