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Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada

Map of Wood Buffalo National Park

Parks Canada Visitor Reception Centre – Fort Smith, NT | Parks Canada Visitor Reception Centre – Fort Chipewyan, AB | Angus Sinkhole and Day Use Area | Nyarling Pull-off | Wetlands Pull-off and Interpretive Trail | Salt Plains Access and Day Use Area | Parson’s Tower Viewpoint | Rainbow Lake Trail and Backcountry Campsite (6 km) | Salt River Day Use Area | Karstland Interpretive Trail | North Loop | South Loop | South Meadows Loop | Grosbeak Lake | Pine Lake | Pine Lake Day Use Area and Beach | Pine Lake Campground | Kettle Point Group Camp | Lakeside Trail | Lane Lake Trail | Sweetgrass Landing Backcountry Campsite | Sweetgrass Station and Backcountry Campsite | Sweetgrass Trail and Canoe Portage | Highway 5 | Pine Lake Road | Parson’s Lake Road | Winter Road | Hay Camp Road


map of wood buffalo National Park
Map of Wood Buffalo National Park

©Parks Canada

High resolution Printable Version: Map of Wood Buffalo National Park (PDF: 4.94 Mb)


Parks Canada Visitor Reception Centre – Fort Smith, NT e symbol ? symbol washroom symbol wheelchair access

Visitor Reception Centre – Fort Smith, NT
©Parks Canada
Forth Smith Exterior
©Parks Canada

Located at 149 McDougal Road, the Fort Smith Visitor Reception Centre features visitor information and backcountry registration services, an exhibit area, and audiovisual presentations about the park. Friendly staff will help make your visit a memorable experience. Open Monday to Friday year-round, and on weekends during the summer months. Phone: 867-872-7960.

Fort Smith and the Slave River Rapids
Fort Smith and the Slave River Rapids
©Parks Canada

All-weather road access is available to Fort Smith year-round via the MacKenzie Highway. The MacKenzie Highway links to Highway 5 near Hay River, NT, providing access to the park and Fort Smith. Winter road access is available between Fort Smith, Fort Chipewyan, and Fort McMurray from mid-December to mid-March.

Commercial air service is available from Edmonton year-round. Contact a travel agent for details. For canoeing information, please read the Guide to Waterways In and Around Wood Buffalo National Park.

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Parks Canada Visitor Reception Centre – Fort Chipewyan, AB e symbol ? symbol washroom symbol wheelchair access

Visitor Reception Centre – Fort Chipewyan
©Parks Canada
Visitor Reception Centre – Fort Chipewyan
©Parks Canada


Located at Located on Mackenzie Avenue, the Fort Chipewyan Visitor Reception Centre features visitor information and backcountry registration services, a small exhibit area, and audiovisual presentations about the park. Friendly staff will help make your visit a memorable one. Open Monday to Friday year-round, and intermittent weekends during the summer months. Phone: 780-697-3662.

Fort Chipewyan and Lake Athabasca
Fort Chipewyan and Lake Athabasca

©Parks Canada

Fort Chipewyan is a remote fly-in community for nine months of the year. Winter road access is available from mid-December to mid-March. Commercial air service is available from Edmonton and Fort McMurray year-round. Contact a travel agent for details. For canoeing information, please read the Guide to Waterways In and Around Wood Buffalo National Park.

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Angus Sinkhole and Day Use Area symbol e symbol symbol washroom symbol wheelchair access

Sinkhole
©Parks Canada
Angus Day Use Area
©Parks Canada


Take a stroll around Wood Buffalo National Park’s largest sinkhole! Located at the Angus Day Use Area near the northern park boundary along Highway 5, the Angus Sinkhole is 100 metres across and 60 metres deep. Please stay on the trail as the edges of the sinkhole could be unsafe.

The Day Use Area features picnic tables, fire grates, and playground equipment, as well as interpretive signs.

The Angus Sinkhole is an example of a collapse sinkhole. It formed when the roof of an underground cave collapsed.

Sinkholes are common geological features within the karst region of the park. The karst is formed by groundwater percolating vertically through soft bedrock, dissolving water-soluble elements such as gypsum, salt, and limestone. Wood Buffalo National Park, with its sinkholes, sunken valleys, and underground caves and streams, has some of the finest examples of karst topography in North America.

