National Parks: Not just a pretty picture

From mountains and plains to boreal forests and tundra to lakes and glaciers, Canada's national parks protect natural landscapes – and they offer a host of experiences for visitors...

Fundy National Park

On New Brunswick’s south shore, overlooking the Bay of Fundy, this park is open all year round. Kayaking and canoeing are available on water which boasts the world’s highest tides. A nine-hole golf course is open from May to October. Marked trails suitable for mountain biking – ride through native Acadian forests – and hiking vary from short easy loops to challenging stretches with backcountry camping. Visitors can book yurts, cabins and pre-pitched tent-cabin crossovers known as oTENTiks. The park also hosts regular music performances. tourismnewbrunswick.ca

Gros Morne National Park

Located just north of Rocky Harbour in Newfoundland and Labrador, Gros Morne National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s one of the rare places where the earth’s mantle is exposed, enabling visitors to see evidence of how tectonic plates shift. Even those uninterested in geology can appreciate the rugged beauty of a landscape also shaped by the movement of Ice Age glaciers. From mid-May to mid-October boats sail on Western Brook Pond, a freshwater fjord, providing views of its waterfalls and steep cliffs. Six challenging unmarked hiking routes cut through the Long Range Mountains’ spectacular terrain. newfoundlandlabrador.com

kluane

Kluane National Park and Reserve

In the Yukon’s southwestern corner, Kluane spans an area larger than Israel. Along with adjacent parks, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The dramatic, diverse landscape takes in forest, alpine tundra and the world’s largest non-polar icefield. Sightseeing flights by operators, including Icefield Discovery, provide aerial views of the crevasse-pitted St Elias Ice Field and a mountain range with 17 of Canada’s 20 highest peaks, including its tallest, Mount Logan. Hiking, mountaineering and rafting the Alsek River allow visitors to see wildlife lime caribou, dall’s sheep and grizzly bears. Camping at Kathleen Lake in oTENTiks is available from mid-May to mid-September. travelyukon.com

Riding National Mountain Park

In southern Manitoba, three hours’ drive northwest of Winnipeg, Riding Mountain National Park is home to the Manitoba Escarpment’s hills. As its name hints, horse riding is a way of exploring, including along the Ochre River. 

And horse-drawn wagons, of the type once used by the prairies’ pioneers, is a way of experiencing the Strathclair Trail. Golfers can book a tee time at the 18-hole Clear Lake Golf Course. Visitors participating in geocaching will be guided to sites such as the twin towers of the park’s eastern gateway, the last remaining Parks Canada gate from the 1930s. travelmanitoba.com

la maurice

La Mauricie National Park

In the Laurentian mountains, just over two hours’ drive west of Québec City, is La Mauricie National Park. Its forest is dotted with more than 150 lakes, where visitors can swim or hire stand up paddleboards, kayaks and canoes from the Lac Edouard, Wapizagonke and Shewenegan picnic areas. Cyclists can pedal the park’s 55 kilometre-network of trails, ranging from family-friendly circuits to ‘intermediate’, or stick to the parkway’s tarmac. During the summer, anglers can take advantage of daily fishing permits. In addition to camping and oTENTiks, there are dormitories in two historic lakeside cabins. quebecoriginal.com/en

Rouge National Urban Park

Less than 40 minutes’ drive northeast of downtown Toronto, this park has free entry and is accessible by public transport. Glen Rouge Campground is currently closed for renovation but other parts of this wilderness within Canada’s most populous city remain open. Woodland trails and wetland boardwalks attract walkers keen for some quietude, while bird-watchers have 225 species to spot, including killdeers and belted kingfishers. Visit the sandy beach of Lake Ontario. A downloadable app points visitors to other highlights including ancient sites of human settlement. ontariotravel.net

banff

Banff National Park

Founded in 1885, Banff is Canada’s first national park and a flagship attraction that will be on most wish lists. With its soaring peaks, emerald lakes, roaming wildlife and picture-perfect town and village, this Rocky Mountain park attracts millions of visitors every year. Activities on offer including hiking, biking, skiing and camping. Take your pick of over 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) of maintained trails, with many of the park’s most famous hikes easily accessible from the town of Banff and the village of Lake Louise. The Lake Louise and Icefields area of the park, where walkers can ‘feel the breath of glaciers’ has the moniker of the “hiking capital of Canada”. travelalberta.com

Torngat Mountains National Park

Among the jagged peaks and vast glacial valleys of Newfoundland and Labrador, polar bears and caribou roam. This is the homeland of Inuit, who today welcome visitors to experience a dramatic landscape where nature and culture meet. There are no roads, trails, or signs in the park but there are unmarked hiking routes and traditional Inuit travel routes. Visitors can explore on guided/ unguided day hikes and interpretive walks, overnight camping trips, multi-day backpacking treks, and technical rock-climbing excursions. Parks Canada offers a range of day trips and overnight hiking opportunities tailored for different skill and fitness levels. newfoundlandlabrador.com