Whenever I scan a map of Canada, my eye is drawn to parkland: swathes of green ink that I just know harbour something very special; something worth fiercely protecting.
But the ones that really pique my interest are the outliers; the parks that lie in lonely solitude at land's end. Here are 6 of Canada's loneliest parks, fit only for the most intrepid of explorers.
Before you go adventuring off the grid...
You don't have to go all the way to the high arctic to lose cellular signal. Of Canada's 18 million sq-km, 8 million sq-km fall beyond the reach of traditional cellular and GSM networks.* If you venture out without a plan to ensure reliable communications, getting away from it all could mean running the risk of not being able to contact help when you need it most. The simple solution is clipping a lightweight SPOT Gen3 satellite messenger to your pack. The device provides you a critical, life-saving line of communication that sends your SOS message and GPS coordinates to a 24/7 emergency response centre. It can track your route and pinpoint your location with GPS accuracy, taking the search out of search-and-rescue.
Sirmilik National Park, Nunavut
Inuktitut for "Place of Glaciers"
Flickr/Mike Beauregard (CC by 2.0)
Flickr/Mike Beauregard (CC by 2.0)
Perched on Baffin Island, Sirmilik isn't even Canada's most northerly national park. It sits adjacent to the Northwest Passage, which history has proven to be notoriously inaccessible.
For a park that lies at a latitude of 73°N, 237 visitors is actually a remarkable number of guests. And what that number doesn't reveal, is that from 2014-15, there were only 60. Why the sudden jump? A program called Students on Ice that "educate[s] the world’s youth about the importance of the Polar Regions" brought over 100 visitors to Sirmilik via a ship-based Arctic expedition.
Why you should go: Sirmilik National Park is a place of extraordinary natural beauty. It features 16 glaciers, multi-coloured stone terrain and hoodoos. Without marked trails, trekkers let their feet lead the way while keeping their eyes peeled for polar bears, caribou, muskoxen, wolves, and over 40 species of birds. Offshore, kayakers may encounter narwhal, ringed seals and a parade of migrating whales, from beluga to orcas to bowhead whales.
Where to start your journey: Pond Inlet or Arctic Bay, by way of Iqaluit.
When should adventurers visit? Ski tour and mountaineer in spring (mid-April to early June), or hike in late July through early September when average highs hit a comfortable 14°C. Break-up takes places from late June to late July; during this time the park is inaccessible.
Quttinirpaaq National Park, Nunavut
Inuktitut for "Land at the Top of the World"
Christian Kimber/Nunavut Tourism
Visitors: 17 (up from a whopping 5 in 2013)
Welcome to the most remote national park in Canada. The park sits on the northeast end of Ellesmere Island and extends to the Polar Ice Cap. This lip marks the edge of North America, making Quttinirpaaq true to its name. From here, only sea ice stands between you and the North Pole. In fact, Ellesmere Island has served as a staging point for North Pole expeditions since the late 1800s.
Why you should go: Apart from major bragging rights and a trip of a lifetime? This high arctic park is decorated with spectacular, untouched nature. Ice caps, glaciers, icy rivers, barren tundra, and cragged peaks await those who venture here. Trekkers walk in the footsteps of ancient peoples along the 4,500-year old Muskox Way beneath a midnight sun. Head up to the Lake Hazen area for a look at the thriving wilderness, afforded by a thermal oasis.
Your chances of spotting wildlife, including Peary caribou, muskox, arctic hare, nesting birds, foxes, wolves and polar bears, are plentiful. Offshore, spy walrus, narwhal, bearded and ringed seals. Depending on the season, visitors may see colourful saxifrage blooms and Arctic poppies carpeting Quttinirpaaq.
Where to start your journey: Adventurers need to first make their way to Resolute, via Iqaluit or Yellowknife. Then fly charter into Quttinirpaaq National Park.
To go where few have gone before is pricey: all-inclusive tours departing Resolute range from $8,000-$15,300 per person.
When should adventurers visit? Ski tours are in April and May. Summer melt can make river crossings dangerous for hikers from mid-July through to early August.
Tuktut Nogait National Park, Northwest Territories
Inuvialuktun for "Young Caribou"
Charla Jones for Parks Canada
Why you should go: Tuktut Nogait's dramatic canyons are the park's hallmark. Trekking here - some 170 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle - will afford you some serious solitude. Experienced paddlers can navigate class I-III tributaries. Moreover, those who adventure into Tuktut Nogait National Park will no doubt enjoy a safari of Canadian wildlife: grizzly bears, wolves, muskoxen, wolverine and Bluenose West caribou. Tuktut Nogait - "Young Caribou" - is named for the migratory animals that return each spring to birth their young.
