Snow covered baby bison at Elk Island National Park

Discovering Elk Island National Park

Snow covered baby bison at Elk Island National Park

The highway to Elk Island National Park was a terrifying drive, largely due to the -26℃ winds that were hurling snow so thick I could barely see the road in front of me! Along Highway 16, I passed several cars and trucks that had managed to make their way into the ditch. I even saw one car that was flipped over onto its roof! However, this is what winter’s like in Alberta and the travel must go on.

I put on 2 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of pants and a few sweaters to protect myself from the horrendous weather. I was in an impenetrable bundle of clothes ready to battle the cold and fight any foe! Due to a heavy snow fall the night before, Elk Island National Park was deserted – which led to an enjoyable experience of having the park to myself.

Snow covered trail in the woods in Elk Island National Park

No elk in sight

Before you ask, I didn’t see any elk…but I did see many bison. Despite its name, Elk Island National Park is renowned for its wide variety of bison. It is home to both Wood and Prairie Bison, which you can see on either side of the Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16). I decided to search for the Prairie Bison, as they’re easier to find because they prefer roaming open fields than lingering in the woods.

A bison named Bob

Snow covered bison at Elk Island National Park

While I was driving through the piles of snow, I spotted a bison stood alone in a field…well, to be honest, I couldn’t quite tell if it was a bison or a rock. As I drove closer, I noticed it moving slightly…almost digging in the snow, It had to be a bison. The snow covered everything – including the bison – so looks can be quite deceiving. I opened the window of my car and I yelled in his general direction and as he lifted his head to look at me. We looked at each other briefly before he went back down in search of more grass to eat under the snow. I felt a connection, like we were truly friends at this point so I fondly named him Bob.

As previously mentioned, the night before my visit had a healthy dumping of fresh snow. Everything was covered in a thick layer of white. This allowed me to spot another majestic Canadian creature that only surfaces in the winter – the snow plow.

The snow plow driver was skilled at driving exceedingly fast! Luckily, I was on the other side of the road both times he passed me; so I didn’t have to worry about him plowing me down.

When he first passed me, he looked over with his cool shades and handlebar moustache. I knew deep down that we were making eye contact, even though I couldn’t see his eyes.

I felt frightened — I knew he was the type of man who didn’t take crap from anyone and would be totally okay with pairing a denim jacket with denim jeans. He was bad-ass. But then again, all snow plow drivers are probably bad-asses.

Perfect for animal lovers

Bison covered in snow looking at the camera in a snowy field

After my eventful trip to Elk Island National Park, I would highly recommend you visit if you’re in the area. Not only is it beautiful, it’s also full of bison! There’s no chance you’ll go to Elk Island and not see a bison; making it a guaranteed winner for animal lovers! You might also run into various birds, elk, beavers, moose, coyotes and deer.

For another experience in the area, check out the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve, which I can only assume is full of beaver astrophysicists! Over Elk Island National Park, there’s minimal light pollution and the skies are very dark. This means you can see the wonders of the night sky a lot more clearly. I’ll make sure I bring my telescope when I visit this spring.

Elk Island National Park has an event between December 22nd to February 23rd called Snowshoe & Stargaze. This tour takes you on a guided hike with a park interpreter. You can find more information about it in my post about fun things to do in the winter in Edmonton!

Planning your visit to Elk Island National Park

Snow covered rocks and lake with tree lined background at Elk Island National Park

 Getting there: Elk Island National Park’s main entrance, the south gate, is located approximately 48km from Edmonton’s city centre via Highway 16 East (Yellowhead).

Opening hours: Elk Island National Park is open and accessible to visitors 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Fees: Elk Island National Park has daily costs for 2019:

Adult: $7.80
Senior: $6.80
Youth: Free

Alternatively, purchase an annual Parks Canada pass if you plan on visiting several national parks, national marine conservation areas or national historic sites in Canada.

Discover Elk Island National Park in the winter - full of amazing sites and wonderful animals!
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Comments 12

  1. Hahahaha now i will always think of snowplow drivers being badass every time i see one.

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  2. I love the Elk Island is full of… bison! Of course, why wouldn’t it be?

    I’m not sure I could still move if I was wearing that many clothes. Mostly the 2 pairs of pants. I’d just be waddling around awkwardly with my arms stuck out. But, it would probably be worth it because this place sounds amazing. And to have it all to yourself (sans badass snow plow dude) sounds magical. Love your descriptions of the snow plow dude, as well.

    Hopefully, one day, I’ll be able to meet Bob the Bison!

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      Hahaha that’s right! The best kind of name confusion. So the trick to extra clothing is to have multiple sizes and just keep sizing up as you put on more clothes. It’s the best way to stay warm in the winter. I feel like all snow plow guys would be totally comfortable wearing the elusive “Canadian Tuxedo”

  3. Good post, I would like to go there but it sounds like I’d need to buy more winter clothes first. Also really cool having something like this close to where you live.

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      Yes! Unless you visit Elk Island National Park in the summer! It’s a bit busier but still such an awesome place to go. Plus, you can canoe or kayak in Astotin Lake!

  4. Driving in the wind scares the crap out of me. A few years ago, I switched from a baby Corolla to a SUV (Murano)…I did this because FL drivers are INSANE and would try to bully me off the road. I swore I was going to get killed. Anyway, my Murano vs the wind over a FL bridge is terrifying…it catches way more than my little wide and low Corolla. I could not imagine driving in the wind you mention. Plus snow and ice…and winter?! OMG, help me now. I imagine I am going to struggle in Iceland this winter….

    Can we rename this park Bison National Park?! I am sorry that you didn’t see any elk, but the bison are pretty cool. I once dated this schmuck of a guy who had a friend with a bison farm in Vermont. Unlike these cuties, though, the bison served….another purpose. Ek… They are cool to see up close and in person.

    I love your pictures! Thanks for sharing this unique park.

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      Yeah! Small cars all the way! We put sand bags in the trucks of our cars in the winter to weigh down the vehicle a bit more to help prevent being pushed around by wind. I have definitely noticed a difference! Just always carry all your luggage with you in the truck of your car on your Iceland trip, haha.

      Yeah, these bison are totally safe from being eaten! They are totally protected – excluding from natural predators like coyotes. I really love going to visit them! They are a bit scarier at night though because – as they are wild – you need to keep your distance… but they aren’t very visible in the dark!

      So, the thing about renaming it. It’s not an island either. It’s just a space of land filled with bison and lies.

      1. Haha!!! This comment cracked me up in so many ways!! I truly cannot believe that you have to weigh down a car for the wind…but it makes sense. I had no idea!!

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  5. Hahahaha … “2 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of pants and a few sweaters “… I know it’s horrendously cold, but you really have the best winter time stories and adventures. I love how you embrace it and don’t let the winter confine you indoor. Now, I could only picture you with all those layers. 😀

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      Hahaha yeah, it was quite the look! I do my best to embrace winter! It seems never ending up here.

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