Elk Island National Park

Interested in visiting a safe-haven for large mammals? Elk Island National Park is just a drive 45 km east of Edmonton and plenty awaits you at this natural getaway.

This 195 square km fenced refuge is located in the Aspen Parkland region of Alberta where aspen forests, hills, meadows and wetlands are home to many diverse types of wildlife.

Go camping at Elk Island Retreat and enjoy the interpretive trail, go on a hike and take a break with a picnic.

Upon entering into the park, you will see that it is divided by the highway into two parts. This serves the two different types of bison or buffalo well with the wood bison living in the southern and the plains bison in the northern section of the park.

Elk Island Video courtesy Parks Canada


You are probably wondering why the park is not named after its “famous” inhabitants, the bison or buffalo – I wondered that for years! Elk were once commonplace in this and other regions of Alberta but the hunting practices soon put the elk population into the danger zone and something had to be done to ensure their future. As a result, an area was fenced and the elk had a refuge that would keep them safe.


Elk Island National Park is Canada’s only national park that is contained by a fence. In order to keep predators out (especially of the human kind!) and the animals in, a 2.5 meter fence was put up in the hopes that the animal populations would then grow. This method has proven successful! Numbers have gone up and as a result, elk from this refuge have been sent all over the world in an attempt to help other populations recover.

Although the area is fenced, I unfortunately have never seen an elk on my visits to the park. These animals enjoy the security of the forest and are not used to humans. I have seen plenty of buffalo though!


The park is home to both the Plains and Wood Bison and the growth in the numbers of these species has allowed the park to help out with other reintroduction programs.

Wood Bison are native to the forests whereas Plains Bison made their home on the Plains.

Plains Bison – found in the northern region of the park – are smaller in size and lighter in colour than their cousin the wood bison. Their full manes and bushy beards make them look more majestic.

Wood Bison – located in the southern region of the park – are typically larger than the plain bison and darker in colour. The manes and beards are not as prominent as their cousin’ making the horns easy to see. A sure way to tell the two apart is the hump located on the wood bison’s back of the neck. This muscle is large and distinct, making it noticeable from a distance.


This park has something to offer at any time of year! I like the “remoteness” and solitude one feels here. There is no hustle-bustle – razzle-dazzle! This is a place where you can experience the rustle of the aspen leaves and the earth-pounding sound of the buffalo as they run across the field. If this sounds like something that appeals to you, let’s have a look at what will be going at the time of year you are looking at:

  • In the Spring newly-born calves frolic in the sun under the watchful eye of their mothers. A sight to make you smile! In March the bull elk lose their antlers and begin growing new ones come May in preparation for the mating season in the fall.
  • The summer months are usually sunny and it is a nice time to watch the bison interact with one another. The baby bison are a little older now and are learning about their surroundings. If you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of a spotted young elk! Calves are usually born in early-summer and since they are part of the deer family, the little ones do look a lot like Bambi – which is something little kids can relate to!
  • Late summer and fall is the mating season for both the bison and the elk. Both types of animal are extremely vocal during this period as they attempt to mate.


Camping has become a popular event at Elk Island National Park. There are various campgrounds to choose from depending on what you are looking for. New is Teepee camping - fun for the whole family!

There are other forms of wildlife such as beaver, moose, deer and coyote. There are also over 200 bird species that make their home here including many types of water fowl like the endangered trumpeter swan, the pelican and many kinds of ducks.

Take advantage of the interpretive signs along the Lakeview Trail and the Living Waters Boardwalk.

Return from Elk Island National Park to Wood Bison National Park