Beaver Hills - Alberta | Dark-Sky Preserve

Contributors: Cameron Johnson, Brian Orr, Lauren Knowles

The Beaver Hills Dark-Sky Preserve was created in 2006 in partnership with Parks Canada, Alberta Parks, Strathcona County, the Sherwood Park Fish and Game Association, the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, and the Beaver Hills Initiative. The area includes Elk Island National Park, Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area, Miquelon Lake Provincial Park, the Strathcona Wilderness Centre, and the Sherwood Park Fish and Game Association’s property, and encompasses 304km2 of land. The Dark-Sky Preserve is part of the larger Beaver Hills UNESCO Biosphere, which stretches 1600km2 and focuses on the conservation of biodiversity and cultural diversity, as well as culturally and environmentally sustainable economic development.

The Dark-Sky Preserve is supported by a number of groups, including the RASC Edmonton Centre, Hesje Observatory, Alberta Parks, and Augustana University.

Designated viewing areas in the Dark-Sky Preserve are the Astotin Lake Area within Elk Island National Park and the Hesje Observatory in Miquelon Lake Provincial Park, although spectacular night sky views can be seen throughout the Preserve.

The Beaver Hills Dark-Sky Preserve has hosted the Milky Way Day star party every year since their designation in 2006 (with exceptions during the COVID-19 pandemic). It is held on the Sunday of Labour Day weekend, most often in the Astotin Lake Area in Elk Island National Park, and attracts around two thousand visitors each year.

Elk Island National Park

The 194km2 park supports a variety of habitat, including forests, lakes, grasslands, and wetlands. It is home to 250 species of birds, the endangered Little Brown Myotis and Northern Myotis bats, and the threatened Wood Bison, Barn Swallow, Olive-Sided Flycatcher, and Common Nighthawk. 

Elk Island National Park offers a range of dark-sky programming. Dark-Sky Stories is a “campfire-style” program that is offered on weekends throughout the summer, where visitors explore stories of the night sky through different cultural perspectives. On weekends throughout the winter, visitors can take part in Snowshoe and Stargaze, a nighttime snowshoeing excursion with a scientific and cultural exploration of the night sky (booking required). Gateway to the Stars is offered most weekends in the fall, and introduces visitors to night sky viewing (booking required). Visit the park’s website for dates and details. 

The park offers both frontcountry and backcountry camping experiences. Astotin Lake Campground features 75 non-serviced campsites, including 15 walk-in tent sites and five oTENTiks. Each site has a picnic table and fire pit, and the campground has an accessible washroom with showers, kitchen shelter, potable water, and an RV dump/fill station. It is walking distance to the beach, soccer field, playground, golf course, and theatre. Oster Lake Backcountry Campground lies on the west shore of Oster Lake, and offers six tent-only sites, picnic tables, fire pits, and pit toilets. Winter camping is available in both campgrounds. Visit the Parks Canada Reservations Service to book a site. 

The park lies 50km east of Edmonton and is accessible by car via the Yellowhead Highway (Hwy 16). The nearby towns of Sherwood park (26km) and Fort Saskatchewan (34km), as well as the city of Edmonton, offer a full range of services and amenities such as groceries, fuel, accommodations, pharmacies, and restaurants.

Miquelon Lake Provincial Park

About 60km southeast of Edmonton, Miquelon Lake Provincial Park lies on the eastern shore of Miquelon Lake and encompasses 13km2 of forests and wetlands. It is designated an Important Bird Area and is home to more than 200 bird species, including Great Horned Owls, Trumpeter Swans, Tundra Swans, and a variety of waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors, and songbirds.

Alberta Parks offers various guided walks, information booths, and amphitheatre shows related to dark skies and nocturnal ecology. Visitors can check the park’s event website for upcoming programs and details. The Hesje Observatory offers a two-hour astronomy and stargazing program that includes an introduction to the night sky and the opportunity to look at the sky through telescopes. More details can be found on the Observatory’s website

Miquelon Lake Campground offers 82 unserviced sites and 191 powered sites, as well as 4 yurts, group camping, winter camping, and wheelchair accessible sites. Amenities in the campground include washrooms, showers, picnic shelters, playgrounds, dump stations, boat launch, and drinking water. Visit the park's website to reserve a campsite.

The park is surrounded by small communities with limited services, but Camrose (30km south), Beaumont (42km northwest), and Edmonton (60km northwest) are close by and offer a full range of services and amenities.

Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area

This 97km2 provincial recreation area is managed by Alberta Parks and borders the south edge of Elk Island National Park, about 50km east of Edmonton on Highway 630/Wye Rd. Forests, wetlands, and pastures provide diverse habitat in the area. The park is home to over 200 species of birds, as well as two pairs of nesting Trumpeter Swans and a Great Blue Heron colony.

The park is day-use only and is open year-round and daily from 7:00am-11:00pm. Activities include hiking, canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding, mountain biking, hunting, cross-country skiing, dog sledding, skijoring, skating, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing.

There are no accommodations on site, but the nearby cities of Edmonton and Sherwood Park offer accommodations and services.

Photos: 
Top left, top right, bottom centre: Hugo Sanchez / ©Parks Canada / Elk Island National Park
Middle left: Rae Metrunec

Author: 
Anonymous
Last modified: 
Thursday, May 19, 2022 - 2:18pm