10 of Canada’s best lesser-known national parks

To mark its 150 th anniversary, Canada is offering free entry to its stunning national parks. But which to pick? We select 10 lesser-known wildernesses

Canada has vast swathes of unspoiled nature, from coasts to mountains to tundra and frozen Arctic deserts. While some of these spectacular landscapes are in legendary national parks, such as the Rocky Mountains Banff and Jasper, the Pacific coasts Gwaii Haanas and the remote whitewater paddling heaven of the Northwest Territory Nahanni, a host of less famous gems await the adventurous.

Canada national parks

This year, to celebrate Canadas 150 th anniversary, visitors can gain free admission to the parks with a special pass which must be pre-ordered. Camping spots fill up early, so reservations are recommended. Its also good to take advice on bear and puma safety. For much of the accommodation mentioned, its worth hunting for online deals.

Bruce Peninsula, Ontario

Lake Huron in Fathom Five national marine park. Photograph: Ethan Meleg/ Getty Images

The stunning turquoise waters of Georgian Bay on Lake Huron give way to immerse cliffs and thick stands of cedar and other ancient trees in this park, a four-hour drive north-west from Toronto. Its the start of the 550 -mile trek along the Bruce Trail, which meanders from the park to the vineyards of the Niagara area further south. There are also shorter cliffside strolls along the lake, and paddling or kayaking across smaller lakes. Visitors can rent a canoe from Thorncrest Outfitters in Tobermory, test their mettle by boulder-climbing in more remote spots, or scramble through caves along the lakeshores. Another wonderful thing to do is to take a ferry from Tobermory to Fathom Five national marine park and swim to one of the many underwater wrecks. Some of the shallow ones are close to shore and easy to see while snorkelling. For deeper wrecks further from coast, barges and scuba gear can be hired from Divers Den in Tobermory( diversden.ca) or G& S Watersports. B& Bs, hotels, hostel and campsites are in Tobermory, the closest township, at a range of prices. Try the Blue Bay Motel for 74 pn.

: Instead of driving, take a ParkBus from Toronto to Bruce Peninsula park( adult 54 return ).

Pacific Rim, British Columbia

Photograph: Paola Moschitto-Assenmacher/ Getty Images/ EyeEm

Endless beaches, fog-shrouded rainforests and rugged trails alongside the ferocious open waters of the Pacific Ocean make up this 500 sq km coastal park on the southern edge of Vancouver Island, a five-hour drive from Victoria. Whale-watching largely grays but, at certain times of the year, humpbacks and killer whales as well is a time-honoured pastime here, and can be done from the beach. Ambling along Long Beach, south of Tofino, exploring gems in tidal pools can easily assimilate days. But braving the breathtaking 45 -mile West Coast Trail, following tracks of ancient First Nation merchants, will take training it is not for beginners, and involves map and tide-table reading skills for some stretchings. Reservations are vital as numbers are limited during the season. There are only three entrances and exits, but a two- or three-day hike can be started at the midpoint of Nitinat, avoiding the most difficult proportions. The road begins at Pachena Bay and ends at Gordon River six gruelling weeks later. Limited camping is available in the park, but the towns of Tofino and Ucluelet, also offer B& Bs, cabins, hotels, resorts and dining at a range of costs. Try Jamies Rainforest Inn in Tofino( from 80, room only ).

: The best chance of watching whales is in May, June, September and October.

Waterton Lakes, Alberta

Photograph: Clarke Wiebe/ Getty Images/ Perspectives

The heights of the Rocky mountains gratify the flat prairies in this park. Aspen forests and wildflower meadows pepper the landscape. The woods are home to grizzlies, black bears, pumas, wolves and coyotes, so its important to keep to the 191 miles of trails in the park which range in difficulty from short strolls to immerse treks of several days duration and to make a noise while walking to scare off any bears. The park nestles in the unusually diverse Crown of the Continent ecosystem, which includes the headwaters of rivers operating across North America to the Pacific and Atlantic, and north to Hudsons Bay.

Often regarded as an antidote to the commotion of Banff and Jasper, Waterton Lakes is a three-hour vehicle journey south of Calgary. Guests can drive to three campsites in the park, including one in the Waterton Lakes Townsite, or hike to nine others throughout the backcountry, such as the one at Goat Lake ). Hotels include Waterton Lakes Lodge Resort( doubleds from 80 room merely ).

: A small herd of bison grazing the grasslands in the parks northern end can be seen for free from the Bison Paddock Loop Road, but make sure to stay in the car.

Grasslands, Saskatchewan

Photograph: Robert Postma/ Getty Images

Scoured long ago by retreating glaciers, such regions is so flat and treeless that old-timers say if a dog runs away, its still possible to see it 3 days later. Golden knee-high grasses sway in the winds. Bison roam, white-rumped pronghorn antelope dash past in swift-footed herds, and black-tailed prairie dogs poke curious heads out of the ground.

In the south-west corner of Saskatchewan, the park is a four-hour drive from provincial capital Regina, or seven hours from Calgary to the town of Val Marie at the parks western entryway. Seasoned hikers can head to the Valley of the 1,000 Devils, with its hoodoo rock formations and dinosaur fossils. Camping is allowed anywhere, but check with the visitor centre at Rock Creek campground for safety information. Theres lots of organised camping on flat expanses of the park for RVs and tents, plus tipis for hire. Tent-cabins sleeping up to six expense 55 a night in Frenchman Valley campsite, pitches 10, reservations necessary.

