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 . . . must we continue?
As the second-largest country in the world in terms of landmass with a population smaller than the state of California, Canada’s 38 national parks and 10 national park reserves allow you to choose your own outdoor adventure. 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 seven incredible national parks and reserves have in store.
1. Fundy National Park
Alma, 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 more well-connected. From Halifax’s airport, rent a car and drive about 200 miles east to get to Fundy National Park.
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. With so many people arguing over who had the right to actually discovered the springs, the Canadian government put matters into its own hands in 1885—and Banff National Park was born.
The 2,564-square-mile park is by no means spoiled by the frequent slew of visitors. You may see crowds admiring the glossy, turquoise waters of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake at the same time as you, but 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.
How to get to Banff National Park
If you’re not driving into Banff, Calgary International Airport is only about 80 miles away and handles plenty of direct flights from North America and Europe. After landing, you’ll need to rent a car for the drive to the park via Trans-Canada 1 West.
Read more: A First-Timer’s Guide to Banff National Park
3. 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 lack of noisy crowds 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. The vistas here are legendary thanks to the three glaciers you can see throughout the year. Spirit Island—a tiny island that has been photographed to the point of being an iconic view—can also be accessed from this lake.
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 (and a few European ones, too). Once you fly in, be prepared to buckle up and drive, because the park is still 200 miles away. But if you’re even considering 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 other Rocky Mountain gems.
4. Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Cape Breton Island, 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 and in Europe. 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.
5. 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, and you can spend all day and night admiring 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 Canadian Arctic isn’t possible by car. Instead, you’ll need to take a flight from either Toronto or Ottawa to Iqaluit, 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.
6. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
Vancouver Island, 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 like 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; 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, which number 100 and make for an ideal kayaking or wilderness camping trip. But don’t ditch the hiking boots for the water just yet: Experienced hikers can enjoy the challenge of taking a week traversing the West Coast Trail. This hike will take you over more than 100 ladders through its 47 miles as you navigate the coastal cliffs bracing the Pacific.
How to get to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
The western side of Vancouver Island is pretty 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 all the way to the Long Beach section of the park.
7. 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 the perfect place for spotting other Arctic wildlife like 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 tour operator to get around the park, so book ahead of time, especially when polar bear viewing season rolls around in the winter. Most 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.