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Elk Island National Park

1 March 2017

The mesmerising 'Great White North' is known for its mountains, fabulous views and iconic rail journeys, yet it is the wildlife that inhabits Canada that so inspires many travellers to visit.  Amongst its many national treasures, Canada boasts a number of captivating national parks, preserved stretches of land that serve to protect the environment and its native species, as well as to educate the world in the ways of these often mysterious residents.

Elk Island National Park is one such place. Known for its incredible range of wildlife, from eponymous elk to moose, deer, birds and bison, the park has long invited guests to explore its landscape and discover the wild and wonderful animals that call Canada their home. A sanctuary for a wide variety of creatures, the park is a must-see spot for animal lovers visiting Canada. Only an hour away from bustling Edmonton, Alberta, this realm of quiet is a serene spot for those searching for Canada's beloved natural beauty, and the conservation work here allows indigenous bison and other animals to thrive. The park is Canada's only entirely fenced national park, and welcomes around 200,000 visitors every year, who come to enjoy the peace of its surrounds, as well as to learn about the animals who live here.

Established over 100 years ago, the park's conservation efforts have helped not only sustain, but indeed revive Alberta's population of Canadian bison, without which the species may not be roaming the wilderness today. The protected terrain, which covers an area of 75 square miles, is filled with aspen forests and gentle prairie meadows, furnishing an excellent home for native life. Plains and woods bison reside here in their untamed glory, with an estimated 450 between the two breeds living in the parkland. Having been considered a rare species in the 19th century, this return to a sustainable population is a huge achievement for Canadian conservation, and regular educational events allow visitors to appreciate this wonderful species. Although they are now considered one of the park's favourite residential creatures, bison were in fact not part of the original plans for the preservation area; in 1907, a herd of 400 bison were temporarily homed here whilst a fence was constructed at Buffalo Park, where they were due to live permanently, but some 40 bison evaded re-capture, and went on to populate the park with bison, the descendants of which can be seen today.

As its name suggests, Elk Island National Park is also the home to herds of elk.  These magnificent creatures are somewhat synonymous with Canadian wildlife, and are amongst the largest members of the deer family, with males weighing up to 52st in adulthood. Also present are moose, the big brother of elk, weighing up to an incredible 110st at their heaviest, with a maximum height of 10ft - double that of the comparatively diminutive elk. Additionally, over 250 species of birds, ranging from water fowl such as pelicans, to majestic bald eagles and horned owls, also call the park home, thanks in part to the wetland environments that make up some of the Elk Island's topography. Rarer park creatures include the porcupine and the Canadian lynx, which are difficult to spot yet worth keeping an eye out for. Hands-on activities and expertly guided tours are offered to the curious, though some prefer to simply use the park as a picnic spot to enjoy the great outdoors with their family (and other animals). Campers are also welcome here, and whilst the park is open year-round, the dramatic temperature fluctuations of Canada mean that the best months to visit are between May and September, both for optimal weather and to avoid the disappointment of hibernation or migration. Be sure whenever you go to pack your binoculars and your camera, for the best chance of catching sight of the park's natural cornucopia of creatures.

New for 2018, Great Rail Journeys passengers will have their very own chance to visit the park, as part of the revised itinerary for our tour of Canada's Wildlife and Wilderness. Our tour includes an authentic bison experience, detailing the history of bison conservation in Alberta and providing a fascinating insight into the daily lives of the bison handlers here. Staff also offer an intriguing look at the lives of the bison themselves, before enjoying a Ukrainian-Canadian feast, in honour of the Ukrainian immigrants who helped preserve the bison population of Canada a century ago. The tour also includes a black bear-spotting cruise in British Columbia's Tofino, as well as incredible rail journeys through Canada's vast, dramatic landscape, and time in glorious Vancouver - considered one of the world's most desirable cities to live. For your chance to explore the rugged beauty of Canada first-hand, be sure to check out our Wildlife and Wilderness tour.