Oster Lake – Elk Island National Park

Have you ever wanted to do something but you really don’t want to do it alone AGAIN?

That was me.

I love backpacking, you know this. Having everything on my back and heading out into the wilderness is very appealing.

So, I found two friends who have never been backpacking and convinced them to come with me on a little one nighter to Elk Island National Park! I did this trip solo a few years ago and found it to be the perfect beginner trek. You can read about that time here.

So happy to have these two along for the ride this time around!

The morning started off a bit sketchy. The clouds had rolled in, the rain was starting, and one of my friends was feeling nauseous. Since the trail in to our campsite was under 7km, we decided to postpone to hope things cleared up. Thankfully, they did!

We arrived at the trailhead around 1:30pm. The clouds were still overhead but with the recent heatwave, the cloud cover was a welcome addition to the day.

We took Simmons Trail to Shirley Lake Trail. We headed north around Spruce Island Lake and Paul Lake. The trail was dry. As my friends hiked Elk Island trails frequently, we were all amazed at the dried up mud holes. Usually, this area is a wetland paradise full of mud, swamps, tall grass, and bugs. But it wasn’t. The bugs were out. The grass was tall. But the swamps and mud were very dried up.

The trail was peaceful still. Birds were singing overhead and the mood was high.

As you can see, the trail was clear and my pack was slightly sideways

The trail had these amazing trees bending over the trail. Does anyone know why? It created these archways along the trail that framed the path. It was incredible to see these trees growing this way. I still wonder why!

One of the ways we entertained ourselves was counting frogs. There were TONS on the trail! We were constantly watching where we step to make sure we didn’t destroy any little frog lives. It was entertaining and made me feel like a child again, looking for frogs in the grass.

Now, I don’t have a picture of it. But we came around one bend and down a hill to find a bison munching on some grass just off the trail.

There are a few things to keep in mind when you come across a bison on the trail:

  1. Before you even encounter one, always make noise – this goes for all of hiking trails. The last thing you want to do is scare any wildlife. Talking alerts nearby wildlife that you are approaching so they can hide before you come in contact. Corners and hills are especially important. This also includes not wearing headphones!
  2. You cannot chase or scare bison away.
  3. Try to keep 100m between yourself and the bison. They are known to startle and charge easily! This room will give you both space.
  4. In May and June, bison can be very protective of any calves
  5. In July and August, this is mating season so bulls can be more aggressive and dangerous
  6. Never come between a herd or a cow and her calf.

When you see a bison there are warning signs you need to watch for. If you see any of these, retreat slowly!

  1. Snorts, shakes, tosses its head
  2. Raises its tail
  3. Turns its back, raises its tail and poops
  4. Paws the ground
  5. False charges
  6. If the bison stops grazing to stare, back away until it returns to grazing

All of this information and more can be found on Parks Canada website here.

Luckily, we were able to pass the bison safely. Trees were also between us and the bison which helped.

Paul Lake

Most of the trail is forest. If you don’t like hiking with forest, this trail is not going to be for you. Every once in awhile we would come across one of the lakes in Elk Island National Park.

The last forest before the campsite!

Oster Lake is beautiful. It is by no means a swimming lake. They also tell you at the gate that you can’t drink the water – you have to pack in all of the water you will need.

All of our packs are the same colour – what a coincidence!

Oster Lake campground has quite a few nice amenities! All of the campsites have fire pits, they have a shed with lots of firewood, a dining shelter, two outhouses, and bear lockers. The campsite itself is quite open – it is essentially an open field with posts designating the campsites.

We chose site OL-6. This was mainly so that we had a wonderful view of the lake.

Oster Lake

We set up our tents, cooked supper, and started a fire. The day ended clear, delightfully warm, and calm.

The clouds just before sunset.
A closer view of Oster Lake

The night passed with multiple games of cards, LOTS of laughs, snacks, and a calm night. It was peaceful, warm, and wonderfully simple.

The next morning, we awoke to sunshine! It was getting warm quick. We packed up with very little fanfare.

On the hike out on Shirley Lake Trail.
The trees were stunning

On the hike out we took Shirley Lake Trail south of Oster Lake. It was just over 4km so nice and short. The bugs were out this morning but no frogs! It was a quiet morning, even with the birds singing!

Have you backpacked to Oster Lake Backcountry Campground? What were your thoughts?