This year marks Canada’s 150th birthday and the country is set for a year’s worth of celebrations. Getting into the spirit of things, Parks Canada has offered the world free park passes to any of Canada’s national parks. Yep, you read that right, no park fees this year!
With Canada taking 1st place in Lonely Planet’s Top Countries To Visit in 2017 this is THE year to visit my home nation. Since Canada is such a large country (9.985 million km2 to be exact) it can be difficult to decided where exactly to visit. I’ve compiled a list of what I consider to be some of Canada’s most stunning and unique national parks to help you decide.
1. Auyuittuq National Park, Nunavut
Its name might be hard to pronounce but its meaning will give you an idea of what this park is all about. Translated from Inuktitut, Auyuittuq means “The land that never melts”. This impressive park is located on Baffin Island, part of the territory of Nunavut in Canada’s far north. Filled with arctic wildlife and wilderness consisting of fjords, glaciers and massive ice fields, this place defines the term remote.
As if that wasn’t enough, Auyuittuq’s claim to fame is the mighty Mt Thor. Measuring 1, 675 meters high, Mt Thor has the planet’s greatest uninterrupted vertical drop at 1, 250 m!
2. Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, British Columbia
This park falls under the category of unique national parks. Covered in lush coastal rain forest, this region is full of wildlife. Spot bald eagles and other birds of prey soaring above, and keep your eyes peeled for whales passing by on their ocean journeys. If you’re lucky, you might even spot the famed, and rare, “Spirit Bear” (Kermode Bear) as he quietly wanders the forest.
Gwaii Haanas offers more than the natural world though. Home to the ancient Haida Villages, there’s plenty of culture to explore. Walk the SGang Gwaay beach (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and you’ll discover the remains of totem poles standing guard over the forest. Visit one of the long lost Haida villages to obverse the multi layered longhouses, centuries old.
3. Glacier National Park, British Columbia
Perhaps one of my favorite of Canada’s national parks, Glacier National Park is the definition of Canadian mountains. Though not part of the famous Rocky Mountain chain, GNP lies in the stunning Selkirk and Purcell mountain ranges. Home to 131 glaciers, its easy to understand how this park obtained its name.
Not to be confused with its twin park by the same name located in the USA, GNP is conveniently located along the Trans Canada Highway. This national park is open year round and offers 3 separate camp grounds with 4 back country huts.
Hiking (and in the winter snowshoeing) trails are plentiful and offer incredible mountain visas. Wildlife abounds so don’t forget to bring a camera. Be sure to stop by the infamous Rogers Pass Visitors Center to learn about the history of the area, including the treacherous construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
4. Jasper National Park, Alberta
Often overlooked by its infamous neighbor to the south (Banff National Park) Jasper National Park is truly spectacular. JNP is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies covering over 11,000 km² and is part of UNESCO’s Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site.
This park has everything. With a plethora of hiking trails, wildlife, camp grounds, and world famous sites such as the beautiful Maligne Lake, Jasper will fulfill your Canadian Rocky Mountain experience like no other.
If you have the time, be sure to drive the incredible 232 km long Icefields Parkway linking Jasper and Banff. Considered one of the most scenic drives in the world, you’ll travel through the heart of the mountains with stunning views of glaciers, mountain peaks, ranging glacier fed rivers and untouched mountain lakes.
5. Fathom Five National Marine Park, Ontario
Located in Georgian Bay, part of Lake Huron (one of the great lakes) the scenery above and below water is truly spectacular. Considered to be the best place in the world for fresh water diving, this marine park is a popular among scuba divers. With 22 ship wrecks to explore and extremely clear, Caribbean-esque waters, it’s not hard to see why this area was designated a marine park.
If scuba diving isn’t your thing, not to worry. The town of Tobermory, sitting on the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, has many tour operators offering diving as well as glass bottom boat tours. The rugged coast line is worth exploring too as its filled with interesting rock formations and hidden caverns. The neighboring Bruce Peninsula National Park is a great place to camp and has lots of hiking trails.
