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 the massive, majestic bison napping on the shoulder – and sometimes in the middle – of Highway 5.
Here are some of our favourite spots to see wildlife:
1. The Rocks at the Rapids of the Drowned: Looking for a close up view of the American White Pelican? This is the spot! You can sit and be entertained here all day as you watch the pelicans feed in the rapids. You might just stay well into the night with the sun staying high in the sky until past midnight!
2. Pine Lake Road in Wood Buffalo National Park: We hope you're not in a hurry because trips are often delayed by large herds of bison meandering and sometimes just standing in the middle of the road. The road leads to the beautiful Pine Lake which is another area bison can be seen, and if your lucky you'll catch them galloping along the edge of the lake!
3. Highway 5: The highway heading into Fort Smith is a great place to spot wildlife! In the months from late May and throughout June many (we counted 12 one day!) black bears can be spotted waking up from their long winters nap. They are very entertaining as they scratch their backs on trees and search for food, which is often found in the abundance of dandelions that grow on the side of the highway. You may also see bison, wolves, fox and lynx as you drive along. Early morning and late evening/dusk are the best times of day to see wildlife.
4. Salt River Day Use Area: Every spring, April and May, people flock to this day use area locally called "the Snake Pits", host to the northern-most colony of red-sided garther snakes. At this time, the males form “mating balls” around the females, resulting in piles of dozens of small garter snakes all over the ground. Children especially seem to delight in the slithering piles of snakes, a rare and unique sight that only happens once a year!
5. Salt Plains Viewpoint and Day Use Area: A few lucky visitors each year spot the endangered Whooping Crane during their visit to the Salt Plains. If you happen to miss them you will still be delighted by many other sightings in the salt encrusted landscape including the prints of bison, wolves, bears and maybe even lynx! This is a must-see location!
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 nest on islands at Mountain Rapids in the Slave River. 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.