Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada


Canoe scene
Ready for adventure
© Parks Canada / P.McCloskey

Experienced wilderness travellers may wish to plan an extended backcountry trip into the park by foot or canoe. There are several options for multi-day wilderness canoe trips on the major river systems of the park. The major rivers (Peace, Slave and Athabasca) are wide, relatively slow moving and muddy. They meander peacefully through the flat landscape of the Northern Boreal Plains. Please read the Guide to Waterways In and Around Wood Buffalo National Park for a summary of the routes available.

Sweetgrass: A Prime Backcountry Destination

Sweetgrass Station, located south of the Peace River on the edge of vast meadows within the Peace-Athabasca Delta, is a good destination for a wilderness backcountry trip. The trail begins on the south bank of the Peace River, at a spot known locally as Sweetgrass Landing. It proceeds south through a boreal forest mosaic for 12 km. Approximately 2 km from the Station, the hiker will come across remnants of old corrals. The corrals were built in the mid-1960s and used in the historical round-up of bison herds for anthrax vaccinations.

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. The meadows are a favorite feeding ground for bison. Wolves are often present as well, and the location offers unique opportunities for observing the natural predator-prey relationship between bison and wolves in the wild. Keep in mind, however, that the free-roaming nature of the bison means that sightings cannot be guaranteed at any given time or location.

Backcountry tenting is allowed in the meadows. The warden cabin is not available for public use. Sweetgrass Creek is nearby and may be used as a source for drinking water. However, the water may be muddy and should be filtered, settled out and boiled for at least 10 minutes prior to drinking. A food cache is located behind the buildings.

PLEASE NOTE: This trip is most pleasant in early-to-mid September, after the peak mosquito season is over. During June, July and August hikers can expect to be plagued by large swarms of mosquitoes on the trail.

How to Get to Sweetgrass Landing

  1. Bison in the meadows
    Bison in the meadows at Sweetgrass
    © Parks Canada / Melissa Zimmer
    Drive to Peace Point from Fort Smith with a canoe, or hire a licensed park guide to assist with canoe rental and transportation to Peace Point. Put into the Peace River at Peace Point and paddle downstream. It will take approximately 10-12 hours of paddling to reach the Landing, so an overnight along the river may be required. Note: As it would be very difficult to return to Peace Point by paddling upstream, a continuation of the canoe trip down the Peace and Slave rivers would be required to either Hay Camp or Fort Fitzgerald. Please read the Guide to Waterways In and Around Wood Buffalo National Park for more information.
  2. Hire a floatplane to drop you off and pick you up at Sweetgrass Landing on the Peace River. A landing permit from the Superintendent is required. Floatplanes may be hired from Fort Smith.
  3. A licensed park guide may be hired to provide motorized river transportation to Sweetgrass Landing. However, please be aware that the availability of such guides may vary from year-to-year depending on local economic conditions. Contact the Visitor Reception Centre for updated information.

Safety Considerations:

Park use permits, available from the Visitor Reception Centres in Fort Smith and Fort Chipewyan, are required for any overnight stays in the backcountry. Sweetgrass Station is extremely isolated. Careful planning is required as backcountry users are responsible for their own safety and comfort. Hikers and paddlers should be fully prepared to cope with adverse conditions such as bad weather, mosquitoes, and limited availability of good drinking water. It is recommended that only experienced paddlers and backcountry users attempt this trip.

The following topographic maps (1:250,000) are needed for this area:

  • 84 J - Lake Claire
  • 74 L - Fort Chipewyan
  • 84 P - Peace Point