Eight Canadian National Parks You Need to Visit

Pag­ing all Amer­i­can nation­al park junkies: you need to know that north of the bor­der, more than 117,200 square miles of land is pro­tect­ed in 45 dif­fer­ent nation­al parks and reserves, span­ning across all of Canada’s 10 provinces and three ter­ri­to­ries. In oth­er words, the adven­ture poten­tial is pret­ty much endless.

From moun­tain expe­di­tions to coastal hikes, from polar bear view­ing to dinosaur bone dig­ging, Cana­di­an Nation­al Parks are seri­ous­ly incred­i­ble for many dif­fer­ent rea­sons. We’ve put togeth­er a sam­ple of some of the best in the coun­try, stretch­ing from east to west and all the way up north. Your chal­lenge? Vis­it them all in this lifetime.

1Cape Bre­ton High­lands, Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia’s Cape Bre­ton Island is the stuff post­cards are made of: vast expans­es of blue ocean, rolling moun­tains cov­ered in thick for­est and jaw-drop­ping cliffs. Cape Bre­ton High­lands Nation­al Park cap­tures the mag­ic of the island in one majes­tic park.

There are plen­ty of camp­ing options rang­ing from front­coun­try to back­coun­try. Check out Cor­ney Brook, a small, low-frills camp­site that lets you pitch your tent on the edge of a cliff over­look­ing the Atlantic. Wake up ear­ly for a hike on the Sky­line Trail at dawn, and you’re all but guar­an­teed to catch a glimpse of a moose.

2Wood Buf­fa­lo, Alberta
Explore Canada’s North­ern Bore­al Plains at Wood Buf­fa­lo, the country’s largest nation­al park. Orig­i­nal­ly estab­lished to pro­tect herds of buf­fa­lo, hence its name, Wood Buf­fa­lo offers plen­ty of out­door activ­i­ties, but it’s per­haps best known as being the world’s largest Dark Sky Pre­serve. You’ve nev­er seen the stars shine quite so bright, and you may just be spoiled with a daz­zling dis­play of Auro­ra Borealis.

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) cubWapusk, Man­i­to­ba
How awe­some is Wapusk Nation­al Park? So awe­some that you can’t get there by car; there are no roads that lead to the park. Instead, you’ll have to arrive by tun­dra bug­gy or via heli­copter. Need­less to say, you won’t need to con­tend with crowds here.

How­ev­er, that’s not to say you’ll be alone out there. There is plen­ty of wildlife that calls Wapusk home, includ­ing near­ly a thou­sand polar bears. Watch them from afar, and don’t get too close. This might be a good time to brush up on your polar bear safe­ty skills.

WindsweptPacif­ic Rim, British Columbia
Head west—far west—to expe­ri­ence Van­cou­ver Island’s rugged west coast in the Pacif­ic Rim Nation­al Park Reserve. The park’s star hike is the infa­mous West Coast Trail, a typ­i­cal­ly week-long back­pack­ing trail that winds through lush rain­for­est and jagged coast­line. The park reserve also encom­pass­es Long Beach, home to what is arguably the best surf­ing in Cana­da. Just don’t for­get to pack a wet suit, even in the summer.

5Nahan­ni, North­west Territories
If you’re look­ing to expe­ri­ence true Cana­di­an wilder­ness, head north to Nahan­ni Nation­al Park Reserve in North­west Ter­ri­to­ries. Pack your canoe and expe­ri­ence some of the best pad­dling in the world along the Nahan­ni Riv­er, or get ready for the moun­taineer­ing adven­ture of a life­time through the Macken­zie Moun­tains’ Ragged Range. The park is on the UNESCO’s World Her­itage List, and it’s as rich in Native Cana­di­an cul­ture as it is in wildlife.

6Banff, Alber­ta
Canada’s old­est Nation­al Park, estab­lished in 1885, offers end­less activ­i­ties through Canada’s rugged Rocky Moun­tains, no mat­ter what time of year you visit.

Sum­mer is the time to hit the chal­leng­ing trails that climb up to the alpine, pass­ing impos­si­bly blue glacial lakes along the way. Pick your poi­son: there are 64 hik­ing trails and 33 bike trails.

Win­ter­time calls for skis and snow­shoes to take advan­tage of that deli­cious­ly fluffy Rock­ies snow. Choose between resort ski­ing, ski tour­ing or cross-coun­try skiing—or aim for the triple threat and do all three.

Fall and spring offer a lit­tle bit of every­thing, and they’re the best time to avoid the crowds, as Banff is def­i­nite­ly one of Canada’s most pop­u­lar parks.

7Vun­tut, Yukon
If you’re look­ing for some true soli­tude, Yukon’s Vun­tut Nation­al Park could be just what you’re after. The park offers no offi­cial ser­vices, facil­i­ties, or des­ig­nat­ed trails, but those who seek it out are reward­ed with some tru­ly rugged arc­tic ter­rain, per­fect for a choose-your-own-adventure.

If you spot anoth­er per­son, say hel­lo; though nobody lives in the park year-round, Vun­tut Gwitchin cit­i­zens are fre­quent users of the park and can teach you a thing or two about Vuntut’s exten­sive his­to­ry. Vun­tut isn’t your typ­i­cal Nation­al Park expe­ri­ence, but that’s what makes it special.

8Grass­lands, Saskatchewan
There’s no bet­ter place to get acquaint­ed with Canada’s prairies than Grass­lands Nation­al Park. The park is home to a num­ber of fam­i­ly-friend­ly hikes, but back­coun­try enthu­si­asts will hap­pi­ly head out on a mul­ti-day jour­ney through the back­lands, where you’ll tru­ly feel like you’re alone out there.

You can even join a pale­on­tol­o­gist tour to dig for fos­sils; thou­sands of dinosaur bones have been found with­in the park.

Be sure to take a moment to appre­ci­ate the expan­sive sky, prefer­ably catch­ing the sun­set on a crisp, clear night to expe­ri­ence some of that prairie magic.