Views of a turquoise lake at the base of a huge mountain in Canada National Parks

Ultimate Guide: Exploring Canada- Best National Parks

Here it is your ultimate guide to Canada, National Parks edition!

I’m Jess, a born and raised Canadian, I grew up in Western Canada close to the Rockies and now live in Vancouver. Even though I call this beautiful country home, and have had the chance to travel Canada extensively, I am continually finding more places to explore and travel to.

Although some parks in Canada are very popular, many are lesser known, and all of them are stunning, and well worth a visit.

Understandably, with so many stunning National Parks in Canada-it can be hard to choose where to go. So, along with my travel friends, we have put together the ultimate guide to travelling Canada-Best National Parks edition.  

Top Tips for Exploring Canada- Best National Parks

Canada is such a big country, you will not be able to see all these parks in one trip!

Be on the lookout for the iconic Parks Canada chairs, some are obvious and easy to find and some require a bit of a fun scavenger hunt. There are over 400 Red chairs to sit in and take in the views in the Beautiful spaces of Canada’s National Parks.

You will need a Parks Canada pass to explore through all of Canada’s National Parks. If you are planning to spend more than one day in any National Park the annual Discovery Pass pays for itself.

The Parks Pass does not include parking fees or shuttle costs for attractions and tours.

Canada Map- National Parks

A map of Canada's best National Parks.

*Note: If you click on this map, you will be taken to an interactive version.

What is Canada’s First National Park?

Canada’s oldest National Park is what is know known as Banff National Park. Banff National Park was established in 1885. The Park was first called Banff Hotsprings Reserve, and later Rocky Mountains National Park.

What is Canada’s newest National Park

Located in the Northwest Territories, Thaidene Nëné which means “The Land of the Ancestors” is Canada’s newest National Park. In this park sub arctic forest meets the edge of an enormous fresh water lake. The lake is one of the world’s biggest lakes!

This area is of cultural and spiritual significance to the Indigenous people, and management of Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve is shared with the Indigenous governments.

What is the weather like in Canadian National Parks?

Weather can vary greatly depending on location and time of year, and truthfully hour of the day! Again, because the country is so big you will want to check the weather for your specific destination. Even though seasons are a guideline, generally you will find winter to last for 6 months of the year (November to April) with spring, summer, and autumn in the other 6 months of the year! Although, I am joking, many Canadians would argue that I am not!!

In most places away from the coast, snow can happen in any months from October through April. We get about 8 weeks of true summer, where temperatures can get very hot and dry (July and August). You will want to pack for changing weather conditions on your trip to or around Canada, no matter your location.

How Many National Parks are there in Canada?

As you will see on the Canada Map-National Parks, there are 48 National Parks in this big beautiful country. You’ll find National Parks in every single province of Canada, South to North, and West to East. These parks make up 3.3% of all the land mass in the country. This means an incredible 342,456 km2 (132,223 sq mi) of National Parks land in Canada!

Full List of Canadian National Parks

  • Akami-Uapishkᵁ-KakKasuak-Mealy Mountains National Park Reserve (Labrador)
  • Aulavik (Northwest Territories)
  • Auyuittuq (Nunavut)
  • Georgian Bay Islands (Ontario)
  • Glacier National Park (British Columbia)
  • Ivvavik National Park (Yukon)
  • Kejimkujik National Park (Nova Scotia)
  • Kluane National Park (Yukon)
  • Kouchibouguac National Park (New Brunswick)
  • La Mauricie National Park (Quebec)
  • Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve (Quebec)
  • Nahanni National Park Reserve (Northwest Territories)
  • Nááts’įhch’oh National Park Reserve (Northwest Territories)
  • Prince Albert National Park(Saskatchewan)
  • Qausuittuq National Park (Nunavut)
  • Quttinirpaaq National Park (Nunavut)
  • Riding Mountain National Park (Manitoba)
  • Rouge National Urban Park (Ontario)
  • Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park
  • Sirmilik National Park (Nunavut)
  • Terra Nova National Park (Newfoundland and Labrador)
  • Thaidene Nëné (North West Territories)
  • Banff National Park (Alberta)
  • Yoho National Park (British Columbia)
  • Jasper National Park (Alberta)
  • Gulf Islands (British Columbia)
  • Pacific Rim (British Columbia)
  • Grasslands National Park (Saskatchewan)
  • Cape Breton Highlands (Nova Scotia)
  • Bruce Peninsula National Park (Ontario)
  • Waterton Lakes National Park (Alberta)
  • Gros Morne National Park
  • Gwaii Hanaas (Haida Gwai Islands)
  • Kootenay National Park (British Columbia)
  • Prince Edward Island National Park
  • Bay of Fundy National Park
  • Elk Island National Park (Alberta)
  • Pukaskwa National Park (Ontario)
  • Mount Revelstoke National Park (British Columbia)
  • Forillon National Park (Quebec)
  • Thousand Islands National Park (Ontario)
  • Point Pelee National Park (Ontario)
  • Wood Buffalo National Park (Alberta/NWT)
  • Wapusk National Park (Northern Manitoba)
  • Pingualuit National Park (Northern Quebec)
  • Torngat Mountains National Park (Northern Labrador)
  • Tuktut National Park (Western Arctic)
  • Greenwich National Park (Quebec)
  • Miguasha National Park (Quebec)

