Exploring Clifford E. Lee Nature Sanctuary with Kids (Winter)

In an effort to take part in the 1,000 hours outside challenge, we’ve been trying to get outside while we can during daylight – as the kids are off of school for another few days.

Located 33 km southwest of Edmonton’s city centre, the Clifford E. Lee Nature Sanctuary protects 348 acres of marshland, open meadow, aspen parkland and pine forest. The varied habitats of the Sanctuary attract a diversity of animals, including more than one hundred bird species, and provide excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing.

Clifford E Lee Nature Sanctuary

Clifford E. Lee is a favourite during the summer and fall months, with the 3km of trails that feature boardwalks, a lookout point over the frozen pond, and a climbing structure that’s perfect for feeding squirrels.

There are four trails to explore:

  • Boardwalk Loop –  A raised boardwalk winds through cattails and reeds, allowing visitors to closely experience the marsh environment. A diversity of waterfowl take residence in the Sanctuary and interpretive signage on the boardwalk and viewing platforms help novice birdwatchers identify the various birds. As you leave the marsh, the boardwalk gives way to a sandy trail bordered by grasses and wildflowers, that winds its way through the meadow. Benches provide a pleasant place to rest and take in the beautiful surroundings.  The trail leaves the meadow and rises into an upland forest before rejoining the boardwalk, which returns to the picnic area.
  • Aspen Ridge  – Follow the boardwalk from the picnic area and veer to the right at the first junction.  The Aspen Ridge Trail starts along the boardwalk.  As you step off the boardwalk, the earth trail rises up atop a ridge covered by groves of trembling aspen. The leaves of the trembling aspen rustle in the wind but beneath the canopy it is calm and peaceful.   As you stroll along, you may see a hare bounding through the dense understory or a chipmunk scurrying across the trail. The canopy begins to open and the trail descends as you come to its end. The boardwalk will take you back to the picnic area or you can look at the map, posted at the trail junction, to see where to go next.
  • Pine KnollThe trail begins 1 km walk from the Sanctuary entrance and winds its way up into a jack pine forest. This unique area of the Sanctuary was once a sand dune that was deposited by winds following the last Ice Age. Jack pines are found only in this area of the Sanctuary because they prefer sandy, acidic soils. Halfway along the trail there is a bench beneath a large pine where you can sit, watch the birds and listen to the chatter of red squirrels. The pines begin to disappear as the trail descends, replaced by paper birch, beaked hazelnut and trembling aspen. For more information view the Pine Knoll Trail brochure.
  • Woodland Flower Trail The Woodland Flower Trail ambles through a mixed forest of poplars, paper birch and white spruce. Fireweed, western wood lily and Indian paint brush are among the many wildflowers that can be found in the forest clearings. When you come to the end of the trail, you can either turn around and return the way you came or turn left onto the road and follow the split rail fence along the marsh’s edge back to the parking lot.

Know Before you Go 

  • Stroller friendly: The boardwalk trail and trail through the woods is stroller friendly, if you have an all-terrain stroller.
  • Toddler friendly: The path is toddler and little-kid friendly, but a little high, so walk with caution for new walkers. Stella walked clear off the board walked path and was lucky to be cushioned by snow from the drop.
  • Parking: Parking is available in the parking lot at the trailhead. During peak times, the parking lot becomes quite busy and you’ll be able to find a parking spot on the side of the road.
  • Getting there: I use Apple Maps or Google Maps, to travel to the area. The directions took us right to the path, located just outside of the city.

Before visiting, you can visit the Clifford E Lee Nature Sanctuary website and find printable brochures that you can print and bring along with you to help identify flowers, birds and the history of the area. You can find these brochures at www.cliffordelee.com.


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