Where is Wood Buffalo National Park?

Where is Wood Buffalo National Park?

Dispatch by Simon Vaughan

It's the largest national park in Canada and the second largest in the world, but where is Wood Buffalo National Park?

In northern Canada there is a stretch of land larger than Switzerland with wealth every bit as rich as that found in the vaults of the famously neutral country. But instead of gold, jewels and fine art, Canada's equivalent is a vault of precious endangered wildlife, rare eco-systems and world renowned biological diversity. A land of breath-taking scenery, magnificent geography, incomparable wildlife spectacles and one so rich that it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This gem is called Wood Buffalo National Park. But where exactly is Wood Buffalo National Park?

Geographically speaking, Wood Buffalo is located on Alberta's northern border.

There are regular flights to Fort McMurray from Edmonton and charters to the park's other main entrance point, Fort Chipewyan, which can also be reached for several months each winter via ice road from Fort McMurray. Or, you can follow the routes of the area's First Nations peoples, trappers, traders and explorers and use the vast waterways that intersect the park including the Peace, Slave and Athabasca Rivers.

Whichever way you choose to reach Wood Buffalo however, the park remains one of Canada's most spectacular.

It is not only home to one of the world's largest free-roaming bison herds, but also the world's last remaining natural whooping crane nesting areas and what is believed to be the largest beaver dam in the world (850 metres in length, dam it!). The Peace-Athabasca Delta is one of North America's largest nesting and staging areas for migratory waterfowl located as it is at the juncture of all four North American flyways, and in 2013 the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada designated Wood Buffalo National Park as Canada's largest Dark-Sky Preserve.

Bison, birdlife and stars aside, the park is also renowned for its large wildlife populations ranging from black bears to wolves, wolverines to moose and for herpetologists, is renowned as the home to the most northerly population of red-sided garter snakes in the world. The park offers huge tracts of forest, sweeping boreal plains, vast deltas and endless rivers and is the perfect destination for campers. Experienced canoeists can revel in unparalleled wilderness adventures while hikers can enjoy day-hikes along trails 500 metres to 13 kilometres in length or longer backcountry treks.

Although the park is open year-round, winters are harsh with limited daylight and extremely low temperatures.

The best time to visit Wood Buffalo National Park during the winter is in late March and April when the days are longer and the temperatures moderately warmer. While snowmobiling is not permitted and there are no groomed trails, the park is ideal for snowshoeing and cross country skiing and is also one of the best places in Canada to witness the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, which are common on clear nights.

While summers are mild, early-to-mid September is an ideal time to venture deep into Wood Buffalo as the worst of the mosquitoes are gone and the weather generally remains comfortable.

Regardless of when you visit Wood Buffalo National Park, you should always be properly prepared and well provisioned. Drinkable water sources can be an issue and weather can always spoil the best of plans, but if you treat the park with the respect that Aboriginal inhabitants have exhibited for more than 8,000 years, your experiences can be every bit as spectacular as the park itself.

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