Canadian National Parks may not hold the same prestige in many people’s minds as some U.S. National Parks, but they should. With diverse natural beauty, including snow-capped peaks, rushing rivers, and vast valleys, the Canadian landscape needs protection. With many people embarking on global adventures, protecting natural and historical sites is becoming a high priority for many countries, including Canada. But are Canadian National Parks worth visiting? Keep reading to learn more about what these parks offer.
Does Canada Have National Parks, Too?
In 1885, Canada first attempted to protect lands in the Rocky Mountains. However, it wasn’t enough. On May 19, 1911, the government officially created Canada’s National Parks system with the Dominion Forest Reserves and Parks Act.
In 1930, Parliament took things one step further by passing the Canadian National Parks Act. This strengthened the protection of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage. Today, Parks Canada works hard to build on what began in 1885 with its framework of protecting lands while encouraging all to enjoy their beauty.
Along with Canada and the U.S., other countries have similarly protected lands. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are over 100 countries with national parks. While there are many forms of governing agencies overseeing each country’s national parks, they all have the same goal of protecting the natural lands and regional ecosystems.
How Many National Parks Are in Canada?
Canadian National Parks are as much a Canadian staple as maple syrup. With 37 national parks and 10 national park reserves, these Canadian jewels span the entire country. Canadian National Parks protect almost 130,000 square miles of the stunning Canadian wilderness, and they represent 31 of Canada’s 39 natural regions.
Just like the U.S. National Park system, the Canadian National Park system also has a pass giving you easy access to all of them. You can also access many National Marine Conservation Areas and National Historic Sites.
The Discovery Pass offers access to more than 80 locations across Canada. Starting around $70 for adults, this annual pass is an excellent deal. If you don’t want the Discovery Pass, you can always purchase day tickets at each national park upon arrival. Day ticket prices can vary.
Pro Tip: First time visiting Canada? Check out Our Lessons Learned from RVing in Canada.
What’s the Difference Between a Canadian National Park and a Canadian National Reserve?
Canada has 10 National Park Reserves. While these designated lands are similar to Canada’s National Parks, there are a few differences. With a management style like a national park, a reserve also has indigenous land claims. This means that indigenous groups can use the land for hunting and fishing, but the land is protected as though it were a national park.
7 Canadian National Parks Worth Visiting
Now that you know more about Canada’s National Parks system, how do you choose which one of its 37 national parks to visit? You can’t go wrong with any of them. With diverse ecosystems across the nation, you’ll find beauty and history everywhere you go. You can visit the mountains, plains, lakes, and glaciers. To make it more convenient, we have seven of the best Canadian National Parks right here.
1. Banff National Park
Location: Banff is in the Canadian Rocky Mountains in southern Alberta.
About The Park: Banff is Canada’s first national park and has over 900 miles of trails, more than 10 campgrounds, and stunning scenery. You’ll also find several historical buildings, including old ski lodges and railway stations.
Banff lays claim to one of the most scenic drives in Canada. Connecting Jasper National Park with Banff National Park, driving along Highway 93 North, or the Icefields Parkway, this drive is one of the best ways to experience all this Canadian National Park offers.
Why It’s Worth A Visit: You can’t experience Banff without sitting in one of its many strategically placed red chairs. They give you a view of some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Also, where else can you sip on a mug of tea while enjoying a warm slice of pie in the middle of nowhere? Banff, at the Lake Agnes Teahouse!
2. Jasper National Park
Location: Jasper National Park is in Western Canada near Banff along the border of Alberta and British Columbia.
About The Park: People know Canadian National Parks for their awe-inspiring landscapes, and Jasper National Park, at 4,200 square miles, is no exception! Resting in the Canadian Rockies of Alberta, it’s the largest Canadian National Park in Alberta and the second-largest dark sky preserve in the world.
From lakeside cabins to front and backcountry camping grounds, there’s something to suit everyone’s fancy when planning a Canadian National Park getaway. Endless trails for walking and hiking, biking routes for all skill levels, and rafting or canoeing down the Athabasca River or on Pyramid Lake make it an ideal spot for anyone exploring the Canadian outdoors.
Why It’s Worth A Visit: Icefield Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in Canada, connecting Jasper to Banff. The drive is worth a visit here. However, there’s more. How about a soak in Miette Hot Springs or a ride up Whistlers Mountain on the Jasper SkyTram?
3. Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Location: Cape Breton is in Nova Scotia in eastern Canada. It’s on the northern section of Cape Breton Island.
About The Park: From the rolling highlands to the spectacular coastline, it feels like the mountains meet the sea at this Canadian National Park. Adventure seekers can take on the world-renowned Cabot Trail along the shoreline. You can also choose from more than 20 other trails with varying difficulty levels.