TIP: learn more about the history, geography, and interesting stories about National Parks in Western Canada, and throughout the USA try the GUIDE ALONG APP that will play automatically as you drive, based on your GPS location as you drive through the park

Canada Best National Parks List: Top 21

Yoho National Park (British Columbia)

A view of the huge Wapta Falls in Yoho National Park BC, the waterfall is huge and you can see spray from the falls in the air.  Behind the waterfall you can see mountain peaks.  The river at the bottom of the falls is wide and turquoise.
Wapta Falls in Yoho National Park British Columbia photo credit: Debbie Fettback World Adventurists

Yoho National Park is a no brainer on our Canada Best National Parks list. Although Yoho is considered one of Canada’s lesser-known parks, don’t let its lesser fame fool you. This park in British Columbia boasts some of the most breathtaking landscapes and outdoor adventures in the country.

The beauty of Emerald Lake will blow your mind, but don’t miss the natural bridge no-hike viewpoint on the way. Also, stop to view the Spiral Tunnels, one of the most challenging stretches of train track in Canada. Exploring the Burgess Shale Fossil Beds in Yoho National Park is an unparalleled experience. These fossil beds are globally significant, housing over 120 species from the Cambrian period, making them a treasure trove of ancient life. To visit these sites, you will want to consider booking a tour and you will need to do this well in advance because spots tend to fill up quickly.

Accomodations in Yoho National Park:

Recommended by Debbie Fettback from WorldAdventurists

Forillon National Park (Quebec)

A red and white lighthouse overlooking the St. Laurence River in Quebec in Forillon National Park in Quebec Canada.
Parks Canada signature Red Chairs and Lighthouse in Forillon National Park, Canada

Forillon National Park in Quebec marks the end of the long Appalachian mountain chain and it is at the easternmost point of the Gaspé Peninsula. The park is also a historical site as the area has been frequented by Aboriginal peoples for more than 4,000 years and it has the only World War II coastal battery in Canada.

Forillon has a wide range of experiences by the sea where you can go kayaking and scuba diving or you can take a cruise to observe seals, sea birds and mackerel fishing.

On land, you have many activities like biking or horse riding. The park has 11 hiking trails and plenty of opportunities to observe wildlife like black bears or moose. 

We did 3 notable hikes.

  • La Chute is a stunning trail that takes you to an incredible 17-metre-high waterfall.
  • Mont-Saint-Alban hike takes you to an observatory tower where you can see breathtaking views of the sea, cliffs below and the boreal forest.
  • Finally, hike up to Cap-Gaspé to see the lighthouse and admire where the Saint-Lawrence river meets the sea. This is a beautiful vista where you can relax on one of the signature Parks Canada Muskoka red chairs. Stay on the lookout for whales on the horizon! Follow the trail down to the bottom of the cliff until reaching the Land’s End sign. 

This Quebec National Park covers 244.8 km2 and so one day is not enough to fully enjoy the park!

Places to Stay in Forillon National Park

Recommendation and photo by Mel from BRB Travel Blog

Pukaskwa National Park (Ontario)

Turquoise clear water, that you can see the rocks on the bottom is surrounded by rocky shoreline and green evergreen trees in Pukaskwa National Park in Canada
Turquoise waters of Pukaskwa National Park. Photo credit: Thomas Coldwell Out and Across Travel

If you are looking for an off the beaten path adventure, Pukaskwa National Park  (pronounced “puck-a-saw”) is another of Canada’s lesser-known parks. This beautiful National Park is nestled next to the mighty Lake Superior – the world’s largest freshwater lake by area.

Backcountry hiking and camping enthusiasts will love the Pukaskwa Coastal Trail – a tough and rugged four to five-day trekking trail along Lake Superior’s shoreline. For a less challenging option, you can also check out the Mdaabii Miikna Trail over three days or enjoy day hiking from Hattie Cove Campground with tenting, RV, and OTENTik sites and outhouse toilets.

Most visitors head over to the White River Suspension Bridge to find one of the best viewpoints in the area. Pukaskwa National Park is about three and a half hours from Thunder Bay where you will find an airport and more accommodation options for your visit.

If you’re planning to explore the Pukaskwa Coastal Trail, be prepared for tough hiking through windswept forests, along sandy beaches, and over bedrock ledges. Because this is one of the top backpacking routes in Canada, you know it is stunning. You will experience pristine sand beaches and secluded and peaceful campsites. Arrange a boat shuttle for a one-way hike or plan to enjoy a section of the trail if you’re short on time. However you choose to adventure, Pukaskwa National Park is a must add to your Canada best national parks list! 

Recommended by Thomas Coldwell, Out and Across Travel

Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve (Quebec)

Views in Mingan Archipeligo National Park in Canada.  Calm, smooth waters with rock formations and towers coming out the sea

Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve is one of the most unique national parks in Canada. Located off the coast of Quebec’s Northern Coast region (Côte Nord), you’ll need to go on a 13-hour road trip from Montreal, followed by a ferry ride and to finally visit Mingan Archipelago National Park. 

