The Most Beautiful National Parks to Visit in Canada This Year
Canada is best known for its nature. From the Rocky Mountains to our old growth forests, iconic wildlife and northern lights, Canada is truly a nature-lovers paradise. And some of the best-protected nature is found in the national parks! I only went to three national parks in 2016. But this year, I’m taking full advantage of hiking, skiing and camping in Canada’s national parks.
Especially since the Canadian government announced that all 47 national parks are FREE in 2017 for Canada’s 150th birthday!
I definitely have not been to all 47 national parks. So I asked some top travel bloggers what their favourite national parks are in Canada! Here’s where they would go:
Fundy National Park, New Brunswick
Recommended by Ryan Victor and Jen Ambrose of Passions and Places.
Fundy’s biggest attraction isn’t enormous mountains, rare wildlife, or other things that national parks are usually famous for. Rather, it’s known for having the world’s highest tides, which admittedly may not sound that exciting.
But once you’ve witnessed the fifty-foot tidal range, you’ll understand the appeal. It’s most noticeable in the nearby town of Alma, where the docks look completely normal at one time of day, with boats gently bobbing in the waves just offshore. Six hours later, those same boats will be sitting on the sea floor twenty feet below the docks, and the edge of the water will be half a mile from the shore. You can also see it at the Flowerpot Rocks at Hopewell Cape, outside the park. At high tide, trees sprout from little islands that peek above the water’s surface; at low tide, you’ll see 40-foot rock pillars underneath those islands.
The park offers plenty of more physical activities than tide watching, too. Fundy is crisscrossed by a network of hiking trails that traverse varying landscapes, from rocky cliffs to lush forests. Dickson Falls is the most popular trail, using a series of wooden boardwalks to approach a set of cascading waterfalls. Kayaking is another popular activity, and sitting in a kayak in the Bay of Fundy is excellent way to see the area’s rugged cliffs. The experience of paddling around the Flowerpot Rocks and then hiking on the sea floor below them later in the day is an adventure that can really only be had here.
Most overnight visitors to Fundy pitch a tent at one of the campsites, but if you’re not into sleeping outdoors, you can reserve a yurt or an oTENTik (small cabins with fabric roofs that come with solar lighting and a propane heater) in the park.
Banff National Park, Alberta
I was fortunate to grow up near Banff National Park. Known as one of Canada’s most popular national parks, Banff is truly not one to be missed. During the winter months, Banff offers incredible skiing at Sunshine Village Ski Resort and Lake Louise Ski Resort. In the summer, there are plenty of hiking and canoeing possibilities at Lake Moraine and Lake Louise.
As I have mostly enjoyed the mountain aspect of Banff National Park, I asked Kaitlin Gräble-Johnson of Around The World In Katy Days for her fresh take:
A trip to Banff National Park would not be complete without spending some time in the actual town of Banff.
Take a stroll down Banff Avenue and stop in to a few shops for some souvenir shopping. Hike to Surprise Corner to get the best view of the Banff Fairmont Springs. Walk along the Bow River, and enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery. Then sit back and relax with a nice soak in the hot springs sprinkled around town. If you’re in need of an indoor activity to warm up a bit, visit the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, where you can see the hot springs that started it all and learn more about the history of this amazing corner of the world.
In the warmer months, a whole new set of possible activities opens up, ranging from canoeing to mountain biking. The town has so much to offer. In any season, it has a little something for every kind of traveler. And the best part? All of this is set to the backdrop of a postcard-worthy landscape. Whether you choose to visit Banff in the winter or summer months, there are plenty of amazing experiences to fill your itinerary.
The town has a very unique vibe since it is very much a tourist destination. In my time there I never met a “local.” Many people come from Australia and New Zealand to Banff to work, this combined with the hodgepodge of tourists creates a surprisingly international culture in this small town. So, no matter where you come from, you can rest assured that you won’t feel out of place in Banff. And you definitely won’t get bored either!
