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In both the summer and winter, exploring Fort Smith will mean brushing shoulders with wildlife. Rare and endangered birds find sanctuary in the surrounding national park and salt plains are ribboned with tracks of the animals that cross it during the quiet hours of dawn and dusk. At the very least, you can’t miss massive, majestic bison napping on the shoulder – and sometimes in the middle – of Highway 5.

If you’re a birdwatcher, Fort Smith is bound to provide unforgettable sightings in the spring and early summer. Watch from the rocks of the Slave River as almost 500 white pelicans fly from their winter home on the Gulf of Mexico to nest on islands at Mountain Rapids in the Slave River. An hour outside of Fort Smith, Wood Buffalo National Park is the last natural nesting area for the endangered whooping crane. You might also see the American avocet or Wilson’s phalarope, and you’ll see many ducks, geese, loons, and sandpipers.

Between April and May, the Salt River Day-use Area in Wood Buffal National Park is the the place to see the northern-most colony of red-sided garter snakes in North America. During the spring, the snakes make a brief above-ground appearance for mating before migrating to their summer feeding grounds. The males form “mating balls” around the females, resulting in dozens of small garter snakes all over the ground.

Over a thousand miles of hiking and biking trails extend from Fort Smith. These trails are the best way to see not only the landscape but also local wildlife.