The park is made up of 2 big clusters of islands. Excursions usually leave from Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan and Havre-Saint-Pierre. You will find that each cluster has something different to offer. 

Ferries from Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan take you to Île aux Perroquets, Grande Île and Île Nue. Here, you can find the iconic red and white lighthouse, Atlantic puffins, razorbills, seals and some limestone monoliths

Ferries leaving from Havre-Saint-Pierre lead you to Île Quarry, Île du Fantôme and Île Niapiskau. This is where you’ll find lush forests, beautiful monoliths and limestone formations, fossils, impressive cliffs and ledges.

We took the ferry from Havre-Saint-Pierre and sailed away with Capitaine Richard, a small couple-run operation. There were only about 15 people on the boat. Because of the small size of the group, we were able to learn a lot, and really enjoyed the tour. No need to be huddled in the huge mass boats we saw come in later. 

Even better, we arrived on islands before the others, so we had time to explore with no one else around. Plus, they made extra trips that were not on the itinerary, all so we could see whales, eagles and different islands. 

Our recommendation would be to camp in either Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan or Havre-Saint-Pierre. There are many options right on the shores, where you can wake up to whales swimming. You can also camp on the Mingan Archipelago, but those campgrounds sell out really quickly. If you choose to do that, we recommend you book as soon as possible. 

Mount Revelstoke National Park (British Columbia)

Hiking in Mount Revelstoke National Park (photo: Jessica Sproat)

Lying in the heart of the Canadian Rockies between Banff and Kamloops, is Mount Revelstoke National Park. Revelstoke (affectionately dubbed “Revy”) is a vibrant ski town and is at its busiest during the winter months when the best ski and snowboarders come out to play. However, the town of Revelstoke itself is well worth checking out regardless of the season.
Because Mount Revelstoke NP is home to the Meadows in the Sky Parkway, a fully accessible paved road that leads you all the way to the top, all physical abilities can access the mountain top. There is a short trail for hiking to the true summit and those with accessibility permits can drive all the way to the summit. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also hike all the way up on two trails maintained by Parks Canada.

**Note that dogs aren’t allowed near or on the summit, even if they stay in your car (you also can’t bring them into the backcountry). Best to leave the pup at home for this one.

If you want to stay outside of Mount Revelstoke National Park, Boulder Mountain Resort offers year round glamping, RVing,and cabins, with amenities like hot tubs, fire pits, and a dog run.
The park offers both front and backcountry camping, though bears are very present in the area and the park only allows hard sided trailers and vans (i.e, no tents) in the frontcountry.

While Mount Revelstoke is one of Canada’s smaller National Parks, the mountain and
surrounding area are the ultimate playground for outdoor adventurers looking for the best skiing, snowmobiling, cycling, and hiking… with great restaurants, swimming holes, and summer festivals to boot.
Recommended by: Laura at Wild North Travel

Thousand Islands National Park (Ontario)

View overlooking many islands at Thousand Islands National Park in Canada.  The waterways are surrounded by green trees.
Thousand Islands National Park in Canada

One of the best National Parks in Ontario to visit in the summer is Thousand Islands National Park. The park is made of a series of around 20 islands in the St. Lawrence River as well as the mainland, just east of Gananoque.

Because you can camp on the mainland or out on an island, It’s a really fun spot to go camping in the summer. There are typical campsites available on a couple of the islands.  Plus, there are 10 oTENTiks available on both the mainland and two different islands.

Of all the things to do in the Thousand Islands region, my favourite is hiking. Thousand Islands National Park is home to a number of places to hike on the mainland portion of the park. You will find many of them along the 1000 Islands Parkway.

At Jones Creek, there are 12 km of trails that include various terrain and scenic views. For the best views of the park head to Landon Bay. This portion of the Thousand Islands National Park has a number of trails. There is even one trail that offers sweeping views of all the park’s islands.

Another popular activity in the park is kayaking. If you have your own kayak, there are a number of different launch points along the 1000 Islands Parkway. However, if you don’t have a kayak, or want to experience the park with a guide, check out the 1000 Islands Kayaking tour. As another option, take a Helicopter tour to take in the stunning views of 1000 Islands.

Beyond camping, visitors will find a number of accommodations in Gananoque. One of my favourite places to stay when visiting the Thousand Islands is the Gananoque Inn. It’s located right in the heart of town and a short drive to the park. Hotel rooms are spacious, some come with fireplaces and views of the water. Plus, there’s on site dining and a spa.

Banff National Park (the original Canada Best National Park)

Turquoise water in front of enourmous snow capped mountain peaks and blue sky  in Banff National Park, Canada's most famous National Parks
Canada’s first National Park, Banff National Park

Banff National Park is one of the most gorgeous parks in North America. It is Canada’s oldest and most popular national Park. The stunning views of the Canadian Rockies, sparkling glacier lakes, and wildlife make this park unforgettable.

