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Venturing out on the hiking trails in Elk Island National Park is an active and relaxing way to experience the landscape of the Boreal Plains, along with the flora and fauna protected within the park.
While hiking the Elk Island trails, you’ll follow in the footsteps of bison through forests and grassy meadows, every so often passing by lakes and ponds where you can listen to a chorus of croaking frogs, watch waterfowl floating about, and see the handiwork of nature’s architect- the beaver.
Elk Island National Park Trails
There are 11 official hiking trails in Elk Island National Park totalling over 83 km. The Elk Island hikes range from short easy walks to lengthy half-day journeys.
With trails for every skill level, you’ll find several choices for easy, moderate, or more challenging hikes in Elk Island National Park. Even though Parks Canada rates a few Elk Island trails as difficult, this is more due to the length of the hike rather than the characteristics of the terrain (you won’t find hikes with much elevation gain).
Each trailhead is marked with a sign giving some important information about the hike (distance, duration, and difficulty rating), plus a map of the trail. There are also outhouses at or near all the trailheads.
The Elk Island hiking trails are well marked with yellow diamonds indicating the way, as well as the occasional distance marker. Some of the hikes have benches and picnic tables along the route, but others do not.
Hiking the Elk Island Trails- Summary of the Elk Island Hikes
To help you decide which Elk Island National Park trails to explore on your next visit to the park, here is a brief description of all the Elk Island hikes. This list starts with trails on the north side of the park and works its way to those at the south end.
Beaver Pond Trail
Distance: 3.5 km round trip
Elevation Gain: 5 m
Beaver Pond Trail is one of the more popular easy Elk Island hikes and a great choice if you’re interested in seeing the construction work of beavers without having to walk very far.
Soon into the hike the trail crosses over a large pond where you get a clear view of beaver lodges and dams. Further ahead you’ll get to enjoy some different views of the pond and its aquatic plants.
After the pond the trail makes a loop through the forest where you can see aspen trees and sedge meadows.
One downside of the trail is that it has several low spots that can be flooded in the spring, or after a period of rain, so your feet might get wet.
Amisk Wuche Trail
Distance: 2.8 km round trip
Difficulty: Easy- moderate
Elevation Gain: 22 m
Amisk Wuche Trail is one of the most scenic and diverse hiking trails in Elk Island National Park.
This enjoyable short hike is packed with pretty views of beaver ponds, small kettle lakes, marsh, and forest. The scenery can be admired from lookout points on elevated ridges and a series of boardwalks.
The trail forms a loop that has alternating sections of wetland habitat and forest, so this scenic variety keeps the hike interesting. You can expect to see beaver lodges, spruce, aspen, and birch trees.
Distance: 3.7 km round trip
Elevation Gain: 9 m
Lakeview Trail offers excellent views of Astotin Lake, the park’s main body of water, as it proceeds along the northeast shore.
Departing from the beach, the paved trail makes a short climb up a hill to offer elevated views of Astotin Lake. There’s even a set of Parks Canada’s red chairs to sit and enjoy the scenery.
Further ahead, the trail (no longer paved) moves into a forested area where it makes a loop showcasing the lake’s north shore on one side and some ponds on the other.
Living Waters Boardwalk
Distance: 400 m round trip
Living Waters Boardwalk is a short interpretive trail behind Astotin Theatre that loops out over a small bay at Astotin Lake.
The boardwalk has some signs providing information about the lake’s flora and fauna and is a nice spot to watch the sunset.
Distance: 6 km round trip (7.9 km with scenic detours)
Elevation Gain: 16 m (with detours)
Shoreline Trail is a paved path that runs along the entire south end of Astotin Lake. The path is framed by trees and offers glimpses of the lake.
This walk isn’t that interesting unless you take the side trails to Beaver Bay Peninsula and Elk Island (which is actually a peninsula now). These scenic detours provide way better views of Astotin Lake and its islands than the main trail does.
At Beaver Bay there’s a quiet picnic area in the forest and another set of red chairs with a great view of Astotin Lake.
When you walk the forested loop on Elk Island you’ll get to enjoy some elevated views of the lake with hardly any other people around.
Moss Lake Trail
Distance: 13.1 km round trip
Elevation Gain: 46 m
Moss Lake Trail is a great choice if you’re looking to do a longer hike in Elk Island National Park that provides a nice balance between forest, wetlands, and grasslands.
As you hike this loop, you’ll be going up and down small hills, through aspen groves, and alongside ponds. The views are especially pretty on the west side of the loop where the trail goes between two ponds and the forest’s edge.
During this hike you’ll also have the opportunity to see beaver lodges and dams, waterfowl, and maybe even some wildlife in the clearings.
Distance: 11.9 km round trip
Elevation Gain: 33 m
Hayburger Trail doesn’t offer anything unique compared to the other Elk Island trails, but it is the only half day hike in the park that is rated easy.
There are some ponds near the start of Hayburger Trail then after that the path covers a lot of distance in the forest, occasionally passing through a few meadows. You’ll see evidence of bison on this hike including round patches of dirt where they lay, paths they’ve made through the forest and clearings, and poop on the trail.
