When it comes to jaw-dropping scenery, you’d be hard pressed to find a country with more to offer than Canada. Currently, the country boasts 39 national parks, as well as eight national park reserves and thousands of provincial and territorial parks and protected areas. Understandably, Canada feels like one big natural playground, but when most people visit, they make a beeline straight for Banff National Park or Jasper National Park. Of course, these parks are absolutely stunning and are well worth braving the crowds to see, but venturing off the traditional tourist path to other reserves brings ample reward – perhaps even in the form of having some wide open spaces all to yourself.
So if you’re ready to strap on your hiking boots, escape into the Canadian wilderness and experience the country’s beauty, be sure to bookmark this round up of some of Canada’s best and underrated national parks.
Yoho National Park
It may not be one of Canada’s most under-the-radar national parks, but Yoho National Park definitely ranks as one of the Great White North’s best – so is a fitting inclusion to this list. The jewel in Yoho’s crown is Emerald Lake, though this green-hued stunner often plays second fiddle to its more famous neighbour up the road – the equally dazzling Lake Louise. Another of Yoho’s watery wonders is Lake O’Hara. Follow the leisurely 2.8-kilometre trail that snakes around the lake to fully appreciate its beauty, or tackle one of the more challenging full-day alpine tracks. Also within the park are Takakkaw Falls, some of the highest in North America; Kicking Horse Pass and the Spiral Tunnels; and the Burgess Shale Fossil Beds.
Mount Revelstoke National Park
Home to the world’s only inland cedar rainforest is Mount Revelstoke National Park, located in British Columbia. As far as Canada’s national parks go, Mount Revelstoke is fairly compact – at only 260-square kilometres. But it certainly packs a lot into that space. Explore the aforementioned rainforest courtesy of The Giant Cedars Boardwalk or the Skunk Cabbage Boardwalk. Step behind the Revelstoke Railway Museum for a 40-minute meander to the decommissioned ski jump once used by local skiers, including Isabel Coursier and Nels Nelsen. Give your legs a rest by driving along the Meadows in the Sky Parkway (the park also operates a shuttle to this viewpoint if you don’t have your own ride), or opt for a two-wheeler and cycle one of the many paths that weave through the park.
Glacier National Park
Find Glacier National Park perched on the Trans-Canada Highway, conveniently sandwiched between the two parks called out above. The park is open year-round, and was the first national park established in British Columbia – just don’t confuse it with the same-name park located in Montana, USA. Head out on the short yet steep downhill walk to Bear Creek Falls during the summer season and picnic along the waterbank, or visit the ruins of Glacier House, a once-thriving resort that now lies abandoned. The Rogers Pass Discovery Centre is also located in Glacier National Park, as is the Rogers Pass Summit. Put the latter at the top of your to-see list if you have a hankering for sweeping postcard-perfect views.
Gros Morne National Park
Located out in Canada’s most easterly province on the rugged Newfoundland island, Gros Morne National Park offers a unique and ancient landscape. Named for its largest mountain peak, Gros Morne, this park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is home to striking fjords, cascading waterfalls and rugged and imposing cliffs. Boat tours are an easy way to gain an appreciation for the area, but to really immerse yourself in the park’s natural beauty, it’s best to lace up your hiking boots or rent a kayak to explore the waterways at your own pace.
When people picture the Canadian Rockies, they typically think of Banff and Jasper, but the comparatively tiny Waterton Lakes National Park is routinely overlooked. On the one hand, it’s disappointing to think that so many people are missing out on this gem, but on the other hand, it means that travellers can enjoy a little solitude in one of the best national parks in Canada. Waterton Lakes is actually connected to Montana’s Glacier National Park, but since this small section pokes up over the US border, it has been rebranded as a Canuck. Here, you have countless beautiful lakes to visit, including Cameron Lake and Bertha Lake, while the Crypt Lake Trail is a must for all adventure seekers, as it incorporates a boat ride, tunnels, ladders and some incredibly steep cliffs.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park
The Cape Breton Highlands National Park feels more like the Scottish Highlands than it does Canada. Located at the northern tip of Cape Breton Island, which is to the east of Nova Scotia in Canada’s maritimes, the park features rolling hills, steep cliffs and incredible ocean views. The famous Cabot Trail passes through the park, allowing easy exploration of the area, but be sure to pull over and wander down as many of the park’s hiking trails as possible. Cape Breton Highlands National Park certainly doesn’t offer as many dramatic peaks as the parks in the west, but its fierce ocean beaches make it one of the most exciting places to visit in Canada.
Kluane National Park
If you’re a fan of hiking in Canada, then you’re guaranteed to love Kluane National Park. This rugged landscape in the Yukon territory is a back-country hikers dream destination, with most of the park covered in mountains, forests and glaciers. In fact, the park is home to 17 of Canada’s twenty tallest mountains, including its highest peak, and boasts Canada’s largest non-polar ice fields. Kluane National Park is even more thrilling once the hiking season has ended, with the park offering opportunities for dog sledding, ice fishing, snowmobiling and back-country camping during the winter. However, this is no tourist park, with the deep interior only accessible via a flight-seeing tour or an advanced mountaineering or skiing expedition. So, if you’re curious about where to go in Canada to really experience the wild: this is it.
Nahanni National Park Reserve
The Northwest Territories isn’t on many traveller’s Canadian itineraries, but it absolutely should be. Located within this vast landscape is the breathtaking Nahanni National Park Reserve, a remote and inspiring destination that’s a favourite with climbers, back-country hikers and adventurous white-water rafters. You can only access the park via float plane or by foot, so getting here requires determination, but you will be rewarded with views of jagged mountains, deep canyons and Virginia Falls, which is even higher than Niagara.
Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve
Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve is definitely one of the most unique parks in Canada. Consisting of 138 islands, this archipelago off the British Columbia mainland is a designated Haida Heritage Site, and a place of deep importance for the Canadian First Nations. Travellers can explore ancient Haida village sites with the help of a local, with Anthony Island a must-visit owing to its traditional totem poles and cedar longhouses. It’s the park’s waterways that really need exploring though, so be sure to join a kayak tour for a chance to spy orcas, humpback whales, dolphins, sea lions and puffins. The wildlife spotting opportunities here are definitely next level!