f you’re in the mood for some wildlife viewing, birdwatching and photography opportunities, but would rather drive than hike … try this route.
Coming from Edmonton, travel east on Twp Road 522 (which starts at Hwy 21 from the end of the Whitemud Freeway). You’ll pass some beautiful farms and ranches along the way, complete with families of geese in the ponds and horses grazing.
Proceed for 3.4 kms and turn left at the continuation of Twp 522. Take a nice slow drive for approx. 8 kms, bypassing Range Roads 223 to 220. Keep an eye out for mountain bluebirds, tree swallows and red tailed hawks.
Turn left again at the intersection of RR 215 and drive slowly about 2 kms until you arrive a “Our Land is their Home” wetland marker. Enjoy a cup of coffee while you watch mallards, scaups, killdeer, red-winged blackbirds, terns, Canada geese and snipe.
Continue on to Wye Road. Turn right and proceed east along Wye Road until you see RR 205; turn right and head south approximately 8 kms until you arrive at a bend in the road that provides a great viewing spot of Hastings Lake.
You’ll see just about all the seasonal birds in this popular feeding area. Keep an eye out for the double crested cormorants, great blue herons, american pelicans and avocets. Please remember you’re on private property, so observe the birds on the Lake from the road with binoculars or spotting scopes.
Returning the way you came, turn right at Wye Road and continue east again. Make sure you see the elk farm on your left hand side, or north. Turn left at the Islet Lake Staging Area and follow the road to the parking lot.
Walk down to the Lake and see spotted sandpipers and common loons. The picnic area provides the opportunity to see barn swallows, least flycatchers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, chickadees, brown headed cowbirds, northern orioles and yellow warblers.
Leaving Islet Lake, turn left on Twp 515A, driving past the Central Staging Area turnoff and continue 5.2 kms until you come to RR 192. For photography buffs interested in old farm buildings, you’ll enjoy this part of the drive.
Turn left or north on RR 192. Drive this 13 kms slowly so you won’t miss the sloughs … all types of ducks can be found. A highlight is seeing the red head and ruddy duck. Also, be on the lookout for birds of prey. This is a great road to spot hawks and falcons.
Drive until you reach the Trans Canada Yellowhead, turn left and proceed 4.7 kms to RR 195 which will take you into the Blackfoot Staging Area. The picnic area is a favourite of goldfinches, rose breasted grosbeaks, blue jays, white breasted nuthatches and hairy and downy woodpeckers.
A short 2.5 km walk (just for break from driving) along Whitetail trail takes you to Blackfoot Lake, the most beautiful spot in the Cooking Lake – Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area for birdwatching. Look for various species of ducks, great blue heron, pelicans, yellow headed blackbirds and northern flickers.
(Remember, when you’re in the Blackfoot … you’re in real backcountry. Bring the appropriate clothing, including rain gear, and food and water. There are no convenience stores in the Park.)
Leaving Blackfoot , drive out to the Yellowhead, cross the highway and follow RR 195 until you reach a fork in the road; stay to your left and follow the road until you reach the east boundary of Elk Island National Park. You’ll see the signs along the fence.
Depending on the time of day, this is a great area to see bison, deer, elk and beaver. Continue until you reach the end of the road, turn left and drive a short way along the north boundary of EINP. Arriving at the stop sign, turn left and enter the Park through the north gate. (National Parks entrance fees apply to all visitors).
Then complete your day with a leisurely drive through Elk island National Park. It’s approximately 25 kms from the north gate to the south entrance and Highway 16 – the Trans Canada Yellowhead.
Turn right and return to Edmonton with a day full of wonderful memories.