Pacific Rim National Park, British Columbia
Recommended by Patricia Pagenel of Ze Wandering Frogs
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve came as a surprise as we road-tripped through Vancouver Island. Big fans of National Parks in general, we made sure we headed to this corner of the island. We loved what we found. The short two days we stayed in the park only allowed us to visit the most iconic area of the park: Long Beach, a long 10-miles (16-km) beach in Wickaninnish Bay covering the coast from Ucluelet to Tofino. The sandy beach was impressive, especially the crushing waves, which the local surfers loved even in the cooler fall temperatures! Two nearby rainforest trails are a must-see and a sharp contrast from the marine environment. We felt tiny as we walked among giant western red cedar and hemlock trees covered in moss and competing for the deepest shades of green.
Experienced trekkers will want to tackle the challenging 47-mile (75-km) West Coast Trail. The park’s second region is indeed a popular 5 to 7-day backpacking route that crosses a mixed terrain of rainforest, rivers, caves and beaches. Its remoteness and tricky trails are sure to make for a thrilling experience.
Kayakers should consider the Broken Group Islands, the third section of the park. The archipelago features fantastic forested islands, protected bays and rocky reefs, all intertwined through a network of channels. The area is also First Nations territories and as such offers a glimpse into their spiritual and cultural heritage. As both trekkers and kayakers, we can’t wait to go back to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and go deeper into the remote corners. An adventure and outdoor paradise for sure!
Cape Breton Highlands, Nova Scotia
The Cape Breton Highlands is absolutely breathtaking. The dark green trees covering every inch of red rock; the fog tumbling over the mountainsides; roads twisting around red, jagged cliffside adorned in thick greenery. It’s hard to describe how in awe I was driving around this magical national park!
Located four hours north of Halifax in the heart of Cape Breton island, the Cape Breton Highlands is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the stunning scenery. I would recommend driving around the famous Cabot Trail to best see the national park. There are several pit stops on the side of the road, which offer dramatic coastlines and mountainous forests. The highlands also offer many incredible hiking trails. One of the most popular is the 9 km Skyline Trail on the west side of the highlands. (Photographed above.) I actually saw a moose laying in tall grass, eating the blades around him when I was there in August! Another fun outdoors activity in the highlands is whale watching.
If you’re looking to learn more about the signs written in Gaelic around the island, there is a Gaelic college on the island where you can learn about the Scottish language and culture. As there is also a strong Celtic influence in Nova Scotia, I would also recommend going to a ceilidhs (performance of traditional Celtic and Gaelic songs and dancing) at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre!
It’s advisable to go to Cape Breton during peak season, as restaurants and shops are generally closed from October to May due to the island’s small population of 100,000 inhabitants. To learn more about my trip to Cape Breton, click here.
Saguenay Fjord National Park, Quebec
Recommended by Chelsea LaVere of Tidewater and Tulle Travels.
Created by a glacier from the Ice Age, the Saguenay Fjord (pronounced sag-uh-nay fee-yord) quickly puts you under its tranquil spell and surprises you with the warmth and friendliness of the locals who are so passionate to tell you about their hometown.
Far from commercialism, this town had every bit of charm you look for in a real relaxing getaway. No bustling crowds, no large signs for cheap eats, and definitely no rush of cars. It was perfect. Locals were dressed up in pioneer costumes and were dancing to traditional music while craftspeople carved, made frozen maple treats, and shared their artisanal talents. I felt like I was back home in historic Williamsburg!
For couples looking to visit, there is always quite a bit to do. Although winter is definitely a popular time for skiing and other winter sports in the national park. For those worrying about a language barrier, it isn’t necessary to know French. While it is helpful, most all locals can also speak English, particularly those who cater to tourists.
Jasper National Park, Alberta
Recommended by Matthew Bailey of Live Limitless
Known for having one of the world’s most scenic drives, there’s a lot more to Jasper than the Icefields Parkway. Whether you’re looking for massive glaciers, turquoise lakes, huge mountains, or scores of wildlife, there’s quite possibly no better place on Earth. Situated next to Banff National Park in Western Alberta, Jasper National Park is a nature-lovers dream. In the summer, you can go hiking, camping, and whitewater rafting while taking in the beautiful scenery.
During the winter, you can go skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, or ice fishing just to name a few. In the fall, you can enjoy the beautiful autumn colors, and in the spring, you can watch the rivers gush at full speed as the snow and ice begins to melt from the mountain peaks. During the day, you can enjoy one of Canada’s sunniest provinces and at night, you might see the Northern Lights dance above. No visit to Canada is complete without witnessing the sheer beauty of the Canadian Rockies.