Distance: 4 km round trip
Simmons Trail is a short loop, a portion of which is shared with the Shirley Lake route.
The trail goes over rolling hills as it makes its way through an aspen forest and alongside some small ponds where you can see beaver lodges. At clearings you might even see some plains bison.
Shirley Lake Trail
Distance: 11.9 km round trip
Elevation Gain: 27 m
Shirley Lake Trail is one of the best trails in Elk Island National Park because it offers opportunities to walk near several lakes and ponds, as well as be immersed in an aspen forest.
On this hike you’ll get to observe waterfowl, see a huge beaver lodge, and maybe even spot some elk or bison in the clearings.
The prettiest lake views on this hike can be enjoyed from the west side of Oster Lake and at the north side of Paul Lake.
This trail also goes to the Oster Lake backcountry campground which is a great place to rest and have lunch.
Tawayik Lake Trail
Distance: 15.6 km
Elevation Gain: 59 m
Tawayik Lake Trail is the second longest hike in Elk Island National Park. This trail makes a large loop around Tawayik Lake, but the path is quite far from the shoreline so you don’t get a good view of the lake.
Since this hike is primarily in the forest, a highlight is when the trail exits the trees and crosses a wide meadow between Tawayik Lake and Little Tawayik Lake. You may see a herd of bison grazing here or nearby.
Another nice section of this trail is at the northwest part of the loop where it runs alongside a portion of a lake.
If you’ve hiked the loop clockwise, you’ll be ending with a rather boring 3.7 km walk on a gravel road back to the trailhead.
Wood Bison Trail
Distance: 16 km
Elevation Gain: 28 m
Wood Bison Trail is the longest hiking trail in Elk Island National Park and the only one on the south side of Highway 16.
During this hike you’ll be exploring the territory of wood bison, a rarer subspecies of bison and the largest mammal in North America. This is the only trail in the park where you might spot wood bison, but sightings are not as common as the plains bison you can see on other Elk Island trails.
As you make your way around the loop you’ll walk through a forest of towering aspen trees, pass by Flyingshot Lake and some small ponds, then venture across open grasslands. You’ll also encounter several short boardwalks on this trail.
Review of the Elk Island Trails
The large selection of trails in Elk Island National Park make it one of the best places to hike near Edmonton.
While hiking in Elk Island National Park you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see wildlife including bison, beavers, elk, birds, and maybe moose. Even if you don’t see many animals, you’ll definitely observe evidence of them on all of the Elk Island hikes.
Another nice thing about hiking in Elk Island National Park is that the large size of the park, and the amount of trails to choose from, make it so that you can find places where you’ll encounter few other people, even on a busy weekend.
One downside of the Elk Island National Park hikes is that the scenery doesn’t change much between trails. You can expect to see forest, lakes, and ponds on all the trails, but some have more of these characteristics than others.
Whether you’re new to hiking and looking for some easy trails, or an experienced hiker wanting to set out on a long, quiet hike, then Elk Island National Park is well worth exploring on a day trip from Edmonton.
Tips for Hiking in Elk Island National Park
Location: Elk Island National Park is located east of Edmonton, approximately 49 km from downtown.
Getting There: From Edmonton, go east on Highway 16 until you reach the main/south entrance to the park (the turn off is marked with signs).
Trailheads: Most of the trailheads can be accessed via Elk Island Parkway, the main road that runs south to north through the park. The only exception is Wood Bison Trail which starts on the other side of Highway 16 directly across from the park’s main entrance.
- Once in the park, take the Tawayik Access Road to reach the trailheads for Simmons Trail, Shirley Lake Trail, and Tawayik Lake Trail.
Best Time to Hike in Elk Island National Park: The Elk Island hikes can be done year round, but spring through fall is the most popular time to visit. Some of the trails can be quite wet in the spring or after a heavy rain. In summer there can be a lot of mosquitoes. Fall is usually pleasant and the trails are extra beautiful when the aspen tree leaves have turned yellow.
Bison Safety: Be aware of your surroundings and watch for wildlife while hiking. Proceed slowly around blind corners in case a bison is out of sight. If you encounter a bison on the trail, wait for it to move, back away slowly, or take a big detour around it leaving plenty of space for it to escape. Do not get closer than 100 m to a bison, never enter a herd of bison, and don’t come between two bison, especially a cow and her calf.
- Bison mating season is from late July to early September and during this time bison bulls are more aggressive. Also take extra precautions in May and June when bison cows are protective of newborn calves.
- You can get more tips from Parks Canada for how to stay safe around bison here.
Trail Maps: Elk Island National Park trail maps can be found here.
Trail Etiquette: The Elk Island National Park trails are shared by hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, and wildlife. Respect other users.
Visitor Guidelines: Stay on the trail, keep pets on a leash at all times, and leave no trace by packing out your garbage.
- Do not remove any horns, antlers, wildflowers, nests, rocks, fossils and other natural or historic objects. Leave them where they are for others to enjoy.
Nearby Parks and Activities
You many also enjoy these nearby activities and places to visit:
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