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Wood Buffalo National Park

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North America > Canada > Prairies > Alberta > Peace River Valley > Wood Buffalo National Park
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Wood Buffalo National Park is in the northern prairie region of Canada on the Alberta-Northwest Territories border. While the park is in Alberta, Fort Smith NWT is the nearest town.

The park has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its bison population (the largest in North America) and the largest inland delta.


Wood Buffalo

Visitor services are open M-F 9AM-noon, 1PM-5PM, and closed on statutory holidays.




Temperatures can vary from -50° in the winter to +30°C in the summer. Average seasonal highs are winter:-20°C, spring:-1°C, summer:+17°C, fall:+8°C.


  • Bug spray, lots of blackflies and huge mosquitoes.
  • Bring any food and potable water you intend to consume in the park; there are freshwater streams, but stream water must be boiled before use.
  • Keep a full tank of fuel in your vehicle; fuel is available in Fort Smith village but you will often be travelling vast distances.

Get in[edit]

By car

  • There is a road from Hay River through the park to Fort Smith, a three and a half hour journey. The road is mostly gravel; a few sections are paved or dirt.

By air

  • Northwestern Air has 5 flights a week to Fort Smith from Edmonton

By river

  • The Slave River is navigable in summer from Fort Chip to Fort Smith, but obstructed further north by rapids. The Athabasca River continues further south through Fort McMurray. There is an ice road in winter but no all-season road. A portage at Fort Smith was part of the journey in the 1930s Yellowknife gold rush.

Fees and permits[edit]

For 2018:

  • Fishing permit daily $9.80

Parks Canada Passes

The Discovery Pass provides unlimited admission for a full year at over 80 Parks Canada places that typically charge a daily entrance fee The provide faster entry and are valid for 12 months from date of purchase. Prices for 2018 (taxes included):

  • Family/Group (up to 7 people in a vehicle): $136.40
  • Youth (0-17): free
  • Adult (18-64): $67.70
  • Senior (65+): $57.90

The Cultural Access Pass: people who have received this Canadian citizenship in the past year can qualify for free entry to some sites.

Get around[edit]

Portions of the site are on or within hiking distance of roads. Access to more distant points is by small aircraft; once the outfitter drops you off, you're on your own until the plane returns - usually days later. Until then, it's just you and the bears enjoying nature together.


This is the world's only nesting site for the very endangered Whooping Crane and the last refuge of the now-recovering Wood Buffalo population.

It is also home to the world's largest beaver dam.


  • Hike through the Salt Plains, explore the Peace-Athabasca Delta and view wildlife
  • Paddle a canoe or a boat
  • Swim in a sinkhole
  • Go fishing
  • Bike the Park
  • Join a scheduled tour (weekly, mid-June to end-August, $13.70/person, register at the Visitor's Centre at least 15 minutes before the 1PM departure time. Salt Plains Guided Tour on Tuesdays, Grosbeak Lake Guided Tour on Thursdays and Guided Canoe Tours at Pine Lake on Saturdays.
  • Xplorers Program for kids (1PM every other Sunday, July-August, meet at Visitors’ Centre, no fees). Contact the park office for themes and location.
  • Campfire programs
  • View the aurora borealis on the bitterly cold, dark Arctic winter nights from the world's largest Dark Sky Preserve.



There are picnic grounds at these locations within the park:

  • Angus Fire Tower and Day-use Area near the entrance to the park off Highway 5
  • Salt Plains Viewpoint and Day-use Area. Access from Highway 5
  • Salt River Day-use Area on Pine Lake Road.
  • Rainbow Lakes Backcountry Campsite is a 6 km hike from Pine Lake Road,




  • Kettle Point Group Camp, +1 867 872-7960. Eight-person minimum group, reservations required. Lakeside beach facility with large, cosy log shelter, outhouses, tenting area, playground, picnic tables, fire circle and firewood. per group $39.20.


  • Primitive campsites are available at Pine Lake for $15.70/night (2018).


Overnight backcountry camping (as of 2018) is $9.80/person per night:

  • Rainbow Lakes Backcountry Campsite is beside a beautiful sinkhole lake, a 6 km hike from Pine Lake Road. Tent pad, picnic table, outhouse and bear cache.
  • Pine Lake Campground and Day-use Area. Kettle Point Group Camp, 60 km south of Fort Smith on Pine Lake Road.

Any fees for park entry, tours or programs are additional to the campsite prices.

Stay safe[edit]


Fort Smith[edit]

A town of 2500 people just across the Northwest Territories border provides various services to park visitors. There are restaurants, a few guest houses, a hotel and a Northern Store. Fort Smith Airport (YSM IATA), the base of operations for Northwestern Air, provides flights to Edmonton, Fort Chipewyan, Hay River, High Level and Yellowknife.

  • Pelican Rapids Inn, 152 McDougal Rd, Fort Smith NWT, +1 867 872-2789. Hotel with wi-fi and 80-person event space, souvenir shop carries work of local artists. Pelican Restaurant (+1 867 872-2729) and Blondie's Bar with dance floor and large-screen TVs.

Go next[edit]

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