Yoho National Park, British Columbia
Recommended by Kym and Kevin Tyson of 33 and Free
When people think about Canada, they think of Banff and Jasper. They are probably the most heavily visited parks in Alberta. What a lot of people don’t realize is there are a couple other national parks right next door and Yoho National Park ended up impressing the heck out of me. I might even go as far as saying I liked it better than Jasper. The same beautiful scenery as you are driving through but a couple of distinct places you must see.
Banff has Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, but Yoho has Emerald Lake, one of the most dazzling blues I have ever seen. With a walking path around the lake and a cute bridge to stop and look at the views, to the quaint resort surrounded by trees, it’s a nature enthusiasts dream. Photographers swarm the area to see who can capture it best as it’s beautiful in the spring, summer fall, winter, day and night.
Before you get there though, stop at natural bridge. It’s a naturally formed bridge by rocks with a waterfall falling underneath. At the top you find clear blue waters to wade in the summer months and at the bottom you can follow the river down to rest on a log and soak in the fresh air. We were only there for a day so we missed the other top attractions: Lake O’Hare, Takakkaw Falls (one of the tallest in NA), and Wapta Falls. There is something truly for everyone and a place I can’t wait to get back to and very soon it will always be in the same sentence as Banff and Jasper.
Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario
Recommended by Stephanie Mayo of The World as I See It
The Bruce Peninsula is one of Ontario’s gems. And the Bruce Peninsula National Park should be on everyone’s list of Canada’s National Parks to visit in 2017. The park covers 150 square kilometres and is a hot spot for nature lovers. It’s home to some incredible natural beauty and wonders! From peaceful lakes where you can camp or stay in a yurt to the famous Grotto and dense forests full of wildlife and massive rugged limestone cliffs, a visit to this park will wow you. If you love to hike than you’ll love the many trails through the park, many of which lead to some epic views over Georgian Bay’s crystal clear blue waters. And Ontario’s great Bruce Trail begins at the northern section of the park in Tobermory and runs throughout.
A trip to the Bruce Peninsula National Park is a must visit for 2017, for Canadians and international travellers alike!
Mount Revelstoke National Park, British Columbia
Located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, Mount Revelstoke National Park is a haven for snow lovers. Home to one of Canada’s first ski hills, the park receives more than 1o metres of snow every year! This makes for excellent conditions at the Revelstoke Ski Resort.
Waterton National Park, Alberta
Recommended by Erin Musich of The World Wanderer.
Waterton Lakes National Park is the smallest of the Rockies National Parks, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. Located in the Southwest corner of Alberta, the park connects with Montana’s Glacier National Park. While there is an abundance of wildlife, it seems to be less crowded than the other parks, at least that was our experience. We were even lucky enough to see four bears, two of which were cubs. In the park, there are also deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats.
Just outside of the park there’s a Bison Paddock, where you can drive around and see the bison lounging away the day. If you’re lucky, you’ll even spot a few prairie dogs. Aside from wildlife, the natural beauty of park is a major draw, especially Cameron Falls, Red Rock Canyon, and Upper and Middle Waterton Lakes. If you’re into outdoor adventures, you’ll find everything from horseback riding to whitewater rafting in Waterton Lakes National Park.
Riding National Park, Manitoba
Recommended by Brittany Thiessen of Brittany M. Thiessen
Riding Mountain National Park is the only Canadian National Park in Manitoba and it should absolutely be on your list of places to explore in 2017! Located in the west-central part of the province, this large park features spectacular scenery, lots of wildlife and potential viewing opportunities, beautiful forests, a wide variety of hiking trails ranging from easy walks to challenging multi-day backcountry treks, and plenty of serene lakes.
As you approach the park, you will notice how the landscape changes dramatically from flat Prairie farmland to large rolling hills covered in lush dense forests, as the road winds its way around them. Clear Lake is the most well-known and largest lake within the park. Along its shoreline, you will find the charming and peaceful small town of Wasagaming with plenty of souvenir shops, clothing boutiques, restaurants with delicious food options (for vegetarians and gluten-free people too!), a bookstore, a log cabin movie theatre, and a beautiful beach.
