20 Best Canadian National Parks to Explore This Summer
One of the best things about living in Canada is the easy access to nature. There are countless provincial parks and protected areas and every province or territory has at least one national park to visit. Most offer hiking and camping, so put on those sturdy boots, pack your tent, get your Discovery Pass and head to one of the 20 best Canadian national parks to explore this summer. While you’re exploring, keep an eye out for the red chairs placed in scenic spots in many of these parks.
Banff National Park, AlbertaCanada’s oldest national park is very much the poster child for the country’s national beauty. Pick up any tourist brochure for Canada and it’s almost a given that you’ll see a picture of a tranquil blue lake reflecting the surrounding snow-capped peaks. That picture is probably of Moraine Lake in the Valley of the Ten Peaks.
Plenty of campsites and more upscale accommodation in towns like Banff and Lake Louise within the park make this one of the most amazing Canadian getaways for under $1000. If you want to splash out, treat yourself to a stay at the iconic Fairmont Château Lake Louise.
Waterton Lakes National Park, AlbertaWaterton Lakes National Park lies in the southwestern corner of Alberta, along the border with the United States. Cross the border and you’ll find yourself in Montana’s Glacier National Park. In Waterton Lakes, the landscape is a combination of Rocky Mountains and prairie, with several deep lakes and waterfalls to spice things up.
Canadian wildlife here is varied and abundant and the best way to explore is on a hike or a bike ride. Overlooking Waterton Lake itself is the Prince of Wales Hotel, a grand railway hotel built by the Great Northern Railway of the United States during Prohibition. The idea was to lure American tourists to a place where they could have a decent nightcap.
Prince Edward Island National Park, Prince Edward IslandSummer is beach time and some of Canada’s most spectacular beaches are found along the north shore of Prince Edward Island, in the Prince Edward Island National Park. There are even campgrounds right next to the beach.
If you can tear yourself away from those sandy stretches, the park also offers activities like hiking, birdwatching and golfing. In addition, book lovers can go on a pilgrimage to Green Gables, the setting for Lucy Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables novels.
RELATED: 10 of the best hiking trails in Canada.
Kluane National Park and Reserve, YukonIn winter, the Pikatak Nunatak route in the Kluane National Park and Reserve is one of those secret places in Canada that locals don’t want you to know about, taking you through the country’s largest ice field. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit in summer though.
During the warmer months, the park offers great hiking, camping, fishing, mountain biking and looking for grizzly bears. Mountaineering is a popular activity here too: after all, Kluane National Park and Reserve is home to Mount Logan, the highest mountain in Canada.
RELATED: 20 amazing Canadian camping spots you'll never forget.
Grasslands National Park, SaskatchewanBison grazing on the prairie, the badlands of the Valley of 1000 Devils, abandoned homesteads: Grasslands National Park looks like everything you imagined the Wild West to have been. In fact, this used to be the last frontier of the Canadian Prairies and also provided refuge to several First Nations and Métis peoples, including Sitting Bull and some 5000 Sioux after the Battle of Little Bighorn.
You’ll still find teepee rings and arrowheads here and yes, you can also camp in a teepee. The park is home to Canada’s only black-tailed prairie dog colonies. It’s also a dark-sky preserve, making it the perfect place for stargazing at night.
Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site, Nova ScotiaThere’s nothing like gazing up at a star-filled sky to put your problems in perspective. This isn’t the only reason why Kejimkujik National Park is one of the most relaxing holiday spots if you’re struggling with anxiety and stress, however. You can truly get away from it all here, with some of the park’s backcountry campsites only accessible by canoe, on bicycle or on foot.
You can hit the beach and gawk at basking seals or you can explore thousands of years of Mi’kmaw history through the more than 500 petroglyphs in the park. You can even watch a play by the fireside or learn to build a traditional Mi´kmaw birch bark canoe.
