Bring up Canada’s National Parks in most crowds, and conversation will be steered directly toward a few locations: Banff and Jasper in Alberta, maybe Gross Morne in Newfoundland.
There’s absolutely no doubting the appeal of any of these natural treasures, but they are by far the only smash-hit options on the National Parks list.
tap here to see other videos from our team.
As the Parks Canada puts it, our national parks are meant to “protect and present outstanding representative examples of natural landscapes and natural phenomena that occur in Canada’s 39 natural regions … Parks Canada is responsible for both protecting the ecosystems of these magnificent natural areas and managing them for visitors to understand, appreciate, and enjoy in a way that doesn’t compromise their integrity.”
So, if that’s their job, it’s our job to get out there and appreciate them in a responsible but enthusiastic manner. Here are five of our favourite Canadian National Parks that often fly under the radar, but definitely shouldn’t.
Forillon National Park, Quebec
Noted for its diverse natural and historical appeal, Forillon National Park on the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec has it all, from forests and salt marshes to sand dunes and seaside cliffs to nearby historic sites like the Pointe-au-Père lighthouse. Park visitors can rent wet-suits and snorkel or dive gear and get up close and personal with the marine wildlife, or take the drier route and watch for blue whales from the shore.
Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, British Columbia
The Gwaii Haanas (Haida for “island of beauty”) on Haida Gwaii has been a Haida Heritage Site since 1985, yet it remains one of the most unexplored corners of Canadian culture thanks to its remote location off the coast of British Columbia, accessible only by boat or float plane. Those few thousand visitors a year who make their way to the Park/Marine Conservation Area/Heritage Site encounter unique Haida culture, forests of Sitka spruce patrolled by bald eagles and bears, and surrounded by seas that nurture salmon, sea lions, whales and more.
Sable Island National Park Reserve, Nova Scotia
Sable Island National Park Reserve is another of Canada’s hidden gems. Partially because of what Parks Canada calls “an extremely isolated location” 300 km south with access “determined by the constraints of weather and geography,” it’s quite literally hidden. That plus the visiting season is limited to June to the end of October.
But it’s 100 per cent worth the complicated journey to get there. There’s a research station on the island focuses on the unique populations of birds, seals, insects and plants, but the main attraction is the pack of around 300 wild Sable Island horses that live there.
Thousand Islands National Park, Ontario
At just 24.4 square kilometres, Thousand Islands National Park is one of the smallest national parks in Canada. But as the many Ontarians who’ve camped, paddled or otherwise stayed there know, there is plenty to do and see in this majestic parcel of Canadiana.
Established in 1904, this was the first national park east of the Rockies, though it bore the name St. Lawrence Islands National Park until 2013. It encompasses 21 islands and a bunch of smaller ‘islets’ within the St. Lawrence River, as well as a section of the Thousand Island Region’s mainland between Kingston and Brockville.
Wood Buffalo National Park, Northwest Territories
From one of the smallest in Ontario, to the largest in the country (and one of the largest in the world) is Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories. True to its name, the park’s 45,000 square kilometres of boreal plains, pine and spruce forests, aspen glades and salt flats are home to around 3,000 bison, the largest wild herd in Canada.
You can see it all from the common entry point at Fort Smith. You just need to get up there.