All photos taken on March 25, 2023.
As we drove through the big fluffy snow flakes, it was hard to believe that this day had started off relatively sunny. On our return trip from Bountiful Market this AM, Patty had thrown out the suggestion of driving to Elk Island Park for a walk. We have this National Park right on our doorstep and we so seldom go there. Of course I said, sure, lets do it.
Fast forward 30 minutes and we are in the car, when looking at the Northern horizon, I said…Is that snow over there? Less than 2 minutes later, I had my answer and after another 5 minutes, we were driving in a virtual March whiteout. Hmmmm, should we keep going? I said yes, these flurries will pass and it will all be fine.
After 60 minutes of driving (normal would have been 40), we arrived and stopped into the Visitor Centre for, well, you know…
Elk Island National Park is a national park in Alberta, that plays an important part in the conservation of the Plains bison. The park is administered by the Parks Canada Agency. This “island of conservation” is 35 km (22 mi) east of Edmonton, along the Yellowhead Highway, which goes through the park. It is Canada’s eighth smallest in area, but largest fully enclosed national park, with an area of 194 km2 (75 sq mi).
The park is representative of the northern prairies plateau ecosystem and as such, the knob and kettle landscape is a mix of native fescue grassland that has been converted to forage land dominated by non-native grasses, aspen parkland and boreal forest. As well, Elk Island plays host to both the largest and the smallest terrestrial mammals in North America, the wood bison and pygmy shrew respectively.
From the Visitor Center, it was another 20 minutes drive to the Amisk Wuche Trailhead #5. The parking lot was empty….what a surprise. Saturday morning blizzard just screams…Lets go for an 80 minute drive in a blizzard, so we can walk in the forest.
Amisk Wuche is the Cree name for the Beaver Hills. The diversity of this trail is ideal for keeping children interested. The trail winds through aspen, birch and spruce stands. A series of floating boardwalks takes the trail across small kettle lakes and beaver ponds. Part of the trail follows ridgelines which allow for elevated views of forested and grassland habitat.
- Length: 2.7 km (1.8 mile)
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 52m (170 feet)
- Time: 1 to 1.5 hours
- Level of Difficulty: Moderate
- Significant Features: Boardwalks through marsh and forest. Rich in birds and aquatic life.
- Trailhead: Accessed by Elk Island Parkway.
- GPS Co-ordinates for Trailhead (in decimal degrees):
- Lat.: 53.678683 Long.: -112.822728
(Source: Parks Canada)
Pit toilets are provided in the parking lot. Everything was covered by a fresh 2.54 cm (1 inch) layer of snow and it was quite a pretty day.
We only saw squirrels along the way. Here is a set of their footprints near the beginning.
Trail map and trail counter to measure foot traffic—wonder if this thing picks up squirrel traffic
Down the snowy trail we walked. Footing was quite good, but there were some patches of ice concealed beneath the fresh snow. Trails were well marked with reflective flashes.
Along the trail, there were plenty of benches to sit on and take in the view over the ponds. I imagine there will be plenty of activity here once the ice melts.
The long view of the boardwalk across the pond. We will see if this settles back down once the winter is over.
A viewing platform further along the trail
Crossing the pond
The trail continues on over a few wooden bridges/walkways and past a few more ponds.
Yup, we are right on track
This broken tree trunk is home to some new residents. I hear they are real fun-gis!
We really enjoyed the twisty, rolling trail.
In several places, small trails headed off for views or in this case, a log that could double as a picnic bench.
Sure, its only 52m (170 feet) of elevation gain/loss…what they do not tell you is that you gain and lose it 4 or 5 times. Good cardio.
halfway-ish point. Did you notice that 1.2 and 1.3 do not add up to the 2.7 km trail length. I think these measurements are actually to the loop junction (parking access trail) and there is another .2 km from there to the parking lot.
Hanging in there
Bison tracks? We saw lots of bison poop along the trails and wondered what animal it was from. Google tells me it was bison poop. Turns out you can learn all kinds of shit on Google. As we walked along, the piles got more frequent and higher. Hmmm, where were the bison? Never good to surprise a large, short-sighted animal that can run up to 56 k/h (35 m/h), on a snowy trail.
In case you are wondering how far you will have to run to reach your car.
At this point, the landscape opens up and there are a lot of small ponds with beaver lodges sticking up through the ice. Again, there are places to sit and watch the wildlife activity – unless a bison is chasing you.
The forest is quite sparse along the pond shore lines.
Sap is rising up these red willow branches
More ponds, more boardwalks and more places to sit, although this one looks a bit rickety.
Selfie time – at this point Patty swapped selfies with her friend who had travelled to Arizona. She was not tempted to return for this weather.
And we were done. We had debated about doubling back and getting in more steps, but coffee was calling and we had an hour to drive to reach home.
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