Where to Celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Canada's National Parks in 2017

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Where to Celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Canada's National Parks in 2017
This year marks the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, and to celebrate the momentous occasion, Parks Canada is offering free admission to national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas for the entirety of 2017. Get aquainted with Canada’s national parks and what makes them so special, including the indigenous people who first settled there and the ice fields, mountains, and glaciers that make the country one of the most diverse wildlands in the world.
By Michaela Trimble, AFAR Ambassador
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    MINGAN ARCHIPELAGO NATIONAL PARK RESERVE
    Located 10 hours northeast of Quebec City, Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve is a haven along the North Shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Quebec. Limestone islands and nearly 1,000 islets and reefs form one of the most beautiful stretches of land in all of Canada. The coast is home to dolphins, whales, and seabirds, as well as natural stone monoliths that cast mirrored shadows on the water.
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    What Not to Miss
    Reserve your stay at the remote Île aux Perroquets lighthouse, set on an islet at the gateway to the western end of the Mingan Archipelago. Here, you’ll awake to puffins in the water and razorbills soaring through the air. Campers can stay in the park in an oTENTik tent, rising early to view the grandeur of the Anse des Érosions monoliths as day breaks, with time to spare to scour the shore for stray shells.
    Photo by Patrick Matte courtesy Île aux Perroquets lighthouse inn
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    RIDING MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
    Located three hours west of Winnipeg, the capital city of Manitoba Province, Riding Mountain National Park is home to elk, wolves, black bears, lynx, and bison that live near Lake Audy. The park offers more than 1,000 square miles of rugged wilderness in the middle of a region that consists mostly of farmland. Riding Mountain National Park is also one of only five national parks in Canada that has its own town. Wasagaming is a Victorian-style outpost that’s a great base near shops, restaurants, and a stretch of beachfront worth exploring.
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    What Not to Miss
    Stay at the family-friendly Arrowhead or the rustic-meets-chic Lakehouse, where an on-site ice cream parlor and smoothie bar caters to the confectionary connoisseurs and health conscious alike. More adventurous travelers can opt to camp in the backcountry or stay in a yurt or tent. Take a self-guided driving tour of the bison enclosure at Lake Audy, hike the Gorge Creek trail for amazing views, and enjoy a sunset boat cruise tour of Clear Lake.
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    CAPE BRETON HIGHLANDS NATIONAL PARK
    Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia is famous for its pristine Cabot Trail (and for declaring itself open to Americans if Donald Trump won the election), but it’s also home to Cape Breton Highlands National Park, an area where moose and bald eagle populations thrive amid a boreal forest and minke and pilot whales swim in the surrounding Gulf of St. Lawrence and Atlantic Ocean. Known as one of Canada’s most enchanting natural areas, Cabot Trail winds along Nova Scotia’s coastline where the mountains meet the sea.
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    Cape Breton Highlands National Park offers 26 hiking trails, which range from easy strolls to trickier climbs. Take a guided sunset hike to the Skyline viewpoint of the Cabot Trail, where your trail guide will lead you to the top of French Mountain to see the sun dip below the Atlantic. For island-wide activities, book a sailing tour, try your hand at catching fresh lobster, or visit the local puffin population. Book a wooden chalet at Cabot Shores or opt for boutique accommodations at the 15-room Castle Rock Country Inn, situated on a cliff escarpment overlooking Ingonish Harbor.
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    PACIFIC RIM NATIONAL PARK RESERVE
    Located along the west coast of Vancouver Island and set among a terrain of towering spruce trees, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve plays host to a stretch of mystical islands and islets, shrouded in mist and abundant in marine life, with a thick forest and a system of secret caves. Consisting of three regions of coastline, the park runs along the rugged stretches of Vancouver Island’s most beloved towns, beginning in Tofino and extending south into Port Renfrew.
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    What Not to Miss
    Stay at Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino’s Clayoquot Sound, where you can explore one of the largest areas of ancient temperate rain forest on Earth—and have immediate access to the beach. Surf Chesterman Beach’s choppy waters in summer, or enjoy some storm-watching in the winter (think gale-force winds smacking against oncoming waves). Hike the 47-mile West Coast Trail, kayak the Broken Group Islands at Barkley Sound, and catch a glimpse of gray whales; nearly 20,000 pass Pacific Rim on their journey to the Arctic every spring.
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    TORNGAT MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
    Newfoundland and Labrador’s newest national park may be its best: Torngat Mountains National Park’s name was inspired by the Inuktitut word Tongait, meaning place of spirits, and it lives up to its moniker. The park contains eastern Canada’s highest mountains, where polar bears and caribou roam amid colossal glaciers and local Inuit populations still hunt, fish, and travel as their ancestors once did thousands of years ago. Spanning almost 4,000 square miles, this wilderness stretches from the southerly Saglek Fjord to the northern tip of Labrador, extending to the west where the Atlantic coast meets the Quebec border.
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    What Not to Miss
    First, meet at the Torngat Mountains Base Camp on Saglek Fjord for a safety briefing—you can also stay overnight here. After an introduction to the park, enlist the services of a trained Inuit polar bear guard on hiking expeditions, which double as cultural experiences of Inuit land. You’ll learn how to harvest the land and hear old Inuit legends while walking the same paths their ancestors walked many years ago. If you’re lucky, you might spot the northern lights after a day of fishing, hiking, and sightseeing by helicopter. The most intrepid can even mountain climb a set of scalable peaks—worth the effort for the panoramic views.
