Hustle and bustle of life in the city getting to you? Whether you’re looking to escape the suburbs and skyscrapers, or just seeking some fresh air adventure, the good news is there are lots of natural areas for you to explore. Where will you go this weekend?
1. Larch SanctuaryTucked away in the middle of the city lies the Larch Sanctuary. Find it on the south side of 23rd Avenue in the Whitemud creek ravine. It’s an important wildlife corridor for animals moving in and around the city. To further conservation efforts, Edmonton & Area Land Trust has installed a large bee hotel and rocket bat box. Go check them out!
Address: MacTaggart Sanctuary Trail Loop 23 Avenue Edmonton
2. River Valley
This is not your usual city greenspace! Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River Valley is North America’s largest urban parkland, which makes it easy to get away in nature without leaving the city. Explore by foot, bike, boat, or segway and discover all this unique space has to offer.
3. Mactaggart Sanctuary
You may not have heard of Mactaggart, even if you’ve lived in the city your whole life – it truly is a hidden gem. You’ll forget you’re in the city limits as you explore the 2.3 km loop (more of a hike than a stroll, so make sure your shoes are good). The forest is dense and the wildlife abundant.
4. Visser Conservation Lands
Visser Conservation Lands is the largest old growth forest within the limits of the City of Edmonton. These 233 acres include agricultural space to ensure local farmers and markets have room to grow fresh produce and flowers. Check out the website for information on tours such as the Forests and Farmlands Tours.
North of Edmonton
1. Nakamun Lake
“Nakamun” is Cree for songbird or song of praise, so make sure you keep an ear out for the chorus of the birds who flock to the area, especially when on their spring migration. It’s a great lake for fishing, boating, hiking, photography, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and more. Bring a picnic lunch with you to enjoy at the day use site in the reserve at Nakamun Court.
2. Boisvert’s GreenWoods
Part of Edmonton & Area Land Trust and just a 45 km drive, Boisvert’s stand of protected forest stands out from the surrounding agricultural fields. It’s part of a popular wildlife corridor for moose, deer, frogs, and more, but especially for birds, including woodpeckers and migrating songbirds. Check out the website for a guided tour booklet of the area and geocaching.
Address: RR 250 Legal
3. White Earth Valley Natural Area
White Earth Natural Area may not be well known, but it is home to the 17 km White Earth Trail. The trail runs through diverse habitats, home to many different native plants and wild animals. Blue Heron, moose, deer, maybe even a black bear…who knows what you’ll see. Hike with a buddy, and find ample parking at the trail head.
4. Halfmoon Lake Natural AreaProtected by the Natural Areas and Heritage Rangelands Act, Halfmoon Lake Natural Area is a great place to get back to nature. Spend the day among rolling forests and herb-filled meadows, looking for animals of all sizes. Front-country hiking and skiing, as well as fishing are popular activities in the area, so get ready to explore.
5. Redwater Sandhills Natural Area
Home to some of the largest and most impressive sand dunes of the area, Redwater Sandhills is in the northeast corner of Sturgeon County. Explore the natural trails and habitats to get a different perspective of the Alberta landscape when you get out on those dunes.
East of Edmonton
1. Elk Island National Park
Get away from rush hour and get stuck in a whole different kind of traffic. At Elk Island National Park, it could be herd of bison blocking the road, instead. Just 35 minutes east of Edmonton, the park is full of outdoor activities and animals. Hiking, canoeing or kayaking, cross country skiing, picnicking, stargazing in the dark sky preserve, and more await year-round.
2. Golden Ranches Conservation Area
Golden Ranches Conservation Area can be found within the Beaver Hills UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and Dark Sky Preserve, making it just as much of a draw for stargazing as it is for animal spotting. You’re just as likely to catch a glimpse of a white-tailed deer or porcupine as you are a shooting star. While you’re exploring, go geocaching or follow the bee hotel map.
Address: Township Rd 515 Sherwood Park
3. Smith Blackburn Homestead
East of Elk Island National Park, the Smith Blackburn Homestead has been preserved, cared for, and appreciated by several generations and is now part of Edmonton & Area Land Trust. It’s role in maintaining biodiversity of the region can’t be denied – and neither can its appeal for those who want to explore.
