If there’s anything Canada is known for, it’s spectacular landscapes and wide open spaces. From the Great Lakes to the Arctic, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, this enormous country has a natural beauty that’ll leave a long-lasting impression on everyone who ventures into its wilderness. And the epitome of it all is the system of national parks in Canada.
In both numbers and sheer awesomeness, Canada’s national parks are virtually unparalleled in the world. Except, of course, for the magnificent national parks in the United States.
There are more than 40 national parks in Canada, protecting
many of the country’s varied landscapes. From pristine forests and empty coasts
to towering mountains and vast tundra, you’ll find it all in these epic parks.
The beauty of it all? Except some of the immensely popular
Rocky Mountains parks, the best Canada national parks see a fraction of the
visitors of similar parks in the U.S.
1. Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve, Quebec
Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve is home to Canada’s largest collection of naturally sculpted limestone monoliths. Located in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence, it encompasses more than 1,000 islands and islets.
Mingan is a dream destination for wildlife watchers; especially birders, who will relish the opportunity to see massive seabird colonies as well as rarer species. Whales and seals frolic in the ocean. Meanwhile moose, otters and even black bears roam the shorelines and some of the islands. Although relatively unknown, this is without question one of the greatest national parks in eastern Canada.
2. Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland
Occupying a part of Newfoundland’s west coast, Gros Morne National Park is the second largest national park on the Canadian Atlantic Coast. It’s such an important area UNESCO designated it World Heritage in 1987.
Mother Nature certainly took her time when creating these awe-inspiring landscapes. No fewer than 485 million years were needed to carve, chisel and sculpt Gros Morne’s mountains and fjords. You can explore these raw and ancient landscapes on hiking trails across the mountains. Additionally, you can paddle a kayak through fjords like Western Brook Pond.
Also keep your eyes open for caribou and moose, both of which are extremely common in this park. Other land animals include red and Arctic foxes, river otters, lynxes, beavers, black bears and snowshoe hares. In the water, you might spot humpback and minke whales and harbor seals.
3. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, British Columbia
British Columbia’s Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is yet another glorious coastal national park in Canada. In particular, it’s home to one of the country’s most visited nature destinations: Long Beach.
As soon as you set foot on 10-mile Long Beach, you know this is a place you will never forget. This stretch of rugged, undeveloped Pacific coastline is absolutely spectacular. Long Beach is backed by lush temperate rainforest and distant mountain peaks. You’ll find it perfect for contemplative beach hiking, wildlife watching, sea kayaking and windsurfing.
Long Beach is, however, only one of three separate areas
that make up Pacific Rim. The other two are the epic West Coast Trail and the
Broken Group islands. Together, they form some of the most beautiful landscapes
anywhere on the North American Pacific Coast.
4. Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba
In the very center of Canada, amid the vast prairies of Manitoba, lies Riding Mountain National Park. This is a beautiful wilderness in a region dominated by farmlands. There are many things that set it apart and make it one of the best Canada national parks. For example, it’s one of only a handful of parks that have a resort town within its boundaries.
Located on the shore of Clear Lake, the small town of Wasagaming is the park’s beating tourist heart. There, you’ll find a variety of shops, a beach, restaurants, a golf course and several outdoor outfitters and tour operators.
This doesn’t mean Riding Mountain National Park is just an “urban” destination, however. Far from it, actually. This is one of the best national parks in Canada to see large wildlife. If you simply go for a drive through the park’s grasslands and deciduous and boreal forests, you can spot elk, moose, black bears and lynx. Arguably the stars of the show, though, are the 30+ wild plains bison that live in an enclosure near Lake Audy.
5. Jasper National Park, Alberta
Established in 1907, Alberta’s Jasper National Park is the largest national park in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. It encompasses 4,200 square miles of mountain wilderness, home to abundant wildlife. Of all popular national parks in Canada, this might just be the wildest and most rugged. Jasper has a phenomenal backcountry trail network.
