From Edmonton to Bonnyville, Grand Prairie, Fort McMurray, and even High Level, there is plenty of untapped natural beauty to immerse yourself in when visiting Northern Alberta. With its vast boreal forests, shimmering lakes, and abundant wildlife, there’s no debating that this is one of Canada’s most unique regions. Whether you enjoy hiking, kayaking, fishing, wildlife spotting, or stargazing, there’s a little something for just about anyone at any time of the year. Best of all, the sun doesn’t set until nearly midnight in the summer months, meaning more time to explore all that Northern Alberta has to offer. Enjoy a tranquil and scenic experience, removed from the hustle and bustle of big city life, by adding these things to do in Northern Alberta to your trip itinerary.

North Saskatchewan River Credit Sameer Ahmed Travel Alberta

Image courtesy of Sameer Ahmed/​Travel Alberta

Enjoy Year-Round Recreation on the North Saskatchewan River – Edmonton, AB

Whether gazing out from a distance or getting a little close and personal, the North Saskatchewan River offers plenty of opportunities for its visitors. Winding northeast through Edmonton, this glacier-fed river originates 1,800 meters above sea level at the Columbia Icefield. It has a large scale, flowing across Alberta and Saskatchewan to Lake Winnipeg, into the Nelson River, before eventually draining into Hudson Bay. The river is a significant source of drinking water for Edmonton and other surrounding communities. 

It can be relaxing to watch the river snaking around curves and bends, with a gorgeous sunset serving as the backdrop. Though, the river is most popular with those seeking a recreational experience on water. For these visitors, there’s something to do at all times of the year, including kayaking, canoeing, jet-skiing, and even gold panning in the warmer months. Fishing the North Saskatchewan River is also a popular pastime as it is home to a wide variety of species, including walleye, northern pike, mountain whitefish, and shorthead redhorse, just to name a few.

Elk Island National Park Credit Travel Alberta

Image courtesy of Travel Alberta

Experience Peace and Tranquility Near the Big City at Elk Island National Park – Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Located just under an hour’s drive from downtown Edmonton, in Fort Saskatchewan, is Elk Island National Park. The perfect spot for those who enjoy wildlife, it is home to the largest population of hoofed mammals in Canada, including bison, mule deer, elk, and more. Visitors who want to delve further into the history of the wildlife at the park can take a behind-the-scenes tour of the bison handling facility — a great place to learn about how bison returned from nearly being extinct. There are also more than 250 bird species in the park. 

Besides active wildlife spotting, Elk Island National Park is an oasis of peace, away from the big city. Enjoy a picnic, and then head out to explore a few of the more than 200 archaeological sites that show off tool-making processes and living arrangements of previous lifetimes. Prefer to get active? Enjoy one or more of the twelve available Elk Island National Park trails, all rated as easy to moderate in difficulty, making them great for those looking for a scenic yet casual stroll. As the sun sets and the sky goes dark, stick around to enjoy nature’s very own light show. The park is within the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve, creating ideal conditions to stargaze and view the aurora borealis, often referred to as the northern lights, when conditions permit.

Athabasca Dunes Ecological Reserve Credit Government of Alberta Travel Alberta

Image courtesy of the Government of Alberta/​Travel Alberta

Visit the Province’s Largest Active Sand Dune System — Athabasca Dunes Ecological Reserve – Fort McMurray, AB

If you’re looking for day trips from Fort McMurray, consider the Athabasca Sand Dunes Ecological Reserve, a unique location referred to as Alberta’s moving desert. Located 200-kilometers north of Fort McMurray, inside Maybelle River Wildland Park, the lengthy drive reveals Alberta’s largest ecological reserve, which includes the active sand dune system. At nearly 8‑kilometers in length, the sand dunes reach almost 12-meters tall in some spots. Repeat visitors can get a different look at the sand dune system as it shifts nearly 1.5‑meters a year, filling in nearby lakes and burying forests. 

Although you may be understandably captivated by this unique landscape, don’t forget to check out what else the area has to offer. There is an abundance of flora and fauna here, with significant vegetation including American dune grass, bladderwort, starwort, and more. There are also jack pine forests and bogs, where you’ll find black spruce, tamarack, and pitcher plants. If you’re looking to take things to another level, consider an exhilarating ATV experience on the dunes. One of the most popular trails is the Richardson River Sand Dunes Access Trail, which offers riders hours of adventure. 

Muskoseepi Park Credit Travel Alberta

Image courtesy of Travel Alberta

Explore the Distinct Areas of Muskoseepi Park – Grand Prairie, AB

Offering over 1100-acres of park space, Muskoseepi Park is in the heart of Grand Prairie. With six distinct areas to explore and relax, there’s plenty to do here. The park itself is an ideal location for getting active and maybe even a little competitive with friends or family! It’s home to tennis courts, lawn bowling, mini golf, an outdoor pool, and skating in the winter. If you prefer to delve deeper into the history of the land, visit the on-site Grand Prairie Museum and the Ernie Radbourne Pavilion, a 10,000 sq. ft space with interpretive displays. A few notable areas around the park include: 

Bear Creek Reservoir: A manufactured lake with a boat launch, perfect for recreational outings on canoes, paddleboats, kayaks, and more. After time out on the water, enjoy lunch at the on-site picnic space or head out for a walk on a nearby trail. 

South Bear Creek: An aspen forest area featuring sheltered picnic space, beach volleyball courts, and campgrounds. 

Crystal Lake: If you’re interested in wildlife spotting, head to the northeast corner of the park, where you’ll find Crystal Lake. The area acts as a refuge for migrating waterfowl and has an interpretive center for those interested in learning more about the area.

Take in Panoramic Views from the Marten Mountain Viewpoint – Slave Lake, AB

Looking for a place with incredible panoramic views? Head up to the Marten Mountain Viewpoint. Peaking at 1020-meters, it is the highest point of land in the vicinity. Once you reach the top, gaze out towards breathtaking views of Lesser Slave Lake and the surrounding beach ridges, sand dunes, and forests. Understandably, you may be fixated on the view from above. Though be sure to explore the surrounding area as it is home to some incredible vegetation. The mountain’s elevation creates a unique climate that allows for the growth of plant species found in Alberta’s foothills. Some of which include, lodgepole pine, running raspberry, and devil’s club. 

After spending time atop Marten Mountain, head down towards Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park, where you can relax with a picnic and a view. Ready to continue your journey? There are hiking trails that will allow for the exploration of forests, vegetation, and a variety of bird species.

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