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Backpacker Magazine – October 1997

Canada's Wood Buffalo National Park

The bison are relics from the past, and the wolves know no fear. Welcome to Wood Buffalo National Park, where time stands still and the land shrugs off man's attempts to alter its primitive spirit.

by: Todd Wilkinson

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Expedition Planner:

Wood Buffalo National Park

Getting there: There are two options in reaching the park. The first and shortest route is to drive via Edmonton to Fort McMurray in northeastern Alberta and either purchase a ticket for a short charter flight (about $225 Canadian round trip on Air Mikisew) into Fort Chipewyan, or hire a boat to escort you up the Athabasca River. Flying takes a little over an hour; the boat trip takes 8 hours. Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories serves as the park's administrative headquarters and is accessible via Great Slave Lake on AL 5. The easiest but most expensive way to reach Fort Chipewyan is to book a commercial flight to Edmonton and take an Air Mikisew Commuter into the town.

When to go: Late May to late September. The ice usually leaves Lake Athabasca by early May, sooner from the rivers. During the summer months Fort Chipewyan can be reached only by air or water. Summers are beautiful but buggy, autumns are splendid but you risk rainy weather.

Native guides: The Mikisew Cree, under an official agreement with the Canadian Park Service, retain both hunting and fishing rights inside a portion of the Peace-Athabasca Delta. Part of the agreement also allows the tribe to provide eco-tourism services. Native guides are available for interpretive dayhikes and overnight backcountry treks. The cost ranges from $150 per person for dayhikes, which include a lunch and transportation, to $1,500 for a week, which includes accommodations at the Mikisew Lodge, all transportation, and a few nights out in the backcountry in either a tent or cabin.

For strictly backpacking services, native guides are available starting at $150 per person (less with groups of four or more), which includes meals but requires you to furnish your own tent, sleeping bag, and other gear. Many intrepid hikers book a room at the Fort Chipewyan Lodge (403-697-3679) on the first and last nights of their stay in the area and spend the other days camping in the park backcountry. The Lodge has 10 rooms and offers a dramatic view of Lake Athabasca.

Maps: For map coverage of Sweetgrass Station, you'll need 1:250,000 maps of 84 I Lake Claire, 74 L Fort Chipewyan, 84 P Peace Point, and 74 M Fitzgerald. Maps are available through North of 60 Books in Fort Smith or you can get a free publication listing all maps from the Canada Map Office, 615 Booth St., Ottawa, ON, Canada K1A 0E9.

Contacts: For more information on overnight camping and a list of dayhikes, write: Superintendent, Wood Buffalo National Park, Box 750, Fort Smith, NT, Canada X0E 0P0; (204) 872-2349. The telephone number at the Fort Chipewyan Office of Wood Buffalo Park is (403) 697-3662. For information on guide services, write: Mikisew Tourism Corp., P.O. Box 478, Fort Chipewyan, AL, Canada T0P 1B0; (403) 697-3255; Fax (403) 697-3937.

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