10 National Parks Every Canadian Needs to Visit
These national parks, one from each province, offer unique and awe-inspiring takes on “the great outdoors.”
The Most Iconic National Parks Across Canada
What’s your idea of “the great outdoors”? Whether it’s a dense forest, a snow-capped mountain peak, or an endless stretch of sandy beach, you’ll find that ideal escape in at least one of Canada’s national parks.
Here are 10 national parks that offer outstanding examples of our country’s spectacularly diverse natural landscapes and pristine wildlife habitats, preserved for generations to come.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, British Columbia
Situated on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve has a way of making you realize just how small you really are in this vast, wonderful world. Whether you’re witnessing the spectacular waves at South Beach, marvelling at massive old growth forests along a coastal trail, or spotting humpbacks during their seasonal migration, the beauty and might of our natural environment is on full display at this gem of Canada’s national parks.
You don’t need to be a seasoned hiker to enjoy the sights either: the park is ripe for exploration for visitors of all activity levels, featuring hikes through lush temperate rainforests, over soft sand beaches, past stunning coastal cliffs and around tidal pools teeming with sea life. If you’re feeling brave (and well-rested) you could also strap some camping gear to your back and try the daunting West Coast Trail. This 75-kilometre, multi-day trek winds through paths first established by Indigenous peoples and later followed by survivors of the estimated 80 ships that floundered on these shores over the past 200 years.
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Banff National Park, Alberta
Banff National Park isn’t just Canada’s most popular national park. To many, Banff is Canada; the picture-perfect wilderness of blue, glacier-fed waters and soaring Rocky Mountain peaks.
More than three million visitors come to Banff each year to admire those beautiful lakes and mountains on scenic drives, horseback tours, and over 1,600 kilometres of breathtaking hiking trails, many of which are accessible from the Town of Banff and the village of Lake Louise. While you’re quietly watching the sunrise during a riverside walk or stopping to feel the chill of the glaciers in the alpine, you might even be lucky enough to spot bears, elk, wolves and foxes.
The park also offers a variety of other activities, including seasonal skiing and skating, as well as soothing soaks in the geothermally-heated, mineral-rich waters of the Banff Upper Hot Springs.
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Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan
Planning a visit to Grasslands National Park? Be sure to pack your camping gear: This is the type of place that offers attractions around the clock, and you won’t want to miss a minute of the action. During the day, you can admire wild plains bison on a hike through the wide open prairie or drive along the Badlands Parkway in the East Block to look for evidence of our prehistoric past. You never know what you might find in one of Canada’s most dino-rich regions: this is where Saskatchewan paleontologists recently uncovered the fossil of a large, snake-like marine reptile called a prognathodon, also known as the “T-Rex of the sea.”
Grasslands is also one of the country’s largest (and darkest) Dark Sky Preserves, which means, at night, under a canopy of dazzling stars, you can marvel at faraway galaxies and enjoy the beauty of the night sky like you’ve never seen it before.
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Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba
Whether you’re looking for adventure, relaxation or inspiration, Riding Mountain National Park has you covered. Enjoy your days exploring the sparkling waters and sandy beaches of Clear Lake and Deep Bay, hiking in deep, silent boreal forests or traversing windswept grasslands. When it gets dark, spend your night gazing at the mysterious dancing lights of the Aurora Borealis.
Though remote (it’s about a three-hour drive northwest of Winnipeg), Riding Mountain is still accessible: it’s one of only five Canadian national parks that includes a resort town, which means restaurants, boutique hotels and one-of-a-kind shops are never far away. Talk about the best of both worlds!
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Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario
You don’t need to visit Canada’s coasts to enjoy turquoise waters, soft golden sand, dramatic cliffs, mysterious caves and geologic wonders. Located on Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay, Bruce Peninsula National Park offers a surprisingly exotic experience you’d never expect to find just three-and-a-half hours northwest of Toronto. That said, you’ll want to book your visit well in advance, as the park is a popular summer getaway from the city, and receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
One of the biggest draws in the summer is the famous grotto: a huge, hidden cave filled with sparkling water that serves as one of nature’s most magical freshwater swimming pools. At the northern tip of Bruce Peninsula, you can also explore the natural, monolithic rock pillars (also known as sea stacks) on Flowerpot Island. Back on the mainland, try hiking a portion of the 782-kilometre Bruce Trail, Canada’s longest (and oldest) footpath.
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Forillon National Park, Quebec
As a peninsula that runs through the Chic-Choc Mountains and extends into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the park’s diverse landscape offers even more diverse wildlife experiences. Here, you can paddle your kayak with seals, listen to the songs of seabirds while strolling across a pebble beach, study colourful underwater life while snorkeling, and marvel at the resilient arctic-alpine plants on a sea cliff hike. The park also offers fantastic whale-watching opportunities, with fin, minke, humpback and even blue whales known to make appearances while feeding.
Just don’t go looking for a flowerpot island: The word “forillon” is thought to have referred to an offshore sea stack that has since crumbled into the ocean.
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Fundy National Park, New Brunswick
If you’re planning a visit to Fundy National Park, an hour’s drive east of Saint John, New Brunswick, you’ll want to pay particular attention to your watch. The park is home to the highest tides in the world, shifting from high tide to low tide every six hours, roughly. When the water recedes at low tide, it can drop by more than 12 metres, allowing you to walk out onto the sea floor for an otherworldly hiking experience. When the water level rises again, you can kayak on the bay, and hike or bike deep into pristine Acadian forests to discover magical Maritime waterfalls.
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Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia
Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the place where the mountains and ocean meet, is like something straight out of a children’s storybook. Located on the northern peninsula of Nova Scotia’s beautiful Cape Breton Island and carved along the Cabot Trail coastline, this enchanting park combines forest-covered river canyons, stunning ocean vistas and ancient red cliffs. Try to spot bald eagles and hawks on a hike above the clouds on the Acadian Trail or find a comfy clifftop perch and watch for dolphins as well as minke and pilot whales in the Atlantic waters below.
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Prince Edward Island National Park
Prince Edward Island may only have one national park to its name, but as Islanders know, quality trumps quantity every time. From beautiful sandy beaches to 275-million-year-old bones, Prince Edward Island National Park truly has it all.
Running along the northern shore on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, this staggeringly beautiful preserve boasts wind-sculpted dunes, red sandstone cliffs and remnants of an Acadian forest. After a swim, take a hike along the stunning seashore paths and explore the abundant wildlife in saltwater marshes. The park is also teeming with evidence of our planet’s prehistoric past, with a number of major fossil finds taking place here over the years, including the skull and footprints of Dimetrodons, the ancestors of primitive mammals.
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Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland and Labrador
Mother Nature clearly took her time preparing Gros Morne National Park. This 485-million-year-old geological wonder was shaped by colliding continents, leaving behind dense forests full of rare plants and animals, glacier-carved freshwater fjords, towering cliffs, sub-Arctic summits, windswept shorelines, beaches and bogs. At Gros Morne, ancient geologic oddities are the main attraction—and the primary reason the park has earned UNESCO World Heritage status. Make sure to visit the Tablelands, flat-topped mountains more commonly found deep in the earth’s mantle than on its surface, and the sheer-walled gorge of Western Brook Pond.
Now that you’ve added these national parks to your bucket list, explore all 20 UNESCO World Heritage Sites across Canada.