: Grasslands is one of Canadas darkest and largest dark sky conserves, perfect for stargazing. Some fossil-digging events are scheduled each year.

Point Pelee, Ontario

Photograph: Hemera Technology/ Getty Images

Its birds, birds, birds at this tiny park, a four-hour drive south-west from Toronto. Point Pelee, a marshy spit jutting into Lake Erie, is an international mecca for birdwatchers. The song-filled northward migration in mid-May has evolved into a famous birder celebration. Among the rareties: tusk gull, sharp-tailed sandpiper, lark sparrow and warblers from every corner of the western hemisphere. Check for accommodation at all prices at tourismleamington.com. Typical is the Days Inn at 80 B& B. Or run a little further for the delights of the Niagara-on-the-Lake wine region, staying at the Colonel Butler Inn from 110 B& B.

Tip : Paddle the marshes in a 10 -person canoe on a guided trip through the bulrushes for about 12 for a family of four( see national parks website ).

La Mauricie, Quebec


Breathtaking Laurentian woods of evergreens and hardwoods and 150 crystal-clear ponds make this the quintessential Canadian park experience. Theres snowshoeing and crosscountry skiing in wintertime, and canoeing, hiking, swimming, fishing and mountain biking when the snowfall vanishes. Its a two-hour drive from either Montreal or Quebec City. Three campsites offer more than 500 pitchings for tents, tent-trailers and RVs at less than 18 a night. All-year tent-cabins sleeping five are 70 a night.

A brilliant place for autumn colour.

Prince Edward Island

Point Prim Lighthouse, 1845, the oldest lighthouse on Prince Edward Island. Photograph: Darlyne A Murawski/ Getty Images/ National Geographic Creative

Feel the salt gale and marvel at the sculpted red sand dunes, while lounging on one of the 7 beaches that make up this strip of park along the northern edge of Prince Edward Island. Two of the most popular beaches are Brackley and Stanhope. The park is about half an hours drive from the provinces historic capital, Charlottetown, where Canadas Confederation was born 150 years ago. A family-friendly, leisurely stay can include strolling boardwalks, easy hiking and spotting blue herons in the ocean.

The park has two campsites, Stanhope and Cavendish, with pitchings from 12 a night, and the historic Dalvay-by-the-Sea hotel, once an petroleum tycoons summer home, with 25 antiques-filled rooms and cottages from 120 room only.

Toward the western aim of the park is Green Gables Heritage Place, inspiration for Lucy Maud Montgomerys classic novels.

Cape Breton Highlands, Nova Scotia

Photograph: Dave G Houser/ Getty Images

Forested highland hills meet steep cliffs rising from the ocean in this island gem. Famous Cape Breton hospitality, sensational ocean landscapes, and access to the fabled Cabot Trail make it tough to find a more congenial place in Canada. A five-hour drive from Halifax, this is the home of the Acadians, descendants of French settlers. Visitors can learn how to boil a lobster( 26 pp) at La Bloc in Chticamp, then drive down the iconic switchback road along the coast where there are six campsites next to the road and one in the backcountry. A tent-cabin for six expenses 60 a night. Some campsites in this park come already equipped with tents; all you need is a sleeping bag, a reservation and 40 a night( up to six people ).

Tips : Hook a mackerel and fry it for dinner simply off the Cabot Trail, and learn to induce Acadian potato flapjacks for $22 pp while savouring the cultural lore of Cape Breton. For dates and details, ensure cbisland.com. Or has become a lumberjack for the day with world champ Darren Hudson, who runs Wild Axe camps teaching abilities like logrolling, tree climbing and axe throwing( adults $90, youths $25 – $50 ).

Gros Morne, Newfoundland

Photograph: Barrett& MacKay/ Getty Images

Jagged mountain faces, waterfalls, fjords and gorges make this one of the most geologically exciting parks in Canada. A Unesco world heritage site, the park provides a rare chance to see deep ocean crust and the stones of the earths mantle uncovered. A special treat is a guided day hike to the top of the Western Brook Pond gorge, to where ponds on the plateau feed waterfalls that fill the pond( from 35 an adult with Bontours. From the summit, hikers gaze across a lush green valley guarded by towering cliffs. A seven-hour drive from the capital, St Johns, or half an hour from the airport in Deer Lake, the park has moose and caribou, dwarf trees, bogs, glacial lakes, tundra and heath all in the same world-class site.

There are more than 200 conventional campsites, most with energy, and four primitive ones, with wooden tent pads, bear-proof food lockers or poles, and pit lavatories. Four sites offer tent-cabins for five at 70 a night, firewood included. The less hardy can stay in cabins, hotels and B& Bs such as Bottom Brook Cottages, 76 a night for a two-bedroom cottage.

Take a guided tour to the Lobster Cove Head lighthouse and learn how its beacon led sailors home, then aim the working day with an outdoor flame circle and the best sunset on the island.

Auyuittuq, Nunavut

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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