Wood Buffalo National Park, AlbertaWood Buffalo National Park is the largest park in Canada and the second-largest in the world. It’s so big that Switzerland could comfortably fit within the park’s boundaries.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Wood Buffalo National Park is home to the Peace-Athabasca Delta, one of the world’s largest freshwater deltas, where you can go paddling and see how many species of wildlife – including bison and whooping cranes – you can spot. For something a little more unusual, take a dip in one of the park’s water-filled sinkholes.
RELATED: 20 things that are totally Canadian.
Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, British ColumbiaThe Haida Gwaii archipelago is one of the best places to visit in July and many of the islands here form part of the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. The park includes the UNESCO World Heritage Site of SGang Gwaay Llnaagay, also known as Ninstints, where a Haida village once stood.
Haida heritage is of course a big reason to visit but nature definitely doesn’t have to play second fiddle. Some of the wildlife you may be able to spot in Gwaii Haanas include black bears, bald eagles, Sitka deer, beavers, whales, porpoises and sea lions.
Riding Mountain National Park, ManitobaAmong the prairie farmlands of Manitoba you’ll find Riding Mountain National Park with its lakes and forests. The park offers plenty of activities, from the usual hiking, biking and fishing to things you wouldn’t expect to be doing in a national park in Manitoba: golfing, tennis and scuba diving in Clear Lake.
Among the many wildlife species you can find here is North America’s largest population of black bears. If you’re a history buff, you’ll want to visit the World War II-era Whitewater POW camp and if literature is your thing, you won’t want to miss the cabin that once was home to Grey Owl, the British-born conservationist and writer whose story was told in the eponymous 1999 movie.
Jasper National Park, AlbertaConsidering Zika-free destinations that go beyond the beach? Look no further than Jasper National Park, where you won’t miss the beach at all. It’s the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies and while it may not be as famous as nearby Banff National Park, it’s no less spectacular.
Maligne Lake with its mountain backdrop is totally Insta-worthy, as are the stunning Athabasca Falls, the Athabasca Glacier and the Icefields Parkway. After a day of hiking you’ll want to relax in the Miette Hot Springs. For a bird’s eye view, take a ride on the Jasper Skytram, Canada’s highest and longest aerial tramway.
Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve, QuebecIn the northeast of Quebec you’ll find the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve, which covers over 1000 islands. Naturally you can go camping and hiking on most of these islands but the real attractions are the wonders of the ocean. Whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals frolic in the waters and on land you’ll find a wide variety of bird species, including Atlantic puffins.
Then there are the limestone monoliths sculpted by waves and weather. If you can’t stand the thought of spending the night in a tent, Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve has a unique accommodation option to offer too: a converted lighthouse station.
Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest TerritoriesTowering spires of granite, alpine plateaus, deep canyons and rushing river waters are all par for the course in Nahanni National Park Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These landscapes make for all kinds of adventure, including paddling and mountain climbing. You can also admire the view from above in a light airplane.
The one feature in the park you really don’t want to miss is Virginia Falls, more than twice the height of Niagara Falls and one of Canada’s must-see waterfalls. The mist from the falls has created the perfect conditions for some rare orchid species to grow here.
Sable Island National Park Reserve, Nova ScotiaAt first glance, remote Sable Island National Park Reserve doesn’t really sound like one of the best summer destinations. After all, it’s windswept, consists basically of sand dunes and freshwater ponds and is surrounded by shipwreck-strewn rough seas. To boot, there’s only one tree here and it’s a small one.
The island’s redeeming features more than make up for everything, though. Not only will you find wide beaches that you’ll share with nobody else except for the world’s largest breeding colony of grey seals; you can also admire the island’s wild horses. Be aware though that you’ll have to bring your own food and water because amenities on Sable Island are just about non-existent.
Thousand Islands National Park, OntarioOne of the most beautiful places in Ontario is the Thousand Islands region where the Saint Lawrence River and Lake Ontario meet. Twenty islands and three mainland properties in this area straddling the border between Canada and its southern neighbour fall within the Thousand Islands National Park. It’s only a hop skip and jump from the bustle of the Greater Toronto Area to the peace and tranquillity of the park.
