To say that Canada offers an abundance of natural outdoor wonders would be a major understatement. It’s a massive, sparsely populated country, and you’d be hard-pressed to visit and not come across an incredible outdoor space. Unsurprisingly, it is stacked with national parks, all of which are the very definition of awesome.
That being said, most of these phenomenal parks are all too often overlooked in favor of a handful of standouts like Banff National Park, Jasper, Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine, and Pacific Rim. They’re popular because they are outright spectacular, but plenty of other incredible national parks in Canada offer relative grandeur sans the tourist hordes. With this in mind, here are six underrated Canadian national parks that you should add to your spring adventure plans.
Mount Revelstoke National Park, British Columbia
Location: British Columbia | View on Google Maps
Located along Highway 1 roughly right between the Banff and Pacific Rim national parks and alongside the more popular Glacier National Park is Mount Revelstoke. While it’s compact by Canadian outdoor standards (some 100 square miles compared to Banff’s 2,500 square miles), it is big on scenery thanks to its alpine mountain vistas and verdant forests and fields. In fact, it offers the only inland temperate rain forest in the world, meaning arboreal old growth is on the itinerary.
During spring, summer, and early fall, Revelstoke is a popular destination among hikers looking to meander through meadows dappled with bright wildflowers and mossy forests of giant cedars. In winter, it becomes an off-the-beaten-path skiing destination for experienced powder hounds who hit up Revelstoke Mountain Resort for its challenging terrain. No matter when you go, this succinct park offers no shortage of outdoor delights.
How to visit
The Trans-Canada Highway is the main route there, and it will take you six hours to drive from Vancouver or five from Calgary. There are campgrounds on site, but you’ll have to reserve a spot well in advance. For a hotel, try Heather Mountain Lodge. It’s about an hour east of the park and serves as the starting point for hiking trails during the summer season and Great Canadian Heli-Skiing adventures when the snow hits.
Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve
Location: Haida Gwaii, British Columbia | View on Google Maps
Located on the southern half of the remote Haida Gwaii archipelago off the coast of northern B.C., Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve will take some doing to get to as it can only be reached via boat or small plane. But for riotously green rain forests and insight into Indigenous cultures, it’s worth the effort.
Here you’ll find the ruins of a 19th-century Haida village, which today is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Haida people have lived in the territory for at least 14,000 years—although these days the site itself is unoccupied as the Haida mostly live in Skidegate and Masset—and the village still bears remains of traditional totem poles and wooden longhouses. The park is also home to carefully protected forest and marine ecosystems and has been widely praised for its sustainable management practices. A key aspect of this, for example, is the Watchmen program in which the Haida appoint seasonal “watchmen” (if the name didn’t give it away) to monitor the grounds. Between May and October, visitors can chat with them to learn more about the park and the history of the Haida.
How to visit
Reaching Gwaii Haanas is no small task. First you need to fly two hours north of Vancouver or take a long boat trip to Skidegate. Then while you can go via private boat or a two-day kayak journey, your best bet is to schedule a visit with one of Parks Canada’s licensed tour operators. There is no formal camping on the island, but you are allowed to pitch a tent anywhere outside the cultural sites—though it is advised that you choose a place where you’ll make minimal impact, such as on sand or stone. On the upper part of the archipelago, you can stay at the Haida-owned hotel Haida House, located between the forest and sea.
Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta and Northwest Territories
Location: Alberta and Northwest Territories | View on Google Maps
At a sprawling 17,300 square miles, Wood Buffalo National Park is Canada’s largest park. Spanning corners of both Alberta and the Northwest Territories, this remote place (the size of Switzerland) offers visitors encounters with wild buffalo, salt plains, beaver marshes, and flocks of whooping cranes.
The thing to do here: hiking, and lots of it. It’s a relatively flat, open region save for a smattering of boreal forests, so you’ll likely spend most of your time walking through the flats or along scenic trail loops, scoping out an array of wildlife. Check out the Angus Sinkhole (located at one of the first rest areas and interpretive centers along Highway 5 once you enter the Northwest Territories) and the Nyarling River (which snakes along the northern border of the park before mysteriously disappearing underground). From August to April, kick back to take in the stars and aurora borealis in one of the world’s largest dark sky preserves.
