Edmonton Nearby: Elk Island National Park
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This National Park is 45 kilometres east of Edmonton, along Highway 16. The area was first settled by Sarcee and Plains Cree Indians who trapped beaver and hunted bison and elk. The European settlers arriving after the 1700's increased the scale of hunting and trapping forcing local wildlife almost to the point of extinction.
In 1906, a wildlife refuge was created for what was thought to be the last remaining elk on the Canadian Prairies. In 1907, bison were transported to Elk Island from Montana to be held over until a fence could be erected at Wainwright National Park (this park no longer exists). Most animals were later transferred to Wainwright, but about 50 uncatchable animals were left behind. The park now has a herd of about 450 plains bison, kept north of Highway 16, and another herd of 350 wood bison, kept south of the highway. The parks was named "Elk Island," since is is a fenced in island for several species of wildlife.
The park has grown from its original size in 1906 of 16 square kilometres to 194 square kilometres today. The lakes in the park support over 250 species of birds, many species of smaller mammals, and many rare plants. The park offers non-motorized boating on Astotin Lake as well as camping, cross-country skiing (60 kilometres of trails), hiking and picnic facilities. Pets MUST be kept on a leash at all times and are not recommended to be on hiking trails.
Daily park passes are required. National Park Annual Passes are available by contacting the park at (780) 992-2950. Events are posted on the Friends of Elk Island Society website. Interpretive programs are offered at the park, the following link take you to the park's main website, just follow the links under Learning Experiences to the latest Park Programs schedule.
Astotin Lake Interpretive Centre
Displays, events, Interpretive talks, movies, and walks explain the history and wildlife of the park. The centre is open July 1 to Labour Day, Mondays and Thursday to Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.