The main attraction is the river. In fact, most of the islands are accessible by boat only. As you kayak past the islands, keep an eye out for Cedar Island’s Cathcart Tower, a Martello tower built by the British in 1848 to help protect Kingston’s harbour.
Bruce Peninsula National Park, OntarioAmongst the most spectacular spots along the Niagara Escarpment is Bruce Peninsula National Park. Whether you want to watch the sunrise or sunset, it doesn’t get much better than here, with dramatic cliffs towering over the clear waters of Georgian Bay in Lake Huron.
The park is famed for its variety of hiking trails connecting to the Bruce Trail. Along the way you can take a dip in the waters below or even scuba dive. For something a little more unusual, you can also go bouldering. One of the most popular spots in the park is The Grotto.
RELATED: 20 best long weekend destinations from Toronto.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova ScotiaOne of the best Canadian trips for solo travellers is the Cabot Trail and part of the route will take you through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Of course you don’t need to visit on your own. In fact, you might want to bring a friend to listen to your constant exclamations of awe as you admire the view.
The landscape features mountains and valleys, freshwater lakes and seaside beaches and the best way to experience it is on a hike, for instance along the Skyline Trail. Wildlife abounds on land and in the water and you might spot deer, coyotes, moose, bobcats, otters, black bears, whales, seals and much, much more. Also within the park is the Highlands Links Golf Course, regarded as one of the best public golf courses in Canada.
Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland and LabradorIts stunning scenery and fascinating geology earned Gros Morne National Park UNESCO World Heritage status in 1987. Two of the must-see geological features here are the desert-like Tablelands and Western Brook Pond, a freshwater fjord. At Western Brook Pond you can also admire the intriguingly named Pissing Mare Falls, one of the highest in North America.
The best way to admire the scenery, of course, is on a hike. Along the way you may spot animals like black bears, caribou, foxes, otters, beavers, seals and whales. You’ll almost definitely see some moose too. For a shot of culture, the park is home to several music and arts festivals during the year.
Auyuittuq National Park, NunavutWhen you think of Arctic wilderness, you probably think of snow and ice. This is indeed what you’ll find if you visit Auyuittuq National Park in winter. The snow and ice don’t completely leave come summer but now you’ll also find vast fields of wildflowers in bloom. There’s not much land-based wildlife to see in this landscape, although the park is home to animals like foxes, lemmings, polar bears and caribou.
The waters around Baffin Island, where the park is located, are home to beluga whales and narwhals. Auyuittuq National Park’s most famous locals are Mount Odin, Mount Asgard and Mount Thor, one of those very unusual places in Canada that you can actually visit — and climb, if you don’t mind death-defying heights. Oh, and you can do it under the Midnight Sun.
Fundy National Park, New BrunswickThe Bay of Fundy is one of the most beautiful places in Canada and home to Fundy National Park. Fundy National Park, in turn, is home to forests and bogs, waterfalls, lots of wildlife and plenty of hiking trails to explore. It is also home to the world’s highest tides.
While tides elsewhere in the world have an average range of about one metre, here the range is around sixteen metres. One moment there’s water everywhere and the next – actually around six hours later – you find yourself standing on the ocean floor, digging for tiny and slimy sea creatures.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, British ColumbiaIn winter Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island draws stormwatchers. In summer, the weather is surprisingly dry and sunny and everyone comes out to play. The park actually consists of three separate areas, each with its own special draw.
Long Beach is where surfers and windsurfers flock to; the Broken Group Islands are perfect for sea kayaking and for hiking, there’s the West Coast Trail. The different eco-regions in the park mean that wildlife here is varied and abundant, with everything from Vancouver Island wolves, black bears and elk to anemones and sea snails to be seen.
You can stay in one of the towns in between the three units of the park or choose to go camping instead. One of the most unforgettable campgrounds you’ll ever experience is Tsusiat Falls on the West Coast Trail, where you camp right next to a waterfall plunging directly onto the beach.
RELATED: 20 hidden gems across Canada to see before you die.