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 visiting the Park would be incomplete!
The Park is located in the province of Alberta towards the northeast and to the south of the Northwest Territories.
The total area of this majestic Park is estimated to be around 44,800 square kilometers. Isn’t that just incredible?
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. And all of this is federally managed by Parks Canada.
The Park is home to wood buffalo or 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.
The park was established in 1922 on Crown property obtained through Treaty 8 between Canada and the surrounding First Nations.
The park completely encircles several Indian reserves, including Peace Point (also called Hay Camp).
Despite scientists’ complaints, the government transferred roughly 6,700 plains bison from Buffalo National Park between 1925 and 1928 to avert undesirable mass killing at the latter Park due to overpopulation.
The plains bison mated with the local 1,500-2,000 wood bison population, introducing illnesses such as bovine TB and brucellosis into the wood bison herd.
The plains bison mated with the local 1,500-2,000 wood bison population, introducing illnesses such as bovine TB and brucellosis into the wood bison herd.
Since then, park officials have attempted to repair the damage by culling ill animals.
A disease-free, reasonably pure wood bison herd of 200 was discovered near Nyarling River in 1957. In 1965, 23 bison were transferred to Elk Island National Park’s south side. The number 300 now is the most genetically pure wood bison left.
Between 1951 and 1967, 4000 bison were slaughtered, with 910 tonnes (2 million pounds) of meat sold from a special slaughterhouse erected at Hay Camp.
These lesser culls, however, did not eradicate the illnesses. The government unveiled a plan in 1990 to annihilate the whole herd and replenish the park with disease-free bison from Elk Island National Park.
The people swiftly rejected this concept, and it was scrapped.
The park’s elevation ranges from 183 meters (600 feet) along the Little Buffalo River to 945 meters (3,100 feet) in the Caribou Mountains.
The park’s administrative offices are at Fort Smith, with a smaller satellite office in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. The Peace-Athabasca Delta, created by the Peace, Athabasca, and Birch rivers, is one of the world’s most enormous fresh-water deltas.
In the year 1983, for the biological diversity of the Peace-Athabasca Delta. And as well as for the wild bison population here, the area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Which is one of the world’s largest fresh-water deltas?
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
History of Wood Buffalo National Park
European fur traders initially arrived in the Delta in the late 1700s, ushering in a new era for the region’s economy.
The fur trade brought an influx of non-Indigenous people, which resulted in the establishment of Fort Chipewyan and Fort Smith, which are still important sites for Cree and Dene First Nations and Métis communities today.
Treaty 8 was signed in 1899, ending Indigenous land claims in the area and transferring the territory to the federal government.
It was designed to give First Nations reassurance about their ability to explore their traditional areas, including what became of the Park. First Nations in this area must continue to struggle to protect their Treaty Rights.
It was established in 1922. Soon after, Métis families were forcibly removed from the Park and barred from participating in Park events.
As the name suggests, the Park was established to safeguard declining wood bison populations.
Despite prior generations of sustainable harvests by Indigenous peoples, both wood bison and plains bison were slaughtered to near extinction across North America during European colonization.
The bison decrease significantly impacted Indigenous peoples who relied on bison harvests for their economics and survival and had profound ties to the herds.
On the other hand, Indigenous interaction with the bison in the Park was severely restricted and discriminatory.
One of the biggest tragedies is that the Park was established to save bison at the expense of Indigenous peoples who had managed the animals successfully for millennia.
Wood Buffalo National Park Facts
1. It’s a Protected Area
Because the Park protected the Peace-Athabasca Delta and the whooping crane nesting area. In 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 habitats for migratory birds—designated the two areas as Ramsar sites.
2. River Country
If you’re going camping or backcountry hiking in the Park, you can take a trip down the Peace River. A total of three rivers flow through it. They are – The Slave, The Peace, and The Athabasca River.
And then follow it with 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, one of the largest inland fresh-water deltas globally, is in the Southern part of the Park. There are four North American flyways, and all four 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
The 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 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 spruce, jackpine, aspen, and poplar boreal forests.