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Nyarling Pull-off e symbol washroom symbol

Nyarling pull off
©Parks Canada

Stop and stretch your legs at the Nyarling Pull-off along Highway 5. Take a few minutes to read the interpretive signs and learn about the bison in the park.

Look for where the tiny creek disappears – this creek is really the Nyarling River. It disappears from the surface here to flow underground for 26 km through the karst terrain.

Karst is formed by groundwater percolating vertically through soft bedrock, dissolving water-soluble elements such as gypsum, salt, and limestone. Wood Buffalo National Park, with its sinkholes, sunken valleys, and underground caves and streams, has some of the finest examples of karst topography in North America.

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Wetlands Pull-off and Interpretive Trail e symbol Hicking symbol pointe de vue

Wetlands Pull-off and Interpretive Trail
©Parks Canada

Enjoy a short stroll down the Wetlands Interpretive Trail to a peaceful lookout over a boreal landscape. Follow the interpretive signs to learn about whooping cranes and other wildlife species of the area.

Wetlands Pull-off and Interpretive Trail
©Parks Canada

The trail starts at the Wetlands Pull-off along Highway 5 where you can learn about the park’s two Ramsar sites. These sites – the Peace-Athabasca Delta and the whooping crane nesting area – are designated as Wetlands of International Significance by the Ramsar Convention which focuses on identification and protection of critical habitat for migratory birds.

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Salt Plains Access and Day Use Area pointe de vue View point symbol e symbol symbol d;une toillette wheelchair access symbol Hicking symbol

Salt Plains Access and Day Use Area
©Parks Canada

Accessed from a side road off Highway 5, the Salt Plains Day Use Area features a pleasant viewpoint overlooking the spectacular Salt Plains. Look for wildlife on the plains with the high-powered telescope, and read the interpretive signs to learn about the natural history of the area. Picnic tables and fire grates are available for your use and enjoyment.

Salt Plains Access and Day Use Area
©Parks Canada

A short 500m switchback trail down the steep escarpment provides access to the Salt Plains. Tread lightly as you explore this fascinating landscape. Your footprints will mingle with those of animals - bears, wolves, moose, bison, foxes, and sandhill cranes among others.

Red Samphire
Red Samphire

©Parks Canada

The Salt Plains cover a total area of 370 km2. They are unique in Canada, and are one of the reasons Wood Buffalo National Park was designated as a World Heritage Site. They are formed by water that has percolated through underground salt deposits left by an ancient sea around 390 million years ago. At the location of the Salt Plains, impermeable bedrock has forced the saline water to the surface. As the water evaporates, salt deposits are left behind. During dry periods, interesting salt mounds form from salt crystals where the saline springs bubble up to the surface.

Look for salt-tolerant plants such as the red samphire or sea blight. In the summer, beautiful pink wildflowers called shooting stars might be seen along the grassy fringes.

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Parson’s Tower Viewpoint pointe de vue

Parson’s Tower Viewpoint
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A side trip to Parson’s Tower off Parson’s Lake Road provides a panoramic view of the surrounding boreal landscape. Bring your binoculars! On a clear day the Salt Plains might be seen, shimmering in the distance to the northeast. A towerperson is stationed there during the summer months. Climbing the fire tower is prohibited.

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Rainbow Lake Trail and Backcountry Campsite (6km)View point symbol symbol d;une toillette Hicking symbol camping

Rainbow Lake Trail and Backcountry Campsite
©Parks Canada

Head deep into the woods to a quiet backcountry campsite amongst the towering spruce at Rainbow Lake. The rustic campsite has a picnic table and food cache. There is no potable water at the site – either pack water in or plan to boil the lake water for a minimum of five minutes. The trail follows a cutline from Pine Lake Road and is also suitable for a day hike. Look for signs of bison along the way – wallows, tree rubbings, and trails.

Rainbow Lake is an example of a solution sinkhole. Solution sinkholes form when water begins to pool in a shallow depression, percolating downwards and dissolving water-soluble elements within the soft gypsum and limestone bedrock.

