Our Guide to Canadian National Parks

Canada is home to over 40 national parks and national park reserves, each with their own geological wonders and serene landscapes. With so much natural beauty to explore, from impressive glacial lakes to glorious mountain peaks and winding trails – where do you start?

We’ve created this guide to some of Canada’s national parks to help you, with tips on what to do, where to go and what not to miss.

Banff National Park

Guide Canadian Parks : Moraine Lake in Banff-National Park

Banff National Park is home to some of the most breath-taking mountain scenery and landscapes in the world. The park offers some great hiking and backpacking opportunities, with the Banff hot springs to enjoy after a long trekking day.

The town is the tourist hub, where you can stay the night, or enjoy the many restaurants, cafes and dining options. You can stroll the streets and shops or take in the views of the mountains and Bow River from the town bridge. If you’re a nature enthusiast, it’s always a good idea to escape the hustle and bustle and get out to explore the mountains on one or more of the hiking trails. If you’re not too keen on hiking in bear country, there are plenty of great spots around Banff like the Cascade Gardens, or a drive up Bow Valley Parkway to Johnston Canyon for some amazing views and unique walkways along the canyon wall.

Hiking trails:

Fenland Trail, Plain of Six Glaciers, Johnson Lake, Boom Lake, Sundance Trail

Activities:

In summer: horse riding, canoeing, rafting – in winter: snow tubing, dogsledding, iceskating, skiing

Points of interest:

Lake Louise, Lake Minnewanka, Hot Springs, Johnson Canyon, Peyto Lake, Moraine Lake, Cascade Gardens, Whyte Museum, Bow Falls

 

Jasper National Park

Canada Parks Guide : lake in Jasper National Park

Jasper National Park is a great place for an easy to moderate trek. Here you can visit Mount Edith Cavell or make your way to Valley of the Five Lakes, this is an easy to moderate trail which takes about two hours to complete.

We recommend taking a look at the Athabasca Glacier – it’s a short, relatively steep hike up to the toe of the glacier, where you can take some incredible photos.

If you make it to Maligne Lake, have a rest and enjoy the peaceful surroundings, before you drive into Jasper Town for a stroll through this quaint little town. There are many great restaurants, cafes and shops to explore here.

You can also wander the side streets, breathing in the fresh mountain air and taking photos of the majestic mountains and this picturesque town.

Hiking trails:

Lac Beauvert, Old Fort Point Loop, Pyramid Lake Loop, Maligne Canyon, Opal Hills Loop, Valley of the Five Lakes

Activities:

Glacier skywalk, boat tours, wildlife watching, SkyTram, golf

Points of interest:

Mount Edith Cavell, Miette Hot Springs, Maligne Lake, Athabasca Falls

 

 

Yoho National Park

Canadian Parks Guide : Yoho National Park view

This lesser known national park boasts breath-taking mountain scenery, alpine wilderness, wildlife, and crystal clear lakes. The park is also home to the second highest waterfall in Canada – Takakkaw Falls. Yoho offers as much jaw-dropping beauty as Banff, but with fewer crowds.

Burgess Shale Fossil Beds is a world-renowned fossil site, with some incredible samples of preserved prehistoric marine organisms in the world, it’s definitely worth the visit if you have the time.

Hiking trails:

Yoho Pass, Sherbrooke Lake, Field Stone, Laughing Falls, Emerald Lake Loop, Abbott Pass, Iceline Trail

Activities:

Scenic driving, wildlife watching, mountain biking, canoeing, skiing, cycling, fishing

Points of interest:

Takakkaw Falls, Emerald Lake, Burgess Shale Fossil Beds, Lake O’Hara Wilderness Area, Field Village

 

 

Waterton Lakes National Park

Tucked away in the corner of Alberta is Waterton Lakes National Park. Its prairie grasslands and rolling hills are home to an abundance of wildlife and a wide range of natural attractions including Cameron Falls and the Red Rock Canyon. The park has some great spots for wildlife watching.

There are many lakes and waterfalls to explore, as well as towering snow-peaked mountains and a charming little town. Hikers can enjoy a number of trails from easy to challenging.

Hiking trails:

Carthew Alderson Trail, Lower Bertha Falls, Crypt Lake, Bear’s Hump, Forum Lake, Wall Lake

Activities:

Boating, horse riding, golf, cruising

Points of interest:

Cameron Lake, Crypt Falls, Lineham Falls, Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park

 

Kootenay National Park

Simpson River in Kootenay National Park, Canada

Take a scenic drive or trek the backcountry trails, exploring the deep canyons, rugged terrain and spectacular waterfalls. You can reconnect with nature at the campgrounds, which are within walking distance of trails and the picturesque scenery. For short hikes, we recommend Sinclair Canyon and Redstreak Loop for some beautiful scenery, or for a day hike try the Helmet-Ochre Junction or Prospector’s Valley.

Many of the hikes require a bit of a drive on uneven roads, so make sure you pack the right supplies and drive the right vehicle for the road. At the end of a long day, take a dip in the hot springs to unwind and relax amidst the natural surroundings.

Hiking trails:

Stanley Glacier, Sinclair Canyon, Redstreak Loop, Helmet-Ochre Junction, Prospector’s Valley, Simpson River, Stanley Glacier (moderately challenging)

Activities:

Picnicking, wildlife watching, fishing, hot springs, snowshoeing, skiing

Points of interest:

Lake of the Hanging Glacier, Welsh Lakes, Marble Canyon, Numa Falls

 

Thousand Islands National Park

Thousand Islands National Park - Canada

The enchanting landscape of Thousand Islands National Park is perfect for birdwatching by the river, canoeing or kayaking and you can even take a motorboat to the islands for further exploration. There are two sand beaches, one is on Central Grenadier Island and the other on Thwartway Island. There are also plenty of great swimming spots throughout the park.