There’s a wide variety in natural attractions in this park, from hot springs and waterfalls to jagged mountain peaks. There are gorgeous glacial lakes and the glaciers of the massive Columbia Icefield. Jasper and six other national and provincial parks together make up the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site.
Besides hiking, the park is also famous for its skiing and,
particularly, wildlife viewing. There are healthy populations of caribou,
moose, wolves, black and grizzly bears, and many other mammals and birds.
6. Banff National Park, Alberta
Created in 1885, Banff National Park is the oldest national park in Canada and one of the oldest in the world. It’s also one of the parks that make up the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site. The magnificent Icefields Parkway connects it with Jasper National Park to the north, paralleling the Continental Divide. This mountain road gets extremely busy in mid-summer, with up to 100,000 vehicles traveling up and down it each month.
Banff is the flagship of the Canada national parks system,
the epitome of the country’s mesmerizing natural beauty. Major highlights
include Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, and outdoor activities like
hiking, skiing, canoeing and cycling.
7. Yoho National Park, British Columbia
West of Banff lies Yoho National Park, a third member of the above-mentioned UNESCO World Heritage Site. (The fourth national park in that WHS is Kootenay National Park.) It’s the smallest of the Canadian Rockies national parks, but it’s certainly no less stunning.
Named after a Cree word that expresses wonder and awe, Yoho is a place of spectacular waterfalls, vertical rock cliffs, vertigo-inducing peaks and a plethora of wildlife. Much quieter than nearby Jasper and Banff, this is the perfect destination for natural immersion. It’s a peaceful gateway to some of North America’s most beautiful landscapes.
While hiking, camping, canoeing, mountain biking or cross-country
skiing, keep your eyes open for animals like timber wolves, elk, moose,
mountain goats, lynx, pika, black bears and grizzly bears.
8. Fundy National Park, New Brunswick
Located in the Bay of Fundy on the New Brunswick coast, Fundy National Park is all about water. Its main claim to fame is that it’s home to the highest tides in the world. You can explore the bottom of the sea at low tide before hopping into a kayak and letting the tide lift you up 12 meters or more.
Further inland, you’ll find 25 beautiful waterfalls hidden deep in Acadian coastal forests. The park also encompasses some of the Canadian Highlands, which offer phenomenal hiking opportunities. Three great campgrounds provide a place to sleep. Other park facilities include a saltwater swimming pool, not to mention a golf course.
9. Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
In Waterton Lakes National Park, the Rocky Mountains meet the Alberta prairies. It’s easily one of the world’s top mountain parks. Waterton offers visitors legendary hiking opportunities, breathtaking views of blue lakes and world-class wildlife viewing.
Situated in the far southwestern corner of Alberta, this park is actually on the Canada-U.S. border. Just south of the border lies America’s amazing Glacier National Park. Together, the parks make up the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the first of its kind in the world.
Both parks are also World Biosphere Reserves and UNESCO
World Heritage Sites because of their incredible biodiversity, particular
climate, landscapes and mountain-prairie combination.
Although there are many of them, the main highlight in Waterton Lakes is—you may have guessed it—the lakes. These shimmering alpine lakes are deeper than any other lakes in Canada. At Upper Waterton Lake, the iconic and much-photographed Prince of Wales Hotel is one of the park’s star attractions.
10. Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia
According to Parks Canada, Cape Breton Highlands National Park is one of the most enchanting national parks in Canada. It also encompasses a wonderful coastline, wooded canyons, ancient tundra-like plateaus, deep vales and waterfalls.
The park’s varied landscapes and cool maritime climate create a remarkable combination of boreal, taiga and Acadian biotopes. A mix of both southern and northern species is unique in Canada; indeed, the park is home to dozens of rare and threatened fauna and flora.
You can hike to sensational Cabot Trail to explore the various habitats that make this national park so extraordinary. What’s more, you might catch a glimpse of moose and bald eagles, while the offshore waters are home to small whales such a pilots and minkes.