Since Banff is a popular destination, and often a main attraction of a Western Canadian road trip, some tips for making the most of your trip.

  • If you can, avoid the busy seasons of July and August.
  • Instead, aim for the shoulder seasons of late spring, early summer, and fall.
  • Because of the stunning colours in fall, it can also be busy, so avoid weekends if possible.
  • We love visiting in June for the fantastic weather, smaller crowds, and better rental rates. 
  • Also, be sure to book tickets ahead of time for tours and shuttles.
  • You can no longer drive to Moraine Lake and instead must purchase tickets through Parks Canada. You can also book a great tour to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. 
  • Another easy option is to use public transportation to get to Moraine Lake, which you will find easy and affordable with a reservation ahead of time ($8 and $4 CAD for adults and children respectively).
  • You can park at Lake Louise, for $36, however be aware that the parking lot is often completely full from sunrise to sunset.

Don’t sleep on some lesser-known lakes, such as Peyto Lake and Two Jack Lake—they are stunning. There’s a small but uphill hike to Peyto Lake or a small parking lot at the top for those with accessibility issues. Two Jack Lake has picnic tables, the iconic red Adirondack chairs, and plenty of parking.  

Accomodations around Banff National Park

I highly recommend staying in Canmore, a stunning mountain town. Many rentals are a great price point also within walking distance of shops and restaurants. Canmore is a quick 15 minute drive to the national park and has many beautiful mountain views in town or nearby Kananaskis Country. Recommendations for lodging are Tamarack Lodge, Falcon Crest Lodge, or the Malcolm Hotel. 

Recommended by: Rebecca Schwartz Fab 5 Family Travel 

Prince Edward Island National Park

Prince Edward Island National Park is a slice of paradise nestled along the scenic shores of Canada’s smallest province. Because it is home to diverse ecosystems, pristine beaches, and rich cultural heritage, it’s perfect for families and for those seeking relaxation.

This park is home to over 65 kilometres of shoreline with some of the best beaches on Prince Edward Island, sand dunes, and red sandstone cliffs along the island’s northern coast. PEI National Park is divided into three areas: Cavendish, Brackley-Dalvay, and Greenwich. Each section has its own unique charm, attractions, and diverse features.

The Cavendish area is famous for its connection to Anne of Green Gables; the iconic Cavendish Beach stretches over boardwalks and rolling sand dunes. Nearby, Green Gables Heritage Place is the location that inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery’s treasured novel.

Brackley-Dalvay is a quieter side of the park, favoured amongst families. You’ll find forests, ponds, and calm water perfect for swimming. It’s also a spot to find seashells and seaglass.

Greenwich offers a unique opportunity to explore the park’s delicate ecosystems and rare wildlife. The Greenwich Dune Trails has a floating boardwalk extending 750 metres through fragile dune systems and marshlands before reaching a beautiful stretch of beach. You may even be able to see the elusive piping plover, a species under conservation management on PEI. 

When it comes to accommodations, there are plenty of options for every preference and budget. From cozy cottages and bed-and-breakfasts like Montgomery Inn at Ingleside to luxurious resorts like Dalvay By the Sea, there’s no shortage of places to stay near Prince Edward Island National Park. For those seeking proximity to the park’s attractions, consider staying in the nearby towns of Cavendish or North Rustic

Recommended by Sarah from In Search of Sarah

Bruce Peninsula National Park Ontario

When you think of beautiful wilderness in Canada, the dramatic mountain ranges, huge glaciers and remote coastline of Western Canada probably comes to mind. So, it may surprise you to learn that one of Canada’s most awe-inspiring national parks is actually in Ontario.

Just a 3-hour drive north of Toronto, you’ll find the stunning Bruce Peninsula National Park, with views which rival those of Canada’s most famous destinations.

Forming part of the Niagara Escarpment, the Bruce Peninsula features towering cliffs which plunge into the turquoise waters of Georgian Bay below. In fact, the water is so bright blue that you could mistake it for somewhere in the Caribbean. But, although swimming looks very tempting, be warned, the water is extremely cold!

Some of the highlights of the park include the Grotto (a limestone cave with a natural pool of clear blue water), the Halfway Log Dump shoreline, the Singing Sands sand dunes, Little Cove, and Flowerpot Island. And, on top of these beautiful sights, there are cliff-edge lookouts, pristine pebble beaches, hiking trails through lush forest, and campgrounds you can stay at overnight.  

While you can visit the area throughout the year, the best time is from May to October, when all the trails are accessible, and the park is at its most colourful. My best experience on the Bruce Peninsula was during the fall, as the contrast of vibrant autumn colours with the bright blue water is especially spectacular.

The Bruce Peninsula makes for a fantastic weekend or day trip from Toronto. If you’re looking to stay overnight, there are several camping, guest house and hotel options in the area. In particular, the Stone Cove Waterfront Adults Only B&B (adults only) in nearby Tobermory is the ideal spot for a romantic weekend getaway. Or, for something for the whole family slightly more budget-friendly, the Grandview Motel has fantastic views.

