Elk Island National Park is located approximately one hour east of Edmonton on Highway 16. The park entrance is on the north side of the highway and National Park visitor fees are in effect.
Canoeing at Elk Island is restricted to Astotin Lake. Astotin is located about a 15-minute drive north of the Gate. There are several amenities all available off the main parking lot, including a campground, picnic and washroom facilities, a playground, golf course and beach. I pinched this picture (of the boat launch, I think) off of Google:
While the golf course has a restaurant, you will want to bring food and water with you. The beach area is also great for kite flying and there are numerous hiking trails throughout the park.
The lake itself is small and the water level has dropped about two feet over the past 10 years. A boat launch is available (north of the bathrooms) but has been rendered less serviceable by declining lake levels. It is also near a swampy area and rather grotty.
We’ve taken to simply carrying the canoe the 400 feet from the parking lot to the beach (above). The dropping lake level has extended the beach somewhat. This is important because the sandy area in the water has not been extended out in the lake further. This means there is only a small zone where you can float the boat while loaded with passengers before the sandy bottom drops off precipitously.
What to See
The beach is on the SE end of the lake. Directly west of the beach is a small island (High Island). While the lake is full of islands, High Island is the nicest to get out on and explore, especially for kids--the rest are over run with ants. There are, occasionally, large animals on High Island so that is something to be mindful of.
A paddle around High Island takes you into a rock field on the west side of the island. If you can see rocks about the water, you likely cannot easily get through the water between them and the island and it is better to go around. The rocks, though, often have birds on them including pelicans.
To the south of the beach is a small cove where there is a board walk. Access has become trickier with dropping water levels and the bottom tends to come up anytime you get near land.
The north end of the lake has lots of birds but again access is tricky due to the dropping lake level. Your best bet for a long paddle is to head west. There are numerous islands to paddle around and you may surprise a bison taking a drink. Late in the year, large numbers of heron group together on an island to the west (Crane Island). You may also see swans if you are lucky.
If you are looking to make a day of it, the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village is only 3km further east. This is a historic village focused on Ukrainian settlement in the area. Good perogies and a nice walk.
What to Watch Out For
The predominant wind is from the west and tends to pick up at the end of the day. This can make for a rougher paddle sometimes, although I’ve only seen waves that were too daunting to paddle in a couple of times. High Island creates some lee area.
Astotin has an enthusiastic population of leeches. In 10 years, we’ve only picked up two friends getting in and out of the boat but it does not pay to linger in the water. The lake is also prone to swimmers’ itch and an outdoor shower facility is available on the beach to wash off in.