Located about one hour’s drive west of Calgary, Alberta, is Canada’s oldest and one of its best national parks, established in 1885. Banff National Park includes the quaint but lively town of Banff, tucked in a protected valley in the midst of the Rocky Mountains. The town is rich with excellent restaurants and unique shops, a very walkable main street. It’s a super popular ski resort area, and therefore is busy summer and winter.
The park is abundant with all manner of wildlife from bears to cougars, elk to rabbits. Please respect the road signs that instruct visitors to not feed wild animals. It’s for their good and yours.
The park also includes the area of Lake Louise, another favoured ski resort, home of the majestic Chateau Lake Louise, a global tourist destination. In Banff itself sits the regal Banff Springs Hotel, one of the most dignified buildings in Canada, open year-round and seated amid unparalleled beauty. This is a favourite location for elegant weddings.
Also in Banff is the highly regarded Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, which offers workshops and development studies for artists in many genres and at various stages of their careers. For the public, the centre hosts the Summer Arts Festival, including many different disciplines.
Banff is a unique national park in that it offers wilderness attributes as well as urban in the town of Banff. As such, visitors will find bucolic scenery and a vibrant social scene. Ski by day, party by night.
East of the city of Edmonton, Alberta, lies expansive Jasper National Park, one of the best national parks in Canada. Possibly best known for its Icefields Parkway leading to the massive Columbia Icefields, Jasper occupies mostly wildness area, and it is home to a range of wildlife including moose, bears, elk, eagles and longhorn sheep.
Riddled with glaciers, lakes and rivers, Jasper National Park offers dramatic mountain scenery in between which plunging canyons rest. Be sure to take in the natural hot springs, a soothing, relaxing treat especially in the winter months.
Jasper is ideal for nature lovers, especially those who love to hike, take mountain bike journeys, and climb mountains. Open all year, Jasper takes on a different persona with summer swimming and fishing, and winter skiing, snow-shoeing and skating; camping is available 12 months a year, but if you prefer hotels or motels (and lodges) there are plenty available in the town of Jasper.
Yoho is the native Cree expression that means “awe and wonder”; Yoho National Park on the western side of the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia inspires such amazement, and is aptly named. In close proximity to the Continental Divide (where water flows from west to the Pacific or east to the Atlantic, depending on which side of the Divide the water exists) adds to its fascination.
Yoho National Park is one of the best national parks in Canada; it is certainly rich with diversity and natural beauty. Everywhere that visitors look, they see freshwater lakes and rivers, rock facades, waterfalls, mountain peaks and staggering vistas. This is literally where the mountains meet the sea.
Because of this variety and scenic wonder, Yoho National Park offers all manner of excellent outdoor activities, including hiking and climbing, fishing, cycling, and back-packing. In winter, visitors ski and snowshoe the area. It offers four campgrounds (book early, as sites fill up quickly in the summer months).
Settled into a 500,000-year-old fossil base, the park also contains, besides abundant flora and fauna, and graceful mountainside slopes a mountain pass that connects the western face of the Rockies to the balance of Canada. This sense of passage and linking add dramatically to the mystery, the sense of awe and wonder inherent in Yoho National Park.
Like a picture postcard of what most people think is typically Canada (snow-capped mountains and wilderness, not downtown Toronto!), Kluane National Park is a snapshot of the Canadian north at its most pristine. Kluane is not for the fragile or inexperienced wilderness traveller. It’s huge and largely uninhabited, save for grizzly bears...
It does, however, offer grand experiences in outdoor travel and recreation, extreme adventure travel and eco-tourism. Situated in the southwest sector of the Canadian region known as the Yukon Territory, the park is about 160 km (99mi) west of the capital, Whitehorse, a fascinating place in and of itself. The entire territory is the historic home of the Canadian gold rush, or “The Klondike”, and Kluane National Park is close to the Klondike National Historic Site.
