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Elk Island National Park
Included: Printable Map with the Hiking Trails of Elk Island National Park. We played hooky one day and took Alex hiking at the nearby Elk Island National Park. We spotted moose, deer and bison. Oddly, we didn't see any Elk! If you live in the Edmonton area, there are some great hiking trails at Elk Island National Park. I went to the Parks Canada Elk Island National Park website, but was disappointed with the quality of the hiking map there. So I scanned the hiking map we got at the Elk Island National Park entrance booth and included it with this entry. We hope that you enjoy your hike and Elk Island National Park!
Playing Hooky & Hiking Mid-Week (Shhh!)
Every once in a while, you just gotta forget your responsibilities and take some time for yourself. With winter bearing down on us like a freight train, each day without snow is truly a gift. When yesterday blossomed with a blustery, warm wind, we decided to take some time and enjoy the day, before the long, cold winter locks us inside for too many months.
The original plan was to pull Alex out of day care early and go for a bicycle ride along the river valley. Rachel didn't ditch classes, but when you're a full-time student, one can ALWAYS study and she has plenty of that to do (plus an upcoming term paper to write). Scott is nearing the end of a bathroom remodeling job and just getting started with a big website project - taking time off helps neither one. Alex is the only one without many responsibilities, though we're sure she'd be the first to say, "No" and correct us! When we reconvened in the afternoon, the warm wind had turned chilly, so we opted for a hike instead.
As a Christmas gift from his inlaws, Scott received an annual Canada Parks Pass, which we had yet to begin using. (We didn't use it at Jasper National Park, in June, because we were just 'driving through' on our way to Vancouver and they don't charge an entrance fee for through traffic. We were going to use it at Waterton Lakes National Park, on our Glacier bicycle touring trip, but (a) we forgot the damn thing at home and (b) we only cycled across a small portion of the Park and were never assessed a fee. So ... the time limit is running out, so we thought we'd get the clock ticking on it and take a trip to Elk Island National Park, just 35 kilometers east of Edmonton.
Elk Island isn't a huge National Park, but it's home to a diverse crowd of wildlife inhabitants. The main attraction are elk and two species of Bison (Woodland and Plains). There are an estimated 900 elk (Wapiti) within the 194 square kilometers (48,000 acres) of the Park. The bison subspecies occupy different portions of the Park, to avoid interbreeding. There are approximately 300 Wood Bison and 500 Plains Bison. There are also an estimated 350 moose (meese?), 460 deer, a couple hundred coyotes and a thousand or so beaver. Wow! A veritable wildlife safari.
The drive seems to take longer than the 35 kilometers would seem to indicate, but we're happy to see Bison along side of the highway and Alex is busy singing to herself in the back seat. Everyone is happy to be doing something we're not supposed to be doing! We finally arrive at the Park entrance, eager to use our Annual Parks Pass, but wouldn't you know? There's no one at the main gate and no-one to register and initiate use of our Annual Pass. Bollocks!
With over 100 km of trails in the Park, we've got our pick of places to hike. We decide to do a portion of hike #9 (Tawayik Lake Trail), which is an ambitious 16.5 km long ... way too long for Alex's tiny legs, but we've brought the child carrier and figure that we'll go out as far as we can and then just head back. When we arrive at the trailhead, the wind is blowing cold, but we can hear hundreds of birds on the lake, croaking and calling out. We're the only car in the lot. It is, after all, mid-afternoon on a Wednesday ... most folks aren't playing hooky!
We start down the trail and quickly come to a viewing platform, replete with a telescope. It looks like there are some Bison by the lake, further on, so we have a peek. Bison? Nope. Moose! Excited by this find, we hurry on down the trail, hoping to catch a closer glimpse of these ungainly creatures. They're a kilometer or so down the trail, hanging out in knee-deep water, munching on plants. A whole family of four, including Mom, Dad and two calfs.
As we approach, we notice that the wind is behind us and drat, Mom has caught our scent in the wind and is alert, looking in our direction. She's uneasy, so we stop for a moment, hoping to alleviate her concerns, but no ... she's agitated and starts to head out of the water. We walk on a bit, as they don't seem to be in too much of a hurry and from an almost too-close distance, we're able to get a couple of snaps of them. They trundle out of the water and make their way upslope, toward the trail, where they cross not 50 yards in front of us. Dad snorts and brushes his rack into the saplings, as if to say, "Don't come any closer or THIS is what will happen." Dad stops to nibble on a few saplings, forgetting for a moment, about the human interlopers. Mom is still uneasy and with unspoken communication, makes it clear to the bull that he better get his browsing ass moving along and then they all disappear into the brush.
Alex was VERY impressed with the "Moose" and talked about them a couple of hundred times after our encounter. Perhaps it was because it was a word she could pronounce WELL, or maybe Dad was offering a bit of encouragement? Either way, each hillock we climbed, Alex would look out from her kid carrier and ask, "Moose?" Sorry, kid ... the sighting you had was pretty special and you're not going to see moose around every corner.
We turned around after a few kilometers. Alex was getting cold and the sun was waning behind an overcast sky. We walked into the wind on our return trip, past the section of shoreline where we had our moose encounter and back to the viewing platform. This time, we did indeed see Bison, a small group, on the opposite shore. And of course, the birds were still on the lake, calling to each other, hundreds of them.
It was nice to get out and it was a fun family trek. Just the kind of thing we need before the snows come. We vowed to come out again, after the snow falls, to snowshoe along some of these same trails. We'll see how we feel when the temps dip below freezing and it's dark longer than it's light.
Here comes our 2nd Edmonton winter!