Wood Buffalo National Park is one of the biggest parks on the planet, sprawling over 44, 807sq km of sheer natural beauty. It spreads between Northern Alberta and Southern Northwest Territories. The park was found in 1922 in order to protect the worlds largest free roaming wood bison, with the population believed to be over 5000 at this moment. The park is also home to a nesting site of whooping cranes.
I had toured around the park when I was taken there on a school trip in elementary, however that was quite some time ago now(not that you would ever guess). It had been on my adult bucket list to go and visit it once again for many years.
What amazed me was that some of the places that I remembered, looked exactly as I envisioned and recalled them. One could say, ‘Just as beautiful as I remembered’. There was that and the discovery of new places that I didn’t know existed.
The town of Fort Smith, Northwest Territories is known as the gateway to Wood Buffalo National Park. Located in Southern NWT, its a charming little town that is well worth exploring on its own. So in reality this is also on the list of top sights to see. You can’t really enter the park without entering Fort Smith.
Once your in, if you only have a day to tour around here are the top 5 sights to see that are easily accessible, and each uniquely beautiful.
- The Hamlet of Fort Fitzgerald
Fort Fitzgerald is literally a settlement, it is located on the NWT/Alberta border and is the most Northern hamlet in the regional municipality of Wood Buffalo. With only approximately 9 people residing there, it is for sure one of the smallest communities I have visited.
This little hamlet was a unexpected diamond waiting for me to discover it. The river is huge, and is basically the back yard of the community.
2. Mountain Portage Rapids
In the area of Fort Smith there are plenty of rapids to play in or just appreciate from a shoreline view. Of those, the Mountain Portage Rapids are some of the most easily accessible.
Just a little trip down a steep hill and you will arrive.
Whether you want to get in or enjoy the sandy shores which make for a beachy feel, it’s a fantastic spot to enjoy.
Although my visit was cut short due to a bear encounter. Not just A bear, but a mama bear and her three cubs. Let’s just say, the shore line became a distant memory pretty darn quick. A gentle reminder to always be bear aware in these areas. Made for some good adrenaline for the day.
3. Take A Dip In the Turquoise Water At Pine Lake
Located 60 km from Fort Smith in the middle of the Boreal Forest is a hidden gem called Pine Lake. The water is the bluest I have ever put my eyes on in the North.
It was created by a series of 3 sinkholes, and is a getaway destination for the residents of Fort Smith. There are campsites, cabin rentals and plenty of picnic spots in the area. You can also enjoy kayaking, canoeing, as well as swimming(watch out for leeches though).
This is a MUST visit spot if you are in the area. The campground is open from May long weekend to September labour day weekend. So get your wiener roasters ready and head on out.
4. Visit The Sea Of Salt Crusted Ground At The Salt Plains
When you stand on the crystal like ground looking to the vast flat expanse of the salt covered ground, you can’t help but be in awe.
At times you can see wood bison grazing on the plains, or even whooping cranes. When you look at the ground beneath you, you can observe the myriad of animal tracks left behind.
There is an energy to this place that is undeniable – you can run and frolic in the open air of the plains, and if if your feeling adventurous you can give the ground a little lick. Trust me – it’s salty.
5. Observe The Wood Bison In Their Natural Habitat
Clearly when you are in Wood Buffalo National Park, you must keep your eyes peeled to see the buffalo. I think that is a given. Although it’s not hard as they are all over the place and do tend to enjoy hanging out on and beside the highways.
These very large and majestic creatures are something to be appreciated, and seeing them up close and personal are something you won’t soon forget. It adds the extra magic to your unforgettable visit to the park.
It is amazing what you can accomplish in day in this park. Although a day just doesn’t seem like enough, it is more like a warm up for my next lengthy visit. Wood Buffalo National Park – Get it on your bucket list.