How to visit
Wood Buffalo National Park is about as remote as a place gets: a 12-hour drive north of the already remote Edmonton. In other words, this is an adventure for dedicated road-trippers. Once you arrive, backcountry camping is allowed anywhere in the park, and there are a number of established campgrounds around. The only hotels are a 30-minute drive from the park in Fort Smith, with the eponymous Wood Buffalo Inn being the best in the lot.
Mingan Archipelago National Park
Location: Quebec | View on Google Maps
In the far remote areas of upper Quebec, just south of Newfoundland, is Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve. On this tiny island chain, you’ll find delightful marine boardwalk trails for hiking, strange rock formations that stand amid the tide pools like surrealist monoliths, and puffins.
Yes, puffins. While the islands are home to a variety of marine bird species—razorbills, terns, guillemots, kittiwakes, and the like—puffins are the star of the show here, attracting bird-watchers every spring who came to view and photograph these seasonal feathered residents as they nest and feed.
How to visit
The archipelago is about a two-hour drive east of the city of Sept-Îles. Once you reach the towns of Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan, Havre-St.-Pierre, Baie-Johan-Beetz, or Aguanish, you’ll have to take a boat tour of anywhere from 10 to 60 passengers or a taxi boat. The islands include many camping opportunities—Ôasis by Parks Canada offers a unique experience that borders on glamping—but if you’re looking for a hotel, you’ll need to stay on the mainland in Havre-St.-Pierre.
Kluane National Park
Location: Yukon | View on Google Maps
Did I say Wood Buffalo was remote? Kluane National Park would like a word. Home of the world’s largest ice fields outside the Poles, this park alongside the Yukon border with Alaska is so far north that it’s nearly where roads cease to exist. Here you’ll find 17 of Canada’s 20 tallest mountains—including the famed Mount Logan—plus a slew of wildlife viewing experiences.
There are three main ways to enjoy the park. First, you can drive along the highways bordering it, encountering Dall sheep, mountain goats, and bears along the way. Second, you can hike it via a combination of family-friendly day trails (like Kathleen Lake Cottonwood Trail just off Highway 3) or extensive backcountry treks (see the stunning Alsek Valley Trail, which starts near the Mount Logan EcoLodge). Finally, you can raft down one of its rivers with an operator such as Tatshenshini Expediting and spot bears, wolves, and eagles living far off the roads.
How to visit
The easiest way to reach Kluane National Park involves flying into the Yukon’s capital city, Whitehorse, a little over an hour’s drive to the east then driving a rental car from there. If you prefer to bring your own vehicle, the Alaska Marine Highway will provide an epic experience as it ferries you over the course of approximately 48 hours between Vancouver to Haines or Skagway, Alaska. Then you’ll need to drive for another four hours from there.
Dinosaur Provincial Park
Location: Alberta | View on Google Maps
OK, I know this is a list of national parks and Dinosaur Provincial Park is—as the name suggests—a mere provincial park, but here’s the thing: dinosaurs. Not only is this a stunning park that is distinct from most other Canadian regions, with its uniquely desert-like vibe of hardpack dirt plains, jagged spires of rock, and craggy ravines, but it is also home to some of the world’s greatest dinosaur fossil finds.
The place to stay here is in or near Drumheller, a small town about 90 minutes away from the park that is surrounded by stunning rock formations (see the pale, mushroom-like Drumheller hoodoos) and home to “the World’s Largest Dinosaur”—a looming eight-story-tall model of a T. Rex. It’s a funky, strange town with plenty of hiking and cycling opportunities. It’s also home to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, which is full of dino bones and other fossils.
How to visit
Dinosaur Provincial Park is about 2.5 hours east of Calgary, the largest major city in the area. There are plenty of camping and hotel opportunities in the park and its surrounding region, though as mentioned I suggest using Drumheller as your jumping-off point.