Natural Areas

Exploring Natural Areas

Natural Areas are relatively intact parcels of land that have been set aside by the government, conservation groups, and individual landowners for biodiversity conservation. These are good sites for exploring nature, particularly in the Grasslands and Parkland regions where very few landscapes remain in a natural state. However, because the main role of these sites is nature protection, they provide little in the way of visitor facilities. Some sites have established hiking trails, but it is best to verify this before heading out. See our Hiking Trails Webpage for guidance.

Because Natural Areas are managed by a variety of organizations, the rules governing public access and use vary from site to site. Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive database or website that provides information on all sites. Instead, you have to search the websites of the various Natural Area managers, as described below.

Provincial Government

The Government of Alberta manages 138 Natural Areas, which are considered part of the provincial protected areas system. These sites are generally small, with a median size of 130 ha. All but a handful are located within the White Zone (i.e., lands designated for agricultural use).

The government's Natural Areas are intended to protect sites of local significance while providing opportunities for low-impact, nature-based recreation and nature appreciation activities. All sites allow public access, and most allow a broad range of recreational activities, including hunting, fishing, and random camping. Many sites also permit off-highway vehicle use, which can interfere with naturalist activities. Note that some Natural Areas have grazing leases and may be subject to special access rules. See our Public Lands Webpage for information on how to access crown grazing leases.

The location of government Natural Areas can be viewed using this zoomable Google Map

An alphabetical listing of government Natural Areas, with links to individual site websites, is available on the Alberta Parks Website

Additional information about Natural Areas is available on the Stewards of Alberta Protected Areas Association website.

Click to view a zoomable Google map.

Conservation Organizations

The Alberta Discover Guide

The Alberta Conservation Association has created an online Alberta Discover Guide that provides information on almost 800 conservation areas. The guide includes sites managed by the Alberta Conservation Association, Ducks Unlimited Canada, the Alberta Fish & Game Association, and other partners.

Most of these sites are located within the White Zone (i.e., lands designated for agricultural use) and are relatively small. In many cases, the land was donated by a private owner for the purpose of habitat conservation.

The Alberta Discover Guide provides an alphabetical listing of sites as well as a searchable map. Entries for individual sites provide a short description, a location map, and a list of access restrictions in effect. As a general rule, hunting and fishing are allowed but motorized access is not.

Land Trusts

National and provincial land trusts have been conserving Alberta's landscapes since the 1970s. The Nature Conservancy of Canada has itself protected close to 455,000 hectares of Alberta's most ecologically significant areas. Most of these sites permit public access, subject to various restrictions.

The Nature Conservancy provides a map of its properties on its Connect2Nature website. There are over 100 sites to choose from, most of which are in the Parkland and Grasslands regions between Edmonton and the US border. Some sites have open access, some must be booked online, and some require permission from grazing leaseholders. The Connect2Nature website provides the information needed to access each site.

The Edmonton Area Land Trust has a network of 12 conservation sites that permit public access. Its website provides visitor guidelines as well as an online mapping tool to help locate the sites. All 12 sites are located near Edmonton.

Conservation lands are also held by other provincial land trusts; however, these organizations do not provide information about public access. A list of Alberta land trusts is available here.

The ACA Discover Guide lists almost 800 conservation sites. Click the map to view them.

Nature Central

Nature Central is an initiative of the Red Deer River Naturalists and its partners intended to increase the appreciation and exploration of protected areas in central Alberta. The Nature Central Website provides information on approximately 170 natural areas located within 100 km of Red Deer. Many of these sites are part of the provincial Natural Area system or included in the Alberta Discover Guide, but there are also sites not included in either of these systems. Each entry includes a short description as well as several photographs. There is also an interactive map of the sites. Guided nature walks to selected sites are hosted by Nature Central during the summer.

Click the map to view the Nature Central sites