The park contains 17 of Canada’s highest mountains, including it’s highest peak of all, Mount Logan. Park activities include white-water rafting on the glacier-fed Alsek River, canoeing, camping, hiking, climbing, and bird-watching (there are more than 200 bird species in the park). But be careful. The steep slopes and presence of grizzly bears demand respect and caution. This is, as the Canadian national anthem suggests, the true North strong and free.
British Columbia’s travel advertising campaign slogan from a few years back was “Super. Natural.” Pacific Rim National Park in B.C., situated on the west coast of Vancouver Island, lives up to that catch line, and more. The park’s long beaches (among the longest in the country) offer walking and hiking, swimming, kayaking and surfing. But this park goes beyond the usual outdoor activities.
It’s coastal to start with, and part of a unique large island, and therefore has water-related activities that many other national parks in Canada do not offer. Plus, it’s oceanic, not lakes or rivers. Beyond that, this is a carefully monitored ecological area. Visitors are welcome to explore its beauty, the flora and the fauna, but must not remove any natural items such as plants or even rocks. Hunting is not permitted. Neither are off-road vehicles, and paragliding or parachuting; drones are not allowed without special permits (often granted only to professional film crews).
Pacific Rim National Park is an idyllic spot for long hikes, exploring tidal pools, cycling and mountain-biking. The interpretive centre offers a one-hour walk designed to inform and be easy on beginners. Crucial to the make-up of the park is its connection to indigenous history and native culture, another aspect of the park that commands respect and reverence. Enjoy the peace and beauty of this serene and sacred place.
If you would like to visit the moon, but can’t catch a quick flight there, try Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland; the barren, rocky landscape has a lunar sensibility to it! Equally stunning and haunting in winter and summer, Gros Morne National Park is an ancient blend of fjords, glacier-fed lakes, and rugged beaches. The west coast of Newfoundland, looking over the North Atlantic Ocean, is a terrain like no other, a place where travel memories are formed.
In the winter, ski huts provide shelter for skiers and snow-shoers. Summer sees trekkers heading to Gros Morne Mountain summit on a 16km (10mi) loop trail to take in one of the most dramatic views on earth. Camping and picnicking occur all year at Gros Morne National Park.
While there, visit Lobster Cove Head lighthouse, Trout River Pond, and feel the Viking sense of history beneath your feet.
Constantly voted among the top ten islands of the world, Cape Breton Island is part of the province of Nova Scotia, and Cape Breton Highlands National Park, together with the mainland’s Kejimkujic National Park, is the pride of Nova Scotia. Essential to a complete trip around Cape Breton Island, the park offers 26 walking and hiking trails, camping, beaches and staggering highlands scenery.
A large section of the world-famous Cabot Trail meanders through the park, its curves and elevation variations a major draw for motorcycle enthusiasts and anyone who embraces natural beauty. Autumn provides a fabulous show of colours on the trees, a perfect time to visit.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park is a busy place in the summer, resplendent with guided programs and activities, some geared to younger travellers, as well as places to picnic and swim. Don’t forget a camera!
Within the park’s vicinity, islanders live their lives; there are fishing villages located at the periphery of the park. This is ancient ground where the indigenous Mi’kmaq have lived for 10,000 years, and at night, by the campfire, park visitors can sit in on story-telling sessions with Mi’kmaq elders. History is alive here.
Animals of the land (moose), air (bald eagles) and sea (pilot whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence) abound, and are often easily seen by visitors. The land-based creatures spend their days in the dense forests, river canyons, and atop the hills; the birds use the high cliffs as a launch pad. Please drive slowly at dawn and dusk, danger times, to ensure wildlife near the roads can cross safely.
Camping is available on many sites throughout the park, but like all other national parks in Canada, reservations in high season are necessary. The variety at Cape Breton Highlands National Park is vast, and there are more things to do than hike, camp or study wildlife; try the lobster dinners on Ingonish Beach to add a dash of sophistication to your visit.