Fishing is trendy here, along with swimming. Try swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, or one of the many tannin-rich brooks and lakes. With 366 square miles of highlands and coastal wilderness, you might find a new adventure every time you visit Cape Breton.
Why It’s Worth A Visit: Driving or hiking alongside bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, and moose are one thing. Seeing a whale is quite another. Not only that, but the Cabot Trail was on a list of one of the top places to cycle in the world by Lonely Planet.
4. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
Location: Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is on Vancouver Island in western Canada. With three separate sections, there are a few access points, but you can only reach the Broken Group Islands by boat.
About The Park: Pacific Rim National Park Reserve consists of three sections; Long Beach Area, West Coast Trail, and The Broken Group Islands. Each section has something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you’re looking for primitive camping on one of the many island groups or prefer a drive-in site with access to electricity and running water, Pacific Rim has it all.
You can go hiking, surfing, swimming, and whale watching. It has nearly 200 square miles of protected forest lands, shorelines, and ocean access. Visitors can enjoy the natural lands this Canadian National Park offers.
Why It’s Worth A Visit: Surfing at Long Beach, the largest beach in the park, is not a feat for beginners. But with 10 miles of coastline, it’s worth the trek.
5. Waterton Lakes National Park
Location: Waterton Lakes National Park is in southern Alberta, where Montana and Alberta meet, two hours south of Calgary.
About The Park: Waterton Lakes National Park is a stunning spot where the prairies of Alberta meet the Rocky Mountains. It’s home to Upper Waterton Lake, the deepest lake in Canada’s Rockies. It reaches a staggering 485 feet deep and is the largest glacial trough lake in the country.
Additionally, Waterton Lakes is historic, with evidence indicating that First Nation people have inhabited the site for over 10,000 years. Waterton Lakes boasts incredible views, like Calgary’s Prince of Wales Hotel atop Upper Waterton Lake.
Why It’s Worth A Visit: In 1932, Waterton Lakes National Park joined forces with its American neighbor, Glacier National Park in Montana, to become Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. An International Peace Park is an official area where two countries work together to protect natural resources regardless of the border. Waterton is also a red chair park, so you’ll find famous red chairs around the park for your scenic enjoyment.
6. Yoho National Park
Location: Yoho National Park is over the British Columbia border, west of Banff. It is easily accessible from both Banff and Lake Louise.
About The Park: Yoho National Park is a true gem of the Canadian Rockies, embodying the Cree word for “wonder and awe.” It boasts magnificent rock walls, waterfalls, and almost 30 mountains. One of the park’s most iconic features is Emerald Lake. Its signature deep green waters make it a breathtaking sight, including views of rare wild orchids blooming around the lake.
If you’re looking for an adventure, Yoho has plenty of hikes to explore the breathtaking scenery. There are plentiful fossils to find in some of Yoho’s hiking trails.
Why It’s Worth A Visit: A visit to this Canadian National Park isn’t complete until you ride the rails traversing the Continental Divide through the Spiral Tunnels. The train enters one tunnel and exits another. Don’t miss the First Passage to the West route at Yoho, either.
7. Gros Morne National Park
Location: Gros Morne National Park is in eastern Canada’s Newfoundland. If visiting by car, access is from the Marine Atlantic Ferry Service from Nova Scotia.
About The Park: Gros Morne National Park has something for everyone in almost 700 square miles. Explore the dramatic fjords left by glaciers long ago and admire the incredible waterfalls and cliffs they created.
From music and art festivals to quaint towns like Cow Head and Woody Point, Gros Morne will not disappoint. You can go hiking or camping all over Gros Morne or stroll along its many sandy beaches. If that weren’t enough, Gros Morne is one of Newfoundland’s premier spots for spotting icebergs.
Why It’s Worth A Visit: Hiking in Gros Morne is like hiking on another planet, especially in the Tablelands. This area is where scientists confirmed the plate tectonic theory as evidenced by the many geologic features, like its ancient seafloor and ocean avalanches preserved over millions of years. If you’ve ever wanted to see the exposed earth’s mantle, this is the place to visit.
What Is the Most Popular Canadian National Park?
The Canadian Rockies and Lake Louise are famous and scenic places to visit within Canada’s National Park system. Banff National Park is one of Canada’s most popular national parks. Being Canada’s oldest national park and the third oldest national park in the world, its popularity makes sense. Almost 3.6 million visitors per year can’t be wrong. Scenic and natural wonders are abundant within this Canadian National Park.
Pro Tip: Use these Tips for Boondocking in Alaska & Canada to save money on your RV adventure.
Are Canadian National Parks Worth Visiting?
Canada is the land of many wonders with its scenic vistas of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and wildlife like bald eagles, moose, and bears. But what draws people in is the protected lands of its many national parks. Rivaling any national park in the U.S., crossing the border into Canada is a must for any national park lover. So Canadian National Parks are worth visiting.
Which Canadian National Park will you visit first? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!
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