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Elk Island National Park of Canada

Wildlife Viewing

Two bull moose fighting during the fall rut
© Parks Canada

Elk Island National Park boasts some of North America’s best wildlife viewing. To improve your chances of catching a glimpse of bison, elk, birds, or other amazing animals in the park:

• Plan your visit around dawn and dusk, times of day that may provide a better chance of sighting wildlife. Many animals shelter in the trees during the warmest parts of the day.

• Drive slowly on the parkway, or better yet, go for a hike. Opportunities to view wildlife improve if you’re moving more slowly.

• You can usually spot elk and moose more easily in winter after the leaves have fallen from the trees and shrubs. Take advantage of rainy days in summer. Wildlife such as moose and waterfowl don’t mind wet weather.

• Appreciate the little things! Elk Island is home to small mammals, birds, frogs and butterflies in summer. Keep a lookout for these spectacular creatures, too.

• When you do spot larger wildlife such as bison, remember to view them safely from100 metres (330 ft or the length of 3 buses) away. Give them space and keep the animal’s line of travel or escape route clear.

Scenic Driving

A car is stopped by bison on the parkway
© Parks Canada

The Yellowhead Highway (Hwy 16) bisects Elk Island National Park for 10km. Watch for wood bison to the south and plains bison to the north.

Elk Island Parkway is the major roadway running north and south through the Park. You may see plains bison, moose, elk, deer and coyotes along its 20 km length. Bison herds often gather along the Parkway and the Bison Loop Road year-round; elk herds are also seen during the winter.

Be patient and careful as motorists may not be familiar with the Park and may stop suddenly when they see bison/wildlife on the road. Animals may attempt to flee from a car by continuing to run alongside the vehicle. If safe to do so, pull over or slow down until the animals safely leave the road.

Tawayik Lake Picnic Area is located off the Elk Island Parkway. The short drive takes you to a serene picnic area. Following the trail and looking out to the lake, you can see shorebirds and waterfowl during summer and bison often graze in the area.

Exhibits and viewpoints are located at most trailheads. Some of the most spectacular views can be seen on the shores of Astotin and Tawayik Lakes, especially at sunrise and sunset. When safe to do so, pull over to enjoy the wildlife and scenery; use a road pull off site, a trailhead parking lot, or watch for signs indicating viewpoints.

Wildlife Photography

Getting That Perfect Photograph

A pair of bison standing in a frosty meadow
© Parks Canada

For many people, getting that perfect photograph of wildlife in the Park is the highlight of their visit. Photographers who travel the park in search of good photo opportunities have a special responsibility to wildlife and fellow visitors.

Use one of the road side pull-off sites along the Elk Island Parkway or Administration road to park your vehicle while taking a photograph.

• Do not surround, crowd or follow an animal.

• Never put people (especially children) at risk by posing them with wildlife.

• Do not try to entice wildlife by feeding or by simulating animal calls such as elk bugling.

• Do not honk your car horn at an animal and keep a safe distance.

• Be Patient!

Bird Watching

Vesper Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
© Parks Canada

Elk Island is also known as a birders paradise with over 250 bird species recorded in the park. The transitional zone between boreal forest and aspen parkland holds several distinct habitats within a small area. This variety of upland habitat and extensive wetlands provides opportunities for many species of birds to forage and breed here.

Common Loon with chicks
Common Loon with chicks
© Parks Canada

American Wigeon
© Parks Canada

Astotin Lake, just 14 km north on the Parkway from Hwy 16, is a major wetlands area where waterfowl can be seen on the lake. Walk the Shoreline Trail (#10), Lakeview Trail (#6), Living Waters (#8) boardwalk, or drive Administration road and park on one of the pull off sites to get a spectacular view of wetland birds. Don’t forget about the many other walking trails in Elk Island that are home to birds that exist in aspen parkland, mixed wood, aspen forest, black spruce bog, and grasslands habitats.

It’s easier to identify birds in winter when there are no leaves on the trees. Have you seen any of these species?


___ Ruffed grouse

___ Great horned owl

___ Snowy owl

___ Great gray owl

___ Downy woodpecker

___ Hairy woodpecker

___ Three-toed woodpecker

___ Black-backed woodpecker

___ Pileated woodpecker

___ Blue jay

___ Black-billed magpie

___ American crow

___ Common raven

___ Black-capped chickadee

___ Boreal chickadee

___ White-breasted nuthatch

___ Bohemian waxwing

___ Evening grosbeak

___ Snow bunting

___ Pine grosbeak

___ Red crossbill

___ White-winged crossbill

___ Common redpoll

Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
© Parks Canada

Ruffed Grouse
Ruffed Grouse
© Parks Canada