Explore the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary
Based on a visit to the area on June 8, 2016
Explore Alberta’s oldest federal migratory bird sanctuary on the 4 km Wishart Trail loop, right in the heart of Red Deer’s Waskasoo Park.
Start your adventure at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre and head around the Gaetz Lakes with stops at bird blinds and viewpoints along the way. Take your time on this hike to stop and look at the flowers, birds and wildlife that make their home in this wild refuge in the middle of the city.
The paved Dr. George Trail
Bird blinds at the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary
The Wishart Trail, named after an early resident of the Sanctuary, follows the Dr. George Trail in section before heading into the forest and around the sanctuary. While the Dr. George Trail is suitable for strollers, the stairs on the Wishart Trail make it a better option for older kids or carrier backpacks.
Plan Your Adventure
Trail conditions can change quickly. The map and directions below are based on our hike in the area on June 8, 2016.
- Activity: Hike
- Distance: 4.3 km
- Elevation Gain: ~56 m
- Challenge Level: Easy
- Family Friendly: Yes – no strollers
- Trail Type: Loop
- Trail Conditions: Good
- Season: Year Round
- Congestion: Minimal
- Alternate Descriptions: Visit the Kerry Wood Nature Centre for more information on this area.
- Trailhead: The trail starts at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre located at 6300 45 Avenue in Red Deer.
Enjoy the comfort that comes with a guide who knows the area’s trails, wildlife and terrain so that you can focus on your adventure, while the rest is taken care of.
- Management: Waskasoo Environmental Education Society
- Protection Status: Municipal Park / Federal Migratory Bird Sanctuary
- Other Trail Uses: Running, biking and going off trail are prohibited
- Dogs Allowed: No
- Permits / Restrictions: None
- Cell Reception: Excellent
Head Out With A Guide
Make the most of your adventure and head out with a guide. Pursuit Adventures offers guided hikes from April to November. Get in touch with them to plan your custom hiking adventure in Central Alberta.
Head Out On Your Own
Sometimes you just want to head out on your own to explore the area. We get it. Here’s the guide for the Wishart Trail.
- 0.4 km | West Gaetz Lake Bird Blind
- 0.8 km | Trail leaves the Dr. George Trail
- 1.5 km | Hogsback Viewpoint
- 1.8 km | In a Slump Viewpoint
- 2.3 km | Top of the Sanctuary
- 2.4 km | Stairs
- 2.8 km | Mineral Spring
- 2.9 km | Fossil Slump
- 3.0 km | Boardwalk
- 3.4 km | South Viewing Deck
The hike start on the other side of the Kerry Wood Nature Centre. During the day, head in to get the latest on the trail, spend some time going through the exhibits and check out the bookstore featuring a large selection of nature focused books. When the centre is closed, access the trail through the nature playground located on the side of the centre.
The trail starts with a junction. Follow the sign for the bird blind, heading toward the poplar forest. The trail to your right is the return path and the one to your left is the Dr. George Trail.
As you head out into the forest keep an eye for animal trails through the thick bushes. Snowshoe hares and deer are common and you’ll often them see them feeding in the area in this area. Tips of branches that have been nibbled on at knee height are signs of snowshoe hares while marks at shoulder height are from deer.
The first stop along the way is just a short distance from the trailhead. Take the short detour to head over to the bird blind overlooking the west lake. A good spot to visit on its own, the blind gives a good chance to see a variety of waterfowl and shoreline birds in close proximity.
Retrace your footsteps back to the main trail and continue your adventure on the paved path. Before long you’ll come across an abandoned channel of the Red Deer river where a small stream connecting to the East Gaetz Lake flows through. The Gaetz Lakes are oxbow lakes, laying in a former channel of the river abandoned long ago when the river made its way to its current course.
Where the Dr. George trail turns to make its way back to the nature centre, follow the well marked gravel trail back into the forest.
The trail soon starts to gain elevation as you approach the hogsback viewpoint. Below you is the east lake, downtown is visible in the distance yet you find yourself surrounded by the forest. Across from the lake you’ll notice a section of forest at the heart of the sanctuary where there are no trails or human access. Bring your binoculars along or borrow a pair from the nature centre before you head out to make the most of this stop on the trail.
Continue along the trail and before long you’ll come across a slump providing another great viewpoint. Landslides are common in areas like this but this ones has a human cause: a faulty storm sewer from the Michener Centre.
From here the trail continues its ascent toward the top of the sanctuary, near the Michener Centre grounds and a quick rest before heading down the stairs toward the West Gaetz Lake. Along the way take a look at the channel that was left behind, the former course of the river when it did a loop at the base of the escarpment.
As soon as you begin to descent the stairs you’ll notice the change in the forest. You’re now entering a spruce forest along the escarpment where the air becomes moist, cooler and quieter. This area provides great travel option for wildlife, but little food. One resident you’ll likely encounter is the red squirrel. Keep an eye out for the large middens, where the squirrel has made a nest and stored food, throughout the area.
The Gaetz Lakes were split in two by a landslide a long time ago. The area of the slump is still visible and left behind a wet area where you’ll find many rare and fragile plants.
The boardwalk and bridge at the south end of the West Lake are great spots to watch beaver, muskrats and frogs. The lakes rely in large part on rainfall and snow melt to maintain their levels. As such, in dry years you’ll notice more marshland along the edge of the lake where in wet years the lake may overflow in the nearby meadows.
The area from the bridge back to the Kerry Wood Nature Centre is outside of the federal migratory bird sanctuary but was added to the park by The City of Red Deer to act as a buffer. This area has been reclaimed and the first section between the bridge and the south viewing deck was once a garbage dump and during the war served as a training ground for the army. Along the way to the nature centre you can still see many signs that the area was once the Glenmere Farm, from the grassland were cattle once grazed to the rows of trees that were common on homesteads.
- For your safety and the protection of the area please follow trail signs, stay on the trail and respect all trail closures
- Be respectful of wildlife and familiarize yourself with wildlife safety techniques including keeping your pet on a leash and keeping your group together.
- Always use the bear proof garbage bin, keep a clean site and store your food in a bear safe fashion.
- Always be prepared when travelling outdoors.
- This area has cell phone reception.
- Information provided here may be inaccurate or outdated. Always make sure to obtain current information before going on your adventure.
There are inherent risks in outdoor activities. Although we strive to provide accurate information and to alert you of potential dangers, trail conditions may change quickly due to weather conditions and other factors. Using the information provided on this site is entirely at your own risk and Pursuit Adventures is in no ways liable for any injuries or other damages that may be sustained by anyone using the trails or information described on this site.
Have you been to this trail? Let us know about your adventure in the comments below.