Elk Island Overview

Elk Island National Park, located in Alberta, Canada, stands as a testament to wildlife conservation and the preservation of the Canadian wilderness. Established in 1913, it covers an area of approximately 194 square kilometers (about 75 square miles), making it one of Canada’s smaller national parks. Despite its size, Elk Island plays a significant role in the conservation of bison, elk, and more than 250 bird species, providing a sanctuary for these animals within its boundaries.

Situated just east of Edmonton, Elk Island National Park is a unique conservation area that has been instrumental in the survival and recovery of the American bison. The park is home to both the plains and wood bison, which roam freely within its fenced confines. Through successful conservation efforts, Elk Island has become a key player in bison conservation worldwide, with animals from the park being reintroduced to other natural areas across North America.

The park’s landscape is characterized by aspen parkland, a mix of forest and grassland that provides ideal habitats for a variety of wildlife. In addition to bison and elk, visitors might encounter moose, white-tailed deer, beavers, and the occasional black bear. The numerous lakes and wetlands within the park also attract a wide range of bird species, making it a popular destination for birdwatching.

Elk Island National Park offers a range of recreational activities, including hiking, kayaking, canoeing, and picnicking. In winter, the park transforms into a snowy wonderland, with opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The park’s proximity to Edmonton makes it an accessible escape to nature for city dwellers and visitors looking to experience Canada’s wilderness and wildlife.

Elk Island National Park is not just a haven for wildlife; it is a place of natural beauty and tranquility, where visitors can connect with nature and learn about the importance of conservation efforts in preserving Canada’s natural heritage.

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Park Map
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Elk Island National Park Highlights


This park, celebrated for its efforts in species preservation and its diverse habitats, from aspen parklands to wetlands, offers visitors the unique opportunity to observe a wide range of animals in their natural environment.

Plains Bison – Once on the brink of extinction, the Plains Bison thrive within the park, symbolizing successful conservation efforts and roaming freely in their natural grassland habitat.

Wood Bison – Larger and less common than their Plains cousins, Wood Bison were reintroduced to the park, showcasing another triumph of species recovery and management.

Moose – Majestic and solitary, Moose are often seen browsing the park’s forests and wetlands, their towering presence a testament to the park’s diverse ecosystems.

Elk – Named after the park, Elk are a flagship species, with their impressive antlers and herding behavior, offering a glimpse into Canada’s wildlife heritage.

White-tailed Deer – Common throughout the park, White-tailed Deer gracefully navigate the landscape, their agility and adaptability making them a frequent sight along trails and meadows.

Beaver – As nature’s engineers, Beavers play a crucial role in shaping the park’s aquatic ecosystems, their lodges and dams a common and intriguing feature.

Trumpeter Swan – The restoration of the Trumpeter Swan, once nearly extinct, is celebrated here, with their graceful forms adorning the park’s lakes and wetlands.

Great Horned Owl – Emblematic of the park’s avian predators, the Great Horned Owl’s haunting call fills the night, a master hunter of the parkland’s forests.

Red Fox – The cunning Red Fox, with its striking orange fur, is a versatile and adaptable resident, often spotted along the park’s boundaries and open areas.

American Black Bear – Though sightings are rare, the American Black Bear occasionally wanders through the park, a reminder of the wildness that Elk Island helps preserve.

Elk Island National Park’s wildlife, from the iconic bison to the elusive moose and the industrious beaver, enriches the visitor experience, offering a vivid portrayal of Alberta’s natural heritage and ongoing conservation success stories.

Elk Island National Park Pictures

Engaging Elk Island

With over 80 kilometers of trails winding through forests, meadows, and along picturesque shorelines, hiking is a popular activity in Elk Island National Park. Trails vary in difficulty, offering options for casual strolls, family outings, or more challenging hikes for experienced adventurers.

Exploring Elk Island’s pristine lakes and waterways by canoe or kayak provides a tranquil and immersive experience. Paddle along Astotin Lake or Tawayik Lake, surrounded by lush forests and breathtaking scenery, and keep an eye out for wildlife along the shoreline.

Elk Island National Park Trails

Wood Bison Trail

Rating: Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: 9.9 miles (16 km) round trip with minimal elevation gain

Description: This trail takes hikers through a variety of landscapes including aspen woodlands, wetlands, and grassy plains. It’s an excellent trail for spotting the park’s namesake elk and wood bison in their natural habitat.

The trail offers a true wilderness experience, with chances to see not only bison but also other wildlife like deer, beavers, and numerous bird species.

Beaver Pond Trail

Rating: Easy

Distance and Elevation Gain: 2.1 miles (3.4 km) loop with minimal elevation gain

  • Description: Circumnavigating a serene beaver pond, this trail is perfect for families and those looking for a leisurely walk. Interpretive signs along the path educate hikers about the beaver’s impact on the ecosystem. The trail is known for its birdwatching opportunities, with waterfowl and songbirds aplenty.
Shirley Lake Trail

Rating: Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: 5.6 miles (9 km) loop with minimal elevation gain

Description: This scenic trail meanders through mixed-wood forests, open meadows, and past several small lakes.

It’s an excellent choice for those looking to enjoy a peaceful hike with varied scenery and good chances of wildlife sightings, including moose and coyotes. The trail is well-marked and suitable for hikers of all skill levels.

Tawayik Lake Trail

Rating: Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: 9.3 miles (15 km) loop with minimal elevation gain

Description: Offering stunning views of Tawayik Lake, this trail is a favorite for those seeking solitude and the chance to observe waterfowl and bison.

The path takes hikers through diverse habitats, including forests, meadows, and marshlands, providing a comprehensive tour of the park’s natural beauty.

Amisk Wuche Trail

Rating: Easy

Distance and Elevation Gain: 1.2 miles (2 km) loop with minimal elevation gain

Description: This easy trail is ideal for a quick, educational outing. It winds through diverse ecosystems, offering views of lakes, forests, and meadows.

Interpretive signage along the route provides insights into the area’s flora and fauna, making it a great educational resource for visitors of all ages.


1. What is Elk Island National Park known for?

Elk Island National Park, nestled in the heart of Alberta, Canada, is renowned for its stunning landscapes, diverse wildlife, and conservation efforts.

Established in 1906, it stands as an important sanctuary for various species, particularly the plains and wood bison, which roam freely across its expansive terrain.

Visitors flock to the park to witness these iconic creatures in their natural habitat, as well as to explore its pristine lakes, lush forests, and picturesque meadows.

Additionally, Elk Island offers a range of outdoor activities, including hiking, picnicking, kayaking, and wildlife viewing, providing ample opportunities for nature enthusiasts to immerse themselves in the park’s breathtaking surroundings.

Whether it’s a tranquil stroll along the shoreline or an exhilarating encounter with a bison herd, Elk Island National Park promises an unforgettable wilderness experience for visitors of all ages.

  • All Trails, Best Trails in Elk Island National Park,, retrieved April 2024.
  • Britannica, Elk Island National Park,, retrieved April 2024.
  • Canadian Encyclopedia, Elk Island National Park,, retrieved April 2024.
  • National Geographic, National Parks of North America, Canada-United States-Mexico, National Geographic Society, 1995.
  • Parks Canada, Elk Island National Park,, retrieved April 2024.
  • Travel Alberta, Elk Island National Park,, retrieved April 2024.