We often think that culture lives in museums and galleries, but Tuktut Nogait's tundra is brimming with it. There are an astonishing 360 archaeological sites within the park's boundaries. Human activity here dates back to 1000AD, and trekkers backpacking along riverbanks are likely to encounter tent rings, caches, hunting blinds, rock alignments and more. These relics are considered "Thule or Copper Inuit occupations," while other discovered items have a more modern trapper-trading history.
Charla Jones for Parks Canada
Where to start your journey: There are no roads into Tuktut Nogait National Park. The most popular option is chartering air transportation and making a lake landing in the park, chartering air to Paulatuk and over-landing 40 km west into the park, or chartering air to Paulatuk and accessing the park's northern coastline via a boat shuttle. It is worth noting that Parks Canada keeps a list of people who are interested in splitting charter flights.
When should you go: See 20,000 Bluenose caribou en route to their calving grounds in June, paddle the Hornaday River in July, or hike in July and August. Fall colours are brightest in August.
Aulavik National Park, Northwest Territories
Inuvialuktun for "Place Where People Travel"
Parks CanadaParks Canada
Why you should go: Aulavik Naitonal Park: the loneliest park on our list. True adventurers thirsting for solitude can make the trip to Banks Island to experience 12,000-sq-km of tundra, badlands and polar desert — retracing travel routes used by Pre-Dorset, Eastern Arctic Dorset, Thule and Inuit nomads over the past 3,500 years. Aulavik is also home to the country’s most northerly navigable river. The remote Thomsen River is a bucket list item for serious canoeists. And you might not be totally alone — since the park holds the world’s highest concentration of muskox, a herd is probably lurking over the next ridge.
Where to start your journey: The word Aulavik means, “place where people travel,” which begs the question: how do you get there? Your charter flight beings in Inuvik, 750 km southwest; savvy travellers share costs with other groups flying into the park. It’s not easy, but the best things never are.
When should you go? Late June to mid-August
Ivvavik National Park, Yukon
Why you should go: In a word: tors. Tors is the signature landform of 10,000-sq-km Ivvavik National Park and just one of the exclusive experiences found within this remote Arctic preserve.
This is also a land where mega-fauna roam. Caribou, muskox, grizzlies, wolves and wolverines, as well as raptors (such as golden eagles and peregrine falcons), all make their homes in the national park.
Day-hikers will enjoy fewer footprints than the summit of Everest. Peaks are accessible right from the Sheep Creek Base Camp. Trekking here brings you above the tree line within a few minutes. Pushing beyond the taiga offers access boundless Arctic-alpine ridge-walks.
From base camp, the hiking choices vary in difficulty and length – although none are a walk in the park. (Pun intended!) The ability to navigate is critical as there are no maintained trails in Ivvavik.
Where to start your journey: Drive to Inuvik, NWT along the famous Dempster Highway from Dawson City, YT or fly in from Yellowknife, NWT. From Inuvik, charter a bush plane to the park. Drop points include Margaret Lake, Imniarvik, Stokes Point, Nunaluk Spit and Komakuk Beach. One recommended experience is staying at Sheep Creek Base Camp, which 'has the feel of front-country camping in the backcountry' thanks to some rustic amenities.
When should you go? Summer
Wapusk National Park, Manitoba
Flickr/Emma Bishop (CC by 2.0)
Why you should go: Walk the perma-frozen tundra while scouting for a special Canadian animal: the polar bear. Wapusk National Park has a population of polar bears that consistently hovers around 935 (significantly higher than its number of human visitors). You've never seen adorable until you've seen a fuzzy cub snuggling with mom. Watching polar bears in their natural habitat (which happens to be stunning, by the way) is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Where to start your journey: Access the park by way of Churchill or Gillam. There is no road access to Churchill (though there is to Gillam), visitors primarily rely on rail and air transportation.
When should you go? Polar bear viewing takes place in February, March and November.
"Yeah, I'm not ready for those parks...
tell me about lesser-visited but accessible national parks."
Not willing to go to the ends of earth (well, the ends of Canada) to find some solace? Arctic odysseys certainly aren't for everyone. Here are some options a tad closer-to-home:
Instead of Pacific Rim NP Reserve (943K visitors), go to Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site ( 2.1K visitors)
Instead of Banff NP (3.8M), go to Elk Island NP (317K)
Instead of Prince Albert NP (258K), go to Grasslands NP (11.5K)
Instead of Bruce Peninsula NP (320K), go to Pukaskwa NP (7.2K)
Instead of Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park (1.1M), go to Mingan Archipelago NP Reserve (32K)
Instead of Cape Breton Highlands NP (246K), go to Kejimkujik NP (36K)
Newfoundland & Labrador:
Instead of Gros Morne NP (207K), go to Terra Nova NP (33.9K)
More National Parks on Explore: