15 Best Canadian National Parks: Things to Do & Best Time to Visit

Published:

Modified: July 28, 2021

by Rina Bernardo

Banff national park in canada

Visiting national parks is a great way to spend time in any city and country. They offer a welcome change from bustling metropolitan cities and show you its unspoiled sceneries. In Canada, the national parks in Ontario welcome millions of tourists who want to appreciate and spend time with nature. Canadian national parks, like most national parks, are also famous for being a refuge of a plethora of plant and animal species. Additionally, they are under the protection of the law and are maintained or restored to keep their ecosystem healthy and thriving. Both a tourist attraction and natural wonder, national parks are definitely worth visiting.

From mountain ranges, forests, and tundra to glacier parks and pristine lakes, here’s a rundown of the best and must-visit Canadian national parks!

 

How Many National Parks Are There in Canada?

 

Emerald Lake at Yoho National Park
Photo by clement fusil on Unsplash

There are about 38 Canadian national parks, 10 national park reserves, and 1 national urban park. As compared to a national park, a national park reserve is a protected area that hasn’t been brought under federal jurisdiction. Reasons include, but are not limited to, aboriginal rights and other matters. 

The first national park is Banff Park, established in 1885 through an order to reserve a portion of the land at Cave and Basin National Historic Site to prevent it from being used for commercial or private development. Since then, the country would establish several national parks under the Canada National Parks Act. The goal of the system was to set aside lands that represent Canada’s different natural regions and ecosystems. Additionally, the goal of the national parks system was to let the public visit, explore, and learn about Canada’s wonders of nature.

 

Must-Visit Canadian National Parks

1. Banff National Park

 

Picturesque lake overlooking the mountains at Banff National Park
Photo by jr_jurassic on Pixabay

Location: Alberta
Year Established: 1885

Banff National Park is one of the most beautiful Canadian national parks with its lakeside view a staple in postcards and in social media. It is also the country’s oldest national park and the world’s third oldest after Yellowstone National Park in America and Royal National Park in Australia. Established in 1885, the park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks. The national park is one of Canada’s top tourist destinations all year round, providing plenty of activities no matter the season. Its turquoise lakes, sprawling meadows, thick forests, and snow-frosted peaks are a sight to behold.  

Things to Do

  • Try Nordic skiing at The Big Three (Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise, and Mt Norquay)
  • Take a dip at Banff Upper Hot Springs
  • Go wildlife seeing and spot elks, wolves, and foxes
  • Enjoy different winter activities
  • Hop on a gondola and see majestic views of the mountains

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Banff National Park entirely depends on your itinerary, but December to March and June to August offer the best weather and tourism opportunities. June to August draws in more crowds because of the weather so be sure to secure lodging in advance.

 

2. Gros Morne National Park

 

Waterfalls at Gros Morne National Park
Photo by C1ri on Pixabay

Location: Newfoundland and Labrador
Year Established: 1973 

Gros Morne National Park is one of the Canadian National Parks that is also a World Heritage Site. It boasts a variety of landforms and bodies of water: from granite mountains, fjords, beaches, and waterfalls. The national park is also famous for its Tablelands, a mountain that contains rocks that are said to have originated from the Earth’s mantle. Aside from this unique geological feature, Gros Morne’s other highlights include the Gros Morne Mountain, Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse, and Western Brook Pond.

Things to Do

  • Take a boat tour to Western Brook Pond
  • Go on a multi-day trek to Gros Morne Mountain
  • Visit Cow Head Lighthouse 
  • Get a chance to see the Tablelands
  • Kayak across the waters of Trout River Pond

Best Time to Visit

September and October are generally the best months to visit Gros Morne National Park. The summer crowds would’ve been gone by then, so you can enjoy the cooler weather and quiet environment.

 

3. Bruce Peninsula National Park

 

Visitors at Bruce Peninsula National Park
Photo by Luke Smith on Unsplash

Location: Ontario
Year Established: 1987 

In Ontario, you can find one of the best Canadian national parks: Bruce Peninsula National Park. With a land area of 154 kilometers, it is one of the largest protected areas in southern Ontario. It is also part of the UNESCO-listed Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve, offering plenty of opportunities for hiking, camping, and bird watching. In addition, red foxes, black bears, porcupines, and coyotes inhabit the park. For travelers staying overnight, there are several vistas at Bruce Peninsula National Park that offer sunset or sunrise views.

Things to Do

  • See the Grotto at the Georgian Bay
  • Walk along Bruce Trail, the oldest and longest footpath in the country
  • Swim at Lake Huron
  • Go kayaking or canoeing at Cyprus Lake
  • Try bouldering at Halfway Log Dump

Best Time to Visit

March to May and September to November are the best times to visit the national park. In summer, access to the grotto may be limited and parking and camping spaces tend to be full.

