Canada’s 5 most stunning national parks
Think ‘Canadian national park’ and it conjures images of untouched wilderness, breathtaking natural beauty and tranquillity. The National Geographic Sustainable Destinations Resource Centre recently conducted a survey of 55 national parks in the US and Canada. Six of the survey’s top 16 parks were in Canada, a fact that probably owes a lot to Canada’s conservationist approach to its parks. Canada’s national parks number 42 in total. Each park preserves a place of outstanding natural beauty, unique geographical features or historical significance – and sometimes all three. Here are five of the most stunning of Canada’s national parks.
Gwaii Haanas National Park, British Columbia
Gwaii Haanas National Park was voted Best National Park by National Geographic after looking at over 50 National Parks in Canada and the United States, despite being one of the lesser known parks in Canada. Located in the southern Queen Charlotte Islands off the central coast of BC, the park is isolated – and surrounded by communities concerned with preserving their cultural integrity.
The 640-kilometre stretch of rugged coastline is true wilderness at its best and the park is visited by only about 3,000 people per year, who all have to get there by boat or float plane. The huge park encompasses Moresby and 137 smaller islands at the southern end of the Charlottes. The park had been referred to as ‘the Galapagos of the north’ due to its abundant flora and fauna. Gwaii Haanas provides the chance to experience nature in its most barren and unspoilt form. If you take out a kayak, you can paddle for hours without seeing another human being.
Banff National Park, Alberta
Canada’s oldest national park started with three explorers poking around the Rockies. They didn’t find gold, just a steaming, sulphurous hot spring, but the protection of that discovery, in 1885, led to the creation of a park of jagged snow-capped mountains, broad U-shaped valleys, turquoise lakes, rich forests, and meandering rivers.
More than four million visitors pay their respects every year, and with some of the world’s best hiking and skiing, Banff is by far the best known and most popular park in the Rockies. With 25 mountains 300 metres high or higher Banff is world famous for climbing, though most visitors come just to view the astonishing scenery.
The park is renowned for its elk, which were once so prolific that park staffers were issued slingshots in an effort to persuade them to move out of town. Grizzlies, meanwhile, hang out in the mountains, stuffing themselves in summer with up to 100,000 buffalo berries each day.
Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario
Located at the tip of the Bruce peninsula, on the Niagara Escarpment of Ontario, the park is popular with campers, hikers and bird watchers. On its west side, the park slips gently into bogs, beaches, and Lake Huron. On its east side, cliffs plunge into the clear waters of Georgian Bay.
More than 300 species of birds migrate through this peninsula. The massasauga rattlesnake is an elusive resident, and beware of the black bears that make unwelcome appearances when campers leave food lying around. Southern Ontario’s best-loved footpath is the Bruce Trail; it’s most rugged and spectacular stretch runs through the National Park between Dyer’s Bay and Tobermory.
Mauricie National Park, Quebec
Quebec’s most frequented park is located midway between the province’s two largest cities, Quebec City and Montreal, and is 50 kilometres north of the St Lawrence River. Mauricie National Park encompasses 544 square kilometres in the heart of the Quebec Laurentians. Its landscape is a vast rolling plateau broken by numerous lakes and rounded hills and etched by waterfalls, streams and narrow valleys.
If you want to visit a national park for the wildlife then this is probably your best bet as wildlife is abundant here. The park provides habitats for over 40 species of mammals: the moose, black bear, beaver, red fox, wolf, coyote, red squirrel and snowshoe hare are just some of the most widely spotted, while raccoon, porcupine, woodchuck and smaller rodents are more elusive. Over 180 species of birds have been spotted although only the osprey and the hawk are commonly seen.
The numerous lakes and streams are home to ducks, salamanders, frogs and turtles which are unexpected so far north. The southern sugar maple, yellow birch, beech trees, and red spruce add to the parks kaleidoscopic beauty.
Auyuittuq National Park, Nunavut
Auyuittuq National Park is one of Canada’s last wilderness paradises. Hikers, climbers and campers who visit this northern park do not find manicured campsites and hot showers. Instead, they encounter challenge, solitude, and the breathtaking grandeur of this remote arctic landscape. ‘Auyuittuq’ is Inuit for ‘the land that never melts’: A better name could not be found. Auyuittuq is home to the Penny Ice Cap, a 6,000- square-kilometre expanse of ice that is one of the few remaining remnants of the most recent ice age.
Protecting a pristine part of the eastern Arctic, Auyuittuq National Park Reserve, is located on Baffin Island’s Cumberland Peninsula, about 2,400 kilometres from Montreal. Its 19,707 square kilometres lies almost entirely within the Arctic Circle and the park’s landscape has been entirely glacier-formed. The harsh variable climate, only briefly moderated during the long days of summer, sustains a limited number of plant and animal species. The glaciers flow down into the surrounding treeless valleys, where they melt into swift rivers that rush over the rocks.
This powerful landscape reflects the Inuit belief that time is infinite and unending. Whether you climb Auyuittuq’s mountains, ski on its icefields or backpack through the Akshayuk Pass, it is a great spot to experience the magic of the Arctic.