Elk Island is one of five national parks in Alberta. Belle the Berner and I spent a day at the park after a work trip to Edmonton, and it was worth the extra stay. This park is only 30 minutes from the city, so I couldn’t say no to that! There are plenty of trails to explore in the area, but with a heat warning on, we could only manage a shorter Elk Island hike. So, that’s where Amisk Wuche came in!
Amisk Wuche isn’t the only Elk Island hike I planned to enjoy on a recent trip to Edmonton. Bella and I started with the 16-km Wood Bison Trail, but the heat warning really slowed us down. After about 4 km on that trail, we turned around and found something a bit more doable in the heat. So we opted for the significantly shorter Amisk Wuche!
About Amisk Wuche Trail
Location: Elk Island National Park, near Edmonton, Alberta
Distance: 3.2 km loop
Elevation: 50 metre gain
Time: Approx. 45 min – 1 hour
Dog-friendly: Yes, but must be kept on leash.
Features: Amisk Wuche is the Cree name for Beaver Hills, which makes sense as I spotted 4 beavers on the trail! This short hike in Elk Island is perfect for nature lovers and would keep the attention of children. The length is perfect for families looking for a shorter jaunt. The trail winds through aspen, birch, and spruce forests, with boardwalks crossing over marsh and beaver ponds. There’s plenty of aquatic and bird life here, too!
Finding the Trailhead
The Amisk Wuche trailhead is very easy to locate along the main road through Elk Island National Park. After turning left off of the Yellowhead Highway (Hwy 16), continue north on the Elk Island Parkway for about 15 km. Right away, you’ll pass the Visitor Centre on your right where you can stop for a washroom break. Continue north past the Bison Loop Road, Tawayik Lake, and Hayburger Trail. The trailhead will be on your right near the Astotin Lake Recreation Area. There are signs on the road.
If you don’t have a Parks Canada Discovery Pass, you can purchase a day pass at an automated pass machine near the park gates. This pass works for all national parks in Canada.
A Short Elk Island Hike
Amisk Wuche starts off through a birch forest leading to boardwalk over marshland. There are several benches along the trail to sit and watch wildlife. Shortly into the trail, I saw an American Coot (not a duck!) swimming with two babies in the pond.
The trail routes in and out of forest and wetland, and is very easy to follow with yellow markers. This 3.2-km loop took us less than an hour, but could take longer if you enjoy bird watching. And the beavers could keep you entertained for a while. However, keep in mind that there’s little accessible water on the trail. We visited on a hot day, so I brought extra water and Bella’s bowl.
While there are stretches of boardwalk over the marshland, the roots in the forest may make this trail difficult for strollers or wagons. But I think this would be an enjoyable jaunt for young children who love the forest. Especially if you spot a beaver… or two… or three!
Perfect Hike for Nature Lovers
Amisk Wuche may not be a long excursion, but it’s a great trail for nature enthusiasts. Especially if you want a shorter and easier day. As you’ve seen, there are many benches and lookout points along the way to search for wildlife in the wetlands and ponds. You may want to bring binoculars along to get a closer look.
Things To Do in Elk Island National Park
Aside from Amisk Wuche, there are many other things to do in Elk Island Park. My original plan was to hike the Wood Bison Trail, but 16-km was too long for Bella on a hot day. There’s also the 12-km Hayburger Trail that might pique your interest.
We spent some time at Astotin Lake Recreation Area. There are picnic tables, shelters, washrooms, and drinking water accessible to the public. You can also rent a canoe, kayak, or SUP for $20-30/hour. I took a quick drive through the campground, where there are 75 non-serviced campsites (including oTENTik) located near the lake. I’d tent here in the future!
Elk Island is known for its free-roaming wild bison. There are generally 300 wood bison and 400 plains bison in the park. Sadly, I didn’t see any bison, as they were likely staying cool in the shaded forest. We even drove around the Bison Trail Road, but not a bison to be seen. Hopefully you have better luck than I did (!).
Know Before You Go
There are five national parks in Alberta: Banff, Jasper, Waterton Lakes, Wood Buffalo, and Elk Island. You’ll need your Parks Canada Discovery Pass to access Elk Island, or day passes are available at park entrance.
If you’re bringing your canine companion along, remember to keep them on leash on Amisk Wuche. Many different animals are living along the trail and dogs can disturb them. Don’t forget to pack out that poo, too.
On a really hot day, you may need to refill your water bottles. There’s no safe drinking water available at Amisk Wuche, but there are at least two taps at Astotin Lake: one on the beach, and another beside the washrooms.
If you’re hoping to see wild bison, you might have better luck in the morning or evening—especially on a hot day. Otherwise, you may need to hike Hayburger or Wood Bison Trail to catch a glimpse.
Have you visited Elk Island National Park? Were you lucky enough to see bison? What about the Amisk Wuche Trail? I’d love to hear about your experience!
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