It's no secret that Edmonton, and Alberta as a whole, is a sanctuary for outdoor enthusiasts. With an ideal location at the foot of the Canadian Rockies, five national parks, and no less than 76 provincial parks, it's easy to understand why. However, Edmonton has more to offer nature lovers than winter sports, lakefront homes, and a location within easy driving distance of Banff National Park.
Maybe your idea of doing something outdoorsy is backcountry winter camping, or perhaps you prefer more leisurely nature strolls on an urban trail system. Either way, Edmonton has an abundance of options, both within its own neighbourhoods and just outside the city, to satisfy everyone who has even a mild appreciation for the great outdoors. Here's a list of some of the best parks in Edmonton.
University of Alberta Botanic Garden
University of Alberta Botanic Garden Amenities
- Largest botanical garden in Alberta
- More than 10,000 plant species
- Interactive butterfly habitat
- Hosts educational events
When you need a respite from the "urban jungle" feel that goes along with living in a large metropolis such as Edmonton but can't commit to a day trip or heading out of town, check out the award-winning University of Alberta Botanic Garden. Just 15 minutes southwest of the city is the largest botanical garden in all of Alberta. You'll find a network of winding nature trails, over 10,000 plant species, ecological wetlands, numerous water features, an interactive butterfly habitat, and much more. There are also extensive collections of plants and flowers including roses, peonies, lilies, lilacs, and edible herbs. The University of Alberta Botanic Garden is open to the public seasonally in warmer months and for special events and educational events throughout the winter.
Elk Island National Park
Elk Island National Park Amenities
- Habitat for Plains bison
- Home to large mammals and over 250 bird species
- Visitor centre
- Hiking and cycling trails
- Canoeing and kayaking
Elk Island National Park played a critical role in bringing the Plains bison back from near-extinction. It was founded in 1906 as the first-ever wildlife refuge in Canada, a small elk preserve to protect what was thought to be one of Canada's last remaining elk herds. Bison were brought to the preserve a year later, and today, both they and elk are thriving. Moose, deer, and over 250 bird species also call Elk Island home.
Visitors can come and simply view and enjoy the wildlife, but there are also opportunities for hiking, cycling, canoeing, kayaking, camping, and skiing in the winter. Stargazing is also a popular activity inside the park, as Elk Island is a designated Dark Sky Preserve. The park is about 35 minutes east of Edmonton and is open year-round, although some specific services and facilities are only open during the summer. You can drive through Elk Island and view herds of bison, elk, and white-tailed, and mule deer up close, but keep a safe distance and be prepared to get stuck in animal traffic jams!
Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area
Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area Amenities
- Forests, wetlands, and pastures
- Islet Lake
- Kayaking and canoeing
- Natural habitat for deer, elk, foxes, moose, and coyotes
- Canadian Birkebeiner Ski Festival
Officially, it's called the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area, but most locals refer to it simply as Cooking Lake. Located a one-hour drive from Edmonton, Cooking Lake provides an abundance of outdoor adventure opportunities. There are forests, wetlands, wildlife pastures, and Islet Lake, which has several heavily-treed islands to explore. Kayaking and canoeing around Islet Lake are popular choices here, and Cooking Lake is notorious for being an excellent place for birdwatching.
If you're a wildlife lover, keep your eyes peeled for deer, elk, foxes, moose, and coyotes. If winter sports are more your thing, you're in luck—Cooking Lake has over 170 km of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails and hosts the Canadian Birkebeiner Ski Festival, or the "Birkie," every February, which is the biggest cross-country ski festival in the country. Although Cooking Lake-Blackfoot is close to Edmonton, make a bigger trip out of your visit and stay in one of the many nearby accommodations or do some winter camping.
Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park
Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park Amenities
- Big Lake
- Important Bird Area
- Walking, hiking, and biking trails
There are two main attractions at Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park: Big Lake and geocaching. If you're unfamiliar with the term, geocaching is essentially a modern-day scavenger hunt, guided by your phone's GPS. Using the free Geocaching app, you can explore Lois Hole Centennial while searching for natural features or landmarks, such as a specific tree or rock formation. The natural beauty at this provincial park is stunning and Lois Hole has been officially recognized as an Important Bird Area for its abundant and diverse species. Birdwatching is a natural choice to take part in during your visit, but you can also walk, hike, or bike one of the many scenic trails or take a canoe out onto Big Lake.
Rundle Park Amenities
- Multiple ponds
- Pedestrian bridge connection to Gold Bar Park
- Golf course
- Disc golf
- Horseshoe pits
- Tobogganing hills
- Paddleboat rentals
On the eastern side of Edmonton, on the northern bank of the North Saskatchewan River is Rundle Park. This park has a variety of things to do year-round, from disc golf in the summer to tobogganing in the winter. Rundle Park has many large ponds, and some are fitted with fountains to accent the views. There is also a pedestrian bridge that connects Rundle Park to Gold Bar Park, so visitors can experience two different parks in one visit.
For people who love picnicking and cookouts, there are multiple places to light up a barbecue and eat. There are also play structures for kids, and even a golf course for those who can't resist a round of 18 holes. Admission to the park is free, but some activities (such as golf) will require a fee to participate.
William Hawrelak Park
William Hawrelak Park Amenities
- Walking and cycling trails
- Heritage Amphitheatre
- Culina on the Lake
- Picnic sites
- Open year-round
William Hawrelak Park, also known as just Hawrelak Park, is a 68-hectare park with a five-hectare lake and multiple meadows. The park has a pavilion and three shelter buildings, two of which are only open during the summer. Hawrelak Park is known for its festivals, such as the Freewill Shakespeare Festival, Rockfest, Labatt Blues Festival, and the Symphony Under the Sky festival. The park is home to the Heritage Amphitheatre, which makes it a great place to go see musical acts.
There is also plenty to do when not attending one of the festivals. The park is open from 5 AM to 11 PM every single day of the year, so visitors can come explore the walking trails on a beautiful summer day or go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing during the winter. There are also playgrounds, volleyball nets, and picnic sites that have fire pits for cooking up burgers and brats.
Go Explore Edmonton's Parks
This is just a small selection of all the fantastic opportunities Edmonton has for outdoor experiences and adventures. You don't have to live in one of Edmonton's walkable neighbourhoods or out in the country to find a nice place to take a walk. Whether you like a peaceful hike through a park or want to see exotic animals up close, there's something here for everyone—it's just a matter of finding it.
If you're looking for the perfect Edmonton home, contact Terry Paranych Real Estate Group in partnership with Justin Havre at (780) 800-9644 to get in touch with a local Edmonton real estate agent and discover your new dream home today.