Recommended by: Chanelle Rosenbaum from Chasing Chanelle

Jasper National Park, Alberta

Jasper National Park located in Alberta is over 11,000 square kilometers in size and is the largest park in the Canadian Rockies. If you are an outdoor enthusiast, this is the best place to visit. There are many things to do in the park, including hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting and water sports.

As someone who has spent time there, I can attest to its captivating allure. My two favorite hikes are the Valley of Five Lakes and Maligne Canyon. These are two of the best hikes in Jasper and are amazing sites to see.

Here are a few tips to ensure a great experience: 

  • Start your hikes early to avoid crowds, especially in the busy summer months. 
  • Always carry bear spray and make noise on the trails to alert wildlife of your presence.
  • If time allows, drive the 5 hours from Calgary through Banff National Park and experience the amazing scenery along the way. I promise it is worth it.

Jasper offers a few options to suit every traveler’s preference for accommodations. For a comfortable retreat, consider booking a stay at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. For a more budget-friendly option without compromising on charm, Mount Robson Inn is another option that has convenient access to the town’s amenities.

There’s a good chance you will get to experience some of the local wildlife including bears and elk when visiting Jasper National Park. With its breathtaking landscapes, this park will leave a lasting impression on all who visit.

Recommended by Melanie, The World Travel Girl

Fundy National Park New Brunswick

Fundy National Park is tucked away in a little nook of New Brunswick, Canada, and is much less busy than well known parks in other parts of the country.

One of the main attractions in Fundy National park is exploring by foot, with many nature walks and hiking trails available.

Take the Dickson Falls Trail, for example. It’s short, sweet, and doesn’t require you to morph into a mountain goat to enjoy its beauty and waterfall. This path is decked out with boardwalks and a few stairs, making it accessible to most.

If you’re feeling a tad more adventurous, head for the Coastal Trail. This one is more strenuous and is 6 miles long.  If you don’t have time (or the willpower) to hike the entirety, you can just hike a small section and still enjoy the dramatic views of the coast. 

But the real showstopper is the Bay of Fundy, with mood swings bigger than the ocean floor it exposes twice a day. The tidal change here is so extreme, it’s as if the sea got up and left behind all its secrets for you to explore. The best place to experience these tidal changes is at Alma, which is located right on the park’s border. If you choose to go, remember to check the tide table for low tide and wear shoes you don’t mind getting dirty as there is mud. Oh, and don’t forget the bug spray, the mosquitos are in full force as you move further out on the ocean floor. 

In addition to the dramatic coastal adventures, Fundy is a great place to explore the forest and see wildlife including black bears and moose. Fundy needs to be on your bucket list!

Alma is the best spot to spend the night while exploring Fundy National Park.  Alma Shore Lane Suites & Cottages or the Alpine Motor Inn are both excellent options.

Recommended By: Jenny from Discover Parks & Wildlife

Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland

Gros Morne National Park is the perfect place to explore during a summer road trip to Newfoundland. This park is a treasure trove of cultural and outdoor activities, catering to both the young and the not-so-young. My four-day adventure was just a taste of what this park offers, and I will be back for more. 

One of the park’s standout features is the Tablelands, a hike that offers a truly unique experience. Walking on the earth’s mantle with the bare surroundings and red-orange environment, feels like you are hiking on Mars! 

Gros Morne Mountain is also a must for peak baggers. It is a challenging hike, but so gratifying to stand on the summit. You’ll want to be sure to take a selfie with the big summit sign! The park has unique landscape, and hikers can also sometimes spot the herd of caribou that live in the park. Even if you are not an experienced hiker, there are numerous lookouts where you can admire the mountain and still take in its beauty. 

If you must choose only one activity in Gros Morne National Park, it has to be the two-hour boat tour on Western Brook Pond. This Canadian Signature Experience involves cruising the waters on the fjord, with massive cliffs bordering the river and tall waterfalls cascading from the plateaus above to the pond. You will need reservations with Bon Tours. Don’t forget your camera!

The park has many campgrounds by the water with amazing views and sunsets. They also offer rustic cabins and the famous Parks Canada’s oTENTiks. If camping is not your vibe, and you are in the Tablelands area, check out The Rooms at Woody Point.

Recommended by: Josanne from AdventuresomeJo

Gwaii Haanas

Gwaii Haanas is one of the most unique National Parks in Canada. It makes up the southern half of Haida Gwaii, an archipelago of islands off the northwest coast of British Columbia. It’s often called the Canadian Galapagos since it is home to many species that aren’t found anywhere else. The park is co-managed with the Council of the Haida Nation and Indigenous history and culture are interwoven into all aspects of a visit. 

In the Haida language, Gwaii Haanas means “islands of beauty”. Since the park is made up of dozens of islands, the only way to visit is by boat. Most visitors to the park take a kayak or power boat tour, but you can also visit in your own boat if you make advance reservations and attend an orientation session. It’s possible to take a single-day tour, but the park is huge so most tours are between four and seven days long to allow you to see the key sites. You will either sleep aboard the tour boat or in a floating lodge just outside the park. I did a four-day zodiac tour with Moresby Explorers and highly recommend it. The food was unreal!

