Family fun in Alberta in 48 hours or less

Family fun in Alberta in 48 hours or less

Wood Buffalo National Park

Must-See Attractions for Families

Wood Buffalo National Park. Credit: Nick Fitzhardinge @nick_fitzhardinge

Nestled in the northern reaches of Alberta and extending into the Northwest Territories, Wood Buffalo National Park is a majestic expanse of natural beauty and cultural heritage. As the largest national park in Canada and one of the largest in the world, it offers a plethora of activities and highlights that promise an unforgettable family adventure. Let’s delve into the rich history of this UNESCO World Heritage site and discover why it’s a must-visit destination.

A Brief History of Wood Buffalo National Park

Established in 1922, Wood Buffalo National Park was initially created to protect the last remaining herds of wood bison. Spanning over 44,807 square kilometers, the park is larger than Switzerland and encompasses diverse landscapes, from boreal forests and wetlands to expansive grasslands. Its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983 underscores its ecological significance, particularly its role as a habitat for the endangered whooping crane and the largest free-roaming herd of wood bison.

Why Wood Buffalo National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Wood Buffalo National Park is recognized for its outstanding universal value, boasting unique geological formations, diverse ecosystems, and significant cultural heritage. The park’s Salt Plains, for example, are remnants of an ancient sea and are vital to the local wildlife. Additionally, the park’s ecological integrity and biodiversity are crucial for scientific research and conservation efforts, making it a globally important natural reserve.

[See our UNESCO feature]

Family-Friendly Activities and Highlights

Wildlife Viewing

Witnessing the majestic wood bison, elusive whooping cranes, and other wildlife in their natural habitat is a highlight of any visit. Tip: Early morning or late evening are the best times to spot animals.

The Salt Plains

Extending over 200 square kilometres of otherworldly landscape are the distinctive Salt Plains. Salt from ancient seas bubbles up to the surface here in springs, leaving behind mounds up to two metres high in some places. These unique geological formations are a sight to behold, with sparkling white salt deposits creating a surreal landscape.  Tip: Bring binoculars to observe the diverse bird species that frequent the area.

Salt Plains at Wood Buffalo National Park. Credit: Travel Alberta

Pine Lake

A perfect spot for a family picnic, swimming, or kayaking. Pine Lake’s crystal-clear waters and sandy beaches offer a serene retreat.  Pine Lake is a sinkhole lake.

Hiking Trails

Explore the park’s diverse landscapes through its various hiking trails, ranging from easy walks to challenging treks.

Easy Trails

Salt River Meadows Loop: A scenic loop through meadows and wetlands, great for wildlife viewing. Approximately 2 km.

 Medium Trails

Salt Plains Lookout Trail: This trail leads to a breathtaking viewpoint overlooking the unique salt plains. Approximately 4 km round trip

Pine Lake Loop: A loop trail around Pine Lake, offering beautiful views and the opportunity to see diverse bird species.  Approximately 5 km

Challenging Trails

Karstland Trail: A rugged trail through karst terrain, featuring sinkholes and fascinating geological formations. Approximately 11 km round trip

Dark Sky Preserve

As one of the largest Dark Sky Preserves in the world, Wood Buffalo National Park offers unparalleled stargazing opportunities.  Tip: Visit during a new moon for the clearest views of the Milky Way and other celestial wonders.

Guided Tours and Educational Programs

Participate in guided tours and educational programs to learn about the park’s ecology, history, and conservation efforts. Check the park’s visitor center for schedules and availability.  Fort Chipewyan Visitor Centre and Office; 124 B Mackenzie Avenue, Fort Chipewyan


Experience the great outdoors by camping in one of the park’s designated campgrounds.  Located 60 km south of Fort Smith, Pine Lake Campground is in the heart of the park on the shores of the lake. Reserve your campsite in advance, especially during peak seasons.  You can also try backcountry camping, for true wilderness experiences.  Random camping is available year-round with a backcountry camping permit.

Bird Watching

The park is a haven for bird watchers, home to rare species like the whooping crane and peregrine falcon. Bring a field guide and a good pair of binoculars to enhance your bird-watching experience.


Wood Buffalo National Park is a treasure trove of natural wonders and outdoor adventures, perfect for families seeking a unique and enriching experience. Whether you’re hiking through pristine forests, gazing at the stars, or watching majestic bison roam free, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Plan your visit to this extraordinary park and create memories that will last a lifetime. For more information and to plan your trip, visit the [Parks Canada website](

Wood Bison at Wood Buffalo National Park. Credit: Darren Roberts @darren_roberts