Inside the Beaver Hills Biosphere: 6 outdoor oases east of Edmonton

If you’re looking for year-round outdoor adventure near Edmonton, check out the Beaver Hills Biosphere.

‘They’re coming out; they’re discovering it; they’re falling in love with it’

Wildlife such as moose is part of the draw for people heading to Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Recreation Area east of Edmonton. (Alberta Environment and Parks)

This month marks five years since Beaver Hills was designated as an international recognized biosphere by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The biosphere includes Elk Island National Park as well as several provincial parks and protected areas east of Edmonton, some of which you might not have heard about. 

Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area

"We are seeing an enormous increase in usership," says Alison Cole, visitor experience coordinator with Alberta Environment and Parks.

More people are discovering the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area east of Edmonton which contains 170 kilometres of trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, mountain biking and horseback riding, Cole says. 

'It's a quick easy place to get to'

CBC News Edmonton

2 months ago
Alison Cole, Visitor Experience Coordinator with Alberta Environment and Parks gives us a tour of Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Recreation Area east of Edmonton, Alta. 2:10

You can see more from the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area on Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC TV and CBC GEM. 

"During this COVID pandemic we've seen an incredible growth in visitation," she says.

Visits to the recreation area have doubled, with an average of 2,600 vehicles entering in August alone, Cole says.

"They're coming out; they're discovering it; they're falling in love with it."

Before the pandemic, groups of birders flocked to the relatively unknown Smith Blackburn Homestead. (Edmonton Area Land Trust)

Smith Blackburn Homestead

Located in Lamont County, this 30-hectare site east of Elk Island National Park is filled with walking trails in a mix of forest and wetlands.

This area opened to the public in the fall of 2020 and is managed by the Edmonton and Area Land Trust (EALT).

The Smith Blackburn Homestead is an important spot for many bird species and, like the rest of the biosphere, holds historic and traditional significant for the Cree, Ojibway, Saulteaux, Nakota Sioux and Blackfoot. 

Golden Ranches

Golden Ranches Conservation Area includes a mixture of mature aspen forest and open grassland.

This property is managed by several partners, including the Nature Conservancy of Canada, EALT, Alberta Conservation Association, Ducks Unlimited, Alberta Fish and Game, Beaver Hills Biosphere Reserve Association and Strathcona County. 

The 1,400 acres started as a working ranch in 1950, but about a decade ago the owners decided to sell to the partnership so the area could be open to the public for hiking, geocaching and birding.

For the dos and don't of this space, check out this map

This photo captures the essence of the Golden Ranches Conservation Area in the Beaver Hills Biosphere. (Nature Conservancy of Canada/Brent Calver)

Strathcona Wilderness Centre

Cross-country skiers love the Strathcona Wilderness Centre at 52535 Range Road 212 in Ardrossan. Right now the trails, the disc golf course and equipment rentals are open. You will need to leave the dog and bikes at home.

Miquelon Lake Provincial Park

Unlike the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area, a day-use area with no camping, Miquelon Lake Provincial Park has a campground with 273 spots for RVs or tents which you need to book ahead.

Tip: Check the Monday and Tuesday before the weekend for last-minute cancellations.

Miquelon Lake is part of the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve and is a nice spot to watch the stars.

Elk Island National Park

Star gazing is also a part of the programming at this national park.

Of course the bison which are particularly active in July and August are a huge draw, but there are also elk, deer, and more than 250 bird species.

At Elk Island National Park there's a beach, boardwalk, canoe launch, playground and picnic areas. The campsite has 75 non-serviced sites, 15 walk-in sites and five oTENTiks if you're looking for a little glamping. 

'This place is about connection'

Our Edmonton

3 years ago
Learn more about Elk Island National Park, east of Edmonton, from superintendent Dale Kirkland. 1:52


Adrienne Lamb is an award-winning journalist based in Edmonton. She's the host and producer of Our Edmonton featured weekly on CBC TV. Adrienne has spent the last couple of decades telling stories across Canada.


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