There are an incredible 46 National Parks and National Park Reserves in Canada’s 13 provinces (compared to a combined 58 among all 50 states), and each has its own story to tell. From the US border to the Arctic Circle, there’s a park for every outdoor enthusiast to enjoy, no matter where you are in the country.
Here’s one national park in every province and territory that is worth the visit all its own.
Newfoundland and Labrador — Gros Morne National Park
If Jurassic Park ever actually came to be, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more appropriate setting than Gros Morne National Park. It took about 500 million years for the forces of nature to shape this park into a jaw-dropping wonder. Images can hardly do justice to the beautiful river valleys full of green, sitting between massive, striking cliff sides. The park's Tablelands, distinct mountains of flat rock that are actually the exposed mantle of the earth, allowed geologists to prove their theory on tectonic plates. Gros Morne is really a hiker’s dream, full of marked and unmarked trails to be explored and enjoyed. You can also take a boat tour, kayak, camp, bike, and more.
PEI — Prince Edward Island National Park
What’s an island vacation without a little swimming? The 37-mile Prince Edward Island National Park is located on the beautiful north shore of the province, and features many of the picturesque white and red-sand beaches that make PEI such popular summer destination. You'll probably want to relax on the beach after tiring yourself out while hiking, cycling, golfing, or geocaching in the park.
Nova Scotia — Cape Breton Highlands National Park
If you’re after a breathtaking view, Cape Breton Highlands National Park should be at the top of your list. The park straddles the famous Cabot Trail, stretching from the east to the west coast of Cape Breton Island. In that stretch you’ll find amazing canyons, endless forests, plateau cliffs, and several lakes and rivers, all yours to explore. For the best view, though, few places beat the Skyline Trail. This relatively easy, nearly five-mile return hike leads you to a cliff where you can watch the sun set over the Gulf of the St. Lawrence or keep your eyes peeled for breaching whales.
New Brunswick — Fundy National Park
Fundy National Park is home to the highest tides in the world. Twice each day, 100 billion tons of seawater causes the tides to rise up 39 feet, a phenomenon that has left its mark on the coastline. Beyond enjoying the tides in a kayak or boat, the park is really an outdoor adventurer’s paradise. Over 75 miles of walking and hiking trails will bring you through mountains, into valleys and forests, and past waterfalls. Rent a canoe, kayak, or just swim in beautiful Bennett Lake before setting up your tent for a night in the park.
Ontario — Bruce Peninsula National Park
Striking limestone cliffs and inviting, shallow caves characterize the landscape of Bruce Peninsula National Park. Sitting right on the beautiful blue waters of Georgian Bay, this incredible environment makes the park a popular destination for camping, hiking, and even bouldering. You can also enjoy a more relaxing swim or paddle, keeping an eye out for a variety of wildlife along the way, from rare reptiles to black bears. Finally, Bruce Peninsula is a Dark Sky Preserve, so lay back on your sleeping bag and enjoy a starry sky unhindered by city lights.
Quebec — La Mauricie National Park
About halfway between Montreal and Quebec City lies La Mauricie National Park. The park’s 207 square miles sit in the Laurentian Mountains, whose rolling hills and valleys make it an exciting and very accessible hiking and mountain biking destination. Ninety-three percent of the park is covered by forest and much of the rest is taken up by some 150 lakes of various sizes, so a trip to La Mauricie is really an opportunity to immerse yourself in nature. Camping, fishing, canoeing, swimming... this park has it all.
Manitoba — Wapusk National Park
One of the largest polar bear denning areas in the world is found in Manitoba’s Wapusk National Park (wâpask is the Cree word for white bear), and that’s just the tip of the wildlife iceberg. Arctic foxes, arctic hares, caribou, wolves, and even wolverines call the 4,430-square mile park home. Found in the subarctic, bordering Hudson Bay, is a fantastic place to go on a wildlife tour, take a canoe excursion, and explore nearby historic fur trade sites.
Nunavut — Auyuittuq National Park
Glaciers, rugged mountains, and rivers dominate the terrain of Auyuittuq National Park. The prospect of some challenging terrain attracts leagues of hikers and skiers, most of whom follow the 60-mile Akshayuk Pass (known locally as Pang Pass), a traditional Inuit travel corridor that crosses the park. We can’t all take on 60 miles though, so visitors can also do day hikes to the Arctic Circle, or tackle the terrain via dogsled or snowmobile. If you’re going to visit anything in the park, make it Mount Thor. The aptly-named mountain has the world’s highest vertical drop, at 4,101 feet. It’s really something to behold.
Saskatchewan — Grasslands National Park
When you imagine the prairies in your mind, the wide grassy plains, the sea of green, the bison herds, you’re essentially picturing Grasslands National Park. One of two national parks in Saskatchewan, Grasslands is a Dark Sky Preserve, making it a great place to enjoy unobstructed views of the starry sky. During the daytime, take an Ecotour Scenic Drive, essentially a prairie safari that will bring you close to a herd of bison, visit archeological digs and tours, or saddle up a horse and trail real cattle on the open range.
Northwest Territories — Wood Buffalo National Park
Have you ever visited a national park that’s bigger than the entire nation of Switzerland? Wood Buffalo National Park is Canada’s largest national park, at over 17,300 square miles. It’s also home to the world’s largest beaver dam, one of the world’s largest herds of free roaming bison, and the last remaining natural nesting area for the endangered whooping crane. Make sure you stop by the strange Salt Plains, the dried remains of a 380 million-year-old seabed where salt-like minerals are pushed to the surface from below—almost like stalagmites above ground.
Alberta — Banff and Jasper National Parks
Okay, so this is two National Parks but we couldn’t help ourselves. Banff and Jasper are the two most-visited national parks in all of Canada, and instead of trying to choose between them, we say “why not both?”
Banff National Park, the first designated National Park in Canada in 1885, is home to glaciers, forests, rivers, valleys, and of course, mountains, all of which will shock you with their scale and beauty. It’s in this park that you’ll find the picturesque Lake Louise, with its jaw-dropping turquoise blue waters set perfectly in front of the Victoria Glacier. Then there’s the beautiful Moraine Lake, equally photo-worthy and a great place for a quick hike or paddle. The park’s biggest body of water, Lake Minnewanka, is best explored on an hour-long boat cruise. Of course, there's so much more to see and do; no one paragraph can do this park justice.
Yukon — Vuntut National Park
Too few people enjoy Vuntut National Park. The 1,678-square mile park only receives some 25 visitors annually — the result of its location in Canada’s Far North, near the Arctic Circle. With no paved roads to drive and accessible only by plane, the vast, incredible wilderness of Vuntut goes largely unexplored. But if you’re looking for an adventure, the park is more than worth the trip. Witness 150,000 Porcupine Caribou move through the park in one of the largest mass migrations on earth, paddle under the midnight sun, or marvel at the Northern Lights.
British Columbia — Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
Beaches, rainforests, and rocky islands form the incredible Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The 197-square-mile park really captures every setting that has come to characterize the Pacific Coast. Walk barefoot along the 10-mile Long Beach, or don a wetsuit and try your hand at surfing. Fill your backpack with a week’s worth of supplies and head out through the rainforests, cliffs, waterfalls, and caves of the 47-mile West Coast Trail. Listen to the mythology of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations and then trace that history under the canopy of giant Sitka spruce in the old growth forest. The Pacific Rim National Park is truly a Canadian treasure.
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