There’s much more to Parks Canada sites than hiking, viewing wildlife and staring at pristine landscapes.
In addition to managing national parks and marine conservation areas, the government agency operates national historic sites offering a range of activities geared towards families, foodies and adventure seekers.
Some parks are big enough to warrant an entire trip in their own right – for example, Wood Buffalo National Park straddles the Alberta-Northwest Territories border and is bigger than Switzerland.
Bed down in Elk Island
Less than an hour’s drive from Edmonton, Alberta, Elk Island falls within Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve, with opportunities to view constellations and the Northern Lights.
Waking in the national park means being ideally placed to see bison, elk and other animals at their most active. There’s no need to rough it though, beds are provided in oTENTik units – a cross between tents and A-frame cabins – at Astotin Lake Campground.
Glamping in a yurt
Circular yurts provide a comfortable place to sleep in Bruce Peninsula National Park, four hours’ drive northwest of Toronto. Heated by wood-fired stoves, the yurts are arranged by Cyprus Lake. They are kitted out with a gas barbecue, and skylight domes allow stargazing while lying in bed.
Baking at Louisbourg Fortress
Louisbourg, a partially reconstructed fortress on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, stands as a reminder of the Anglo-French military rivalry that was a force in shaping Canada’s history.
Costume-wearing re-enactors portray aspects of 18th Century life, inviting visitors to play the role of prisoners enduring public punishment. They can also get hands on and take drill instruction and fire a musket or cannon.
Baking demonstrations show how bread was prepared in bygone times and there are rum tasting sessions too.
Traditions in a wigwam
Near Callanders Beach at Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick visitors are invited to gather in a wigwam for an immersive First Nations experience on Tuesday and Sunday mornings.
A member of the Mi’gmaq nation, which inhabited the area long before the Europeans arrived and settled, tells stories giving insights into ancient folklore.
Visitors can make a friendship bracelet, while the significance of animal pelts, regalia and artefacts is explained during dance sessions.
Soak in hot springs
Take a dip in the mineral-rich, geothermally-heated water of the outdoor hot pool at Radium Hot Springs in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia. There’s also a heated open-air swimming pool with views over the heavily forested mountains. Spa packages, massages and yoga sessions are also available.
Viking tales by the fireside
The remnants of a Norse settlement can be seen at L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland. During Sagas and Shadows, held on Tuesday and Saturday evenings during summertime, visitors can gather by the fireside in a reconstructed building and hear how the Vikings sailed from Greenland. Spiced partridgeberries, a local delicacy, is served in earthenware mugs.
Undergo a medical examination
The character of Sarah Wade, a nurse, invites visitors to go through an examination and disinfection at the Grosse île quarantine station.
Downriver of Québec City, the station was established in the 19th century to prevent the dispersal of immigrants carrying disease. Thousands of Irish landed at the national historic site during the Great Famine. Thematic tours explain aspects of the island’s past and the legacy of settlers in Canada.
Family fun on a boardwalk
Visitors to Mount Revelstoke National Park in British Columbia can stroll in the world’s only inland cedar rainforest. The Skunk Cabbage Boardwalk Trail is under a mile long and gets its name from pungent plants that flower in May; it crosses a swamp providing habitat to beavers.
Farming the way it was
Visitors can try hand-churned ice cream and wagon rides at Motherwell Homestead National Historic Site in Saskatchewan, which showcases farming techniques from early in the last century. Interpreters in period costume demonstrate aspects of husbandry and give visitors an opportunity to meet working farm animals. The Symphony under the Sky — featuring live music, locally brewed craft beer and threshing demonstrations — is an example of the special events held at Parks Canada sites.
Soldier for a day in Halifax
Halifax Citadel overlooks Nova Scotia’s capital. Visitors can join a three-hour Canadian Singature Experience to find out what it was like to be a kilt-wearing 78th Highlander, including taking part in drills and rifle practice.
Self-guided tours through the fortress are also an option.