 

4. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

 

Boardwalk through a forest in Pacific Rim National Park
Photo by Jenifoto on Adobe Stock

Location: British Columbia
Year Established: 1970 

If you’re staying in Vancouver, don’t miss a trip to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve! Similar to the weather in Vancouver, the weather at this national park reserve is wet. However, this helps keep the forests rich and green. Pacific Rim is a hiker’s paradise, boasting plenty of hiking trails including the West Coast Trail, a backcountry trail used by survivors of shipwrecks. Overall, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is a great place to visit if you want to discover and enjoy Canada’s rainforests and pristine coastal beaches. 

Things to Do

  • Catch wave and surf at Long Beach
  • Walk along the many nature trails and hikes
  • Learn about the culture of the First Nation at Kwisitis Visitor Centre
  • Relax at Combers Beach
  • Join interpretive walks led by expert guides

Best Time to Visit

It’s best to plan your visit to Pacific Rim National Park from June to July. The West Coast Trail is open during those months and there are several festivals and notable events. For those planning on storm-watching, plan your visit from October onward.

 

5. Cape Breton Highlands National Park

 

Cliff overlooking the sea in Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Photo by Tobias Negele on Unsplash

Location: Nova Scotia
Year Established: 1936

Cape Breton Highlands National Park is one of the Canadian national parks that feature different environments. Located near the Atlantic Ocean the park features tundra-like landscapes along with coastal cliffs and boreal forests. The park is also where you can find most of Nova Scotia’s Canadian lynx and the North Atlantic right whale. Its 26 hiking trails are a favorite among visitors and even allows you to view and appreciate the scenery without leaving your car! The harmony of the ocean, forest, and mountain ecosystems and its spectacular hikes make it one of the best national parks in the country.

Things to Do

  • Hike at one of the 26 hiking trails
  • Bike around Cabot Trail, one of the world’s best cycling routes
  • Go wildlife spotting and find different mammals, birds, and reptiles
  • Take a dip at the waters of Warren Lake or Ingonish Beach and Freshwater Lake
  • Enjoy a game of golf at Highlands Links Golf Course

Best Time to Visit

For hikers, the best time to visit Cape Breton Highlands National Park is from May to November. On the other hand, plan your visit in the early summer if you want to go birdwatching. Visitors can enjoy warm weather for swimming and beach activities in July and August.

 

6. Waterton Lakes National Park

 

Prince of Wales Hotel overlooking Waterton Lakes National Park
Photo by korkeakoski on Adobe Stock

Location: Alberta
Year Established: 1895

The prairie lands of Alberta meet the rugged landscapes of the Rocky Mountains at Waterton Lakes National Park! It also borders America’s Glacier National Park in Montana. As its name suggests, there are numerous lakes within the park, perfect for swimming, kayaking, canoeing, and more. But aside from its lakes, you can also find towering waterfalls and rushing streams dotted with different wildflowers. The small town of Waterton Park also provides a great starting point for first-time visitors. Get a chance to see a wide variety of flora and fauna as you discover and explore the beauty of this park. 

Things to Do

  • Explore the park on a bicycle
  • Try stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking at the lakes
  • Go on a boat tour around Waterton Lake
  • Chase waterfalls or go hiking along its trails
  • Have afternoon tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel

Best Time to Visit

For the best weather conditions, plan your trip from May to September. Peak tourist season is in June and August so make sure to avoid long weekends and holidays if you’ll visit during these months.

 

7. Forillon National Park

 

Lighthouse at Forillon National Park overlooking the ocean
Photo by Andreas Prott on Adobe Stock

Location: Quebec
Year Established: 1970 

Forillon National Park is the perfect playground for land and marine-based adventurers, offering various activities in its 244 kilometers of land. It is also one of the Canadian national parks that protect different ecosystems: from rivers and marshes to farms and prairies. About 225 bird species can be found in the park along with different mammal species and 700 local flora normally found in alpine environments. With its diverse environment, one can enjoy many things to do at Forillon National Park!

Things to Do

  • Enjoy cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in winter
  • Spot whales on a whale-watching cruise
  • Kayaking and other water activities at Gaspé Bay
  • Watch the sunrise from Cap-Bon-Ami
  • Glamping or camping

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Forillon National Park is during summer when the coastal weather is at its best. You can also enjoy the wildflowers in bloom and the beach is accessible. Most trails are also open in summer, although make sure to avoid weekdays and long weekends due to the crowd.

