Wood Buffalo National Park

UNESCO World Heritage Site #275: Wood Buffalo National Park
Wood Buffalo National Park: My 275th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for Wood Buffalo National Park:

Situated on the Northern Boreal Plains in the north-central region of Canada, Wood Buffalo comprises a vast wilderness area (44,807 km2 ) which is home to North America’s largest population of wild bison. It is also the natural nesting place of the whooping crane. Another of the park’s attractions is the world’s largest inland delta, located at the mouth of the Peace and Athabasca rivers.

The park has four main landscape features: a glacially eroded plateau; glaciated plains; a major freshwater delta formed by three major rivers; and alluvial river lowlands. The lowlands and floodplains of Peace, Athabasca, and Slave rivers and the delta in Lake Athabasca exhibit classic fluvial landforms, with a complex series of meander scars, oxbow lakes and former river terraces, and good examples of birds-foot delta development. During dry periods, the mudflats of one plain are dominated by mineral salts. These salt plains are unique in Canada.

Vegetation is typical of the boreal forest zone with white spruce, black spruce, jack pine and tamarack predominant. Many watercourses have stands of balsam poplar and some upland has almost pure stands of aspen. Extensive stands of white spruce forests cover the banks of Peace, Athabasca and Birch rivers. The upper surface of the plateau is about 1,500 m above the rest of the park and supports a spruce-willow-birch upland tundra community. Some areas of prairie occur.

Shrublands of willow and alder occur where wet marsh soils meet drier forest soils. There is also extensive muskeg in the west and north of the park, an association of black spruce, sphagnum moss and northern heath plants.

The park contains the largest undisturbed grass and sedge meadows in North America. The park was created specifically to protect North American bison, one of the largest free-roaming, self-regulating herds in existence, and consisting of a cross between ‘wood’ bison and ‘plains’ bison.

This is one of a few sites where the predator-prey relationship between wolves and bison still exists. A total of 46 other mammal species had been recorded including black bear, woodland caribou, Arctic fox, moose, gray wolf, lynx, snowshoe hare, muskrat, beaver, and mink. Occasionally animals more common to southern Canada are seen, such as red fox, porcupine, and white-tailed deer. The caves of karst lands provide essential hibernation sites for bats.

Wood Buffalo National Park

Wood Buffalo is a park of superlatives. Lying approximately 2/3 in the province of Alberta and 1/3 in the Northwest Territories, the park is the largest national park in North America and the 2nd largest national park in the world. It is home to the largest population of bison, the largest animal in the Americas. It is also the nesting ground for the whooping crane, the largest bird in North America. It is also home to the world’s largest beaver dam. It is also the world’s largest dark sky preserve.

Because of its location and lack of mountains, Wood Buffalo often is overlooked for parks such as Banff and Jasper which are more accessible and have more dramatic scenery. Yet Wood Buffalo might be one of the most important wilderness areas in North America. Its bison and wolf populations are probably the most healthy in the world. The endangered whooping crane, of which there are only 500 in the world, nests here.

Animals aside, the geology of the park makes it highly interesting. There are many karst formations and sinkholes scattered throughout the park and it is also home to the only salt plain in Canada (which can be seen in the photo above).

Overview

Wood Buffalo National Park

Wood Buffalo National Park is a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Canada. It was inscribed in 1983 and is currently governed by Parks Canada. Wood Buffalo National Park is located in Alberta and Northwest Territories provinces of Canada. The park itself was established in 1922 and covers about 45,000 square kilometers in land area.

With this size, Wood Buffalo National Park is the largest national park in Canada. In fact, the park is larger than Switzerland! It also ranks number two in the world for the largest national park. This park is recognized by UNESCO as the home of the largest herd of free roaming wood bisons. There are 5,000 of them at the park. In addition to the wood bison, Wood Buffalo National Park is also a nesting site for whooping cranes.

About Wood Buffalo National Park

Wood Buffalo National Park

Wood Buffalo National Park is recognized for its natural value due to the rich amount of biological diversity within the park. In particular, the Peace-Athabasca Delta is where many of the wild bisons and other wildlife rely on for sustenance and survival. This delta is also among the largest freshwater deltas in the world.

It offers 3 major environments within a single park: 1) fire-scarred forested uplands, 2) Peace-Athabasca Delta, and 3) plateau etched with meandering streams and bogs. In addition to these, the park also features extensive salt plains that can grow up to 2 meters high.

