City dwellers: if you’ve ever looked up into the skies and bemoaned the loss of the stars you remember from childhood, then you’ll appreciate the value of Dark Sky Preserves and what they accomplish.
The idea is to keep an area free of artificial lights to enhance the clarity of the stars, promoting astronomy and star gazing enjoyment.
Canada has 17 Dark-Sky Preserves and many other parks that meet the requirements but haven’t officially adopted the designation. Here are some of the best that let you enjoy the trails during the day and the stars at night.
Torrance Barrens, ON
The Torrance Barrens was established as a Conservative Reserve in 1997 and a Dark Sky Preserve in 1999. Just two hours from Toronto, this is a rugged, rocky region varying from marshlands to barren landscape. There are plenty of hiking trails in the area to keep you busy during the day but no nearby campgrounds for overnight stays.
Cypress Hills Inter-Provincial Park, SK/AB
CHIPP was once the largest Dark Sky Preserve in Canada after receiving the official designation in 2004. It’s the home of the annual Saskatchewan Summer Star Party, which allows astronomers from around the world to enjoy the beauty of the stars in their best (lack of) light. Campgrounds are open year-round and there are trails for bikes, boots and cross-country skis.
Point Pelee National Park, ON
The western basin of Lake Erie is well known for being an excellent birding region and home to a variety of wildlife. The decision to view night lighting as an environmental issue was an easy one, and in 2006 the park became an official Dark Sky Preserve. In addition to hiking and biking, the park is a great spot for kayakers to explore the shoreline.
Parc national du Mont-Megantic, QC
With its designation in 2007, Mont-Megantic became the sixth preserve in the country. The park has over 50 km of trail for both hiking and biking, but one of the more dramatic uses of the park is hang-gliding off Mount St. Joseph. Hiking up Mont Megantic is a quite the challenge as well.
Grasslands National Park, SK
Grasslands is Canada’s only national prairie park and is an incredible place for wandering on and off the beaten trail. Backcountry camping is permitted and to take full advantage of the 2009 Dark-Sky designation, leave the designated campsites behind and pitch your tent in the middle of nowhere. There are designated trails throughout the park, or simply go where the wind leads you.
Bruce Peninsula National Park, ON
Trails through Bruce range from easy to moderate, but it’s the exploration of the caves and arches that draw most people. The 2009 Dark Sky designation gives visitors an excellent reason to choose backcountry camping along the Bruce Trail to really enjoy the stars at night. This also puts you closer to the designated bouldering sites for a little daytime challenge.
Kouchibouguac National Park, NB
Most of the trails in the park are easy and many people come to see the fascinating marshlands and water habitats. Canoeing and kayaking are also quite popular, especially if you kayak to your campsite in the backcountry. Pitch your tent in one of the designated areas and lay back to watch the show.
Mount Carleton Provincial Park, NB
As was Kouchibouguac, Mount Carleton was designated a Dark Sky Preserve in 2009. There are some very challenging hiking trails here and the opportunity to scale four individual mountains. There is a wilderness campsite near canoe docks for water-lovers and mountain bikes are allowed on several of the old logging roads.
Kejimkujik National Park, NS
Backcountry camping is the way to go at Kejimkujik to get the best views of the night sky in the region that was designated a Dark Sky Preserve in 2010. There are plenty of marked hiking trails, but the park also welcomes wilderness hikers that wish to explore the forests. There are even suggested wilderness canoe routes if you really want to get away from the crowds.
Fundy National Park, NB
The tidal fluctuation in the Bay of Fundy has the greatest range in the world. Although this is usually thought of as a boater’s paradise, Fundy also has some very challenging hiking trails. Try your skills on one of the multi-day trails and enjoy the bright stars through the trees.
Jasper National Park, AB
Once notable as the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserve, Jasper lost the title last year to our next national park (below). It’s still worth coming for the Dark Sky Festival in the fall, or spend the summer hiking through the backcountry setting up camp wherever the sky looks clearest. There are plenty of day trails too, as well as mountain biking and boating.
Wood Buffalo National Park, AB
In 2013, Wood Buffalo became the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserve, sending Jasper to second place. In what is also one of the largest parks in the world, the activities here are endless. Both front- and backcountry hiking can be found in a variety of terrains, and camping ranges from a lakeside facility with a playground to setting up your tent anywhere in the park.