Canada is a wonderland of natural beauty with 44 spectacular national parks. Although most people head for the well-known areas first — Banff, Pacific Rim, Georgian Bay or Fundy — this year try out one of these five less-frequented, but still incredible parks.
Auyuittuq National Park (Nunavut)
Christian Kimber/Nunavut Tourism
In the northern reaches of the country sits Canada’s only national park within the Arctic Circle. This 19,089-sq-km of pristine wilderness on southern Baffin Island includes some of the highest peaks of the Canadian Shield and is home to seals, polar bears, arctic hares and beluga whales.
The extreme northern location means that many of the activities you’ll find here revolve around snow, although in mid- to late-summer, the hikes through the wildflowers are beautiful. Akshayuk Pass is a popular route, connecting Pangnirtung Fjord in Cumberland sound with North Pangnirtung Fjord just off Davis Strait.
Backcountry camping is a little easier when the ground is snow-free, but conditions are still raw. Protecting the fragile environment by minimizing your impact adds a level of challenge to the adventure — no fires, no trenches around tents and you are even asked to return any rocks you may move while on your journey.
Akshayuk Pass is also a great place for skiing and ski mountaineering. The slopes are steep, the snow is hard and the thrill is enormous. Nearby glaciers are inviting and have fewer crevasses and icefalls when compared to their more southern cousins.
Prince Edward Island National Park (PEI)
Canadian Tourism Commission
Giant sand dunes, towering red cliffs and sandy beaches fill one of the countries smallest national parks (pictured, above). Located on the northern shore of the Island, PEI National Park is approximately 60 km long and varying in width. The shore is, of course, best enjoyed during the summer.
Most hiking trails are easy to moderate, wandering through the dunes and woodlands. Bird-watchers will love the sights and sounds of the trails and those looking for a little more exercise can string together multiple walks. Cycling trails are light and easy as well.
Camping is the best way to enjoy the park. Setup your tent near the beach and you can start the morning with a sunrise swim. Cook up some breakfast and then spend the day kayaking in the surf, exploring the shoreline of PEI.
Don’t write off winter adventures; cross-country skiing along the beach is a wonderful experience. The facilities are closed and the trails aren’t groomed, but winter visitors are welcome to enjoy the park on skis, snowshoes, or even do some winter hiking.
Bruce Peninsula National Park (Ontario)
(c) Sander, Tourism Ontario
This 156-sq-km park is one of the largest protected areas in southern Ontario and is part of UNESCO’s Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve. Its hard dolomite limestone stones erode more slowly than the surrounding rock, creating huge, sculpted cliffs that are excellent for climbing.
Numerous hiking trails crisscross the park with varying levels of difficulty. The Georgian Bay — Marr Lake Trail is a favourite, leading hikers straight to the scenic cliffs and some fascinating sea caves. Other trails intersect, providing the opportunity to extend your hike. Bouldering is permitted in designated areas.
Kayaking and canoeing are great ways to explore the unique and varying shoreline. Cyprus Lake is calm and easily accessible to paddlers, while Emmett Lake has many inlets and bays to explore. If you SCUBA, Bruce Peninsula National Park has many incredible things to see beneath the surface.
The park is open for winter camping, cross-country and snowshoeing although facilities are limited. Monitor the weather and use good judgment before deciding to canoe on the icy lake.
Kootenay National Park (BC)
Tucked into the Canadian Rockies, the 1,406-sq-km of Kootenay National Park easily deserves its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Glaciers, mountains and grasslands are all within the park boundaries, offering visitors a rich, diverse experience.
Kootenay may offer one of the best cycling experiences in the country. Road bikers can see most of the best scenery as they travel through the long, narrow park, and mountain bikers will find many well-marked fire roads and trails to test their skills on.
Mountaineering and alpine climbing of all levels can be found in the park, ranging from a difficult walk to the most advanced Grade VI climbs. The climbing season depends on the firmness of the snowpack, generally beginning in late July and continuing through September
Summer hiking trails become a snowshoer’s dream in the winter. There are no designated routes and trails are not groomed or patrolled. Backcountry trails require avalanche awareness.
Grasslands National Park (Saskatchewan)
Peaceful rolling hills of native grasslands make up Canada’s only national prairie park located in southern Saskatchewan. The ecosystem is complex and some of the only remaining black-tailed prairie dog colonies are tucked into the grasses.
Several campgrounds are available throughout the park and backcountry camping is permitted. No open fires allowed, and some areas may not have water; always plan ahead and bring your own supplies. Marked trails in the area can be short strolls along the rocky ground, or challenging, all-day climbs up buttes.
Backcountry camping and hiking is the main reason to visit Grasslands National Park. Once you have left the front-country there are no trails and usually no people. Use your map and GPS to guide you and set your tent up where you stop. A field guide is available with suggested routes and includes descriptions of the area you will be travelling through, or choose your own route through the endless, whispering prairie.
More of Canada's National Parks on Explore