There are lots of things to do in Gwaii Haanas National Park, but the reason most people visit is to see the Haida cultural sites where you can walk amongst the remains of pre-colonial Haida villages accompanied by a Haida Watchmen guide. The most spectacular site is SGangwaay (Anthony Island), which still has some standing totem poles. Many visitors (me included) also love visiting Gandll K’in Gwaay.yaay, also known as Hot Springs Island since you go for a soak. 

The wildlife is another must-see for visitors to Gwaii Haanas. You can spot whales, black bears, eagles, and tons of marine life including seals, sea lions, and lots of seabirds. The park also includes huge stands of old-growth forest which are awe-inspiring to visit. 

Recommended by Taryn Eyton of HappiestOutdoors

Waterton National Park, Southern Alberta

Waterton is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, bordering Montana, that jointly forms
the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. I’ve visited this park on weekend getaways for over 20 years and am still amazed by the rugged wilderness and pristine lakes and landscapes. We usually camp at the Waterton townsite
stroll along the lakeshore, and visit main street to get an ice cream, window shop, listen to live music at the Thirsty Bear, or see a movie at the historic theatre.
Top places to see:

  • Red Rock Canyon
  • Cameron Lake
  • Cameron Falls
  • Emerald Bay,
  • Prince of Wales Hotel
  • Waterton Lakes and townsite

There are endless outdoor activities including hiking, biking, swimming, horseback riding, paddle boarding, kayaking, and taking a cruise across Waterton lake.

“Where the mountains meet the prairies” is the motto for Waterton Lakes National Park and most visitors are awed by the spectacular mountain range that suddenly emerges from the foothills. Waterton is known for beautiful scenery, abundant wildlife, a windy climate, and the annual Wildflower Festival highlighting unique flora and fauna found only in this distinct ecosystem.

My top picks for unforgettable experiences include:

  • afternoon tea at the Prince of Wales
  • paddling on Cameron Lake
  • enjoying the scenery and wildlife on a trail ride
  • First time visitors won’t want to miss Bear’s Hump, a popular short, steep trek to a vantage pointwhich offers panoramic views of the Waterton Lakes.

The best accommodation is on the lakeshore including the newly rebuilt Kilmorey Lodge or the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel. Waterton is open year round, but most people visit during the summer as many businesses and services are only open seasonally.

Recommended by Jennifer Mazer at Illuminated Experiences

Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan

Located in southern Saskatchewan, Grasslands National Park is a must-visit if you love wide-open spaces and clear night skies. This park is less crowded than many others, so you can expect to get a really good sense of the peace and vastness here.

If you’re into camping, you have a couple of good options. For front-country camping, there is the Rock Creek Campground in the East Block and the Frenchman Valley Campground in the West Block. And if you are a little more adventurous, there is also backcountry camping in either block.

We would recommend staying in one of Parks Canada’s iconic oTENTiks. These tent-like structures are more glamping than camping, and are a ton of fun to stay in!

While the campsites offer very little in the way of privacy or trees (Grasslands is in Prairie country after all), it certainly makes up for it when it comes to stargazing. Grasslands is one of the largest and darkest Dark-Sky Preserves in Canada.

Also, If you are into hiking, geocaching, or scenic drives, Grasslands will keep you busy for days! We enjoyed both the Rock Creek Trail and the Creek to Peak Trail, which were short and easy hikes.

Don’t forget to drive the Badlands Parkway in the East Block. It has a ton of awesome viewpoints and descriptive plaques, and should only take you an hour (out and back) to complete.

A few tips: the weather can change fast, so bring a variety of clothes. Also, keep an eye out for wildlife like bison and prairie dogs, which you might see near the trails.

For places to stay, if camping isn’t your thing, head to the Canalta Hotel Shaunavon. It’s a great hotel located 1 hour west of the West Block.The Canalta Hotel Assiniboia is another great option if you are planning to visit the East Block. It is located approximately 1 hour east of the Park Gate.

Recommended by Marianne of The Journeying Giordanos

Elk Island National Park

Elk Island National Park is a spectacular nature reserve located close to Edmonton in Alberta, Canada. Famed for its diverse habitats and wildlife, particularly elk and bison, it offers visitors a wide range of activities throughout the year. 

This national park is open all year round, and is great for both summer and winter activities. In the summer, bird watching is very popular. With over 250 bird species, bird enthusiasts flock to spot waterfowl and songbirds. 

As Elk Island is home to free-roaming bison, elk, and moose, we enjoyed seeing wildlife on the go. Remember that early morning or dusk are the prime times for wildlife viewing, hello Bison! The park also has an extensive network of trails ranging from easy to challenging. 

The Elk-Island trail is ideal for families, offering scenic views and a chance to immerse yourself in the beauty of nature. If you are not into hikes, you can enjoy picnics, and educational workshops that take place in the summer. 

Winter in Elk Island National Park is just as inviting, with winter activities like snowshoeing, wildlife viewing, and stargazing. Elk Island is part of the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve, making it an ideal location for astronomy enthusiasts.