Address: Lamont County
4. Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area
The more than 170 km of multi-use trails, starting from the four staging areas, are considered moderate to intermediate hikes or cross country skiing, so you don’t need to be a pro to explore the wonderful Alberta backcountry. Watch for migrating bird species that flock here every year. Keep an eye out, and your camera handy, for wildlife such as moose, beaver, deer, elk, and even bears.
5. Ministik Conservation Area
Ministik is home to both predator and prey, with animals such as coyotes, wolves, raptors, moose, beavers, deer, and more. It’s an interesting mix of forest and wetlands, making for unique hiking and exploring opportunities. Planning to take pics throughout our visit? Share them with #MinistikEALT!
Address: RR 214A Hay Lakes
6. Hicks Conservation Land
Visitors to Hicks have been coming for an enjoyable hike, only to discover so much more than they first expected. The 149 acres south of Hastings Lake is part of the Beaver Hills UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and Dark Sky Preserve, full of wildlife and wetlands. Take part in the Citizen Science program to help keep tabs on populations; more info online.
Address: 51078 RR 204 Sherwood Park
South of Edmonton
1. Coates Conservation LandsCoates consists of parkland forest, a rapidly-disappearing habitat. That’s just one of the reasons why these 80 protected acres are important. While today you might spot moose, porcupine, red-tailed hawks, and wood frogs, there’s proof that once up on a time, you would have seen dinosaurs such as hadrosaurs and albertosaurus. Check out all the geochaching spots while you explore.
Address: Township Rd 502A Thorsby
2. Miquelon Lake Provincial Park
This park is far enough from Edmonton that you’ll really feel like you’re escaping the city, but close enough that it’s easy to get there. With great hiking and mountain biking trails, playgrounds, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and animal and bird-watching, you won’t run out of things to do. Plus, Family Discovery Packs and Mystery Animal Geocaching make it great for the whole family.
3. Pipestone Creek Conservation Land
This conservation land not only borders Pipestone Creek itself, but it also includes an oxbow lake, spruce woodlands, aspen parklands, and more. As you explore, see if you can spot featured plants that are not commonly found that far north. If you’re there during the migration season, look overhead for trumpeter swans!
Address: RR 231A Millet
West of Edmonton
1. Bunchberry Meadows Conservation Lands
Featuring aspen parklands woods and pockets of great diversity, Bunchberry Meadows is considered a refuge for animals, such as moose, deer, owls, hawks, and songbirds. Be a part of Edmonton & Area Land Trust’s Citizen Science by helping to identify plants and animals on your explorations, tracking growth and populations. Note that dogs are not permitted.
Address: RR 261 Spruce Grove
2. Clifford E. Lee Nature Sanctuary
This idyllic spot is a sanctuary for 348 acres of marshland, meadow, aspen parkland, and boreal forest – and all the creatures that call it home. Walk and hike through trails and boardwalks that are considered manageable by all skill levels (though, keep in mind that it is not wheelchair accessible), while keeping an eye out for moose, fox, porcupine, muskrat, deer, and much, much more.
3. Glory Hills Conservation Lands
Just north of Stony Plain, Glory Hills is also known as maskihkiy meskanaw, Cree for “Medicine Trail.” These wetlands are part of a chain that help to filter and protect the area’s water supply; fishing is a popular activity and industry here. Visit the website for a downloadable tour booklet of the area.
Address: 1017 Township Rd 540 Spruce Grove
4. Wabamun Lake Provincial Park
Wabamun is a great lake to get out on the water! Boating, fishing, canoeing, even wind surfing can all be done on the lake. In the winter, try out skating, shinny hockey, and even a bit of ice fishing. The day use site of the Park has boardwalks to explore, playgrounds, and picnic sites for when all that fresh air and activity has you working up an appetite.
5. Lu Carbyn Nature Sanctuary
Lu Carbyn Nature Sanctuary is 155 acres found near several other protected areas, including Lily Lake Natural Area. It’s been described by a leading ornithologist as “the best birding land within a hundred miles of Edmonton,” making this area a must for bird watchers. Over 95 species were recently recorded. Help with the population counts with EALT’s Citizen Science program.
Address: Lac Ste. Anne County
6. Wagner Natural Area
You may not have heard of it before, but the Wagner Natural Area is not to be missed. It’s unique in that 16 of the 24 known Alberta-native orchids can be found on the grounds – plus several unusual carnivorous plants! Explore the hiking paths of varying difficulty and try your hand at geocaching in the area.