Discover Canada’s lesser-known National Parks

Most visitors to Canada barely scratch the surface and only make it to the best-known parks, missing out on unique opportunities to interact with the wealth of experiences on offer at parks less visited.

Photograph by MICHAEL MELFORD
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Lesser-visited National Parks like Yoho National Park, British Columbia, offer incredible wildlife viewing opportunities in the most spectacular of settings.
Photograph by MICHAEL MELFORD

As the second largest country in the world, Canada spans 3,855,100 square miles and six time zones, and visiting its protected parklands is one of the best ways to explore all that this wondrous country has to offer. From coast to coast to coast, Canada’s 48 National Parks encompass marine and coastal reserves, sites of historic significance, and unique geographical areas, showcasing the incredible diversity of this vast and wild land. From one park to the next, the variety of wildlife, topography, and experiences that visitors can have varies dramatically.

Watch wildlife on the slopes of the Rockies at Yoho National Park in British Columbia

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Home to bears, cougars, moose, and bighorn sheep, Yoho National Park, British Columbia, offers a less-crowded Rockies experience, and a 550-million-year-old fossil bed to explore.

Home to 58 species of mammals that include bears, cougars, moose, coyotes, and bighorn sheep, visiting Yoho National Park gives you unique opportunities to view wildlife without the crowds you might find at other parks in the Rockies. A backpacker's dream, there are almost 250 miles of hiking trails within the park. Yoho is also home to the incredible Burgess Shale Bed, where you can hike out with a Parks Canada guide to find 505-million-year-old fossils scattered on the ground.

Puffin spot, whale watch, and island hop at Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve in Quebec

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The islands that make up Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve, Quebec, are home to nesting puffins, and several species of whales – including blue whales - swim off the shores.

Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve is unique in that it is made up of a series of islands in Quebec’s Gulf of St. Lawrence, and offers opportunities to spot thousands of Atlantic puffins, as well as many other seabirds (during the breeding season that runs from April to August, some 35,000 couples make their home in the park). Excursions take you out whale watching to find minkes, humpbacks, porpoises, fin whales, and, if lucky, you may even see a blue whale.

Connect with ancient cultures at Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site in Nova Scotia

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Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia, is home to more than 500 petroglyphs carved into the rocks by Indigenous Mi’kmaw people, and the park offers a range of authentic cultural experiences.

There are many reasons to visit Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site, but the most compelling one may be that the park is home to more than 500 petroglyphs carved into the rocks by Indigenous Mi’kmaw people. These carvings date back up to four thousand years, and can be viewed on organized tours with Parks Canada guides. Also offered through the park, Mi’kmaw interpreters give workshops in traditional birch bark canoe building, storytelling sessions under starry skies (Kejimkujik is a designated Dark Sky Preserve) and opportunities to explore a traditional Mi’kmaw camp site.

Hike suspended 75 feet above rushing waterfalls in Pukaskwa National Park in Ontario

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Hike the ruggedly beautiful Coastal Hiking Trail in Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario, and you may see moose, lynx, beaver, wolves, and black bears along the way.

The 11-mile return hike along part of the stunning Coastal Hiking Trail in Pukaskwa National Park, in Northern Ontario, is ruggedly beautiful, offering opportunities to view moose, lynx, beaver, wolves, and black bears along its challenging route. One major highlight of this daylong hike is the almost 100-foot-long White River Suspension Bridge that takes you over the swirling rapids of Chigamiwinigum Falls.

Stay at a fly-in arctic base camp in Ivvavik National Park in Yukon

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Ivvavik National Park, Yukon, is home to caribou, grizzly bears, red and arctic foxes. Camp under the midnight sun with local Inuvialuit hosts for a truly unique experience.

For a truly unique Canadian experience, stay in a hard-sided tent where mountain wilderness butts against the shores of the Arctic Ocean of Ivvavik National Park. Here, Inuvialuit hosts take you hiking beneath the midnight sun, cook traditional meals, and tell you stories of their culture. This far-north park offers unparalleled wildlife viewing opportunities. With luck, you’ll see whales from the shore, and maybe polar bears too. Part of the protected lands here are calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, one of North America’s largest numbering around 200,000. Grizzly bears roam the park, as do red and arctic foxes. Only available in June and July, with trips selling out long in advance, this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Canada’s far north.

Sleep in a tipi on the plains in Alberta

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Sleep in a tipi on the plains at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Alberta, to learn traditional skills, and experience how Indigenous People once lived.

At Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site you can sleep in a tipi or Métis trapper tents to experience how life was before this age of technology. These rustic accommodations with fire pits, and access to modern conveniences, put you in the heart of a vast and beautiful land that was once home to trappers in the now-defunct fur trade. The park offers a range of interpretive programs where visitors can try their hand at traditional skills such as moccasin making, blacksmithing, making bannock (a traditional fry-bread) then cooking it over an open fire, and also offers drum and song sessions with a local Indigenous storyteller. This park also offers superb hiking out to the ruins of forts used by fur traders some 200 years ago, and an array of bird and animal life to observe, from red-tailed hawks and bald eagles to coyotes and beavers.

Experience history across Canada

Many Parks Canada historic sites offer opportunities for visitors to step back in time and live as Canadians did through history, with many family-friendly programs on offer. At the Motherwell Homestead National Historic Site, Saskatchewan, visitors are encouraged to join costumed interpreters in learning traditional farming methods (milking cows, feeding pigs), before enjoying a farm-to-table meal together. At Fort St. James National Historic Site, British Columbia, visitors are invited to spend the night in 1896, exploring the fort by flashlight and learning traditional games. At Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, Nova Scotia, you can play soldier for a day, dressed in garb soldiers would have worn in 1749, shooting muskets, and learning to play the fife or drum.

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