Note that there’s no overnight camping in the park, so plan to book accommodations nearby. We recommend staying in Edmonton for convenience. It’s just a short drive from the park. Here are two hotel recommendations:

 Fairmont Hotel Macdonald – A touch of luxury and history, with stunning views of the North Saskatchewan River

Metterra Hotel on Whyte Stylish comfort in the heart of Edmonton’s trendy Old Strathcona neighbourhood.

Recommended by Stephanie of Bey of Travel

Cape Breton Highlands National Park (Nova Scotia)

National Park in Canada Cape Breton Highlands

Cape Breton Highlands National Park, located on the northern tip of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, is one of two national parks in Nova Scotia. The park is known for its stunning scenery, with dramatic coastal cliffs, lush forests and picturesque viewpoints, as well as excellent hiking and camping opportunities. 

The park is situated along the famous Cabot Trail, a scenic highway that winds its way through Cape Breton, and offers panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and the rugged coastline. Whether you’re driving the Cabot Trail, hiking one of the park’s many trails, chasing the waterfalls in Cape Breton or simply taking in the views from one of the lookout points, the park’s natural beauty doesn’t cease to amaze. 

Cape Breton Highlands National Park can be visited year-round, however the summer months are the busiest. The fall months are also a great time to visit, when the foliage is ablaze with vibrant colours, and Cape Breton is one of the best places to see the fall colours in Nova Scotia

No matter which season you visit Cape Breton Highlands National Park, be sure to explore the park’s many hiking trails, which range from short and easy strolls to more challenging hikes. Be sure to pack layers, as the weather can change quickly, and be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks, as services within the park are limited. 

There are lots of accommodations ranging from camping to cabins in Ingonish or Cheticamp. We recommend Skyline Cabins in Ingonish.

Pacific Rim National Park

Sunset at Cox Bay beach at Pacific Rim National Park in Canada.  The sky is pink at sunset, and people and children are playing in the surf.  THe people look like silouhettes.
Surfers in Pacific Rim National Park at Cox Bay Beach

Pacific Rim National Park is located on the West coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. This stunning park spans over 500 square kilometers and is known for its wild, rugged coastline, old growth rainforests, and diverse wildlife.

Visitors to the wild west coast can explore a variety of hiking trails that wind through the ancient forests, providing opportunities to spot black bears, wolves, whales, and marine life. There are so many hiking trails, beaches, and accessible places in nature to explore in Tofino and Ucluelet. For those looking for a more challenging adventure, there are also multi-day backpacking trips along the coast.

This area is home to the villages of Tofino and Ucluelet which both offer many things to do including world class surfing, delicious dining for all budget ranges, beautiful places to stay including waterfront luxury resorts, camping, and cabins nestled into the rainforest. Because the area is so far West, the sunsets here are incredible!! Most people find once they visit Pacific Rim National Park, they can hardly wait to plan another trip.

My top picks for things to are to grab takeout from the famous food Truck, Tacofino, and head to the nearby Cox Bay beach to eat. You can also rent bikes here and cruise along the beach. Tonquin Beach in Tofino has incredible tide pools, as well as sandy coves to explore, and there are many, many hikes ranging from wheelchair accessible (parts of Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet) to challenging with expansive views (Hello Lone Cone!)Pacific Rim really is a magical National Park to add to your travels.

Gulf Islands

Paddling around the bays of Gulf Islands National Park British Columbia
Paddling around Gulf Islands National Park Canada

Gulf Islands National Park is also located on the West Coast of British Columbia. It is a collection of 15 small islands and surrounding waters, each offering a unique experience for visitors. The park was established in 2003 and covers over 36,000 hectares of land and sea.

These Islands are known for their diverse landscapes, including rugged coastlines, sandy beaches, and lush forests. Visitors can access Saturna IslandMayne Island,  North Pender, and South Pender Island by BC Ferries, while the other islands are accessible by water taxi, private boat, or kayaking. Because there are so many coves and secluded beaches there are stunning opportunities for kayaking, paddling, and boating, as well as fun outdoor activities like disc golf, and golfing.

One of the most popular activities in Gulf Islands National Park is wildlife viewing. The park is home to a variety of animals such as deer, otters, eagles, and the resident Orca whales that make this area their home.

Accomodations and services on the smaller islands are limited to camping, while there are fun and unique places to stay and explore on the larger islands of Pender, Mayne, and Saturna. Poet’s Cove Resort on Pender Island and Mayne Island Resort are both stunning places to stay.

If you enjoy nature and a quieter pace of life, add Gulf Islands National Park to you Canadian National Parks list to explore!

Kootenay National Park

Kootenay National Park shares a border Banff National Park, you will find it just South of Banff between Banff and the townsite of Radium. It’s located in the British Columbia Canadian Rockies, at the border of Alberta. It’s often overlooked, but it absolutely shouldn’t be.

One of the top attractions in Kootenay National Park is Radium Hot Springs pools. They are located near the park’s entrance, near the town of Radium Hot Springs. These naturally heated mineral pools are perfect for a relaxing escape, especially when visiting the Kootenays in the wintertime. While it’s still a commercial pool-type hot spring, you’ll be surrounded by nature and the mountains.