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Salt River Day Use Area pointe de vue View point symbol e symbol symbol d;une toillette wheelchair access symbol Hicking symbol

Salt River Day Use Area
Salt River Day Use Area

©Parks Canada

This popular spot overlooks the Salt River and its distinctive limestone and gypsum cliffs. For several weeks in the spring, the waters of the Salt River churn with activity as long-nosed suckers, bright red in their breeding colors, swim upstream to spawn.

The day use area features a picnic shelter and group fire pit, along with individual picnic tables and fire grates. The north and south loops of the Salt River Trail system start here, as well as the interpretive Karstland Trail.

Points of Interest (Salt River Day Use Area)

Salt River
Salt River

©Parks Canada

Salt River
Most of the time you see it, once in a while you don’t! On June 17, 1981, the Salt River suddenly disappeared into an opening called a swallow hole. It resurfaced a kilometre downstream after flowing through a series of karst tunnels underground. Much of the Salt River’s flow is underground. What we normally see on the surface is the overflow.

In late spring and early summer, the Salt River fills to overflowing with several species of fish. Walleye, northern pike, and suckers all follow a seasonal migration path from the headwaters of the Salt River to the Slave River.

If you look across the Salt River from the day use area, you’ll notice a distinctive limestone and gypsum cliff that has arched into an anticline. The anticline formed when anhydrite (calcium sulphate) within the rock reacted chemically with water to form soft gypsum. The chemical reaction caused the swelling that formed the anticline.

Winter home of the red-sided garter snake

snake pits
Snake Pits

©Parks Canada
Snakes
Snakes

©Parks Canada

The northern most hibernaculum of the red-sided garter snake is located near the start of the North Loop and the Karstland Interpretive Trail. This area is very active for a few weeks in early spring (usually around the end of April) when hundreds of red-sided garter snakes come out to mate before migrating to their summer feeding grounds. Step with care if you visit during this exciting time!

Karst Features
Interesting karst features such as collapse and solution sinkholes, a “drunken forest”, and a uvala (sunken valley formed by a series of sinkholes) can be found along the Karstland Interpretive Trail.

Karst is formed by groundwater percolating vertically through soft bedrock, dissolving water-soluble elements such as gypsum, salt, and limestone. Wood Buffalo National Park has some of the finest examples of karst topography in North America.

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Karstland Interpretive Trail (750 m) Hicking symbol

Karstland Interpretive Trail
Karstland Interpretive Trail

©Parks Canada

Step into the dappled sunlight and shadows of the Karstland Interpretive Trail. Peer over the rims of collapse and solution sinkholes and wander through an interesting sunken valley called a uvala. The karst terrain is very active and unstable, as can be seen in the “drunken forest” where trees tilt haphazardly in many directions. It is important to stay on the trail as there may be crevasses, sinkholes, or fissures camouflaged by the thick vegetation. Look for squirrel middens and other signs of wildlife along the way.

In early spring (usually around the end of April), you may see red-sided garter snakes slithering through the leaves or basking in the sun as they emerge from their underground hibernaculum for mating. Mating balls form when a large number of males attempt to mate with a single female. When the brief mating season is done, the snakes leave the area. They migrate several kilometres north to a large marsh where they spend the summer.

The first part of the Karstland Trail is wheelchair-accessible.

Sink Hole
Sink Hole

©Parks Canada

Did you know? A collapse sinkhole forms when the roof of an underground cave collapses after being weakened by water circulating underground. A solution sinkhole forms when water pools in a shallow depression, percolating downwards and dissolving water-soluble elements within the soft gypsum and limestone bedrock.

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North Loop (7.5 km) Hicking symbol

North Loop Trail
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This gentle climbing trail takes you to the top of an escarpment. Points of interest along the way include sinkholes, the Keg River geological formation, fossil outcrops, and a scenic view of Salt Pan Lake. Look for salt-tolerant plants such as red samphire and seaside plantain along the edges of this shallow salty lake. An interpretive trail guide is available at the park Visitor Reception Centre.

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South Loop (9.0 km) Hicking symbol

South Loop
South Loop

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This trail, which starts across the road from the Salt River Day Use Area, winds through open meadows and small dry grass prairies along Benchmark Creek before meandering into the quiet forest. The unique boulder-strewn salt flats of Grosbeak Lake are a must-see attraction. Tread gently when you explore the salt flats as your footprints will mingle with those of the many animals in the area. Look for footprints of bears, wolves, foxes, sandhill cranes, and more. An interpretive trail guide is available at the park Visitor Reception Centre.

