Elk Island National Park is located 35 KM east of Edmonton on the Yellowhead Highway (Hwy. #16). It is one of Canada’s smaller national parks at only 194 square kilometres, and the only completely enclosed national park.
By the time I got to the park I was pretty sick of driving, so it was really nice to get to the slow and relaxing pace of the Elk Island Parkway.
Like I said, its a pretty small park, only about 20 km from north to south, and about half that from east to west, with the parkway running north/south through the middle of it with only a couple of offshoots from the main road. The first of these offshoots is the Bison Loop Road, a dirt track that travels in a loop through a mostly open field where the bison like to hang out. I spotted a coyote in the under-brush shortly after turning on to the loop, but it was too far of for decent photos. Towards the end of the loop I spotted my first bison of the trip, a mother and calf (but I’ll leave that for the next post).
Further up the parkway I found another coyote on the side of the road, this time I was able to get a couple of photos before it disappeared over the hill. Shortly after that I spotted a Ruffed Grouse in the grass along the roadside (my first ever).
After driving down most of the roads in the park I was in serious need of some time out of the car (and it was the worst possible time of day for wildlife) so I thought I’d go for a quick hike, and ended up at the Beaver Pond Trail.
It was a nice short (3.5km) easy walk through Aspen forests (one of Canada’s most endangered habitats), but not overly exciting, and to my dismay, there was no beaver ponds, and therefore no beavers or waterfowl to photograph, which was the main reason I chose this particular trail (It wasn’t until I got back to the car that I stopped to read the information marker which explained how the ponds had dried up a couple of decades ago, (I guess I should have taken the time to read it at the start)).
One thing that I noticed about the park was that there was bee or wasp hives hanging from trees all over the place (on more than one occasion I stopped the car thinking I’d spotted it an owl or other large bird up in the trees only to realize it was a hive). Despite all the hives, I never actually noticed a problem with bees or wasps, but it could have been because it was so late in the year. There did however seem to be an incredible amount and variety of damselflies (dragonflies) fluttering about the trail, so I stopped to shoot a few shots.
After the hike I was in need of a nap, so I headed in to Fort Saskatchewan (and was awed and disgusted by all the refineries there) to find a hotel and a rest. I made another trip to the park for sunset, and then again for sunrise the next morning before heading home.
I saw a whole lot of bison, as well as three coyotes, a couple of deer, only a few elk from a distance (which was surprising considering they estimate the elk population at over 1,000). Lots of ducks and geese, a couple of Trumpeter Swans from a long way off, and two moose, (one while I was outside the park driving along the fence-line, it was trying to get out of the park, the other from inside the park, it was on the outside of the fence trying to find a way in). One of the definite highlights though was a little black and white skunk running along the roadside (I was about to get a photo but one of the parks trucks came flying over the hill and almost ran over it).
I was actually really impressed with the park, and the amount of wildlife I saw (the bison alone were worth the drive). But the scenery was pretty none-existent which could have been largely to do with the time of year (everything was overgrown and turning brown), it was however a nice change not to have to switch lenses every five minutes, (I think I put on my wide lens once the whole time I was in the park).
I’d really love to go back at a different time of year when the animals are more active, and the migrating birds are coming through, but I would definitely plan to spend more time, although the park is small there’s enough to see and do to keep me busy for at least a few more days.