Canadian National Parks Dream List

With warmer weather fast approaching, I’m eager to venture outside and explore some of the national parks Canada has to offer. This year is a great time to do it, as they’ve released the national parks pass for free in celebration of Canada’s 150th! I don’t have the opportunity to visit nearly as many parks and historic sites as I’d like to this year, but it did get me thinking about my dream destinations list.

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While looking through the extensive list of national parks in Canada, I decided to narrow it down to several per province or territory. Here’s the list and a little information in case your interest is peaked.

Note: Any picture with a source link under it is not mine.

British Columbia

Yoho National Park

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Yoho National Park can be found on the western side of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The area has plenty of camping sites and hiking trails for adventurous souls. Some of the scenery includes jaw-dropping mountain peaks and stunning waterfalls. The park was established in 1886, and it has held World Heritage Site status since 1981, largely in part to the extensive fossil discoveries made here.

Glacier National Park

One of Glacier National Park’s biggest claims to fame is Rogers Pass. Discovered by Major Albert Bowman Rogers, the pass marked the first time the Canadian Pacific Railway was able to connect west to the Pacific, a definite milestone in Canadian history. The area also boasts Nakimu Caves, one of Canada’s largest cave systems at 6 kms long (3.7 miles)!

Kicking Horse Pass National Historic Site

Located on the continental divide between British Columbia and Alberta, it connects Yoho National Park in BC with Banff National Park in Alberta. The name derives from an incident in which Dr. James Hector was kicked in the chest by his packhorse during the initial exploration of the area.

Runners Up: Mount Revelstoke National ParkTwin Falls Tea House National Historic Site, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Kootenay National Park

Alberta

Jasper National Park

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This is the largest park in the Canadian Rockies, spanning roughly 11,000 kms. The landscape includes everything from meadows to glaciers, and is home to animals such as elk, deer, grizzly bears, and mountain lions. If hiking isn’t your cup of tea, try relaxing at the Miette Hot Springs.

Banff National Park

The one that started it all, Banff National Park was the first National Park in Canada. The picturesque turquoise water of Lake Louise is one of the biggest draws to the area, but there are also plenty of trails to be hiked, rivers to be rafted, and more to complete your stay. Winter or summer, Banff draws countless visitors. Want to treat yourself to an elegant stay a hotel with a phenomenal view? Check out the Fairmont Banff Springs (I’m not kidding – check out this view!).

Cave and Basin National Historic Site

This thermal water site was the pinpoint mark for the beginning of National Parks in Canada. Discovered by rail workers in 1883, the site boasts natural thermal mineral waters, colourful algae, and the endangered Banff spring snails, a species of snail not found anywhere else in the world.

Waterton Lakes National Park

This park is great for everything from hiking to wind surfing. The diversity of the park’s ecosystem lead to it being designated a Biosphere Reserve along with its National Park status.

Runners Up: Elk Island National Park, Abbot Pass Refuge Cabin National Historic Site

Saskatchewan

Grasslands National Park

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Grasslands National Park is located in southern Saskatchewan, not far from the US border. The area is home to unique flora and fauna, as well as herds of bison and coteries of prairie dogs. Saskatchewan is known as the land of the living skies for its magnificent displays of auroras, and from pictures of the area, it’s not hard to see why. The park boasts stunning vistas perfect for an exploratory drive or a scenic camping trip.

Fort Battleford National Historic Site

Established in 1876, the fort was a post for the North West Mounted Police. Its most crucial role came during the Rebellion of 1885, a deadly uprising led by Louis Riel in an effort to improve their lifestyle and give voice to their fears and concerns.

Runner Up: Prince Albert

Manitoba

Riding Mountain National Park

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With over 400 kms of hiking trails through grasslands and forests alike, you’d be hard-pressed to find yourself bored in this park. It’s one of the best for bird-watching with 233 species of birds, and is home to other animals such as bison, elk, and moose. Explore by horseback for an immersive wildlife experience. Rife with history, the area has been home to Native tribes for roughly 6,000 years.

Wapusk National Park

Though this park will cost you a pretty penny to get to, and you’ll have to choose between viewing it from a helicopter or arranging a guide through Frontier North Adventures, it’s worth the trip. The park itself has no road access, and its diverse landscape ranges from subarctic forest to peat bog. Located outside of Churchill, this park is home to polar bears, foxes, caribou, and more. For the best time to see polar bear cubs, head to the park in mid-February to mid-March.

Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site

This fort is the location of the first treaty signed in Western Canada between the government and the First Nations people of the area. By the early 1870s this fort was being used as both a federal prison and a training camp for the North West Mounted Police. Based on its proximity to the Red River Settlement, this fort played a role in the fur trade and transport (via the river). To visit now is to step back in time to the 1850s.

