Top 10 national parks in Canada
Canada is arguably the world’s premier destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, boasting an extensive national park system that’s virtually unsurpassed in terms of its sheer size, beauty and diversity. Whether you’re in search of soaring mountain peaks, verdant forests, glistening glacial lakes or stunning coastal scenery, you’ll be met with expansive stretches of pristine nature, an intoxicating raw wilderness feel and endless opportunities for active adventures. What’s more, you’re very likely be able to enjoy all of this without the crowds found in similar spots south of the border. From east to west, here's the top 10 national parks in Canada.
10. Fundy National Park, New Brunswick
Where: This park encompasses roughly eight miles of shoreline around the Bay of Fundy, near St. John on Canada’s Atlantic coast. It also extends inland, covering a vast swathe of pristine Acadian forest.
What: Fundy is one of the country’s most popular maritime national parks, laying claim to the world’s highest tides, along with impressive sandstones cliffs and wide stretches of beach that are fascinating to stroll along at low tide. Beyond the seashore there are miles of well-maintained hiking trails to explore, leading through thick forest, sparkling streams and towards cascading waterfalls.
Highlights: The Bay of Fundy is widely recognised as one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. Here, waters rise and fall by up to 12 metres each day, exposing the bare ocean floor littered with intriguing debris and miniscule marine life. Guided beach walks and plenty more interpretive programmes are available throughout the summer to shed light on this dramatic spectacle.
9. Mount Revelstoke and Glacier, British Columbia
Where: Located near the city of Revelstoke in the Selkirk mountains, this park makes a perfect stop off point for those driving the Trans-Canada Highway between Vancouver and Calgary.
What: Characterised by deep valleys, ancient forests and flower-filled meadows, this corner of BC is a true spectacle of nature. It’s also incredibly easy to access, playing host to the only mountain in Canada which you can summit within 5 minutes of parking your car. From Mount Revelstoke, admire amazing vistas over the surrounding alpine landscape. Or take a hike through the old-growth cedar-hemlock forest, following the Giant Cedars & Skunk Cabbage boardwalks.
Highlights: Drive or cycle through the Meadows in the Sky Parkway, a 26-kilometre route winding through verdant meadows bursting with wildflowers. Winter is also a magical time to visit this park. A thick blanket of snow coats the landscape, whilst a wide range of activities, from skiing to snowshoeing, will get your adrenaline pumping.
8. Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba
Where: In the Manitoba Escarpment, approximately 100 km north of Brandon in Central Canada.
What: For what is a relatively small area, Riding Mountain encompasses an astonishing diversity of habitats, flora and fauna. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find such a high concentration and diverse range of wildlife almost anywhere on the planet. The landscapes are also a sight to be marvelled at, encompassing sweeping valleys and towering peaks, along with boreal forest, sparking lakes and fescue prairies. An extensive trail system offers fantastic opportunities for hiking, biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing.
Highlights: Riding Mountain is an absolute must for wildlife enthusiasts. On a single day you can expect to spot black bears, moose, bison, wolves and elk, along with a myriad of fascinating bird species. Visitors should also check out the quaint resort town of Wasagaming nestled on the shores of Clear Lake. Besides its rustic charm, there are plenty of shops, eateries and tours to enjoy, as well as a golf course, boat rentals and popular sandy beach.
7. Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland
Where: Situated on Newfoundland’s west coast, this is Atlantic Canada’s second largest national park.
What: Filled with an endless string of natural wonders, this UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts towering granite mountains and deep fjords, an abundance of forests, beaches, waterfalls and coastal features, along with numerous picturesque seaside villages. The park’s ancient landscape dates back millennia, making it of great geological significance and providing a highly visible example of plate tectonics and all its breath-taking physical remnants. When you’ve had your fill of the impressive geology, try your hand at beachcombing, boating and kayaking along the rugged coastline, or hiking and wildlife spotting in the alpine highlands.
Highlights: The Tablelands are considered the best place in the world to access rare rocks that have emerged from deep within the Earth’s crust. Take a guided hike through the area to observe rocks billions of years in the making and admire the magnificent glacially carved landscape, that brims with fascinating flora and fauna.
6. Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia
Where: The northern portion of Cape Breton Island, bordered by the Atlantic to the East and the Gulf of St Lawrence to the West.
What: A unique mix of Boreal, Tagia and Acadian habitats not found elsewhere in Canada characterise this enchanting corner of Nova Scotia. The park is defined by an elevated plateau with a tundra-like landscape and interspersed with deep forested river canyons that descend towards the temperate lowlands and seashore. The result is a remarkable wildlife haven, where you can expect to spot the endangered lynx, moose, grouse, minke whales, harbour seals and bald eagles. The park’s special blend of ocean, mountain and forest ecosystems, renowned hiking trails, not to mention a rich and lively cultural history, make it one Canadian park not to be missed.
