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8 Gorgeous Canadian National Parks For Your To Do List

by Brook Wilkinson | November 17, 2016

Canada is one of the smartest summer vacation ideas for U.S. travelers. It’s close, it’s affordable, it’s not too hot, it’s blissfully uncrowded … and it’s got more than 40 beautiful national parks and reserves. Which are the best ones to focus a trip on?  We asked that very question of our Trusted Travel Experts for Canada. Here are eight parks for your To Do list.

By Land and Sea: Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve british columbia

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, British Columbia. Photo courtesy Destination BC.

Encompassing forest, beach, ocean, and more than 100 islets along British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, it’s the miles-long stretches of sand and the numerous hikes through the lush rainforest that make Pacific Rim a favorite of Trusted Travel Expert Sheri Doyle. You can get a taste of both environments on short loop hikes from the main parking lot; Sheri also recommends the Nuu-chah-nulth Trail from the Visitors’ Center to Florencia Beach, which gives you some insight into local history as well.

Peaks Aplenty: Jasper National Park

Jasper National Park, Canadian Rockies

Jasper National Park, Canadian Rockies. Photo: Travel Alberta

Snuggled in the Canadian Rockies, Jasper isn’t undiscovered, but to Sheri it always feels far less busy than the adjacent—and more widely known—Banff National Park. Hiking and wildlife are the draws here; Sheri’s favorite short jaunt is the Path of the Glacier trail to a gorgeous glacial lake in the Mount Edith Cavell area of Jasper.

The Hidden Gem: Kootenay National Park

Kootenay National Park, Canada. Photo: Parks Canada/C. Siddal

Kootenay National Park, British Columbia. Photo: Parks Canada/C. Siddal

Even less crowded than Jasper, but with mountains no less majestic, is nearby Kootenay. The park’s Radium Hot Springs provide a secondary attraction, and the same-named town, just outside Kootenay’s border, has more affordable hotels than you’ll find in Banff.

The Big Kahuna: Banff National Park

sunshine mountain lake banff national park alberta canada

Hiking on Sunshine Mountain in Banff National Park, Alberta. Photo: Billie Cohen

This is the country’s original national park, set in the dazzlingly picturesque Rocky Mountains. Sure, it can be busy—but Trusted Travel Expert Marc Telio recommends veering off the beaten path and taking the gondola up Sunshine Mountain for a hike far from the crowds. For Mount Norquay’s via ferrata—a series of cables, ladders, and suspension bridges bolted into the side of the mountain—you don’t need any technical know-how, but you will need a healthy dose of confidence.

Picture-Postcard Vistas: Yoho National Park

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park.

Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park. British Columbia. Photo: Parks Canada/Karin Smith

This British Columbia park’s name comes from the Cree word for awe and wonder. The impression it leaves on contemporary visitors is no less impressive, particularly in late spring at Takakkaw Falls, ones of Canada’s highest and most dramatic waterfalls. Here, Marc loves going for a peaceful paddle on startlingly crystal-clear Emerald Lake.

The World’s Highest Tide: Fundy National Park

beach at low tide in Fundy National Park Canada

Fundy National Park, New Brunswick. Photo: Parks Canada/Dale Wilson

When the tide goes out in New Brunswick’s Fundy National Park, it does so decisively: The difference between high and low tide can be as much as 50 feet—the height of a four-story building. Time it right, and you’ll literally be walking on the ocean floor, among crabs, sea snails, and other crustaceans (plus the shorebirds that stop by for a quick bite to eat).

A River Runs Through It: Nahanni National Park Reserve

Virginia Falls, Nahanni National Park, Canada

Virginia Falls, Nahanni National Park, Northern Territories. Parks Canada/Charles Blyth

Little known to the general populace, this vast and remote reserve in the Northern Territories is world-famous among whitewater rafters and kayakers, who come to paddle the Naha Dehé (the South Nahanni River). It was named among the first class of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Nahanni called “one of the most spectacular wild rivers in North America.” Rapids aren’t the only water feature here: Virginia Falls is almost twice the height of Niagara, and Nahanni’s hot springs provide a natural antidote to the sore muscles you’re sure to acquire while hiking and paddling.

The Geological Wonder: Gros Morne National Park

Fjord Boat Tour on Western Brook Pond, Gros Morne National Park Western, Canada. Photo: Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

Fjord boat tour on Western Brook Pond, Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland. Photo: Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

It’s taken Mother Nature millions of years to create the mountains and fjords that have earned Newfoundland’s Gros Morne its UNESCO World Heritage stripes; what you see on the surface today is actually deep ocean crust and the earth’s mantle, pushed up by the geologic process of continental drift. Western Brook Pond was clearly named with characteristic Canadian understatement: This “pond” is actually a spectacular, glacier-carved fjord that occupies an area of nearly nine square miles, with waterfalls cascading 2,000 feet down its cliffs. If you go to Gros Morne, Trusted Travel Expert Jill Curran recommends getting a taste of Newfoundland humor at Anchors Aweigh, a music-and-comedy show in the town of Rocky Harbour.

bear in Banff national park canada

Bear spottings are not uncommon in parts of Banff National Park. Photo: Travel Alberta

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

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