 

8. Prince Edward Island National Park

 

Sunset at a boardwalk in Prince Edward Island National Park
Photo by Pravakar Thapa on Adobe Stock

Location: Prince Edward Island
Year Established: 1937 

Prince Edward Island National Park features postcard-worthy shores, red sandstone cliffs, and charming lighthouses. If you’re looking to spend time in the coastal areas, Prince Edward Island National Park is the best choice. Almost every angle of the national park is picturesque: from its lighthouses, seaside views, and the iconic Green Gables from the beloved children’s book, Anne of Green Gables. Unlike other Canadian national parks that cater to adventurous travelers, this national park has a laid-back vibe to it. Families with young children will definitely love staying here, especially in the summer.

Things to Do

  • Walk along the coast and admire the views
  • Visit the Green Gables Heritage Place
  • Follow the Cavendish Dunelands Trail
  • Kayak or canoe across the Gulf of St. Lawrence
  • Go camping and stargazing

Best Time to Visit

For beach lovers, the best time to visit Prince Edward Island National Park is during July and August when the weather is calm. On the other hand, travelers who want to enjoy the quiet atmosphere of the park, plan to visit during spring and fall. You can still enjoy hiking, camping, kayaking, and other activities minus the crowd.

 

9. Fundy National Park

 

Laverty Falls in Fundy National Park
Photo by Prashanth Bala on Adobe Stock

Location: New Brunswick
Year Established: 1948 

Find the world’s highest tides at Fundy National Park in New Brunswick. The park boasts a rugged coastline and more than 25 waterfalls. During the low tide, visitors can walk around the ocean floor and find different sea creatures. Meanwhile, the ocean floor disappears under 50 feet of saltwater during the high tide. Enjoy hiking at its 25 hiking trails and paths while other amenities include a golf course, saltwater swimming pool, and campgrounds. Although Fundy National Park is open throughout the year, visitors are encouraged to take precautions when visiting in winter.

Things to Do

  • Follow the different hiking trails
  • See the spectacular Dickson Falls, Third Vault Falls, and Laverty Falls
  • Walk along the ocean floor during the low tide
  • Go cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or tobogganing in winter
  • Stay overnight and watch the stars

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Fundy National Park is from June to August due to its weather. There are also fewer chances of stubborn fog that hinders wildlife viewing and other outdoor activities. 

 

10. Kluane National Park and Reserve

 

Mountain and valley at Kluane National Park and Reserve
Photo by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash

Location: Yukon
Year Established: 1993

For avid hikers, Kluane National Park is arguably one of the must-visit Canadian National Parks! Its national park and reserve’s claim to fame is that it boasts 17 of the country’s 20 highest mountains, including Mount Logan, the tallest in the country. But aside from the 5,959-meter tall Mount Logan, you can enjoy other outdoor activities at the park. Try flightseeing, a unique activity that lets you hop on a helicopter and view Mount Logan from a closer point of view. You can also go camping, rafting, and bird watching.

Things to Do

  • See Mount Logan from a different perspective on a flightseeing excursion
  • Camp overnight at the Icefield Discovery base camp
  • Go kayaking or motorboating at Kathleen Lake
  • Get a chance to see different bird species on a birdwatching trip
  • Enjoy different winter activities like ice fishing, snowshoeing, and skiing 

Best Time to Visit

Although Kluane National Park is a good destination throughout the year, the best time to visit is in summer from mid-June to September. Take note that although winter conditions are present, the weather is relatively warmer and you can enjoy outdoor activities.

 

11. Jasper National Park

 

Night sky at Jasper National Park
Photo by Caleb White on Unsplash

Location: Alberta
Year Established: 1907 

As the largest national park in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, Jasper National Park is the best destination for all kinds of outdoor activities. This is also the best place to see and experience the Rocky Mountains with its extensive hiking and biking network. Jasper National Park also boasts its distinction of being the second-largest dark sky preserve in the world. From majestic glaciers, towering mountains, and rugged landscapes, it is one of the most beautiful Canadian national parks.

Things to Do

  • Go stargazing and take photos of the night sky
  • Take the Jasper SkyTram for panoramic views of the park
  • See the breathtaking Athabasca Falls
  • Visit Maligne Lake, the second-largest glacier-fed lake in the world
  • Explore the park on a hiking or biking trip

Best Time to Visit

Because of its range of outdoor activities, it’s safe to say that Jasper National Park is a great destination no matter the month. However, the best time to enjoy the mild weather and activities minus the crowd is from March to May and September to November. The months of June to August are the busiest, with thick crowds looking to bask under the warm, summer weather.