And on these hikes, you can see salt flats, underground streams, sinkholes, and even saline streams.
6. Beaver Dam
Beavers in Canada’s National Park have been hard at work for decades, and their tree-cutting labor has paid off. The furry engineers built the world’s biggest beaver dam.
The Wood Buffalo National Park beaver dam, which is almost a half-mile long, is so large that it can be seen on satellite pictures.
It remained concealed in the Alberta wilderness until 2007 when it was discovered by a researcher while looking at Google Earth.
Beavers are already constructing additional dams nearby, which might increase by nearly 300 feet to its length when connected to the main construction.
About the Wood Buffalo National Park’s special events
The Park hosts several special events to celebrate the special days significant to maple country. Some of them are:
1. The Fire and Ice Festival (29 February 2020)
The 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. Ice skating all the Pink Lake all night. It is only a night long, and it’s completely family-friendly. 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 Park puts up quite a celebration.
Parades with floats, and airbrush tattoos. This occasion is all about celebrating your pride in your beautiful country.
3. Pine Lake Picnic -12 July
Enjoy competitive canoe races at Pine Lake. This is one of the enormous northern picnics.
A chance to celebrate Parks Day at the Park 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 is the perfect opportunity for you to play with the waves at the 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. Anyone would fall in love here at the Park. It doesn’t matter who you are—an astronomer in the making or just a star-gazer and night-sky lover.
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 Park
1. Peace-Athabasca Delta
One of the most magnificent wetlands in the world happens to be located here in the 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, and dozens of avian and mammalian species.
Millions of ducks and geese descend to nest and feed here every summer. You can paddle a canoe upon the Peace River to Sweetgrass Landing or even see the migration from Lake Malawi.
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.
Well, since the Park is larger than over 100 countries, it comes with its own set of perks. One of them is endless trails for hiking.
The Park has 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. This 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.
These will tell you about the status and conditions of the trails. In case of any construction or maintenance.
The 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 the Park.
The most accessible spots for the same would be 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 and 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 Park, make sure to catch the sunrise over these 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 or explore on your own. Or you can join a guided hiking group tour.
5. Swimming in a Sinkhole
The Pine water late at the 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.
These will look like giant craters that are filled with water from the air. And if you look at it from the sandy beaches, you can see a cerulean hue 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.
There’s a great variety of Camping experiences here at the 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 wishes to use the Kettle Point Group Camp, which is on the South End, you must make a booking beforehand.
With the required permits, you can also set up camp throughout the backcountry in the Park. But there are restrictions, of course.
7. Canoeing and Boating
Whatever you prefer, the 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, 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.
Some of the best fishing spots in the 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 a few of the Park animals. 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.
Wood Buffalo National Park Accommodation
The beautiful place has various types of accommodation that could be required. You can book hotels, lodges, resorts, etc.
To get more information on the National Park, click here.
If you’re wondering when you should visit the park, the best time would be after Victoria Day weekend. And 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.
How to Contact the Wood Buffalo National Park office?
The Park is open all year. There are no entrance gates to the Park. Check-in at the Fort Smith visitor center for the most up-to-date information on trip planning and safety and get camping, backpacking, and other required permits.
The Park’s peak visitation season runs from 1 June through August. The campground and rental cabins are available from May long weekend until the end of September.
Why is Wood Buffalo National Park important?
The Park’s distinctiveness is enhanced by the ongoing evolution of a vast inland delta, salt plains, and gypsum karst.
It is an excellent example of continuous ecological and biological processes, comprising some of North America’s most enormous undisturbed grass and sedge meadows.
It is vital because it supports the world’s biggest herd of wood bison, a vulnerable species. The Park’s vast tracts of the boreal forest also provide critical habitat for various other species, including the endangered whooping crane.
What is the Wood Buffalo National Park climate?
Summers in the Park are brief, but the days are long. Summers are often characterized by warm and dry days; nevertheless, there may be a pattern of chilly and wet days in some years. During this season, temperatures range from 10 to 30 °C (50.0 to 86.0 °F).
The best means to see the 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 about the Park, please let us know!