Discover the rare species of birds and turtles along the hiking trails. This captivating wilderness is just a few hours from Toronto or Montreal. The Thousand Islands are an idyllic mix of accessibility and wilderness.

Hiking trails:

Smoky Fire Trail, Six Nations Trail

Activities:

dog walking, paddling, kayaking, mooring, fishing, cycling, birdwatching, windsurfing, motorboating, swimming

 

Fundy National Park

Canada Fundy National Park

Fundy National Park has great hiking and cycling experiences for all ages.

Experience the world’s highest tides at the Bay of Fundy, paddle in a kayak or venture inland where the trails lead to waterfalls in Acadian forests. Take the Fundy Circuit which connects 48 kilometres of Fundy National Park’s hiking trails showcasing the spectacular lakes, river valleys, beaches and coastal forests.

Mountain bike enthusiasts can enjoy the undulating trails, from Maclaren Pond, Black Horse, East Branch, Maple Grove and Bennett Brook for something a little more challenging. During winter visitors are welcome to snowshoe or walk in the park and toboggan down the hills.

In summer, you can enjoy the Sounds of Summer Concert Series, or the Rising Tide Festival. Share songs and stories, as you fall asleep to the sounds of nature and a crackling fire.

Whether you’re an avid backpacker, or enjoy a slower pace Fundy should definitely be on your must-see list.

Hiking trails:

The Fundy Circuit, The Dobson Trail, The Fundy Footpath

Activities:

Fishing, paddling, tobogganing, photography, swimming, canoeing, star gazing, tennis

Points of interest:

Molly Kool Home

 

Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Salmon Pools in Cape Breton National Park, Canada

Head to Nova Scotia and drive along the Cabot Trail through one of the most beautiful parks in Canada.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park’s hiking trails range from easy to challenging with 360-degree views of the striking canyons, highlands and coastlines. The trails take you through wonderful views of Ingonish Bay and the conifer forests of the Cape Breton Highlands, allowing you to explore the natural habitat of the northern Cape. Pick a spot for a picnic, and enjoy the surroundings for a while. If you love seafood, you can check out the “Learn to Lobster Boil” lessons, where you can hone your culinary skills by cooking and enjoying a fresh lobster by the beach. If you’re a night owl, there are also tours you can take “after dark” to really immerse yourself and experience night like never before, under a blanket of glowing stars.

Hiking trails:

Acadian, Salmon Pools, Le Chemin du Buttereau, Le Buttereau Loop, Corney Brook

Activities:

Boating, kayaking, sightseeing, skiing, stargazing, cycling, mountain biking, fishing, snowshoeing

Points of interest:

Benjie’s Lake, Fishing Cove, La Bloc, Cap Rouge Exhibit, The Veteran’s Monument, The Fishing Cove Look-off, MacKenzie Mountain

 

Terra Nova National Park

Terra Nova National Park, Canada

There are over 80 kilometres of hiking trails in Terra Nova National Park of Canada ranging from short strolls to more strenuous multi-day hikes.

Over 200 kilometres of coastline with many rivers, lakes, and ponds make canoeing, sea and river kayaking a great way to discover Terra Nova’s natural beauty.

Terra Nova is an outdoor adventure playground for adventurers of all ages. Visit the touch tank and interact with marine life or take part in guided walks and catch a movie at the open-air cinema. Trek up Ochre Hill for stunning views overlooking the sea, or kayak amid the seals and whales at Sandy Pond.

Hiking trails:

Malady Head Trail, Louill Hill Trail, Goowiddy Path, Coastal Trail, Campground Trail, Outport Trail, Ochre Hill Trail, Sandy Pond Trail, Heritage Trail

Activities:

Swimming, beach, canoeing, paddling, boat tours, fishing, kayaking

 

Gros Morne National Park

Gros Morne National Park, Canada

Situated on the west coast of the rugged Newfoundland, Gros Morne National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the second largest Canadian national park. Take the time to explore the stunning fjords, stroll around the quaint seaside towns, and discover the unique geology of this area. Hike to alpine highlands where Arctic hare and ptarmigan live, and explore the colourful atmosphere of its seaside villages.

Take your time wandering the coastal pathways and cruise the dramatic gorge of Western Brook Pond. This quiet location is the perfect place for moose and caribou spotting.

Hiking trails:

Trout River Pond, Green Gardens, Tablelands, Lookout, Stanleyville, Stuckless Pond, Southeast Brook Falls

Activities:

Kayaking, skiing, ice skating, beach, mountain climbing, boating, gold, photography

Points of interest:

Western Brook Pond, Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse Exhibit

 

Extra tips

Know your limits – choose trails that are right for your fitness and experience level

Pack what you need – Bring a jumper or a warm coat as well as the right footwear for hiking (good traction and support). Bring a water bottle and snacks!

Be organised – Make sure someone knows where you plan on hiking and when you are expected to return

Stay on marked trails for your safety – it can be easy to get lost if you stray too far off the trails

Keep the parks clean – Carry your rubbish with you

Pay attention to local guides to tell you about the endangered and protected species – some parks have rare species and you may get to spot them if you know where to look!

 

Swimming safety

  • Avoid swimming in areas with high boat traffic – Boat operators may not see you
  • Not all beaches or lakes are patrolled – you are responsible for your own safety, always supervise children near the water
  • Currents may be strong in rivers and the ocean, even for experienced swimmers – be aware of the current, and make sure you have a swimming buddy
  • Water temperatures suitable for swimming are during June to August – it is not advisable to swim in colder season due to the risk of hypothermia

 

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