Elk Island National Park is a national park in Canada that played an important part in the conservation of the American bison and that is what enticed us to want to visit. The park is located 35 km east of Edmonton, Alberta along the Yellowhead Highway, which runs through the park. It was a nice short drive from spending time at West Edmonton Mall, but you felt miles and miles away from the busy city life. Elk Island National Park is also Canada’s only entirely fenced national park. Since what is inside the fence can’t get out, the chances are pretty good you’ll see at least some of the animals that live there.
Elk Island plays host to both the largest and the smallest terrestrial mammals in North America, the wood bison and pygmy shrew, respectively. We loved spotting what felt like a massive amount of Bison but didn’t get a chance to run into a teeny tiny pygmy shrew. Elk Island also has Moose, Deer, Beaver and, of course, Elk.
On our first day when we drove the Bison Loop, the herd was far off in the distance. It was an incredible sight, but we were hoping for a closer, but safe distance, view. We went back to the loop just before sunset to see if we could catch a better glimpse and we were absolutely in awe. There were only a couple other people and vehicles around and we were really able to take our time while we sat in the red Parks Canada chairs and enjoyed the scene. It almost felt like I was on safari again. We are so in awe of wildlife and this experience sure brought out that admiration again. That scene with the Bison, while the sun was setting, is exactly what we were hoping to see, and our reason for exploring Elk Island.
Another exciting sight was a Beaver. Since we are Canadian, I thought it was weird that we had not yet seen a Beaver. Watching it waddle and swim around in the swamp and then walk out right in front of me as it moved to another body of water was absolutely incredible. I took a few extra steps back to give it more space and my jaw must have completely dropped. We also spotted one swimming around his dam and it was a great view and learning opportunity for the kids.
Even Deer are a beautiful sight as they wander through tall grass and take some time to relax. We also spotted some Canadian Geese with probably a dozen babies. And, of course, we had to take a few moments in silence to admire their beauty.
We found Elk Island to also be a great spot for camping. Astonin Lake is nearby and it was very family friendly. We were lucky to be surrounded by families with kids around the same age as Madison (5) and Sadie (3) and that really added to our camping experience with the extra fun they had to be able to play with all those sweet kids.
Having a zoom lens when you are witnessing wildlife is key — you get the incredible encounter of witnessing them in their natural environment, while not disturbing them as you take photos from a safe distance.
Take a look at our Elk Island fun:
One thing we learned on this trip is that we always wished that we had an extra day everywhere we stopped for camping and wildlife; Elk Island was one of those stops. Next time we will make sure we add on an extra day when we can for more hiking, wildlife searching or getting out on the lake for a paddle. We have to slow it down a bit!
What are some of your favorite Canadian national parks?