6. Parc National de la Gaspesie, Quebec
Known for its incredible hiking trails and jaw dropping fjords, Gaspesie is simply spectacular. Coming up on its 80th birthday, this park was originally created to protect woodland caribou (the only ones you’ll find south of the St. Lawrence River) and the salmon populations that call Riviere Saint-Anne home.
The mountains of this region reach heights over 1000 m and you’ll find arctic-alpine flora and fauna. Expect to see moose as this region is home to a large population of them. Some activities you can do in this park include kayaking, hiking, camping, fishing, snowshoeing and even skiing.
7. Kouchibouguac National Park, New Brunswick
Kouchibouguac National Park may be a tongue twister to pronounce but it will leave you speechless as you explore. Situated along the eastern coast of New Brunswick, not only is this park gorgeous, it’s truly unique.
Within its modest 268 km² park boundary you’ll find not 1, not 2 but 4 distinct ecosystems. Home to barrier islands, sand dunes, forest, lagoons and salt marshes, you can bet you’ll see wildlife that inhabit each of these unique areas. The number of animals you may encounter here is simply too long to list but includes bobcat, lynx, moose, bats, timber wolf, beaver, muskrat, mink, bald eagles, owls, ducks, seals dolphins and whales.
When K and I visited last summer we rode up on 2 very cute baby black bears while mountain biking on KNP’s extensive bike network!
8. Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia
Home to another one of Canada’s (and the world’s) most scenic drives, Cape Breton is just spectacular. With high rugged cliffs dropping off into the ocean and lush, old growth forest filled valleys, you’ll want to take your time driving (or biking) the 298 km Cabot Trail.
Cape Breton is filled with incredible hiking trails and many options for camping. Quaint B&B’s can also be found if camping isn’t your thing. Whale watching can be done via tours or simply by scanning the ocean from your campsite. You’re almost guaranteed to spot a moose while hiking the stunning Skyline Trail and be sure to spend some time on the beautiful beaches.
9. Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland
Located on the island of Newfoundland, Gros Morne is well worth the effort to get there. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is filled with towering fjords, beautiful coastal beaches and alpine highlands. Gros Morne encompasses part of the Lone Range Mountains, created by glaciers and the colliding of continents thousands of years ago.
Hiking and camping are the most popular activities to take part in but you can also explore the ocean via kayaking and whale watching tours. This park is made up various ecosystems, from forest to marshlands and low lying bogs to majestic cliffs dropping off into the ocean. If you visit here, definitely plan on staying a few days to fully appreciate and explore this wonderful park.
10. Torngat Mountains National Park, Labrabor
If I had to choose one park in all of Canada to visit, this would be it. Remote, isolated and absolutely stunning, Torngat Mountains National Park is a place of myths and legends. Located on the northern tip of Labrador, Torngat means “places of spirits” in the local Inuktitut language.
Be prepared to explore epic fjords carved by ancient glaciers and watch icebergs float by on beautiful blue waters. Keep your camera ready and eyes peeled for polar bears and caribou as they roam their territory. This subarctic park is located on Inuit land, a place full of history of its people.
Torngat is so remote that it’s only accessible by air and water during the summer months. There is one base camp, Torngat Mountain Base Camp, that runs from Mid-July through the end of August. This is where most people head to as it’s the only actual designated campsite in the park. The base camp offers up Inuit guides who also double as polar bear guards (highly recommended you take one with you when hiking), and is surrounded by a bear fence. While independent travels are able to camp most anywhere in the park as there are no actual designated camp sites or facilities (again, beware polar bears!). Most visitors choose a 3-7 day package at the base camp.
Although I’m from, and currently live in Canada, there is still so much left for me to explore here at home! This summer I plan on putting my free Canada Parks pass to good use. I’m eager to discover more of Canada’s stunning and unique national parks.
Have you ever been to any of Canada’s National Parks? Which is your favorite?