Hikers may take a 20-minute shortcut to Grosbeak Lake by starting at the end of the trail, 2.9 km southwest of the Salt River Day Use Area along Pine Lake Road.

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Salt River Meadows Loop (1.3 km) Hicking symbol

Salt River Meadows Loop
Salt River Meadows Loop

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Enjoy a short stroll through wildflower-sprinkled meadows along a saline stream. The trail, part of the South Loop, starts across the road from the Salt River Day Use Area.

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Grosbeak Lake

Grosbeak Lake
Grosbeak Lake

©Parks Canada

Often compared to a “moonscape”, this unique salt flat is strewn with salt-corroded boulders of all shapes and sizes. The boulders were carried from the Precambrian Shield by glacial ice during the last Ice Age and deposited as the glaciers retreated. Over time, the actions of salt, frost, and wind have corroded the boulders into fascinating shapes. Look for interesting salt deposits along the salt-laden stream that trickles through the area to the lake.

Birdlife is abundant – gulls, terns, and shorebirds are commonly seen near the shore of the lake. Semi-palmated sandpipers nest on the mudflats – a southern extension of their normal nesting area in the arctic. Animal tracks are etched into the salt-encrusted flats, leaving a fascinating record of the wildlife diversity in the area.

Grosbeak Lake is part of the park’s extensive band of salt plains which cover an area of 370 km2. Unique in Canada, they are formed by water that has percolated through underground salt deposits left by an ancient sea around 390 million years ago. At the location of the Salt Plains, impermeable bedrock has forced the saline water to the surface. As the water evaporates, salt deposits are left behind.

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Pine Lake

Pine Lake
Pine Lake

©Parks Canada

The sand beaches and beautiful aquamarine waters of Pine Lake are a popular attraction for visitors and local residents alike. The lake is formed by five solution sinkholes that have merged together over time. It is fed by underground springs. The lovely aquamarine color is caused by reflection from blue-green algae encrusting the bottom. Loons nest on the lake – listen for their haunting call.

Did you know? A solution sinkhole forms when water pools in a shallow depression, percolating downwards and dissolving water-soluble elements within the soft gypsum and limestone bedrock. When a series of sinkholes merge together, a uvala is formed.

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Pine Lake Day Use Area and Beach View point symbol symbol d;une toillette wheelchair access symbol Hicking symbol Cook shelter Swimming

beach
©Parks Canada

Pine Lake Day Use Area and Beach
©Parks Canada

Relax in the shade near lovely Pine Lake. This popular day use area has picnic facilities, a cook shelter, change rooms, and a sandy beach for swimming. A canoe launch is located nearby.

If you feel like a stroll, the Lakeside Trail follows along the shore of Pine Lake to the Kettle Point Group Camp on the far side.

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Pine Lake Campground washroom symbol chaise roulante Terrain de camping

Pine Lake Campground
©Parks Canada

Located 60 km south of Fort Smith on Pine Lake Road, this basic campground features peaceful sites among the trees with fire pits, tent pads, and picnic tables. There are no hook-ups or showers. Treated town water is available through a storage tank site. The campground is open from the May long week-end to the September long week-end. Fees are collected through self-registration. Two sites are wheelchair accessible.

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Kettle Point Group Camp View point symbol symbol d;une toillette wheelchair access symbol Cook shelter Swimmingsymbol

Kettle Point
©Parks Canada
Kettle Point
©Parks Canada

This secluded facility on the scenic shore of Pine Lake is a great spot for a gathering. A minimum group size of 8 people is required. The area features a log shelter, tenting area, beach, fire circle, firewood, picnic tables, outhouses, and a playground. Fees include a non-refundable reservation fee – contact the park Visitor Reception Centre in Fort Smith to make a reservation. Reservations for this popular facility are on a first-come-first-served basis.

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Lakeside Trail (6.4 km) Hicking symbol

Lakeside Trail
Lakeside Trail

©Parks Canada

Enjoy a quiet stroll along the peaceful shores of Pine Lake. The Lakeside Trail starts at the Pine Lake Day Use Area and ends at the Kettle Point Group Camp on the far side of the lake. It also connects to the trailhead for the more rugged Lane Lake Trail.