Highlights: One-third of the world-famous Cabot Trail winds its way through the park, offering intrepid hikers the chance to explore the very best of Cape Breton’s mesmerising natural beauty. As you follow the trail through the highlands and hug the island’s coastline, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping panoramas over canyons, forests and beautiful seascapes.
5. Thousand Islands National Park, Ontario
Where: This picturesque island chain is found in the Saint Lawrence River, stretching between Kingston and Brockville.
What: One of Canada’s smallest national parks, this collection of 20 plus granite islands, hundreds of inlets and several mainland bases is home to a mix of marshland, pine forest and glittering waterways, as well as some of the richest wildlife populations in the country. Explore the lush terrain via a hiking trail, or take to the water in a kayak or powerboat to discover secluded bays, rugged coastal outcroppings and catch tantalising glimpses of rare turtle and bird species.
Highlights: Mallorytown Landing is the park’s main hub of activity, featuring a whole host of fun activities, including an interpretive centre, aquarium, picnic and camping site, kid’s playground, theatre, travelling exhibits, and plenty more to help you make the most of this unique park.
4. Jasper National Park, Alberta
Where: Situated on the eastern slopes of the Rockies in western Alberta.
What: With jagged snow-capped peaks, colossal glacial icefields, teal-streaked lakes and flowering alpine meadows, Jasper’s legendary scenery has to be seen to be believed. Explore rugged backcountry via the extensive hiking and biking trail network, taking time to observe abundant wildlife along the way, including bears, elk, caribou and bighorn sheep. The laidback town of Jasper is filled with all the urban amenities you could want and boasts easy access to countless adventure activities that will launch you headfirst into the park’s expansive and remarkably well-preserved wilderness.
Highlights: The Colombia Icefields are a true world marvel, and definitely not to be missed. But when night falls, the opportunities for admiring Jasper’s natural splendours are far from over. The Park is a recognised Dark Sky Preserve and happens to be one of the best places on Earth for observing the night sky. Time your visit with the Dark Sky Festival in October, when enthusiasts gather for a weekend of parties, concerts and exhibitions centred around stargazing.
Further reading: A beginner's guide to Jasper.
3. Yoho National Park, British Columbia
Where: Yoho National Park graces the western slopes of the Canadian Rockies.
What: Boasting some of North America’s most untarnished natural wilderness, this park is a veritable haven for outdoor lovers, brimming with breathing scenery and exceptional hiking. Witness the dramatic effects of ice and water which have sculpted vertical rock faces, soaring peaks, deep blue lakes and pounding waterfalls. Get to grips with Yoho’s fascinating geology and natural history on a guided tour of Mt Stephen and Mt Field where you’ll admire fossilised remains of some of the earliest life forms on Earth.
Highlights: Easily accessible from Highway 1 is the mesmerising Takkakaw Falls, a world-class site and one of Canada’s highest waterfalls. From here, follow the Iceline Trail, a 20-kilometre circuit that takes in some of the park’s most spectacular glaciers and mountain scenery.
2. Banff National Park, Alberta
Where: In the heart of the Rocky Mountains, approximately 150 km west of Calgary.
What: As Canada’s oldest national park, and the world’s third, Banff is one of the continent’s premier destinations, boasting almost unsurpassed levels of natural beauty with its snow-capped peaks, dense coniferous forests, alpine meadows and pristine lakes. Every year, millions of visitors make the journey to witness the majestic mountain scenery and indulge in endless opportunities for outdoor pursuits, from hiking, biking and canoeing to backcountry camping. Visit strings of glaciers and lakes, each one more spectacular than the last, drive the scenic Icefield Parkway, and soak in the lively atmosphere of Banff town with its world-class resorts, boutiques, restaurants and breweries.
Highlights: Lake Louise is a picture-perfect destination, widely renowned as the crown jewel of the Canadian Rockies. Whilst you certainly won’t be alone here, the sheer majesty of the setting, encompassing turquoise waters, towering mountains and a stately chateau, is simply hard to beat.
Further reading: A beginner's guide to Banff.
1. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, British Columbia
Where: Situated along Vancouver Island’s western shoreline and encompassing three distinct units: Long Beach, Broken Group Islands and the West Coast Trail.
What: The Pacific Rim embodies rugged, unspoilt Canadian wilderness at its very best, harbouring lush temperate rainforests, spectacular coastal cliffs and expansive soft-sand beaches. Brave some of the country’s wildest surf at Long Beach, spot migrating humpback whales whilst hiking a coastal trail, or make your way to the spectacular Barkley Sound where you can kayak in crystal clear waters past countless islands, inlets and secluded bays.
Highlights: The entire park is a hiker’s paradise, filled with miles of sandy beaches, thriving old-growth forests and jaw-dropping coastal vistas. Tackle the epic 47-mile West Coast Trail, or opt for any number of shorter circuits, such as the spectacular Wild Pacific Trail along the Ucluelet peninsula.
Further reading: Exploring Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.