Wood Buffalo National Park is the largest national park in Canada and the fifth largest national park in the world.* How large? It’s nearly 45,000 sq km (17,300 sq mi). How large is that? By comparison, Yellowstone, one of the larger national parks in the US, is approximately 9,000 sq km (3,500 sq mi), just 20% of the size of WBNP. Like Yellowstone, WBNP is significant on a world scale. It’s the home of the largest free-roaming wood bison herd in existence, the only nesting area for the remaining wild population of whooping cranes and the largest freshwater delta supporting four waterfowl migration routes across North America. Oh, and it’s home of the world’s largest beaver dam, 850 metres (2,700 feet) wide.
The past three weeks have been packed with music, biking, urban adventures, exploration, new friends, old friends, and the usual off-the-wall stuff – the essentials for what makes us want to keep on traveling. Yet we were feeling the need to chill just a bit, maybe take a hike. So we headed for Elk Island National Park which features lakes, wildlife, hiking, and a small campground. It’s famous for its bison conservation work. I’m not making this up.
Between the park and the weather, Elk Island was exactly what we needed.
Riding Mountain National Park opened in 1932 and is the oldest national park in Canada. It rises 457 meters (1,499 feet) above the pretty flat prairie in all directions. At its center is Clear Lake and the town of Wasagaming. Its most recognizable feature is a line of cliffs along the eastern border formed by the Manitoba escarpment.
We planned to visit. Our new friends from the music festival confirmed it was a must see in Manitoba. We set a course.
Algonquin Provincial Park is the oldest provincial park in Canada. Situated 3 hours west of Ottawa and 4 hours north of Toronto and open year-round, it’s the most popular park in the province and the country. The park is in the Ontario highlands, a relatively mountainous portion of the province where there’s a healthy mix of deciduous and coniferous trees and a long logging history. It’s best known for its 2,000 km (1,200 mi) of interconnected lakes and rivers, a canoer’s paradise.
Within a mile of the Ohio River, West Virginia made a definite transition from valley to Appalachia. Rolling hills gave way to steep mountains and narrow, twisty, up-and-down roads – as well as gorgeous foliage. And it stayed that way until the Hudson River, with the exception of the rolling hills along the Susquehanna River Valley in south central Pennsylvania.
Just because we’re heading back to VT doesn’t mean we can’t explore new places. However, with ski season (read: snow) on the horizon, we’re aware our schedule is no longer timeless. We opted to explore the Ohio River Valley. We’ve been to the source in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and to Paducah, Illinois near where it joins the Mississippi. From prior travels, we’ve learned that river valleys tend to have unique stories and a sense of inter-connectivity. And we’d get to see a slice of the other 4 states along the river: Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia.
Yosemite has been on both of our bucket lists for a long time. We didn’t think our schedule would allow us to visit this year. However, our 2 loops through No Cal provided an interesting opportunity. To get from Grover Beach to Tahoe City, the shortest ‘no interstates’ route took us through Yosemite. And we could have 2 free days. As with most of the larger and more popular National Parks, campsites are are sold out months in advance. I checked for cancellations and found exactly one, in Yosemite Valley, for the days we’d be passing through. The universe spoke. I snagged the reservation.