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Elk Island National Park, AB

About Elk Island National ParkAbout 35 kilometres (22 mi.) east of Edmonton, Elk Island National Park is reached by Hwy. 15 from the north and Hwy. 16 from the south. The lakes, ponds, forests and meadows of this 194-square-kilometre (75-sq.-mi.) park provide a haven for many species of plants and animals, including bison, deer, moose, coyotes, beavers and elk. Drive the Bison Loop Road at dawn or dusk for the best chance to see free-roaming plains bison.

Many small lakes dot the landscape, but the major bodies are Tawayik and Astotin, the latter being the larger. The lakes and marshes support more than 250 bird species, including ducks, grebes, gulls, loons, pelicans, rare trumpeter swans and terns.

Marsh marigolds and several types of lilies are among several plants rarely seen outside the park. Song birds occupy the many aspen, spruce and birch forests, but few fish inhabit the waters due to low oxygen levels. The herd of elk for which the park was established flourish among the meadows and forests, as do reintroduced colonies of beavers.

The park occupies the Beaver Hills region, which first was settled by Sarcee and Plains Cree First Nations. They trapped beavers and hunted bison and elk, as did the European fur traders who arrived between the late 18th and the mid-19th centuries. Soon the animals became nearly extinct, and the natives were forced to seek sustenance elsewhere.

In 1906 five local men asked that the government establish a wildlife refuge to preserve the remaining elk. A year later 400 plains bison were added, while another preserve near Wainwright was being established. Most of these animals later were transferred, but about 50 stayed and produced the plains bison herd of more than 300 that remains today north of Hwy. 16, and now provides bison to conservation projects in Canada and elsewhere. A herd of several hundred wood bison, a threatened subspecies, is kept separate from this herd south of Hwy. 16.

General InformationThe park is open daily all year. More than 80 kilometres (50 mi.) of trails crisscross the park; stop at the Visitor Information Centre near the park's south entrance gate for information and maps. Staff members and displays describe Elk Island and other national parks. The center is open daily 9:30-4:30, mid-May through Labour Day; phone (780) 922-5790 to confirm schedule.

Most recreation facilities center on Astotin Lake, which offers non-motorized boating, wildlife observations, picnic facilities, a nine-hole golf course, camping, hiking and walking trails. Canoe, kayak and paddleboard rentals are available June through August. Sandy Beach campground is on the east side of the lake.

Guided interpretive experiences are offered on weekends in July and August and include behind-the-scenes tours of the bison handling facility (Sat.-Sun. on the hour noon-5). Hunting and fishing are prohibited.

ADMISSIONADMISSION $7.80; $6.80 (ages 65+); free (ages 0-16); $15.70 (up to seven people arriving in a single vehicle). An annual pass, valid at all Canadian national parks, is available.

PETSPETS must be kept on a leash at all times.

ADDRESSADDRESS inquiries for additional information to Elk Island National Park, Site 4, R.R. 1, Fort Saskatchewan, AB, Canada T8L 2N7; phone (780) 922-5790.

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Elk Island National Park, AB

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