Map of the Salt River Day Use Area
Salt River Day Use Area
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)
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
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!
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.
Karstland Interpretive Trail (750 m)
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.
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.
North Loop (7.5 km)
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.
South Loop (9.0 km)
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.
Salt River Meadows Loop (1.3 km)
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.
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.