The Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area is a large forested area east of Edmonton that is available for year-round recreational day use.
The 97 square kilometre park has an extensive, 170 km multi-use trail system passing through wetlands, pastures, forests, and around several small lakes and ponds.
Since the park is so big, it’s divided into sectors that can be accessed from four different staging areas. The Waskehegan staging area is on the west end of the park and has an interpretive centre and the park’s administrative office. The Blackfoot Lake staging area is in the northeast, while the Central and Islet Lake staging areas are both accessed from the south.
Things to Do at Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area
You’ll find plenty of activities at Cooking-Lake Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area, no matter the season. Here are some things to do at Cooking Lake-Blackfoot for year round fun!
Spring, Summer and Fall Activities
- hiking, nature walks, and trail running
- canoeing and kayaking on Islet Lake
- horseback riding on 85 km of equestrian trails
- wildlife viewing and birding
- stargazing (Cooking Lake-Blackfoot is part of the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve)
- cross country skiing (the park hosts the annual Canadian Birkebeiner Ski Festival)
- snowshoeing on frozen ponds and lakes, pastures, and equestrian trails
- fat-tire biking
- skating on a rink at the Waskehegan staging area
- dog sledding and skijoring at the Blackfoot Lake staging area
- snowmobiling in designated fields and on part of the Central Alleyway Trail (access from Waskehegan)
Hiking Trails at Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area
There are almost 85 km of hiking trails at Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area originating from the four staging areas. This vast network of connected trails means there are plenty of options for short and long nature walks, or lengthy backcountry hikes.
Since there’s such a web of trails throughout the park (loops attached to loops and joined by connector trails), there aren’t really any specific, isolated hikes, but rather marked trails that you can mix and match for a customized route. At each intersection there’s a map to help with navigation.
In terms of difficulty, the hiking trails at Cooking Lake-Blackfoot are generally easy to moderate. There are several shelters and toilets along the trails.
Since all the hiking trails in Cooking Lake-Blackfoot are multi-use, hikers may be sharing the trail with bikes or horses. Signs at the start of each trail identify permitted usage.
Here’s a look at a small selection of possible hikes in Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Recreation Area.
Islet Lake to Elk Push Lake
* Editor’s choice
Distance: 6.4 km round trip
Surface: Grass and soil
Time: 90 minutes
A scenic hike in Cooking-Lake Blackfoot is the route from Islet Lake to Elk Push Lake.
Starting from the Islet Lake staging area, the hike begins by following Lost Lake trail along a low ridge beside Islet Lake. The path is treed but there are several sections where you get a good view of Islet Lake and its islands.
At the third intersection (1.4 km in), go left onto Push Lake trail. This hilly path continues along the dividing ridge between Islet and Elk Push lakes, before arriving at a vibrant wetland area on the north side of Elk Push Lake.
Near Push Lake shelter, re-join Lost Lake trail to continue the loop around Elk Push Lake. Keep right on this trail at the intersection to pass by another small lake before arriving back at Islet Lake. From here, you will return to the staging area on the same trail you came in on.
Distance: 4.2 km round trip
Surface: Grass and soil
Time: 50 minutes
An easy, enjoyable hike in Cooking Lake-Blackfoot is the loop around Neon Lake.
Starting from the Waskehegan staging area, you soon will come to a junction where you can choose to go clockwise or counterclockwise around Neon Lake.
Going clockwise, you will take Lost Lake trail past a shelter and over a small bridge before turning off onto Spruce Hollow trail at the outhouse. This short connector trail crosses over a bridge before meeting up with Neon Lake trail. Follow Neon Lake trail back to Waskehegan to complete the loop.
Even though this route loops around a lake, there are only views of it when there are openings in the forest.
Distance: About 6-7 km
Time: 90 minutes
The trails around Norris Lakes don’t appear to be frequented as much as the other routes mentioned here, so you’ll really feel like you’re deep in the wilderness.
Starting from Blackfoot staging area, follow Whitetail trail into the forest towards Norris Lakes. The trail will pass between two lakes, offering views at openings along the path.
At the second intersection, turn onto Heron Hollow trail, then onto Norris Ridge (or Springs trail for a shorter hike). Norris Ridge will take you to the far end of Norris Lakes.
At the end of that trail, turn right and follow along the park boundary (on Springs trail and Faraway trail) to the road you drove in on. Walk on the road back to the parking lot at Blackfoot staging area.
During this hike you can expect a lot of bird activity on the lakes, some colourful toadstools, and perhaps even some long grass at the far end of the trail if it hasn’t been used much/maintained very well.
Wildlife Viewing at Cooking-Lake Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area
The range of habitats within the park supports numerous species of wildlife. Here are some animals you might see at Cooking-Lake Blackfoot.
Mammals- The park is home to beavers, muskrat, deer, elk, moose, coyotes, foxes, skunks, weasels, and squirrels. Other animals that are occasionally spotted in the park are cougar, lynx, wolf, and bears.
Birds– The park is home to over 200 species of birds including a colony of great blue herons on Blackfoot Lake. The park is also sometimes used as a nesting site by trumpeter swans, the largest waterfowl species in North America.
Review of Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area
Cooking-Lake Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area is a great choice if you want to “get away from it all” and be immersed in the forest without having to travel far from Edmonton.
The park is so peaceful, you’ll easily notice nature’s symphony of sounds. And unlike the nearby Elk Island National Park, you’ll probably only see a handful of other visitors, even in the summer.
As far as scenery goes, there’s nothing too remarkable but the park is a great place to go hiking if you like forests and wetlands.
Another nice thing about hiking at Cooking Lake-Blackfoot is that you can decide on the fly to lengthen or shorten your hike, often without having to backtrack, since the trails are so interconnected. The large amount of trails to choose from and flexibility of routes makes this park one of the best places to go hiking around Edmonton.
Tips for Visiting Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area
Location: Cooking-Lake Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area is located east of Edmonton and directly south of Elk Island National Park. From downtown Edmonton, it’s a 40-45 minute drive to the Waskehegan staging area, 45-50 minutes to the Blackfoot Lake staging area. 50-55 minutes to Islet Lake staging area, 55-60 minutes to the Central staging area.
Getting There: From Edmonton and Sherwood Park, you can access the staging areas from Highway 16 on the north or Highway 630 (Wye Road) on the south.
Opening Hours: The park is open daily from 7:00 am- 11:00 pm.
Admission Fees: None
Facilities: Staging areas are equipped with a shelter, cistern and hand pump, outhouse, fire pit, and woodpile. The trails have shelters and outhouses but potable water is not provided in the backcountry.
- The park office and interpretive centre is at the Waskehegan staging area.
Visitor Guidelines and Safety: The following are some guidelines for responsible use of the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Recreation Area.
- motorized boats and camping is not allowed
- pack out your garbage
- do not approach or feed wildlife
- avoid fields where cattle are grazing
- leave gates as you found them
- be aware that hunting occurs in the park during hunting season (Indigenous hunting may occur year round)
What to Bring: Many of the trails are remote and not patrolled regularly. Make sure you have a map, cell phone (there is coverage in most areas of the park), water, and some food if heading out on a longer hike.
- The mosquitos can be bad in the summer, so bring repellant.
Trail Conditions: Here is an updated trail report for Cooking Lake-Blackfoot.
Park Map: Here is a summer pamphlet and trail map for Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Recreation Area and a winter pamphlet and trail map.