It may seem like Canada’s extensive park and reserve system has always been around—but protected land has been painstakingly added, bit by bit, over the past 140 years. Banff National Park came first, in 1885. Ontario was the first province to establish a provincial park with Algonquin in 1893. Over the next 100 years, there was increasing public demand for wildlife habitat conservation and outdoor recreation opportunities. In response, the regional, provincial and national park systems expanded, spreading from coast to coast to coast.
These days it might seem impossible to visit every park Canada has to offer, but you may want to check out one of these 40 wild places established 40(ish) years ago. Ranging from the expansive Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, which protects the ancient prairie landscape, to the tiny fragile habitat of Whaleboat Island Marine Provincial Park in B.C.’s Salish Sea, to the windswept, former whaling station in Red Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, there’s something for everyone.
Destination BC/Dave Heath
- Arrow Lakes Provincial Park; Columbia-Shuswap: Narrow beaches, dense forests and steep cliffs encompass the place where the Columbia River widens and stills between the Selkirk and Monashee Mountains. Head here for swimming, camping, fishing, canoeing or launching a boat.
- Bear Creek Provincial Park; Central Okanagan: Camp at one of the lakeside camping spots or set off on a hiking trail through a forest of ponderosa pines, Douglas fir, and prickly pear cactus. Located on the west side of Lake Okanagan, this is the perfect place to canoe the beautiful waters or sit around a campfire and relax.
- Dahl Lake Provincial Park; Prince George: This rustic day-use park was established on Dahl Lake to provide picnic, canoeing and wildlife viewing opportunities to visitors.
- Grohman Narrows Provincial Park; Nelson: This small road-side park with rustic trails and river views protects a grove of old growth black cottonwood. Only five kilometres from Nelson, visitors come here for walks in nature and outdoor education.
- Gwillim Lake Provincial Park; Chetwynd: Set in the foothills of the Rockies, visitors come for features that include a 50-site lakeside campground and access to an extensive backcountry. This massive lake is 10 kilometres long with a maximum depth of 48 metres.
- Hemer Provincial Park; Nanaimo: With an easy four-kilometre loop trail winding through the coastal rainforest and around a small lake, this park is popular for walking, biking and horseback riding.
- Jewel Lake Provincial Park; Kootenay Boundary: Rustic campsites and a pretty lakeside picnic area offer a relaxing place to visit for travelers on the Crowsnest Highway. The three-kilometre-long lake is a popular fly fishing spot.
- Kentucky Alleyne Provincial Park; Merritt: Popular for fishing and canoeing, the pretty waters of Kentucky and Alleyne lakes are the centerpiece of this park. Campers will find 58 spots—about half of them reservable.
Destination BC/Mike Seehagel
- Monkman Provincial Park; Tumbler Ridge: Visitors are drawn to the caving opportunities, old growth spruce forests, alpine meadows, impressive waterfalls and clear lakes that make up the landscape of this vast 62,867 hectares park.
- Porteau Cove Provincial Park; Britannia Beach: This compact oceanside campground is popular with kayakers eager to explore Howe Sound and scuba divers who come to visit the purposely sunken ship.
- Tudyah Lake Provincial Park; McLeod Lake: Established to meet the demand for camping, fishing and boating in the region, this is a popular place for lake-focused recreation.
- Whaleboat Island Marine Provincial Park; Gulf Islands: A popular nesting site for a variety of sea birds, this small undeveloped island is only accessible by water. At low tide visitors can access the beaches and explore the geological formations and tidal pools.
- Notikewin Provincial Park; Manning: Located at in the boreal forest at the confluence of the Peace and Notikewin Rivers, this park offers visitors rustic camping, fishing and hiking.
- Whitney Lakes Provincial Park; Elk Point: Protecting the habitat of more than 145 of birds and waterfowl, campers and picnickers can choose between four lakes with a variety of services.
- Carson-Pegasus Provincial Park; Whitecourt: This large lakeside campground offers a range of family-friendly activities including a playground and beach activities such as fishing, swimming and boating.
Stephen Underhay @stephenunderhay
- Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump; Fort Macleod: Declared a United Nations World Heritage Site in 1981, Head-Smashed-In is located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and offers visitors a chance to explore the sophisticated communal hunting methods practiced by the Plains people.
- Nose Hill Park; Calgary: This urban park has trails through native grasses and groves of trembling aspen. Visitors can keep an eye out for deer, coyotes, porcupines, gophers and squirrels while taking in views of the Rocky Mountains and Bow River Valley.
Manitoba & Saskatchewan
- Atikaki Provincial Park; Wallace Lake: Adventurers can fly or paddle into the vast wilderness that encompasses the historic Bloodvein River. The river starts near Red Lake in Ontario, flows through Woodland Caribou and Atikaki Parks and into Lake Winnipeg.
- Pinawa Dam Provincial Park; Pinawa: Visitors can learn how electricity is generated at Manitoba’s first hydro-electric generating station. Take a walk on interpretive trails that wind through the thick forests and ancient granite outcrops of the Canadian Shield.
- Grasslands National Park; Val Marie,: Made up of two unique sections blocks, the east and west block, Grasslands protects pristine landscapes of badlands and prairie. See wildlife including buffalo and prairie dogs. Those who camp overnight can experience the dark sky preserve in this ancient setting.
