8 Canadian National Parks to Visit for Stunning Views, Wildlife, and Indigenous Culture

Nothing solves a bad case of cabin fever like a national park, and Canada is in good supply.

Banff National Park

The carvings at SGang Gwaay Llanagaay are some of the totems visitors can see at Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site.

Photo by Destination BC/Brandon Hartwig

Oh, Canada—how we could go on about your outdoorsy goodness. All countries offer their own unique variety of landscapes, but few can claim the assortment found in the Great White North. It’s a country that encompasses the best of the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Arctic, the Rockies . . . need we continue?

As the second-largest country in the world in terms of landmass with a population smaller than the state of California, Canada is a haven for outdoor adventure. Just look to its 37 national parks and 10 national park reserves (the difference between the two is that reserves have one or more Indigenous land claims) for proof: Jaunt to Banff for its Rocky Mountain nature and see what all the hype is about, or go off the grid at a national park that regularly has less than 30 yearly visitors (shout-out to Tuktut Nogait National Park in Canada’s Arctic).

So whether you’re a surfer, hiker, wildlife lover, or all of the above, be prepared to dust off that backpack and experience what these eight memorable national parks and reserves have in store.

1. Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve

British Columbia

The remote Haida Gwaii archipelago off the coast of British Columbia is where travelers can find the approximately 570-square-mile Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, taking up the southernmost third of Haida Gwaii archipelago. On these rainforest-covered islands, you can come across bald eagles soaring overhead and groups of basking sea lions, all while walking among trees, including sitka spruce, western hemlock, and red cedar. Red cedar, in particular, has been important to the Haida people, who have called Haida Gwaii home for more than 10,000 years. The Haida weave cedar bark into baskets, use its wood to build longhouses (traditional dwellings), and carve cedar into massive poles that can be observed in the park reserve and throughout Haida Gwaii’s islands.

How to get to Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve

The park reserve can only be accessed by boat or seaplane. According to Parks Canada, travel through the inside waters of Carmichael Passage and Dana Passage from Moresby Camp to Gwaii Haanas takes about two days. The easiest way to get to Gwaii Haanas is to use a licensed operator. Additionally, travelers are encouraged to take the Haida Pledge to respect the land.

2. Banff National Park


Throughout the 1870s, construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway was underway to connect Canada’s east and west coasts. But an interesting bump happened along the way when workers found several hot springs in the Bow Valley of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and thought the place would work better as a spa than a railroad track. In response to disputes over who had the right to develop the springs, the Canadian government created a reserve to protect the area in 1885—and Banff National Park was born. (Called Banff Hot Springs Reserve at the time, it was renamed in 1930.)

The 2,564-square-mile park is by no means spoiled by the frequent slew of visitors, despite being the most-visited in the country’s parks system. While crowds gather to admire the glossy, turquoise waters of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, there are plenty of hikes or falls to veer off to in the summer. When winter comes, walk up Sulphur Mountain and take a dip in the historical springs that made Banff a park in the first place.

For a unique spin on the traditional national park experience, book an Indigenous “medicine walk” tour with Mahikan Trails, during which you’ll learn about the healing properties of botanicals like trembling aspen, rose hips, and wolf willow.

How to get to Banff National Park

If you’re not driving your own car into Banff, Calgary International Airport is about 80 miles away and handles direct flights from Denver, San Francisco, New York, and other U.S. cities. After landing, you’ll need to rent a car for the drive 1.5 hours to the park via Trans-Canada 1 West.

Forested hills, with water in distance

Tides may come and go, but Fundy National Park’s scenic views are a mainstay.

Photo by Vadim.Petrov/Shutterstock

3. Fundy National Park

New Brunswick

Take a walk along the shores in New Brunswick’s Fundy National Park on the eastern side of Canada, and you may find that your path is completely underwater on your way back. That’s not unusual in this park on the Bay of Fundy, which draws the highest tides—around 50 feet—in the world.

You can get a thrilling experience of high tide at the Bay of Fundy by tidal bore rafting, which encompasses a bumpy ride on the standing waves that form as high tide enters the Shubenacadie River.

How to get to Fundy National Park

While Greater Moncton Roméo LeBlanc International Airport is the closest airport to this part of New Brunswick, Halifax is much better connected. (American offers direct flights from a handful of U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C., New York City, and Tampa.) From Halifax’s airport, rent a car and drive about 200 miles east to reach Fundy National Park.

Large lake reflecting surrounding mountains and clouds, plus slim peninsula with a few evergreens in lake

Jasper National Park is less about the crowds and more about the Rocky Mountain scenery.

Courtesy of Christopher Czermak/Unsplash

4. Jasper National Park


If you think Banff is all there is to the Canadian Rockies, think again: When UNESCO declared the area a World Heritage site in 1984, it also included the parks of Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho. The biggest of the four—Jasper National Park—spans a whopping 4,300 square miles. With a 2021 yearly visitor count of 2.1 million people (compared to Banff’s 3.6 million), Jasper’s relative lack of people lends itself to more Kodak moments with Rocky Mountain wildlife.

If you do want to travel to one of the park’s more popular attractions, head to Maligne Lake, the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies. Check out the vistas, which include the three glaciers you can see throughout the year.