Then, there are many hiking opportunities in Kootenay National Park that are suitable for the entire family. The Marble Canyon trail is a short and easy hike that follows that canyon. The water is so clear and also turquoise. Again, don’t miss the famous red Adirondack Parks’ Canada chair on the trail overlooking the hotsprings (perfect stop for a picnic).

Other hiking options are:

  • Stanley Glacier trail
  • Paint Pots trail
  • Sinclair Canyon trail
  • Juniper Lookout trail

Another must-see stop in Kootenay National Park is Numa Falls. You can walk on the bridge to admire the waterfalls and even walk a little in the forest. It’s a quick walk from the parking lot.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is a smaller, lesser known National Park in Canada, and it’s also a hidden gem! Although most folks skip this park, it is well worth a visit. Glacier is located between the mountain towns of Revelstoke and Golden, and makes a great stop on any Western Canadian roadtrip.

This park in Canada, is not to be confused with the American park of the same name, is home to world’s only inland cedar rainforest, breathtaking mountains, glaciers, jewel coloured lakes, and is an area that played a huge role in Canada’s history.

Visitors to Glacier National Park will not want to miss Roger’s Pass Discovery Centre, which has a museum, and information about the railway in Canada and it’s significance in connecting the country. This stretch of the Trans Canada can be treacherous during the winter, if you choose to visit during the winter, you will need to be well prepared and aware of weather conditions.

Although one of the main attractions of Glacier National Park is its varied hiking trails (options for nature walks to strenuous trails) this area is rugged and does not have cell phone services. You’ll also need to be wildlife aware, as many animals including bears call the Columbia mountains home.

The towns of Revelstoke and Golden make the perfect home base(s) while exploring Glacier National Park in Canada. Visitor will find beautiful accomodations for all budgets as well as delicious restaurants and lively townsites in both Revy and Golden. Camping is available in Glacier National Park, reservations for this are made through the Parks Canada system.

FAQ: Canada Best National Parks

Do you have to pay to drive through National Parks in Canada?

Yes, you will need a Parks Pass to explore the National Parks in Canada. You can buy single day passes, annual passes, or a family pass. The cost for an annual pass in 2024 is $75.25 CAD, or $151.25 CAD for a family pass (up to 7 people in a vehicle). This pass includes entry to all the National Parks in Canada, as well as all National Historic Sites. If visiting townsites, like Banff or Lake Louise, the pass does not include parking. New for 2024, parking at Lake Louise will cost $36 flat rate per day.

What is Canada’s most visited national park?

Banff National Park in Alberta is Canada’s most visited National Park with over 4 million visitors annually! Banff National Park is home to the Canadian Rockies and the Gatorade Factories with many stunning turquoise glacial lakes. Canada’s least visited National Park is remote and wild, and some years has had only 2 documented visitors.

What are the 5 largest national parks in Canada?

The largest National Parks in Canada are not necessarily the most popular. In fact, the largest parks according to land size are Wood Buffalo National Park, 44,741 km, Quttinirpaaq National Park, 37,775 km, Sirmilik National Park, 22,252 km, Ukkusiksalik National Park, 20,885 km, Auyuittuq National Park, 19,089 km. You will find all of these parks in remote Northern Canada, where they don’t get many visitors at all! In contrast, Canada’s smallest National Park is Georgian Bay Islands National Park which is made up of 63 islands and has a total area of 14 km².

Camping in Canadian National Parks

Camping in Canada’s National Parks is an amazing way to be up close and experience all that the parks have to offer. However, reservations can be tricky. Reservations for camping within the national parks are made through the Parks Canada website, and there are many options for types of camping (glamping, tent, RV, backcountry, cabins). Reservations open in January each year.

TIP: Find camping in sold out campgrounds across North America using the Camp Nab software. This software only works on desktop, and it scans and notifies of campground cancellations in real time. This has worked for me, every single time, even during busy summer weekends

Wildlife in Canadian National Parks

A young Grizzly Bear in a National Park in Canada.
Young Grizzly Bear in Canada, shot on a zoom lens.

Although it is definitely incredible to see wildlife in its natural habitat, and many of Canada’s National Parks are home to big wildlife, there are a few things to know to be prepared. Most importantly, do not approach or feed wildlife.

Wildlife Safety

Many of Canada’s National Parks are home to bears, cougars, moose, bison, and other wildlife. Although this can seem a bit frightening to people who did not grow up around bears or wildlife there are lots of things to do to be prepared. Find expert information to help you be prepared for wildlife encounters in Canada from WildSafe BC.

Wrapping Up Complete Guide to Visiting Canada-Best National Parks Edition

By now, I’m guessing you have some idea of the vastness of Canada and the diversity of the National Parks that are across the entire country! I hope that you will find inspiration to travel to a park you haven’t been to before, or to go back to your favourites and keep exploring. It’s pretty much guaranteed that whether you are travelling to Canada, or this is your home, you will have a beautiful adventure exploring Canadian National Parks.

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