I’m a little ashamed to admit that I’ve lived in Edmonton 10 years and have never made the trip out to Elk Island National Park. We’ve driven past it multiple times, always admiring the herds of Bison so close to the highway but have never ventured through the park gates. Well, we finally changed that. A couple months ago we made an afternoon trip into the National Park and didn’t regret it.
We started off our day trip by driving the “Bison Loop Road” which was mentioned as the best place to see the Wood and Plains Bison that roam freely around the park. Well, we saw zero. Not a single one. But driving a couple km’s north we saw a lone male on the side of the road that put on quite a good show for the kids, rolling around and strutting his stuff. Other park guests we met later in the day said they saw large herds everywhere, so just luck of the draw of when you visit, I guess. After our Bison encounter we headed north to Astotin Lake day use area. I read through my brochures from the vistors centre at the main park gate and was making a mental list of things to do when Tim noticed a 9 hole golf course quite close to the day use area. So, being the good wife that I am, I suggested we check if Tim could sneak in for 9 holes while we enjoyed the playgrounds and park a bit. Tim luckily had his clubs and was able to walk right on the course. It took him about 90 minutes to play the round and said it was a pretty decent course and priced really reasonably. There was so much to do around the Lake that it worked out perfectly for him to sneak off for a little bit while we enjoyed area. The playground was large and full of new friends. Around the playground area there were tons of day-use fire pits and lots of families having picnics and enjoying an afternoon in the sun. After our time at the playground we checked out the interpretive trailer markers (my kids ask me to read every.single.one) and then we walked the Living Waters Boardwalk. It is a 1/2 km walk over the lake and we all really enjoyed the exhibits lining the boardwalk and searching for water creatures.
After our hike we went to the golf course to pick up Tim. I hadn’t packed much of a lunch, so decided to eat right there in the clubhouse. It was totally kid friendly and pretty yummy. Then we planned to canoe around Astonin Lake for an hour with rentals through Haskin Canoe. This seemed like quite a good idea from shore and while it was beautiful, it was a wee bit hard with the kids dragging their paddles and the wind working right against us. However, the girls LOVED it and I’d do it again (even with the soreness the next day. And yes, I know that makes sound out of shape, cause, yes, I am). We spent a little more time at the beach and walked the Lakeview trail around the shoreline in search of Red Chairs before naps were needed and we decided to call it a day.
Things we wanted to do Elk Island but ran out of time-
-Elk Island Backpacks to borrow full of fun- like a pond dipping kit, binoculars, maps and guides to what creatures they can find (and kids just seem to love playing with binoculars). These kits can be picked up from the Astotin Theatre for the day for free and we saw several families enjoying dipping nets in the lake and finding snails and frogs.
-Hiking the trails- there’s 11 different hikes that are family friendly depending on the age and ability of the kids.
–Geocahcing (We have never tried it but have friends who absolutely love to geocache! Apparently there’s 8 hidden through the park and if you find them all you receive a collectors coin)
If you are going to make the 35km drive from Edmonton out there, it would be great to check out the free programming including “Bison Backstage”. There’s Bison based activities and hands-on demonstrations at 1pm and 3pm on Saturdays and Sundays in the summer months. Just Register at the Visitor Centre.
There are also Star Nights happening this year- this includes stargazing with an interpreter, campfire goodies and storytelling. They are also free and programming runs at 7pm on August 22, September 6, 12,19, 26 and October 3rd.
More information can be found at the National Park Website.
Look Forward to-
-Lots of hiking trails and lots of animal encounters and maybe even a Bison Traffic Jam.
–Canoeing, Sup-ing, kayaking rentals for $25 hour a hour including lifejackets on Asotin Lake
–Equipped camping! I’m so excited about this idea- the park provides everything you need to camp in a tent in the national park, you just show up and enjoy without the cost of purchasing supplies. For about $60 your family can see if they like camping before you invest money into gear.
-Searching for the Red Chairs around the park- We made finding them a game (and the kids didn’t know I had the exact coordinates on my phone) #sharethechair
-Your husband being able to golf quick round while you play with the kids.
But be Prepared for-
-Paying the National Park Fee at the Gate (about $19 for a family, or you can pay per person if that works out to be cheaper)
-The Astotin Lake not being swimable . I had heard that families do enjoy it, but talking to interpreters we found out Swimmer’s Itch is common. Children can play at the beach in the sand, but there was seagulls (and turns out Maeve is deathly afraid of the gulls)
-Changes in weather quickly- we went from a gorgeous day to a thunderstorm in what seemed like minutes. Make sure you bring water, a hat, bugspray, sunscreen, good walking shoes, and a jacket.
-Your husband being able to golf quick round while you play with the kids. 😉
Our Insider Tips-
-Head to the Theatre earlier in the Day to snag an Explorers Backpack
-Share the hashtag on social media #sharethechair if you find a red chair to be featured on the National Park Instagram or Twitter feed
-If you are wanting to see more wildlife head out earlier in the morning or stay till after sunset for the best chances.
-Try Snowshoeing in the winter with rentals available onsite
-From the East side of the city it was less then 40 minute drive on Highway 1 to the park gates (even with construction around Sherwood Park) and a great place to get your kids out in nature. We buy a park pass every year so it’s a great place to spend an afternoon (and make that park pass worth it’s investment!)