 

12. Yoho National Park

 

Visitors looking at the waterfalls at Yoho National Park
Photo by Sonyuser on Pixabay

Location: British Columbia
Year Established: 1886 

With its alpine lakes, jagged mountain peaks, and deep waterfalls, Yoho National Park is one of the most beautiful Canadian National Parks. It lies between the border of Alberta and British Columbia and makes a great day trip from Calgary. In addition, it is home to the picture-perfect Lake O’Hara and Burgess Shale, one of the oldest fossil beds in the world. This is the best national park for nature lovers as it gives you an opportunity to enjoy just about anything and everything that Mother Earth has to offer. Go hiking, walk to the lake, discover the fossils, chase waterfalls — that’s only some of the things you can do here!

Things to Do

  • Join a guided hike to Burgess Shale and see ancient fossils
  • See different waterfalls
  • Take a bus to Lake O’Hara
  • Camp at the four different campgrounds
  • Marvel at the Natural Bridge

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Yoho National Park depends on what you want to do. For road trips and quick day hikes, visit in autumn when the foliage is a breathtaking sight. Spring is the best time to visit as the snow melts and you can see the waterfalls in full force. If you want to visit without the crowds, avoid visiting from July to August.

 

13. Elk Island National Park

 

Wood bison at Elk Island National Park
Photo by Bob on Adobe Stock

Location: Alberta
Year Established: 1913 

From Edmonton, Elk Island National Park is one of the most accessible Canadian national parks. The park was initially created as a sanctuary for elks, but it also became part of the conservation of the bison. Elk Island National Park is also a wildlife enthusiast’s paradise, home to over a hundred bird species as well as other animals like black bears, deers, porcupines, and coyotes. Visiting Elk Island National Park is perfect if you’re looking for a quick trip away from the city. 

Things to Do

  • Go wildlife spotting
  • Hike Lakeview Trail and see Astotin Lake
  • Join different interpretive programs
  • Walk along Living Waters Boardwalk and go birdwatching
  • Enjoy a relaxing afternoon picnic

Best Time to Visit

If you want to see the bison, plan your trip in July and August during the rutting period. On the other hand, visit during the autumn or in spring to enjoy the tranquil environment without the summer crowds. 

 

14. Thousand Islands National Park

 

Aerial view of Thousand Islands National Park
Photo by jiawangkun on Adobe Stock

Location: Ontario
Year Established: 1904

Although Thousand Islands National Park is one of the smallest national parks in the country, it is surely worth visiting. The park features more than 20 small, granite islands as well as hundreds of inlets and bases that house marshlands and forests. You can explore these islands on a paddleboat as you find charming lighthouses, Victorian-style houses, and an abundance of wildlife. For a less tedious option, you can opt for a boat tour.

Things to Do

  • Enjoy a picnic at the riverside
  • Go on a helicopter tour of the islands
  • Camp on an island
  • Join a kayaking tour around the islands
  • Hike Mallorytown Landing

Best Time to Visit

September to October is the best time to enjoy the scenery and weather. The bright hues of red, orange, and gold paint a breathtaking scenery as you paddle, kayak, or cruise your way through the island. 

 

15. Mount Revelstoke National Park

 

View of Eva Lake in Mount Revelstoke National Park
Photo by mmmmngai@rogers.com on Flickr

Location: British Columbia
Year Established: 1914

Although Mount Revelstoke National Park isn’t as big as most Canadian national parks, it packs plenty of scenery and activities. It is also part of the Canadian Pacific Railway along with other national parks like Yoho, Banff, and Glacier. Visitors can find temperate rainforests at Mount Revelstoke aside from rugged mountains. In addition, grizzly bears, red foxes, coyotes, timber wolves, and other animals find refuge at the national park. With a diverse environment, there are various activities offered throughout the seasons at Mount Revelstoke National Park.

Things to Do

  • Walk through the rainforest in summer
  • Take a drive along the Meadows in the Sky Parkway
  • Hike to the top of Mount Revelstoke
  • Admire the views from Nels Nelsen Hill
  • Visit Eva Lake

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Mount Revelstoke National Park is in August when the wildflowers are in bloom. This is also when you can enjoy driving or biking across Meadows-in-the-Sky Parkway without the summer crowds. 

Visit the Beautiful Canadian National Parks

Home to some of the world’s oldest parks, Canada is a treasure trove of these protected areas. They offer you the best and most unique of the region’s different ecosystems: from vast tundras and lush forests to sprawling farmlands. You can also get a glimpse of how life was years ago by viewing the fossils or by visiting different heritage sites and national monuments.