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    BANFF NATIONAL PARK
    Dubbed Canada’s first national park in 1883 and touting the title of a UNESCO World Heritage site, Banff National Park lives up to the hype. Located only 80 miles west of Calgary and situated on the slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, there’s no shortage of unparalleled scenery: This park is home to natural hot springs, more than 1,000 glaciers, and enough powder-drenched mountains to fulfill any skier and snowboarder’s dreams. Some stretches of peaks are nearly 120 million years old, and glacier-fed Lake Louise is the backyard of the highest permanent settlement in Canada.
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    Banff features more than 1,000 miles of walking and hiking trails. Hike or cycle on the 16-mile Legacy Trail, view fall foliage at Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass, and in winter, spot wildlife on the Lake Minnewanka Loop and Icefields Parkway. Enjoy a cableway ride to the redesigned Banff Gondola atop Sulphur Mountain for the best view in the park. Skiers can book a stay at Lake Louise Ski Resort, Sunshine Village, or Norquay. Nature enthusiasts can opt for a canvas tepee at Sundance Lodges or a backcountry stay at Shadow Lake Lodge and Skoki Lodge, where snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and fat biking adventures await.
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    FUNDY NATIONAL PARK
    Set on the Bay of Fundy and adjacent to the village outpost of Alma, Fundy National Park was the first national park to earn the designation in New Brunswick, thanks to its rugged stretches of coastal area and Acadian Highlands. The Bay of Fundy is home to giant tides thought to be the highest in the world, and the park offers 25 hiking trails.
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    What Not to Miss
    Hike the Dickson Falls trail, home to the most photographed waterfall in the park. Kayak or canoe the waters of Bennett Lake in the summer, and enjoy cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the winter. While in the area, explore other natural attractions outside the park: Cliff rappel at Cape Enrage, hike the coastal Fundy Trail Parkway, and stand amid the towering Hopewell Rocks on the Bay of Fundy’s shores. Camp in one of the park’s three campgrounds, or opt to stay at Captain’s Lookout Cottages, where your temporary home will be a rustic pine cottage overlooking the ocean.
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    NAHANNI NATIONAL PARK RESERVE
    Located in the southwest corner of the Northwest Territories, Nahanni National Park Reserve protects the Mackenzie Mountains Natural region and the Dehcho First Nations’ native land, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for the canyon-flanked South Nahanni River. The park is home to Canada’s deepest river canyons, a sprawling area of sulfur hot springs, and the monumental Virginia Falls, a natural wonder that’s double the size of Niagara Falls. On a typical day in the park, you can expect to spot grizzly and black bears, caribou, moose, and swans.
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    To best enjoy the park, pre-book a camp pass at Virginia Falls. Go flightseeing in a helicopter above the rumbling South Nahanni River, and stop to raft the neighboring Little Nahanni and Flat rivers. Alpinists can brave the Cirque of Unclimbables and the Vampire Peaks, known as the highest peaks in the Northwest Territories and one of Canada’s finest alpine playgrounds. Trekkers can visit Fairy Meadows and Tlogotsho Plateau for a challenge, and heli-hiking tours can deliver more adventurous travelers to the Ram Plateau.
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    JASPER NATIONAL PARK
    Linked to Banff National Park via the Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park is the largest park in the Canadian Rockies and part of the UNESCO Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage zone. Originating as a railway town and home to the world’s second largest dark sky preserve, this area of untouched, alpine wilderness plays host to grizzly bears, mountain goats, and elk. Iconic sites like the Columbia Icefield and plenty of backcountry trails throughout the mountainous terrain attract the most intrepid of outdoor enthusiasts.
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    During a summer visit, stay at the luxurious Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge or the centrally located Mount Robinson Inn in downtown, the perfect home base to cycle or hike the park’s trail system. Canoe, kayak, or fish at Maligne Lake, the second-largest glacier-fed lake in the world. Bathe in the soothing mineral waters at Miette Hot Springs, and touch a frozen waterfall at the base of Maligne Canyon. Hop aboard the Jasper SkyTram, which will bring you to the top of The Whistlers Mountain for the perfect view of neighboring Mount Robson in British Columbia.
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    KLUANE NATIONAL PARK
    Situated between northeastern British Columbia and the waterways of the Alaskan Panhandle, Kluane National Park is an extreme stretch of land within southwest Yukon. Home to the St. Elias Mountains, the largest range in Canada, and Mount Logan, the second-highest peak on the North American continent, the monumentality of Kluane National Park is immediately felt upon arrival. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is also the site of the largest nonpolar ice field in the world.
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    Take enough time to truly experience Kluane National Park, as its rugged landscape makes for some of the best hiking in Canada. Home to 17 of Canada’s 20 highest peaks, the Cottonwood Trail is also a fantastic hike for native wildlife sightings, including mountain goats and Dall sheep. Opt to enlist the expertise of a park guide to explore further into the alpine tundra of the Coast Mountains, where glaciers and cirques are common. Raft past calving glaciers on the secluded Alsek River, or explore Kathleen Lake, an area surrounded by some of the park’s best hiking trails.
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