Runners Up: The Forks National Historic Site, Prince of Wales Fort National Historic Site

Ontario

Bruce Peninsula National Park

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Sunken ships… grottos… Flowerpot Island…. There is so much to see in this park and I’m itching to explore it. Rare orchids, caves and sinkholes, and limestone cliffs are just a few of the beautiful natural sites you’ll see, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a complaint with the area. Along with hiking, the clarity of water means the area is great for a picturesque scuba dive!

Thousand Islands National Park

This park has been on my radar for years now. It’s only about an hour away from Ottawa, yet in 5 years living here, I still haven’t managed to explore it. This is another of the smallest national parks, though it does consist of 26 islands. What’s the best way to see a national park made of islands? A Thousand Islands Cruise, of course!

Pukaskwa National Park

Covered in a boreal forest, this park lines Lake Superior. It has an abundance of wildlife ranging from bears to caribou. The Pukaskwa Pits, a series of carefully arranged boulders continues to boggle visitors, as the reasoning behind the arrangement is unknown. Visitors to the area can hike the coastal trail, or try their hand at water exploration.

Point Pelee National Park

One of Canada’s smallest national parks, this area is the farthest southern point in Canada. Despite its small size, it boasts one of the largest freshwater marshes on the Great Lakes.

Queenston Heights National Historic Site

During the War of 1812, in which America attempted to invade Canada, this was one of the key battles. The British victory over the Americans held great importance for the war, but also marked the death of Major General Brock.

Battle of the Windmill National Historic Site

This is the site of an 1883 rebellion, and in full disclosure, part of my desire to see it is strictly because a battle took place near a windmill. British forces took on a mixture of invading Americans and Canadian rebels.

Runners Up: Fort George National Historic SiteBattle Hill National Historic SitePoint Clark Lighthouse National Historic SiteWoodside National Historic SiteGeorgian Bay Islands National ParkRidgeway Battlefield National Historic Site

Quebec

La Mauricie National Park

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This park was formed by time and glaciers, and is home to an abundance of animals. This is another great park for bird-watching and for adventurous people. It’s ideal for canoeing, swimming, and hiking. For history lovers, based on red-ochre rock paintings, nomadic tribes used the area for hunting and fishing.

Fort Lennox National Historic Site

This heavily fortified site was one crucial in preventing invasions into Canada. Strategically located along the Richelieu River, the narrow channel was ideal for a fortified defensive location, and played a key role in the War of 1812.

Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site

From 1832 to 1937, this site was a quarantine station and the main entry point for Quebec. The majority of people coming through here were from Ireland, and the reason for the quarantine was due to the high instances of smallpox and cholera. The database, accessible online, depicts the history and stories of those who passed through on their way to hopefully a better life.

Runners Up: Pointe-au-Père Lighthouse National Historic SiteBattle of the Châteauguay National Historic Site

New Brunswick

Fundy National Park

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Countless walking trails, stunning waterfalls, and – of course – the amazing Hopewell Rocks have all contributed to my burning desire to see this national park in person. Luckily, I’m getting that chance soon and I couldn’t be more thrilled by it.

Monument-Lefebvre National Historic Site

This monument (and center) pays homage to the Acadian lifestyle through to today. Learn about the history of the area through presentations within the center.

Kouchibouguac National Park

This national park draws tourists year-round, providing great winter fun and boasting warm waters during summer. It sits alongside the Acadian Coastal Drive, and is complete with several hiking trails. The landscape is varied in dunes, beaches, and marshes, and is home to the endangered piping plovers.

Runner Up: Saint Croix Island International Historic Site

Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island National Park

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Prince Edward Island has countless beaches, but the North Shore apparently has the best views. From what I’ve seen from Google searches, people have it right. Thankfully, I’ll get the chance to see it for myself soon. The park boasts unique dunes as well as rare plants and animals.

Cavendish National Historic Site

Just about anyone growing up in Canada has heard about/read/watched Anne of Green Gables. The author of the book series, L. M. Montgomery, lived here and tours are now available. The area also includes the fabled Green Gables house and several trails surrounding the area. I am super excited for the chance to see it in person on my upcoming trip!

Runner Up: Dalvay-by-the-Sea National Historic Site

Nova Scotia

Cape Breton Highlands National Park

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If there’s one place I’ve been in Canada that I could wax rhapsodic about for hours, it would be the Cabot Trail, which runs throughout the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The stunning scenery combined with wildlife will make your trip around the trail unforgettable. Take a dip at Maryanne Falls or go on a whale-watching tour. Though the Cabot Trail is roughly 300 kms, I’d highly suggest making it at least a two day excursion if you want to see it all.

Halifax Citadel National Historic Site

One of the most crucial sites in Halifax, it was essentially the reason why they created the town there. While the citadel was originally built as a military fort, it is now an homage to the past and the history of Halifax. Luckily, I’ll have the chance to see it on my upcoming trip!

Fort Anne National Historic Site

100 years ago this year, Fort Anne became Canada’s first National Historic Site. Step back in time to the 18th and 19th century within the fort, and be sure to check out the iconic Fort Anne Heritage Tapestry, which depicts roughly 400 years of history in the area! The site is also home to the oldest English graveyard in Nova Scotia.

