If you've ever dreamed of a wild wilderness adventure in the remote Canadian north, Wood Buffalo National Park promises the trip of a lifetime. Spanning 44,807 sq km (17,300 sq mi), Wood Buffalo is one of the biggest parks on the planet. It’s also the world’s largest dark sky preserve and home to incredible numbers of free ranging buffalo. Where the buffalo roam is also home to the endangered whooping crane and peregrine falcon.
Located in Alberta's far north, the top of the park spills into the Northwest Territories. Hop a plane in Edmonton or Fort McMurray and head up to Fort Smith or Fort Chipewyan, the gateways to Wood Buffalo. Seasoned paddlers thirsting for a unique adventure in the summertime can hit the Athabasca River in Fort McMurray and canoe the 298 km (185 mi) to Fort Chipewyan.
This is a vast and wild land of northern boreal plains, strangely compelling karstland riddled with sinkholes, fissures and underground streams, an untamed river delta and – surprise – a salt desert. Watch for the herds of wood bison that roam the plains. Listen to the howling of the elusive timber wolf. The endless splendour of the north will have you wishing there were more hours in a day. Oh wait – in summer the sun is still up at midnight.
Sinkholes. Karst. Bison. Desert. Here's your insider Wood Buffalo National Park checklist!
Wood Buffalo is a hiker's fantasy come true. Follow the Salt River trails along a saline creek to a bizarre moonscape of sinkholes and strangely-shaped rocks scattered across vast plains of salt. Watch for the extremely rare whooping crane. Hit the backcountry trails accessible only by plane or canoe and camp in the meadows with the bison and wolves.
Grab a canoe and glide across a lake made of conjoined sinkholes for a relaxing day trip. For a backcountry adventure, pack up and go for days. Wood Buffalo's three main rivers are wide and gentle, so you can fully appreciate the wildlife and changing landscapes as you paddle through the northern plains.
Stay at Sweetgrass Station and take in the unspoiled beauty of the northern boreal plains as herds of bison forage nearby. Paddle down Sweetgrass Creek to Lake Claire, Alberta’s largest lake. Visit the salt plains, a landscape unique to Wood Buffalo and a favourite stopping point of the whooping cranes. Walk along an ancient seabed as you explore terrain shaped by salt, streams and the well-preserved foot prints of an amazing array of creatures.
Under a canopy of stars, enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the northern night skies at the annual Dark Sky Festival in August and watch the dance of the aurora borealis. Insiders say this is the best place to see the northern lights. Stay in the lakeside cabins or pitch a tent for the weekend.