One of the few places left to still see wild bison in their natural habitat, Elk Island is a unique preserve that includes Astotin Lake, the surrounding wetlands, aspen woodlands, and prairie meadows that are filled with wildlife. Most notable among this collection of wildlife is a herd of wild storied plains bison that have been brought back from near extinction.
The herd has grown accustomed enough to human visitors, who can view them from their cars. During the spring and early summer, visitors will be able to spot several bright orange bison calves sticking close to their mothers. Approaching these calves is dangerous, but they are visible from the Bison Loop, a paved road that allows for driving through the grazing herd. Just beware of a bison traffic jam, if the herd decides to stand in the road.
In the winter, Elk Island is a great place for ice skating on the lake (check with the park rangers first for ice thickness) and cross-country skiing. Astotin lakefront has facilities for picnics and an indoor interpretive center with programs. The lakefront has an extensive boardwalk through the wetlands.
Just above the lakeshore is a traditional Ukrainian pioneer home. Park rangers open the building for events and school groups. It’s a one-story log structure with a white plaster facade and a thatched roof. Although it was heavily reconstructed in 1951, it’s classified as a Federal Heritage Building because of its historical accuracy and commemorative history. Once a common sight across the rural prairies, very few traditional-style Ukrainian prairie homes remain standing.
Know Before You Go
It's muddy on the dirt trails in the spring. Wear rubber boots.