In addition to it being named as a UNESCO site, Wood Buffalo National Park is also recognized by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada was one of the dark-sky preserves in the world. This is designed to preserve nighttime ecology within the park premises, in order to facilitate in the survival of various nocturnal species such as bats, owls, and night hawks. Since the park is also a popular destination for tourists who seek the northern lights, this is also a good way to preserve and improve the tourist potential of this park.

Aside from the large herd of wood bisons in Wood Buffalo National Park, the park is also notable for its karst sinkholes. These are concentrated on the north-eastern part of the park. Aside from the sinkholes, the largest spring in Alberta is located within the park premises. It is the Neon Lake Springs.

Wildlife in Wood Buffalo National Park

Wood Buffalo National Park

Wood Buffalo National Park is best known for the massive herd of bisons in the area. There is a vast amount of other wildlife forms that form a habitat in this park, and they are as follows:

  • moose
  • bison
  • spotted owls
  • wolf packs
  • great grey owls
  • black bears
  • hawks
  • snowy owls
  • bald eagles
  • wolverines
  • peregrine falcons
  • snowshoe hares
  • lynxes
  • martens
  • sandhill cranes

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Canada.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Nov 29, 2017 @ 12:17 am

North American National Park #30: Elk Island, Alberta

North American National Park #30: Elk Island, Alberta
North American National Park #30: Elk Island, Alberta

Elk Island is a very different type of national park. Located only 30 minutes outside of Edmonton, Elk Island is the only national park in Canada which is entirely fenced in. If this were Africa, Elk Island would probably be called a game park or a game preserve.

Game is in fact the primary purpose of Elk Island. It is the location of the genetically purest herd of bison, both wood and plains, in North America. Bison populations at Wood Buffalo National Park, Riding Mountain National Park and locations in the US all came from the herd at Elk Island. It has been an extremely important part of the attempts to bring back bison to North America.

Elk Island is one of the easiest national parks to visit in all of North America, given its close proximity to Edmonton. In addition to the game you can see in the park, it is also host to many events and concerts and is a popular destination for school groups.

View the complete list of US and Canadian National Parks I have visited.

North American National Park #29: Jasper National Park, Alberta

North American National Park #29: Jasper National Park, Alberta
North American National Park #29: Jasper National Park, Alberta

Jasper National Park lies just north of Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies and is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In some respects, Banff and Jasper can be considered continuations of each other. As the parks are adjoining and cover a similar geography, there are often debates as to whether Banff or Jasper is the better park. Either way, visiting both parks as part of the same trip would be highly recommended.

Jasper gets about half the annual visitors of Banff, due primarily to the fact that Banff is much closer to Calgary and its international airport. The town of Jasper is much smaller than the town of Banff and is much more laid back, due to the smaller number of visitors.

Here are some of the highlights in any trip you take Jasper:

  • Drive the Icefields Parkway. Connecting Banff and Jasper, the parkway is one of the most scenic drives in the world.
  • Walk on the Glacier Skywalk. Opened in 2014, it is a cantilevered, glass bottom walkway that lets you look almost 1,000 feet straight down.
  • Walk on the Columbia Icefield. Located at the Glacier Center on the Icefields Parkway (you can’t miss it), they will take you out in specialized vehicles to the glacier where you can walk around.
  • Visit Mount Edith Cavell. The spot where a huge glacier fell off the mountain several years ago, causing a mini tsunami and destroying much of the immediate surrounding area. (In the photo above, the mountain to the left with more snow on it is Edith Cavell)
  • Take the Jasper Skytram. It will take you to near the top of Whistlers Mountain where you can get a great view of the park and the town of Jasper.
  • Take a boat ride on Magline Lake. Some fantastic views can be had from the lake and you can also photograph Spirit Island, one of the classic views of the Rockies.

View the complete list of US and Canadian National Parks I have visited.

This Week in Travel – Episode 169

Regular hosts Jen Leo and Chris Christensen are joined by this week’s guest David Farley, author of An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town. I didn’t have wifi the day they were recording, so I’m not on the show.

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Continue reading “This Week in Travel – Episode 169”

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta

North American National Park #28: Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
North American National Park #28: Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta

Waterton Lakes National Park is located on the southern border of Alberta and is adjacent to Glacier National Park in Montana. Together, Glacier and Waterton form the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Waterton is much smaller than its neighbor to the south but may be more beautiful. Situated around Lake Waterton, the park has a gorgeous view of the surrounding Rocky Mountains. It also has one of the classic national park hotels in all of North America, the Prince of Wales Hotel.

Waterton should be a must visit for anyone who visits Glacier and vice versa. It is approximately a 2-hour drive from Calgary and it open year round, with summer being the peak season.

View the complete list of US and Canadian National Parks I have visited.