Wood Buffalo National Park: The Best Traveler’s Guide

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The second-largest National Park on the Planet – the Wood Buffalo National Park is Wild Northern America’s shining symbol. The park is spectacularly rich in wilderness and biodiversity. It’s deemed ‘the most Canadian experience since log driving’. So, a visit to Canada, without a visit to the park would simply be incomplete!

The total area of this majestic park is estimated to be around 44,800 square kilometers. Isn’t that just incredible? The Wood Buffalo National Park is located in the province of Alberta towards the north-east and to the south of the Northwest Territories.

About 87 of the whole park is in Alberta. The rest lies in The Northwest Territories. But almost all of the major access one can get to the park is from the Northwest Territories side of it. And all of this is federally managed by Parks Canada.

The park is home to the wood buffalo or the wood bison. And attracts tourists from all over the world who might want to canoe to a backcountry campsite. In search of wolves on the hunt for one of those infamous buffalo.

In the year 1983, for the biological diversity of the Peace-Athabasca Delta. Which is one of the world’s largest freshwater deltas? And as well as for the population of the wild bison here, the area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This magical park covers more territory than the country of Switzerland. There’s a list of incredible things to see and fun activities to do here. So, to tell you all there is that you need to know. Check out – Wood Buffalo National Park – The Best Traveler’s Guide:

Wood Buffalo National Park: The Best Traveler’s Guide

A few facts about the Wood Buffalo National Park

1. It’s a protected area

Because the Wood Buffalo National Park protected the Peace-Athabasca Delta and the whooping crane nesting area. In the year 1982, the IUCN, which is the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Recognized the park.

And so, the Ramsar Convention, which focuses on identifying and protecting critical habitat for migratory birds—designated the two areas as Ramsar sites.

2. River Country

A total of three rivers flow through the Wood Buffalo National park. They are – The Slave, The Peace, and The Athabasca River. If you’re going camping or backcountry hiking in the park, then you can take a trip down the Peace River.

And then follow it by a 7.5-mile hike that will take you to Sweetgrass Station. The station features a restored warehouse and former bison corrals.

3. Flyway Central

The Peace-Athabasca Delta, which is one of the largest inland freshwater deltas in the world, is in the Southern part of the Wood Buffalo National Park. There are four North American flyways, and all four of them converge over the Delta each spring and fall.

And you are resting in a remote corner of the boreal forest every summer. You’ll find the last remaining flock of migratory whooping cranes.

4. Uneasy to find Wildlife

Wood Buffalo National Park is home to many elusive species. Some of them include – wolves, moose, foxes, black bears, beavers, and even sandhill cranes.

But getting a chance to see these shy creatures is all up to one’s luck.

5. About its landscape

Overall, the Wood Buffalo National Park has a varied landscape, which consists of the boreal forest, gypsum karst landforms, and even Salt Plains.

The most accessible and popular area of the park would be the boreal plains. These are located near the Northwest Territories town of Fort Smith. Visitors can go on day hikes through boreal forests of spruce, jackpine, aspen, and poplar.

And on these hikes, you can see salt flats, underground streams, sinkholes, and even saline streams.

About the Wood Buffalo National Park’s special events

The park hosts several special events to celebrate the special days important to the maple country. Some of them are.

1. The Fire and Ice Festival (29 February 2020)

The Wood Buffalo National Park states that winter is for us to go outside and have fun. Let’s leave the hibernating to the bears.

With a lot of fun and interactive activities. They introduced the Fire + Ice Festival. It is only a night long, and it’s completely family-friendly. Ice skating all the Pink Lake all night. Doesn’t it sound dreamy?

And it gets even more perfect. Enjoy a cup of steaming hot cocoa by a fire, and you can also warm up in the Patrol Cabin if it gets too cold for you!

Click here to read more about other things you can enjoy in winter in Canada.

2. Canada Day – 1 July

Every year on Canada Day, the Wood Buffalo National Park puts up quite a celebration.

Parades with floats, airbrush tattoos. This occasion is all about celebrating the pride that you have for your beautiful country.

3. Pine Lake Picnic -12 July

Enjoy competitive canoe races at the Pine Lake. This is one of the enormous northern picnics.

A chance to celebrate Parks Day at the Wood Buffalo National Park, this is a long-standing tradition for Fort Smith. Barbequed fresh grilled burgers and hot dogs make for the perfect lunch. And cool watermelon for dessert.

There are so many games and events held—canoe races, Tug of war, etc. You can even enjoy a dip in the lake and relax if you’re not feeling so competitive.

4. Paddlefest – 31 July to 3 August

The Slave River Paddlefest if the perfect opportunity for you to play with the waves at the Wood Buffalo National Park.

Here you can unravel the fascinating history behind the silver rapids of the park and fort smith. You can even take guided hikes and walking tours.

5. Thebacha & Wood Buffalo Dark Sky Festival, August 20 – 23

Experience the most significant dark-sky preserve in the world. It truly is a magical experience. It’s like unraveling the mysteries of the universe.

The Dark Sky Festival. It doesn’t matter who you are—an astronomer in the making or just a star-gazer and night-sky lover. Anyone would fall in love here at Wood Buffalo National Park.

Here, you can see homemade rockets launched into the sky. And enjoy the warmth of a campfire with renowned guest speakers at the festival. Both children and adults can join special workshops that run through the weekend. But you’ll have to register for those in advance.