- Raven Island National Wildlife Area; Saskatoon: Part of Lake Lenore Migratory Bird Sanctuary, this wildlife area is about 140 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon. It offers incredible bird watching and wildlife photography either from a boat or from the adjacent mainland (access to the island is controlled to protect nesting birds).
- Woodland Caribou Provincial Park; Red Lake: Linked to Atikaki Provincial Park in Manitoba, Woodland has 1,000 wilderness campsites and nearly 2,000 kilometres of interconnected canoe routes winding through a landscape of boreal and prairie ecosystems.
- Kesagami Provincial Park; James Bay: Accessible by water or float plane this remote northern wilderness is located just below the tree line and is home to woodland caribou, moose, bear, wolf, otters and martens. Camping or lodge stays are options.
- Opasquia Provincial Park; Red Lake: Abutting the Manitoba border this isolated park protects the Opasquia Moraine; a unique landscape of glacial till. There are no visitors' facilities and the incredible wilderness is accessible by air only.
- Wabakimi Provincial Park; Thunder Bay: Train access is one of the unique features of this wilderness area, which includes 500 backcountry campsites set along 2,000 kilometres of lake and river paddling routes.
- Limestone Islands Nature Reserve; Georgian Bay; Permission needs to be obtained before going ashore on these two limestone islands which are an important nesting site for a variety of seabirds. Photography and bird watching are the most popular pastimes and are often done by boat tours in the region.
Mathieu Dupuis, Le Québec maritime
- Pointe-au-Père Lighthouse National Historic Site; Rimouski: Playing a key role in the history of navigation on the St. Lawrence River, the existing lighthouse is the third to be built on the site and the second tallest in Canada. Just a few steps away is the Pointe-au-Père National Wildlife Area—a migratory bird reserve popular with bird watchers.
- Jacques-Cartier National Park; Stoneham-et-Tewkesbury: Located in the Laurentian Mountains, the park straddles the Jacques-Cartier River Valley. Campers wanting to enjoy multiple days of white water paddling, hiking, fishing or biking can stay at one of the park’s 16 ready-to-camp sites, equipped with meal preparation equipment, a two-element outdoor stove, a refrigerator and additional heat.
- Grands-Jardins National Park; Saint-Urbain: The area’s colourful mats of northern lichen earned the park the name, Grands-Jardins (large garden). Two visitor centres offer information about the park’s exceptional hiking, paddling and fishing as well as its numerous camping and lodging options.
- Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay; Rivière-Éternité: The park encompasses the eastern end of the Saguenay River and adjoins the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park for over 100 kilometres of bays, coves and cliffs. Activities include hiking, sea kayaking, via ferrata and whale watching.
- Cape Jourimain National Wildlife Area; Cape Tormentine, NB: Great blue heron, osprey, willet and American black duck thrive in the wetlands, forest and abandoned farmland that make up this area. Visitors come for bird watching, canoeing and hiking and to pick wild berries and greens.
- Portage Island National Wildlife Area; Miramichi Bay, NB: This unique barrier island is a fragile habitat for waterfowl. It's home to osprey, red-breasted merganser and great blue heron. Cautious wildlife observation, picnicking and hiking are permitted.
- Shepody National Wildlife Area; Harvey, NB: Located at the head of the Bay of Fundy, this rich wetland area supports a variety of wildlife. Day-use trails appeal to bird watchers and the new Mary's Point Shorebird Centre offers educational options.
- Sea Wolf Island National Wildlife Area; Cape Breton, NS: Known locally as Margaree Island, this small, exposed island provides habitat to birds including the great cormorant and black guillemot and mammals including the snowshoe hare, coyote and red fox which find protection in the dense white spruce stands, shrubs and grass. Hiking and wildlife observation are water-access only.
- Wallace Bay National Wildlife Area, Amherst, NS: This wetland made up of tidal channels and salt marsh offers breeding and nesting habitat to dozens of birds. Over 155 bird species have been recorded by visitors accessing the hiking trails.
- Long Lake Provincial Park, Halifax, NS: Visitors to the park have a variety of ecosystems to explore including lakes, wetlands, forests and abandoned farm land. Daytime uses include biking, hiking, swimming, paddling and birdwatching.
Newfoundlan and Labrador Tourism
- Sandbanks Provincial Park; Burgeo, NL: Sand dunes and sandy beaches earned this park its name. With five beaches and seven kilometers of sand, it’s a great place to take a stroll and lap up the sounds and sites of the sea. Campsites are available for those who want to stay longer.
- Red Bay National Historic Site: Red Bay, NL: Explore the life and times of Labrador’s 16th-century Basque whalers on guided harborside walking tours of Red Bay or at nearby archaeological sites on Saddle Island.
The Gate - Nahanni National Park - 2018 - Lindsay Vician
- Nahanni National Park Reserve; Northwest Territories: Making the World Heritage List in 1978, Nahanni’s landscape of deep river canyons, huge waterfalls and soaring mountains once attracted gold prospectors. Instead, they found waterfalls, canyons, forests, hot springs and caves.
- Kugluk/Bloody Falls Territorial Park/Historic Site; Kugluktuk, Nunavut: Visitors can hike across rolling tundra and soak in views of the surrounding territory from rocky outcrops. In the summer the lush tundra vegetation includes profusion of wildflowers. Archeological remains show a rich history dating to dating to 1700 B.C.E.
PS. Why 40? Because Explore Magazine is 40 Years Old!
In Spring of 1981, the first issue of Explore Magazine went up for sale on newsstands around Canada.
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