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Lane Lake Trail (13 km) Hicking symbol

Lane Lake
©Parks Canada

This rugged hike winds deep into the heart of the boreal forest. Wildlife viewing opportunities abound as you follow a chain of small sinkhole lakes to Lane Lake. Look for signs of beavers in the lakes, as well as waterfowl and shorebirds. Perhaps you will see some loons, or hear their haunting call.

The trailhead is on Kettle Point Road, 1 km past the Pine Lake access road. It can also be reached by a connecting path from the Lakeside Trail. A trail guide is available at the park Visitor Reception Centre.

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Sweetgrass Landing Backcountry Campsite washroom symbol marche camping

Sweetgrass Landing Backcountry Campsite
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Located on the south bank of the Peace River, this primitive backcountry campsite is the access point for the trail to Sweetgrass Station. The campsite may be accessed in the following ways:

  • By canoe from Peace Point (an approximate 10-12 hour paddle downstream from Peace Point)
  • By boat from Peace Point or Fort Chipewyan
  • By floatplane (a landing permit is required)

Facilities include a picnic table, firepit, and outhouse.

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Sweetgrass Station and Backcountry Campsite symbol d;une toillette Hicking symbol camping

Sweetgrass Station and Backcountry Campsite
©Parks Canada

Sweetgrass Station and Backcountry Campsite
©Parks Canada

See remnants of historic corrals and a few remaining buildings from the bison round-up days of Sweetgrass Station. Located 12 km from Sweetgrass Landing, Sweetgrass Station is in the middle of vast deltaic meadows. The blue waters of Lake Claire shimmer in the distance, and the surrounding marshlands form a rich oasis for waterfowl, raptors and other bird species such as sandhill cranes. This is a great location for wildlife viewing as bison and wolves, as well as many other bird and animal species, frequent the area. While signs of wildlife are abundant, actual sightings are random and cannot be guaranteed at any given time or location.

Sweetgrass Station is accessed by a rugged 12 km hike from Sweetgrass Landing on the south bank of the Peace River, or by a rugged 4.3 km canoe portage from Sweetgrass Landing to Sweetgrass Creek, from which point one can canoe the rest of the way.

The backcountry campsite has a picnic table, fire grate, food cache, and outhouse. Tenting is permitted anywhere in the meadows. Visitors will encounter tall grass and biting insects in the vast meadows, as well as deteriorating infrastructure. Campers should pack in as much potable water as possible. Water from Sweetgrass Creek should be boiled thoroughly for at least five minutes.

The Sweetgrass corrals were first used for round-ups in 1957 when large numbers of bison were corralled for disease testing and some were slaughtered for meat. The Sweetgrass corrals were used off and on over the years for disease testing and meat slaughters, and later for anthrax vaccinations. The final meat slaughter at Sweetgrass Station occurred in 1967 when the meat was sold commercially to Expo 67. The final round-up at Sweetgrass Station occured in 1972 for anthrax vaccinations.

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Sweetgrass Trail (12 km) and Canoe Portage (4.3 km) Hicking symbol

Sweetgrass Creek
©Parks Canada

Sweetgrass Trail follows an overgrown cutline through the forest from Sweetgrass Landing to Sweetgrass Station. While there is little variety in the scenery along the trail, avid birdwatchers will see and hear many species of songbirds along the way. Animal scats and tracks provide clues to the diversity of wildlife in the area. There may be times when bison are encountered along the trail – the rutted texture of the trail is due to their hoofprints. If you encounter bison, always maintain a safe distance. They may be particularly aggressive during the rutting season in late July and August. Hikers should also be prepared to cope with biting insects.

The unmarked trail starts in the meadows behind the campsite at Sweetgrass Landing. Look for a narrow overgrown gap in the trees that opens out to a cutline that used to be a road allowance to Sweetgrass Station. The trail follows the cutline for 10 km but is very overgrown as it hasn’t been maintained for many years. Approximately 2 km in, where the overgrowth is the thickest, care must be taken not to divert off onto a bison trail that branches to the left and leads to a meadow. Once you have crossed the culvert at “Big Dip” (at a little over 4 km), the cutline widens out. It narrows again due to overgrowth as you approach the corrals at the end of the trail, approximately 10 km in. Once you exit the trail, follow the corrals for 2 more km through the meadows to the remnant buildings and backcountry campsite of Sweetgrass Station.