Can you imagine all the water in all the rivers in the world, dumping its entire volume into one place? Well, that happens twice a day at Fundy National Park in New Brunswick. The park sits on the north shore of the Bay of Fundy (on the south shore is the province of Nova Scotia), home to the highest and lowest tides on the planet. The water displaced every approximately six hours (it varies, so be careful as tides are dangerous) is indeed that much, but it’s saltwater, not fresh. Please consult local websites for daily tide times to be safe.
One minute, you’re walking through the water at the beach, and a few hours later, you’re walking, literally on the seabed. This makes for not just ocean fun, but also an opportunity to explore tidal pools and beachcomb.
Visitors to Fundy National Park enjoy kayaking, hiking and biking on the Caribou Plain Trail, and swimming with salmon! Camping is available all year round; you might like to try sleeping in a comfy yurt after you’ve sung and danced the evening away at a traditional Maritime kitchen party held at the historic Molly Kool house.
Theatrical cliffs straddle the blue-green waters of Georgian Bay, in the northeast sector of Lake Huron, at Bruce Peninsula National Park in Ontario. Situated about 300km (186mi) northwest of Toronto, Bruce Peninsula National Park is marked by its excellent visitor centre in the town of Tobermory.
The Bruce Peninsula and its lengthy hiking trail is aptly named; it looks a great deal like parts of Scotland. Craggy rocks, rugged scenery, venerable cedar trees, fresh water lakes, and night skies so dark (without city-style light pollution) the stars shine all the more brightly.
Botanicals abound here, with a range of soft ferns and delicate orchids, among many other summer wildflowers. It is also home to a range of fauna, including black bears, birds of prey, and some quite rare reptilian inhabitants, making it a paradise for eco-tourists.
Bruce Peninsula National Park offers guided tours, a good plan for the neophyte forest hikers among us; the trails are well marked and bucolic. Campers will be happy to know they can use the sites all year round, but reservations are essential in the summer.
Most people think that Canada is north of the United Sates of America, and most of it is, but not Point Pelee National Park in southwestern Ontario; its southernmost tip dips south of northern California (to be clear, it is not attached to California; we refer to lines of latitude). It is the most southerly part of the Canadian mainland.
Forested in areas, marshy in others, Point Pelee National Park boasts many types of flora and fauna not found anywhere else. Migratory birds and monarch butterflies use this park as their resting place when migrating from the Canadian winter or to its summer. Its wetlands are a paradise for ornithologists and photographers (sunsets here are particularly spectacular). All visitors reliably enjoy the environment for walking and hiking, and picnics; it’s a beautiful outdoor space.
The park is open year round, with its greatest abundance of creatures and plants present from May to October. Walk the sandy beaches, paddle the waterways, or cycle around the park, but keep your eyes open for birds and animals you might now know live there.
It’s a long, native Mi’kmaq word, so locals call it Keji. Kejimkujic National Park sits centrally and to the south on the mainland of the province of Nova Scotia. Unlike many national and provincial parks in Canada, Keji is extremely popular among the immediate population. Everyone who likes to camp tries to make it a weekend in Keji every year. That applies mostly to summer and fall, but the park is open year-round.
The large area that comprises Kejimkujic National Park is littered with lakes and rivers, enabling canoers to portage; many of the backwoods campsite are only accessible by water and portage. The land it occupies is ancient Mi’kmaq territory: the name means (it does not translate literally) something along the lines of “swollen waters”, probably a reference to the litany of lakes.
Not only is Keji (the full name is pronounced Kedge-eh-mah-KOO-jik, and the joke in Nova Scotia is that you don’t get to live in the province if you can’t say the word properly) a national park, it is also, thanks to its being anchored in 10,000 years of Mi’kmaq history, a National Historic Site. And on the Atlantic coast, there is a Kejimkujic National Park Seaside Adjunct with an ocean trail and seal-watching.
The park is open for camping, hiking, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, fishing and swimming year-round. Washroom and common area facilities have recently been upgraded. Reservations for camping are an absolute must. Booking opens in January of each year and locals are quick to grab their favourite campsites.