With the news that to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, the Canadian government is waiving fees for visiting all national parks in 2017, we’ve spent acres of time daydreaming about which of these wild locations we should explore first. Get on board with our reveries and find out which of our favourite national parks in Canada you should be visiting in 2017.
For paddling pros: Thousand Islands National Park, Ontario
Pirates and, more recently, cruise boats have been the main visitors to the waters at Thousand Islands National Park – the first national park to be established east of the Canadian Rockies. But private paddlers can now discover these enchanting islands at a more leisurely pace.
Canoe, kayak or even paddleboard to secluded bays in the calm waters of St. Lawrence River or experience the high-adrenaline rush of the Class III and IIV rapids at Black River. Cabins and campgrounds dotted around the islands provide places to rest your tired body after a day of energetic exploration.
For fans of ancient landscapes: Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland
A UNESCO Heritage Site, Gros Morne National Park is a mountainous wilderness of freshwater fjords carved out by glaciers and cliff face coastal pathways that lead to colourful fishing villages. With the over one-million-year-old Long Range Mountains cutting directly through the park, this ancient landscape is both distinctive and unforgettable.
Fjords lined by cascading waterfalls can be visited by boat tours, while over 62-miles (100km) of trails are waiting to be hiked. Weaving through landscapes of mountains, beaches, bogs and forests, these hikes provide ample opportunity to spot moose, caribou, black bears and red foxes along the way.
For keen hikers: Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia
Home to some of Eastern Canada’s most impressive scenery, Cape Breton Highlands National Park is the place “where the mountains meet the sea”. Situated alongside the Atlantic Ocean, over 25 hiking trails pass through wooded valleys and trace the edges of rocky cliffs with mesmerizing ocean vistas. Sightings of garter snakes, moose and bald eagles are common here, particularly when exploring by foot.
If you have less time to visit, consider driving the 75-miles (120km) of the scenic Cabot Trail that circuits the park. By car, it’s far quicker to explore the profound depths of the river canyons, expanses of tundra and multitude of beaches that cover the region – just don’t forget your picnic basket as there are excellent spots for a lazy lunch along the way.
For lovers of remote wildernesses: Banff National Park, Alberta
The jagged, snow-dusted peaks of the Rocky Mountains and glassy, high altitude lakes fed by thundering waterfalls are what brings outdoor lovers to Banff National Park. Canada’s first national park is a remote wilderness where bears, elk and wolves roam and the possibilities for hiking, backcountry skiing, biking and paddling will have you spending days here.
But while five million visitors visit each year, the over 2,500 sq.miles (6641 km) of national park nestled in the breathtaking scenery of the Canadian Rockies still guarantees a chance to escape the stresses of daily life.
For bird watchers: Kluane National Park, Yukon
Covering a huge 8,499 sq-mile (22,013 km2), Kluane National Park has one major claim to fame: its attractions include the highest mountain in Canada – 19,551 ft. (5,959 m) Mount Logan. Over 80% of the park is covered by soaring mountain peaks and mile-deep glaciers which form the world’s second largest non-polar icefield. But with no roads traversing the park, these spectacular highlights are practically inaccessible and most visitors only see its very eastern edges.
That said, helicopter tours over the area allow some access to the park’s inexplorable enclaves, but to find its real essence, plan to hike some of Kluane National Park’s 155-miles (250km) of trails which wind through the warmer, drier stretches of meadow and forest along the edge of the ice field. Here, bald and golden eagles and peregrine falcons can be spied soaring through the skies and make up just two of the 150 bird species that inhabit the park.