14 Fun Things to Do at Elk Island National Park, Alberta

by - Friday, July 26, 2019

At Elk Island National Park, you can paddle and hike by day, then stargaze and watch wildlife at night - and that's not all! Here's how to spend a fun weekend at this beautiful park just 45 minutes east of Edmonton, Alberta.

Astotin Lake, Elk Island National Park

Seven Things to Do at Elk Island National Park

Scroll down for fun things for kids!

  1. Take a hike: With over 80 kilometres of trails, it's easy to get away from it all - and everyone. Hike Lakeview Trail (3.7 km loop) for panoramic views of Astotin Lake and keep an eye out for beavers at work in the ponds. Amisk Wuche Trail (2.7 km loop) is a fun marsh and forest walk on a series of floating boardwalks. The Lakeshore Trail (3 km one way) is paved and perfect for little kids learning to bike; it also offers great views of the lake. See the complete list of trails here. Pack a picnic - there are pretty picnic areas and picnic shelters along Astotin Lake and Tawayik Lake - and look for the Red Chairs! 
    Lakeshore Trail, Elk Island National Park
    Lakeshore Trail, Elk Island National Park
  2. Drive the Bison Loop: This 5-minute drive is best done around dawn or dusk if you want to see dozens of bison. Watching "bison in the mist" was the highlight of our trip to Elk Island park. If you don't see any bison while driving the loop, look for them across the street.
    Bison in the mist, Elk Island National Park
    Bison in the mist, Elk Island National Park
  3. Birdwatch: With over 250 species of birds spotted in the park each year, you are sure to check some off your list! We saw red-necked grebes, American White Pelicans, Canada Geese, and several others. I recommend downloading a birding app like Merlin Bird ID for easy identification.
    Red-necked Grebe, Elk Island National Park
    Red-necked Grebe, Elk Island National Park
  4. Paddle around Astotin Lake's many islands. According to the Canoeing Around Edmonton blog, High Island is the best island to visit. For more helpful tips on paddling at Astotin Lake, visit Canoeing Around Edmonton | Astotin Lake, Elk Island National Park. The water tends to be calmest in the mornings. Canoe, kayak, and SUP rentals are available at Astotin Lake Day Use Area. Note that motorboats and fishing are not permitted at Astotin Lake.
    Stand up paddleboarding at Astotin Lake
    Stand up paddleboarding at Astotin Lake
  5. Watch a movie at Astotin Theater and learn about Elk Island National Park's significant contributions to bison conservation. Did you know Elk Island bison may be found in Siberia, Banff, and Waterton?

  6. Take part in one of the park's interpretive programs. The park's flagship program is the Backstage Bison Tour offered on Saturdays and Sundays on the hour from 12 pm to 5 pm. Meet at the Historic Barn near the Visitor Centre.
    bison at Elk Island National Park
    Learn more about these amazing animals at an interpretive program at
    Elk Island National Park.
  7. Stargaze: Elk Island and nearby Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area are part of the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve, so on a clear night, star gazing is phenomenal. If you're lucky, you may even be treated to the northern lights. Sign up for aurora alerts from Aurora Watch, so you don't miss out!

Seven Things to Do with Kids at Elk Island Provincial Park

  1. Walk the 300-metre long Living Waters Boardwalk behind Astotin Theatre and see how many kinds of birds you can spot!
    Living Waters Boardwalk, Elk Island National Park
  2. Borrow a Discovery Kit backpack from Astotin Theatre and learn about pond life, the night sky, nature, or how to geocache. Free, but credit card required for deposit.

  3. Dress up like a bison, beaver, swan, or elk at Astotin Theatre.
    Little Elk at Elk Island National Park
    Little Elk at Elk Island National Park
  4. Play at the Astotin Lake playground.
    Astotin Lake Playground, Elk Island National Park
    The Astotin Lake Playground is near the picnic area and theatre.
  5. On weekdays, visit the Discovery Dome in the Astotin Lake Rec Area from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. for free activities with parks staff.
    Discovery Dome, Elk Island National Park
  6. Complete the Parks Canada Xplorer book activities to earn a prize. Get a book from the Visitor Centre at the south entrance to the park or Astotin Lake Campground Kiosk.

  7. Play in the sand at Astotin Lake's beach. Note that the lake is prone to swimmer's itch and has leeches, so it is not a swimming lake. 
    Astotin Lake Beach, Elk Island National Park
    Astotin Lake Beach, Elk Island National Park

Camping at Elk Island National Park

  1. Camp at Astotin Lake: The campground has 60 unserviced tent and RV sites, 15 walk-in tent sites, equipped camping (includes gear rental and everything set up for you!), five OTENTik A-frame cabins, as well as a group camping area that can accommodate 10-60 campers. Campsites are on the small side, but all have a fire pit. Amenities include potable water, showers, flush toilets, kitchen shelter, and a dishwashing sink. Reserve your site early as this campground is quite popular. 
    Astotin Lake campsite, Elk Island National Park
    Astotin Lake campsite, Elk Island National Park
    Astotin Lake oTENTik, Elk Island National Park
    Astotin Lake oTENTik, Elk Island National Park
  2. Backcountry camp at Oster Lake: It is a 4 kilometre hike to Oster Lake's six campsites. Listen to birds (the lake is a waterfowl sanctuary), stargaze, and watch for wildlife (bison often roam near the campground) as you enjoy the solitude at this backcountry campground. Firewoods and firepits are available; purchase a fire permit in advance.

Know Before You Go

As Elk Island is a National Park, parks fees are in effect. You may purchase your Day Pass or annual Discovery Pass at the Visitor Centre when you arrive.

Although the park is fenced, the wildlife is wild, so you must give them space (at least 100 metres!). Bison weigh 680-1100 kilograms and can easily toss/trample you. If you see bison or elk while driving, please remain in your vehicle and do not honk/yell at them or drive too close to them. Harassing or feeding wildlife could result in fines up to $25,000. 


Bison loop, Elk Island National Park
Bison jam on Bison Loop Road!
Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village is 5 minutes east of the park entrance and is fun for all ages. Speak with costumed staff who are in character. You will feel like you've gone back in time and get a taste for what life was like for Ukrainian settlers in east central Alberta from 1900-1930. After, enjoy delicious perogies, sausage, and cabbage rolls.

Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village
Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village

Location

Elk Island National Park is located three hours north of Calgary or 45 minutes east of Edmonton.

14 fun things to do at Elk Island National Park, Alberta
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