For outdoor adventurers, it doesn’t get much better than the natural simplicity and untouched landscapes of the world-famous national parks in Canada.
It’s famously known that the state of California has more people living within its borders than all of Canada does, so it’s easy to forget that the Great White North is still the second-largest landmass in the world. With its sporadic population and untouched geographical locations that are grand both in scale and scenery, Canada is home to some of the most jaw-dropping natural landscapes and awe-inspiring wilderness that the world has to offer.
With 47 national parks in Canada to choose from, Canada offers local and international nature enthusiasts enough adventures to last a lifetime (in fact, Banff National Park in Alberta tops our list of the best things to do in Canada).
Whichever park you choose, they will all provide an up-close and personal opportunity to connect with the peace and serenity of nature to a new extent entirely. The tale of Canada’s natural beginnings – the mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, glaciers, grasslands, wildlife and heritage – has something for just about any type of adventurer.
Here are 8 of the most beautiful and essential national parks in Canada to explore.
Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador
Shaped by the colliding continents and grinding glaciers of the earth’s crust over millions of years, it’s no wonder Gros Morne National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The flat-top mountains, barren lowlands, striking fjords and Tablelands will have you feeling as if you’re walking along the earth’s mantle. Walk a little further, however, and the park’s coastal location provides access to breathtaking seaside views from its countless cliffside vantage points, best viewed along the Green Gardens Trail.
Canada’s first national park and the world’s third oldest, Banff dates back to 1885 and draws in millions of outdoor enthusiasts each year. It’s not hard to see why with the impossibly sparkling emerald lakes, snow-capped Rocky Mountains, upper mineral hot springs and stretches of unspoiled wildlife ecosystems. While Lake Louise is the crown jewel of Banff, with 1,000 miles of hiking trails and endless activities, there’s something for just about everyone.
Inuktitut for “land that never melts,” most of Auyuittuq National Park lies within the Arctic Circle, meaning it’s not the most accessible of places. Once you arrive, however, you’ll soon realize that the jagged skyline of granite peaks, dramatic tundra terrain and glaciated valleys is one of Mother Nature’s finest works. From the rushing streams and icy landscapes to the polar bears and snow foxes, Auyuittuq offers a one-of-a-kind Arctic experience.
About four hours north of Toronto, you’ll find the Bruce Peninsula National Park, where dramatic cliff formations appear to rise from the turquoise waters of the Georgian Bay. Between the rocky bluffs, rare orchids, 1,000-year old cedar trees and wetlands, the park is made up of a mosaic of unique habitats, whereas scenic sites such as the Little Cove, the Grotto and the Singing Sands are some of the most picturesque sites in all of Ontario.
Field, British Columbia
Taking its name from the Cree expression that signifies awe and wonder, Yoho National Park lies on the British Columbian side of the Rockies. Vertical rock walls, surging waterfalls, looming peaks and glacial lakes characterize the spectacular landscape, which is also home to some of the most significant fossil discoveries in human history. From the pure white ice caps to the stunning green meadows and impossibly colored lakes, the dazzling colours of Yoho National Park are worth marveling over.
Prince Edward Island
Located on the north shore of the island province, the waves of the Atlantic Ocean hit the red sandstone cliffs and sandy beaches of the Prince Edward Island National Park. Salt marshes, heaving dunes, mysterious forests and scattered historical sights round out the imaginative nature of the park. Once you watch the sunset over the coastal landscape, you’ll have no problem seeing why this national park provided the inspiration behind Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables.
Home to the world’s deepest river canyons and turbo-charged waterfalls, Nahanni National Park Reserve is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in the Northwest Territories near the border of the Yukon, lush alpine meadows and jagged canyons stretch as far as the eye can see and make up a large portion of the seven million acres of wilderness. The untamed South Nahanni River thunders through the sharp Mackenzie Mountains, offering what’s widely considered some of the world’s best whitewater canoeing, kayaking and rafting. Elsewhere, you’ll be able to spot mountain goats, caribou, grizzlies, eagles and wolves, none of which are supposedly shy.
Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Situated against Vancouver Island’s Pacific Ocean coastline, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve attracts hordes of adventure seekers each year – surfers, hikers, kayakers, bikers and even marine life enthusiasts. The brooding forests, windswept beaches and rugged shores makeup the region which is infused with the native culture that has been present in the Pacific Rim for thousands of years.