Canoe Portage
The culvert at the “Big Dip” is a reference point for the canoe portage – once past the culvert, look for an unmarked path to the right that leads to Sweetgrass Creek (approx.4.3 km from the trailhead). You cannot see the creek from the main trail.

Sweetgrass Creek
©Parks Canada

Once you are on the creek, it is a lovely 1-1/2 to 2 hour paddle the rest of the way to the Station. Kingfishers and raptors are often seen along the creek, along with a diversity of aquatic vegetation. There is no signage indicating when a paddler has arrived at the Station, nor are the buildings visible from the creek. Paddlers should watch for an opening in the trees on the left (east) where the corrals are visible. From there they should continue on until they see a bit of a clearing with willows on the left (east) bank which serves as a bison crossing. It is approximately a 7 - 10 minute walk inland along the bison trail to the buildings of Sweetgrass Station.

Sweetgrass Creek continues past Sweetgrass Station to Lake Claire. Portages across beaver dams may be needed closer to Lake Claire.

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Highway 5

Highway 5
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This all-weather road provides year-round access to Fort Smith and Wood Buffalo National Park. While there is some pavement at either end, most of the highway is a hard-packed gravel and clay surface. Although the surface is firm and generally smooth, it can be dusty during dry summer weather, and slippery when wet or in winter conditions. The maximum speed limit is 90 km/hr under normal driving conditions. Travel time between Hay River and Fort Smith is approximately three hours.

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Pine Lake Road

Pine Lake Road
©Parks Canada

Many of the park’s frontcountry facilities are located along this all-weather road, and bison are sometimes seen. If you encounter bison, please maintain a safe distance and allow them to move away at their own pace. Never approach bison on foot or herd them with your vehicle as they may become aggressive and dangerous.

Pine Lake Road has a loose gravel surface. It can be dusty when dry, and slippery when wet or in winter conditions. Potholes and washboards may be encountered. The maximum speed limit is 80 km/hr under normal driving conditions, but drivers are encouraged to slow down when meeting oncoming traffic. The road ends at the Peace Point Reserve on the Peace River, 120 km south of Fort Smith.

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Parson’s Lake Road

Parson’s Lake Road
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This road is a 54 km single-lane backcountry dirt road open in the late spring, summer and early fall. It begins at Highway 5, approximately 30 km east of Fort Smith, providing access to a turn-off which leads to the Salt Plains. In wet weather there may be accumulations of water on the Salt Plains turn-off, but the road surface is firm underneath.

From the Salt Plains turn-off the Parson’s Lake Road continues south through the boreal forest, providing access to the Parson’s Tower Viewpoint before eventually connecting to Pine Lake Road. Look for signs of wildlife as you drive, and peer through the trees for examples of karst features such as water-filled sinkholes near the road.

Caution! The section of Parson’s Lake Road between the Salt Plains turnoff and Pine Lake Road has a soft sand and dirt surface, and can become impassable when conditions are wet. Please check with the Visitor Reception Centre for an update on road conditions before travelling this section.

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Winter Road

Winter road near Fort Chipewyan
Winter road near Fort Chipewyan

©Parks Canada

A winter road connects Fort Smith, Fort Chipewyan, and Fort McMurray for approximately three months from mid-December to mid-March. The park section between Fort Chipewyan and the Peace River winds narrowly through the forest with many sharp turns. There are several river crossings on ice bridges. The park cannot guarantee regular road patrols, so travellers must be responsible for their own safety and should be prepared for cold weather survival in the event of a breakdown. For an update on winter road conditions, contact the Park Hotline at 867-872-7962. Please click here for more detailed information.

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Hay Camp Road

Hay Camp Road
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This 42-km dirt road runs parallel to the Slave River between Fort Fitzgerald and Hay Camp. Open year-round, it provides access to the boat launch at Hay Camp on the west bank of the Slave River. Caution! The dirt surface of this road is affected by wet weather. Users of this road may encounter ruts, potholes, and severe dips depending on amounts of precipitation.

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