Things to do in the Wood Buffalo National Park

1. Peace-Athabasca Delta

One of the most magnificent wetlands in the world happens to be located here in Wood Buffalo National Park.

The Peace-Athabasca Delta is where the Peace, Athabasca, and Birch Rivers merge with Lake Athabasca. Just imagine, this habitat lures in millions of birds, hundreds of bison, dozens of avian and mammalian species.

You can paddle a canoe upon the Peace River to Sweetgrass Landing or even see the migration from Lake Mamawi. Millions of ducks and geese descend to nest and feed here every summer. Set up camp in the sea of grass or book yourself into the historic cabin. This cabin has many historic style amenities, including a wooden stove.

2. Hiking

Well, since the Wood Buffalo National Park is larger than over 100 countries, it comes with its own set of perks. One of them is endless trails for hiking.

The Wood Buffalo National Park has both shorter day hikes where you can move comfortably at your own pace. And harder challenging ones. But luckily for you, if you’re into hiking, most of the park isn’t developed. Which means there’s more of a chance for experienced hikers to explore the backcountry.

The trails are categorized according to three levels. Green for easy, Blue for moderate and Black for difficult. They even have something called trail reports. These3 will tell you about the status and conditions of the trails. In case of any construction or maintenance.

The Wood Buffalo National Park Ensures that one’s safety is their priority.

3. Dark Sky

Watching the Aurora borealis. Make sure you have your cameras out for this one. You experience the magical view of the Aurora Borealis. Enjoy this in the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserve in Wood Buffalo National Park.

The most accessible spots for the same would be the Pine Lake and the Salt River Day Use Area. The winter road that goes through the park also offers many places for viewing. There is the Peace River crossing, the open delta grasslands. And even the ice crossing into Fort Chipewyan.

The best-guaranteed experience while watching the lights is in complete silence. You will be mesmerized.

4. Salt Plains

The contrast of red samphire against the whiteness of the salt from ancient seas truly is a great view.

At the Wood Buffalo National Park, make sure to catch the sunrise over these salt plains. Maybe you’ll even see a wood bison or a whooping crane while you’re here.

The best feeling is when you can feel the soothing sensation that the powdery crystals cause under your feet. You’d have to be barefoot, of course. Here you can either walk around and explore on your own. Or you can join a guided hiking group tour.

5. Swimming in a sinkhole

The Pine water late at Wood Buffalo National Park is a water-filled series of sinkholes. These are easily accessible from two spots. One of them is the Pine Lake Day Use Area. And the other is the infamous Pine Lake Campground.

From the air, these will look like giant craters that are filled with water. And if you look at it from the sandy beaches, you can see a cerulean hue which is caused by blue-green algae.

Swimming in these sinkholes is an extraordinary experience. Unforgettable, and it’ll stay with you in your memories forever. And if you’re in luck, you’ll even see some rare species of mammals and birds around here. But remember this area is only accessible from July to September.

6. Camping

There’s a great variety of Camping experiences here at Wood Buffalo National Park.

You’ll find front-country campsites at Pine Lake. This will be around a 45-minute-long drive from Fort Smith. These sites are available on a first-come-first-serve basis. No reservations.

But if you’re a large group who wish to use the Kettle Point Group Camp, which is on the South End of the Pine Lake, then you must make a booking beforehand.

With the required permits, you can also set up camp throughout the backcountry in Wood Buffalo National Park. But there are restrictions, of course.

7. Canoeing and Boating

Whatever you prefer, Wood Buffalo National Park has got it all—an easy day paddling at Pine Lake. And more challenging wilderness adventures at the Peace, Slave, and Athabasca rivers. Those are usually recommended for experienced backcountry paddlers.

If you’re planning on going boating, then remember that. All boats must comply with the Small Vessel Regulations. In the northern part of Pine Lake, recreational boating is permitted.

Motorboat travel is only permitted along the significant river corridors, which are classified as Zone 4 Recreation. These include The Athabasca River, The Embarras River, Rivière des Rochers, Quatre Fourches River, The Peace River, and The Slave River.

8. Fishing

Some of the best fishing spots in Wood Buffalo National Park are along with the Zone 4 recreation areas.

Even though the buddy and silty waters make fishing more challenging, whitefish, northern pike, walleye, and goldeye are found in moderate numbers in these rivers. But you require a National Park fishing permit for the same.

These are available at Visitor Reception Centre in Fort Smith or Fort Chipewyan. You must purchase them.

9. Wild-life viewing

Bears, wolves, moose, lynx, marten, wolverines, foxes, beavers, and snowshoe hares are but a few of the wild mammal species found in Wood Buffalo National Park. There are also many bird species like the sandhill cranes, hawks, eagles, and owls.

Even though they have an abundant presence, these animals and birds aren’t easy to spot. However, you will often come across tracks and scats. But actually, getting a chance to see these animals is all up to your luck.

To get more information on Wood Buffalo National Park, click here.

If you’re wondering about when you should visit the park, the best time would be after Victoria Day weekend. And the before Labour day weekend. This is when the Lake Pine Campground.

The park is also open In winter. January and February are the best months for viewing the aurora borealis, due to the long nights.

The best means to see the Wood Buffalo National Park is by car. There is so much to see and so much to do here. If you have any more tips, views, and comments to share about the park, then do let us know!

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