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BY ALISSA MILLER
Top 10 Canadian National Parks
Yellowstone. Grand Canyon. Zion. Yosemite. Smokies. Check, check, and check. You’ve been there, done that. While the United States offers some of the world’s most beautiful outdoor adventures, if you’ve already explored the top national parks in this country, what’s next? Why, the next logical choice of course! Canada has just as many breathtaking national parks to offer — and here are 10 of the best. Just make sure to brush up on your Canadian slang first, eh?
1. Banff National Park, Alberta
Banff is Canada’s first national park, which makes it the original hotspot of the Great White North. Banff is the whole package — from pristine, snow-covered mountains and lush, evergreen forests to crystal-clear alpine lakes and streams. You name it, and you’ll find it in Banff. Hiking, biking, skiing, snowshoeing, canoeing, and fishing are just a few of the awe-inspiring outdoor activities to choose from. Make sure to visit Lake Louise (affectionately known as the Crown Jewel of the Canadian Rockies) while you’re there.
The Salish Sea’s Gulf Islands National Park is 15 islands teeming with wildlife — from eagles, otters, and seals, to pods of orcas and porpoises. Reminders of the area’s First Nation and pioneer pasts are everywhere as you explore lighthouses, indigenous areas, and even a Hawaiian settlement (yes, you read that right)! Located in between the Canadian mainland and Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands are a lush paradise laced with hiking trails and viewpoints, not to mention a thriving seabird population. Make sure to ask around for the local tips on shore-based whale-watching — a sight not to be missed!
Stay Here With Wyndham Club Pass: WorldMark Vancouver (about 3 hours away, including a scenic ferry ride)
3. Mont-Tremblant National Park, Quebec
In the heart of French-speaking Quebec is Mont-Tremblant National Park, famed for its more than 400 lakes, rivers, and streams. Canoeing and kayaking are popular activities, as are hiking and rock-climbing, including the one-of-a-kind Via Ferrata du Diable rock-climbing experience. Whether you’re a novice or an expert rock-climber, you’ll enjoy being clipped into a steel cable and navigating the rock face safely at your own pace, including crossing bridges, footpaths, and the winding Riviere du Diable.
Stay Here: Club GeoPremiere at Auberge du Lac Morency (about an hour away)
4. Jasper National Park, Alberta
Jasper is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies, and is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Famed for its stargazing, Jasper National Park is one of only 13 dark sky reserves worldwide. What is a dark sky reserve, you ask? To put it simply, it’s defined as a place where you can experience unadulterated clear sky and an otherworldly display of stars. Offering hiking, biking, and wildlife in abundance, make sure to seek out their famous “red chairs” while you’re there. Don’t forget to visit the Columbia Icefields before you leave.
5. Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland & Labrador
Gros Morne National Park is a geologist’s paradise. This UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts an ancient landscape that dates back several millennia, including opportunities to observe and access rare rocks billions of years in the making. If you prefer animals to rocks, this park is full of opportunities for wildlife viewing, including moose, caribou, arctic hare, and rare ptarmigan. Plunging fjords, soaring mountains, plus an abundance of beaches, forests, and waterfalls all combine to make Gros Morne National Park a Canadian national treasure.
Located on the Saint Lawrence River, Thousand Islands National Park is a collection of slightly less than 1,000 islands (the archipelago technically includes more than 1,800 islands, but the park itself only encompasses 21). Most guests choose to explore the islands by either kayak or powerboat, but you can also spend the day on solid ground, hiking one of the area’s abundant trails. The park is home to five endangered or threatened species of turtle, as well as countless species of seabirds and other marine wildlife. Make sure to visit Mallorytown, the local hub, for some village fun including an interpretive center, picnic area, playground, and seasonal exhibits.
Vancouver Island is as unsullied a coastal environment as you could hope to find in North America. Along the island’s western shoreline you’ll find Pacific Rim — a national park known for its sandy beaches, lush rainforests, and a 47-mile hiking path known simply as the West Coast Trail. Tide pool observation, kayaking, and surfing (Canadian style) are just a few of the exciting adventures Pacific Rim National Park has to offer. Hang ten, eh?
With the Canadian Rockies as its backdrop, Waterton Lakes National Park is all about hiking. Boasting more than 200 km (120 miles) of hiking trails, don’t forget to pack your hiking boots. The picture-perfect small town of Waterton is a charming spot to visit in between hikes. Make sure to check out the town’s Prince of Wales Hotel (a national historic site) while you’re there. If water activities are more to your liking, the park offers pristine lakes, streams, and waterfalls in abundance. Sightseers will enjoy the area’s diverse flora and fauna, and the red rock canyon is a sight well-worth seeing.
Encompassing parts of two mountain ranges (Chic Choc and McGerrigle), Gaspesie National Park includes 25 mountains with an altitude of 3,300 feet or higher, making it a mecca for hikers, backpackers, and mountain climbers. The high altitude creates a unique environment, which includes moose, white-tailed deer, and a large herd of woodland caribou, the last of the species in the wild south of the Saint Lawrence River. From kayaking and canoeing to fishing and paddle-boarding, Lake Cascapedia offers something for your whole family to enjoy. Don’t forget to walk or backpack the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) that crosses the park from east to west.
Stay Here With Club Wyndham Travel: Riotel Matane and other options in Matane (1.5 hours away)
10. Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia
The majesty of the mountains meets the serenity of the sea in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The area is home to numerous species of wildlife, including moose, grouse, harbor seals, minke and humpback whales, eagles, and the endangered lynx. The park’s sandy beaches are perfect for swimming and beachcombing, and its 26 scenic trails offer an optimal range of difficulty, from easy forest walks to sloping coastal hikes. Friendly fishing villages dot the park’s coastal edges, where piping hot plates of fresh local lobster are available in abundance.