You could spend a lifetime exploring Wood Buffalo National Park. It's the size of Switzerland, after all, and comprises a wild diversity of landscapes: salt plains, buffalo prairies, boreal forests, beaver marshes, karst badlands, and the world's largest freshwater delta. But if your time is limited, here's how to make the most of it:
Drive into the park on Highway 5, checking out roadside bison and, the cavernous Angus Sinkhole, the mysterious Nyarling River (which disappears underground), and sudsy Little Buffalo River Falls.
Detour down Parsons Lake Road 13 kilometres to the Salt Plains Overlook, where you’ll find interpretive signs and viewing telescopes. Hike down the hill to explore the saline springs and look for animals, including resident Whooping Cranes. Guided walking tours (get barefoot on the salt flats!) are available with Parks staff on Tuesdays.
Arrive in Fort Smith. Spend a while touring the Wood Buffalo Park Visitor Reception Centre at 149 MacDougal Road, featuring a 20-minute DVD presentation, exhibits, park maps and info, souvenirs, and the Great Northern Discovery Dome – the park’s planetarium.
Bunk down at a local campground, B&B, cabin or hotel.
After breakfast in town, drive south into the park on the Pine Lake Road. Watch for more bison, plus wolves, bears, foxes, and perhaps even a lynx.
Enjoy a picnic lunch at the Salt River Day Use Area.
Take a hike! Short hikes starting from the day-use area include the Karstland Interpretive Trail or the Salt River Meadows Loop. Longer hikes include the North Loop and South Loop Trails. Or, you can drive south another three kilometres south to the trail accessing lunar Grosbeak Lake, to which Parks staff lead guided hikes on Thursdays.
Camp at Pine Lake, where you can swim in the aquamarine waters and bask on the sandy beaches of karst sinkhole lakes, and …
… paddle with Parks Canada staff during Saturday interpretive programs, and …
… skygaze and Aurora-watch in the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserve (from late August to April). If it's late August, stick around for the Thebacha & Wood Buffalo Dark Sky Festival.
Campsite breakfast at placid Pine Lake!
Continue driving south to Peace Point, a seasonally used Cree hunting-and-fishing encampment overlooking the sweeping Peace River.
Then backtrack back to Fort Smith, perhaps for a flightseeing trip over the park with Northwestern Air Lease. Or, spend even longer hiking and camping in the Pine Lake area.