How to get to Jasper National Park

Edmonton’s airport is close to Jasper and gets direct flights from plenty of North American airports, including Denver and San Francisco. Once you fly in, be prepared to buckle up and drive, because the park is still 200 miles away. But if you’re going to Banff National Park in the same trip, driving Highway 93—also known as the Icefields Parkway—between them offers an exceptionally picturesque route, with views of ancient glaciers, lakes, and Rocky Mountain larches and pines.

The Cabot Trail, a coastal roadway, with fall foliage on hills at right

The Cabot Trail is particularly attractive in the fall, when warm colors wash over the highlands.

Photo by cworthy/Shutterstock

5. Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Nova Scotia

Cape Breton Highlands National Park in northern Nova Scotia offers plenty to do across its mix of highland and ocean landscapes. You can enjoy much of the scenery in this 360-square-mile park without leaving the car, with the Route 30 loop (also known as the Cabot Trail) bracing the shores of the Atlantic on one side and the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the other. Drive slowly, and not just for the coastal views that greet you at every mile—this is whale country, and particularly lucky visitors may get a glimpse of a minke or pilot whale coming up for air. You can also cycle part of the 185-mile loop course or opt to hike some of the park’s 26 scenic trails.

How to get to Cape Breton Highlands National Park

This part of Nova Scotia is most easily accessed through Halifax airport, which connects directly to many hubs on the continent. From there, you’ll drive around 150 miles north to get to Cape Breton Island. Travel north another 65 miles on Nova Scotia Highway 105 and you’ll reach Cabot Trail. This last 50-mile leg to the park is about an hour-long drive.

Gray Mount Thor reflected in lake

Admire the dramatic stillness of landforms like Mount Thor at Auyuittuq National Park.

Photo by Ed Dods/Shutterstock

6. Auyuittuq National Park


Heading to the Arctic is nothing short of adventure, and adventure is what you’ll get at Auyuittuq National Park. In the winter, this 8,300-square-mile park is mostly rock and ice, making multiday treks extremely difficult to downright impossible. But come summer, you can spend all day and night exploring the fjords, glaciers, and seemingly endless fields of colorful wildflowers underneath the Midnight Sun. Fully grasp the beauty and drama of the tundra with a trip to its three most famous mountains: Mount Odin, Mount Asgard, and Mount Thor—which, if the names are any indication, are the stuff of legend.

How to get to Auyuittuq National Park

As much as we love a good road trip, getting to the Auyuittuq National Park isn’t possible by car. Instead, you’ll need to take a flight from either Toronto or Ottawa to Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, followed by a short flight to Pangnirtung or Qikiqtarjuaq. Both locations allow you to take a boat to trailheads within the park—Pangnirtung from the east and Qikiqtarjuaq from the west. Within the park, you’ll need to travel around on foot.

Aerial view of Pacific Ocean reaching sandy shores backed by evergreen forests and distant hills

Visit Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and you’ll experience an ecosystem that interweaves land and ocean.

Photo by Danita Delimont/Shutterstock

7. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

British Columbia

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve’s 197 square miles of temperate rain forest showcase the magic that happens when you combine the grandeur of the Pacific Coast with the lowland forests of Vancouver Island. Here, sand dunes and towering trees such as sitka spruce keep Pacific winds from bulldozing the interior, supporting an ever-so-delicate ecosystem home to threatened species like the little brown bat and dromedary jumping-slug.

The reserve is divided into three parts, and each carries its own unique appeal. Its northernmost section, called Long Beach, is a haven for surfers year-round. For an experience on calmer waters, head southeast to the Broken Group islands, where kayaks and campers can hop among more than 100 islands, islets, and outcrops. Experienced hikers can take a week traversing the West Coast Trail. This hike travels over more than 100 ladders through its 47 miles as you navigate the coastal cliffs along the Pacific.

How to get to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

The western side of Vancouver Island is remote, so your best bet is to drive your car to either Nanaimo or Victoria’s ports. If you’re coming from Victoria, drive north along Highway 1 to reach Highway 19 (around Nanaimo). Keep going north for 30 miles until you get to Highway 4, which will take you to the Long Beach section of the park.

Green northern lights over snowy landscape with evergreen trees

Getting to Wapusk National Park takes some planning, but the journey is worth it.

Photo by AndreAnita/Shutterstock

8. Wapusk National Park


Wapusk is the Cree term for polar bear, which is fitting considering that it’s the ideal national park to see the furry animals. Just south of Churchill (the self-proclaimed polar bear capital of the world), this 4,400-square-mile area of boreal forest and Arctic tundra is also home to other Arctic wildlife, including moose, wolves, Arctic foxes, and 200 different species of birds. At night, look up—the location and remoteness of this park make it one of the best places to admire the northern lights.

How to get to Wapusk National Park

This is truly a wilderness park, meaning you won’t find any trails or roads interrupting the landscapes here. You’ll need a licensed tour operator to get around the park, so book ahead of time, especially when polar bear viewing season rolls around in the winter. Some tours and guides for Wapusk National Park operate out of Churchill; the town is reachable through a 1.5-hour flight or 2-night train from Winnipeg.

This article originally appeared online in August 2022; it was updated on March 14, 2024, to include current information.

Chloe Arrojado is the associate editor of destinations at AFAR. She’s a big fan of cafés, dancing, and asking people on the street for restaurant recommendations.
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