Internationally acclaimed Jasper and Cape Breton national parks top every bucket list, and are, without doubt, spectacular. But Canada boasts 40-some other pristine, serene and geologically significant protected places filled with wildlife. Head to the best national parks from British Columbia to Saskatchewan to New Brunswick.
Canada’s wild North has the Yukon’s Kluane, but there’s also the untouched tundra of Ivvavik, which admits only a few visitors each year—and 24 hours of summer sun to explore it. The Northwest Territories’ Wood Buffalo National Park is Canada’s largest park and one of the planet’s biggest: A UNESCO world heritage site of forest, salt plains and badlands.
With Viking history and unusual geology, the UNESCO-spotlighted steep fjords of Gros Morne National Park, Canada’s second-largest, are raw and dramatic. Or, kayak the whale-filled coastline of Terra Nova National Park, Canada’s most easterly, or explore the secluded beaches of the province’s newest, Labrador’s remote Mealy Mountains.
The soul of the prairies is its vast, open skies. To appreciate the essence, head to the rolling range of Saskatchewan’s Grasslands National Park and its Dark Sky Preserve, one of the largest and darkest in Canada. Slumber in a tipi and horseback ride past herds of antelope and bison.
Fans call the undiscovered French-speaking Gaspé Peninsula a “trip of a lifetime” thanks to the unlikely amount of varied, untamed landscapes packed onto one 255-km-long peninsula. Expect spouting whales amid brightly painted fishing villages and plunging red cliffs. Camp, scuba dive and hike the mountains of Forillon National Park.
Tranquil Waterton Lakes is pure magic. Picture the lone Prince of Wales Hotel chalet perched atop a bluff, overlooking the lake ringed with the snowy glaciers of the Rockies—a fairytale kingdom come to life. Not only is this UNESCO site small, quiet and un-crowded, it boasts huge biodiversity and is home to half of Alberta’s plant varieties.
Vast swaths of forest meet prairie in Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park, just three hours from Winnipeg. Hike, bike and fish surrounded by bison, moose and bear. Overnight in yurts and lakeside A-frame cabins, then shop and golf in the Victorian-style resort at the wilderness edge—one of only five in a Canadian national park.
Grandeur is what you’ll find at less-traveled Kootenay National Park. The best way to explore it is the backcountry 55-km Rockwall Trail: Three to five days traversing lupin-carpeted valleys, craggy peaks and mountain passes, waterfalls and alpine streams. Highlights are turquoise Floe Lake and the trail’s namesake orange limestone cliffs, the Paint Pots.
Canada’s Group of Seven painters found inspiration at iconic Georgian Bay Islands National Park in the 1920s, and it’s easy to see why. Not only is the emerald shoreline dazzling, you can boat to craggy granite shores to hike through the white pines and camp on the beach in the planet’s largest freshwater archipelago.