Even though Clear Lake is a gorgeous place to spend time, make sure to explore further into the park and check out some of the other lakes and hiking areas. I loved Moon Lake and Lake Kinosao (this one requires a 4 km hike to get there). There are a handful of campgrounds in the park as well. The most popular and largest one is Wasagaming, where you also have the option of staying in a yurt or an Otentik, if you want to experience something different. Check out the Boreal, Kinosao, Ominik Marsh, Arrowhead and Gorge Creek hiking trails for amazing scenery!
Green Gables Heritage Place, Prince Edward Island
Recommended by Chelsea LaVere of Tidewater and Tulle Travels.
You’d be hard-pressed to not see a reference to Anne of Green Gables somewhere in relation to Prince Edward Island. If the childhood bookworm in you take the bait to get you to PEI, you will be hook, line, and sinker when you visit Park Canada’s Green Gables Heritage Place.
Starting in Charlottetown, we immediately took off to the site that inspired L.M. Montgomery’s well-loved tales of Anne, in Cavendish. The idyllic property is beautiful, but those famous green roofs were why we came. The house was very true to the Anne of Green Gables book series. In the kitchen sat a Waterloo stove restored to match the book’s description. A crimson dress with puffed sleeves hung in Anne’s room as though she had picked it out to wear the next day. After a tour through the house with details only fans would know, a stop into the small cafe for a raspberry cordial is a must. For the diehard fans, the gift shop has a straw hat with red yarn pigtails for you to truly channel your inner Cordelia!
Georgian Bay Islands National Park, Ontario
Recommended by Madi of The Restless Worker
Georgian Bay Islands National Park is like the Hamptons of Toronto. About a 2-hour drive from the big city, plenty of families make their way up north in the summer to enjoy their weekends among nature. The national park is actually made up of tiny little islands (many cottages actually can have their own private island). The major attractions include Honey Harbour (a little town as sweet as the name sounds), Muskoka and Beausoleil Island. One of my favourite memories as a kid was taking the boat to Honey Harbour and getting to buy all the candy I could fit into the little paper bags they supplied. Well, that or having some of the infamous Kwartha Dairy ice cream.
If you plan on visiting the national park be prepared for some outstanding sunsets. The landscape in Georgian Bay Islands National Park is what inspired many paintings from the famous Group of Seven in Canada. Don’t forget to bring some delicious snacks and refreshing beer either. Pretty much everyone who has a cottage there spends the afternoon watching the water skiers and tubers go by (if they aren’t participating themselves), and drinking the day away.
Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland and Labrador
Recommended by Kevin Wagar of Wandering Wagars
Located in Canada’s easternmost province, Gros Morne National Park features an impressive and wild landscape. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987 and remains one of the most unique, geological treasures on the planet. Gros Morne National Park is full of incredible beauty, from quaint, tiny fishing villages, incredible wildlife, and of course, its namesake, Gros Morne Mountain.
In Gros Morne National Park, you can experience classic Canadian wildlife such as moose, caribou, black bears, red foxes, Arctic foxes, snowshoe hares, red squirrels, lynxes, river otters, and beaver. Harbour seals are commonly found in St. Paul’s inlet, while whales can be spotted on the coastal trails as well!
If you get the chance to visit, make sure to check out the incredible Tablelands, the only place in the world where you can walk directly on the earth’s Mantle. You can also experience some of the amazing hiking trails, the famous Western Brook Pond, Arches Provincial Park, and of course, the start of the famous Newfoundland Viking Trail that takes you along the path of the earliest Europeans to set foot in North America.
Are you excited to go?!
As you can imagine, Parks Canada got a lot of requests for the Discovery Pass. If you’re planning a trip to one of Canada’s national parks this year, get your park pass early to skip the lines into the national parks. Free park passes are still available at the toll booths into the parks. Anyone looking to camp should book their campground quickly, as sites are filling up fast. Campsites are not included in the pass.
Visit Canada’s national parks for free! Get the Discovery Pass here.
What are your favourite national parks in Canada? Are you planning on exploring them while they’re free in 2017?
Let me know some of your favourite national parks and your exploration plans in the comments below! I’m planning to do some more hiking and outdoor activities this year, so let me know where I absolutely need to go this year! If you liked what you read, be sure to check out the blogs and social media feeds of my lovely contributors! (And a massive thank you to them for helping me put together this behemoth post!)
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