Special Mention: Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site – I actually went here with my family on a trip to Nova Scotia in 2008. This site is phenomenal, and as the staff wanders around in period appropriate clothing and can answer any question you throw at them about the area, you’ll come away feeling as though you stepped back in time.

Runners Up: Bloody Creek National Historic Site

Newfoundland and Labrador

Gros Morne National Park

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Fjords, forests, bogs, and cliffs… this park seems to have it all when it comes to various landscapes. If hiking isn’t quite your thing, try taking a boat tour or spend a day at the beach. Camping is a great option for this park, as is skiing during the winter months. Regardless of your activity, I get the feeling you’ll spend a lot of time staring at the scenery in awe.

Signal Hill National Historic Site

Once upon not too long ago, ship to shore radios were non-existent and spotters had to sit in strategically designated spots to alert those on shore of arriving vessels. Signal Hill is one of those sites, and is in fact extra special, as it is the location of the first ever received transatlantic wireless signal.

Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site

Since its construction in 1836, this lighthouse sits at the most easterly point of North America, a pretty cool claim to fame. The lighthouse has been restored to give a 19th century experience, and the nearby fort provides excellent information on what it was like to be a soldier in WWII, defending the area from German U-boats. For any history buffs, this site would be a must-see!

Castlehill

In case I haven’t said it enough on here, I’m a sucker for castles and all things related to castle-like ruins. Though mostly ruins now, the site was built in 1862 with the purpose of protecting French fishing interests. The site overlooks stunning Placentia Bay.

Runners Up: Terra Nova National Park, L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site

Yukon

Ivvavik National Park

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Typically reached by charter aircraft from Inuvik, this secluded park is the first national park to be established through a land claim agreement. Its extensive population of caribou ensures an animal sighting-filled visit, and the park boasts excellent white-water rafting opportunities. Amid the stunning mountains, you really can’t go wrong at this park.

Kluane National Park and Reserve

Glaciers, lakes, and ice fields make up the landscape of this gorgeous-looking ice-covered national park. It’s also home to Mount Logan, Canada’s highest mountain at roughly 6,000 m (just under 20,000 ft!). One of the best ways to see this park is a flying tour (either by helicopter or fixed wing plane) from May to September.

Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site

This rugged mountain trail might leave you breathless, but whether from the trek itself or the stunning views is debatable. This trail boasts the gateway to the Yukon once used by gold diggers during the Klondike Goldrush. It earned its national historic site status for that very reason!

Runners Up: Vuntut National Park, S.S. Klondike National Historic Site,

Northwest Territories

Nahanni National Park Reserve

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From mountain climbing to hot springs, this park is a great northern retreat for the adventurous soul. This park is one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites, protecting its diverse landscape and various species of animals. This park also boasts the unique Tufa Mounds and several deep canyons. From all accounts, you’d never regret the money it takes to get here.

Aulavik National Park

This park has seemingly everything to look at from wildflowers to animals to stunning scenery. Take a journey alongside the Thomsen River and catch a glimpse of the plentiful muskoxen. It also boasts the shipwreck of The HMS Investigator, a ship which attempted to find the lost Franklin expedition, but which sank a mere 150 m (492 ft) off the coast of Bank Island.

Runners Up: Wood Buffalo National Park, Pingo Canadian Landmark

Nunavut

Quttinirpaaq National Park

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Canada is such a diverse country in terms of landscape, but this park seems almost other-worldly. Its location at the northern point of Ellesmere Island makes it feel as though you’ve reached the ends of the earth. The area has been inhabited by humans for thousands of years, though now the biggest populations are made up of various species of animals. Ellesmere Island is also one of the best launching points for a North Pole expedition.

Sirmilik National Park

This park is the place to go to view stunning glaciers up close, bird-watch, or see various marine animals. The park is accessible via Pond Inlet or Arctic Bay, and should be booked through an outfitter. The park is located on Baffin Island, which is believed to be where the ancient pre-Dorset people crossed over on the ice from Greenland roughly 3,000 years ago. Activities in the area include hiking, sea kayaking, and bird-watching, to name a few. For a truly unique experience, book a tour to view the floe edge, which develops where the current prevents ice from forming. At these spots you could see polar bears, seals, whales, and even narwhals.

Auyuittuq National Park

From a quick image search, this place seems to be the stuff of dreams. This park is the most popular one in Nunavut, and it’s not hard to see why. Craggy granite peaks, stunning glaciers, and gorgeous fjords make up the landscape of this park. The park lies between Pangnirtung and Qikiqtarjuaq, and is almost entirely in the Arctic Circle. This park boasts hiking, skiing, dog-sledding, and plenty of other activities to keep you motivated and active.

Runner Up: Qausuittuq National Park

Have you been to any of Canada’s amazing national parks? Has this post sparked an interest for you? 

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