Being the second largest country in the world with more coastline than any other and holding a good portion of the worlds fresh water supply - we have the space for a lot of preserved wilderness. We may not have had the first protected open wilderness but we were the first country to create an agency specifically devoted to creation, management and preservation of these spaces.

National Parks over time have woven themselves into the fabric of Canada and Canadian identity for so many generations it is almost impossible to imagine what Canada would look like without them.

They're a part of the Canadian identity, there is a profound pride over them and any funny business with our treasured Edens will fire us up faster than you can say 'double double please'.

Parks Canada has for over a hundred years protected, managed and provided stewardship to some of the worlds most famous, iconic landscapes, to some of the worlds more unique spaces and safe guarded much of Canada's history, culture and heritage.

While we love our protected open spaces and we are likely not an easy people to please. We expect the ecological integrity of the parks inhabitants and spaces to remain in tact and healthy while still allowing access for our own recreation whether that is fishing, boating, camping or hiking. 

Our national park provide a unique peek into the variety and magnificence that is Canada. Found all across Canada they are each different, each special in their own way. 

Canadian InfographicCredit: Canadarus


In The Beginning

Canada's National Parks Service (CNPS) was officially created May 9, 1911. It was the first of its kind, anywhere in the world.

The first commissioner was J.B Harkin, a young man with progressive views (when compared to others of his time) on preservation of the natural world and Canadian history. Having been a reporter before joining the Forestry Department, he made good use of his communication talents both within the organization and to the people of Canada, but more importantly he was instrumental in convincing the federal government that stronger protection is needed for the parks.

He saw the national parks system as a series of natural parks with one being devoted to plants and animals, another for humans to use as outdoor activities such as camping, boating, hiking and finally one that would see to the preservation (and future education of Canadians) in regards to places of historical importance. His commitment is seen clearly through his work yet he also had a commitment to getting more Canadians to visit and appreciate the newly developed parks.

While Harkin was instrumental in getting the parks to be protected, the way they were run and what their future vision was, it was Mabel Williams, through her writings of her park experiences, who got Canadians to first love their parks and develop a pride in them - the seed that would root National Parks to the Canadian identity. Through her writings of her memorable experiences and the pictures she took, she inspired nearly half a million Canadians to enjoy their National Parks in 1928[1].

A hundred or so years later Canada's National Parks have been solidly rooted in the Canadian identity, they have been providing memorable experiences, family traditions were born and perhaps more importantly they are places of refuge from the concrete jungle of many cities.

"It is just possible that you may not know that Canada is rich in national parks and yet these parks are your parks and all the wealth of beauty and opportunity for enjoyment which they offer are yours by right of heritage because you are a Canadian. National Parks exist for the people. They are the people's share of the natural beauty of mountain, lake, and stream."

J.B. Harkin, 1st commissioner for Parks Canada Service, 1914[2]

Mabel Williams Contributions

Bigger Is Better In Alberta

They say Texas, USA is where they do things big. At Wood Buffalo National Park everything is done on a grander scale. It is Canada's largest preserved area and the second largest in the world at 44,807 sq km[3]. The park was created in 1922 to protect the bison living on its lands. It may take you two days of driving from Edmonton, Alberta to reach it but when you do .... it is worth it.

Wood Bison of Wood Buffalo National ParkCredit: CanadianEncyclopedia

Home to North Americas largest land mammal - the majestic Wood Bison - who have thrived here for hundred of years and presently have a herd of about 5000 Bison, which also happens to be the largest indigenous bison herd in the world. It's the birth place of North Americas largest bird - the Whooping Crane. The Park also has the largest inland fresh water delta ecosystems in the world - the Peace Athabasca Delta[4].

The bison, the crane and the Delta are all reasons why the Park is on UNESCO World Heritage List. But the parks salt plains are another reason. Salt plains themselves are not overly interesting, honestly they're not, but in Canada salt plains are not common and the 370 sq km[4] of them in the park are unique and yet another reason this park is so special.

Perhaps most fittingly, is that it is also home to the worlds largest beaver dam - Canada's national animal. Wood Buffalo National Park is larger than Denmark and being a wilderness park, there are few roads and trails. The beaver dam existed here for many, many years without any one knowing of it and was discovered only recently by beaver researchers using satellite photos[5] (yes it can be seen from space) - they still have not been able to get to the dam for any study.

Worlds Largest Beaver DamCredit: Parks Canada

More recently, the Astronomical Society of Canada in 2013 designated the Park as Canada's newest Dark Sky Preserve[6], it too is the largest dark sky preserve in not only Canada but the world. Dark Sky Preserves, for those unfamiliar with it, are spaces of area that protect, preserve and aid nocturnal animal habitats, such as owls and bats, by keeping night-time, dark. Cool concept uh. In some areas of Canada the Dark Sky also allows the Northern Lights to be viewed better.

Did I not mention that this Park is one such place for the viewing of Northern Lights?

I told you, this park is worth the two-day drive from Edmonton.

Canada's Greatest Treasure Hidden In British Columbia

One of Canada's greatest treasures is a mouthful to say ... the National Park is called Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. There is also a National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and a Haida Heritage site. Not many of Canada's National Parks embrace land, sea and people the way British Columbia's Gwaii Hannas did.

It's 1470 sq km in size including its one hundred and thirty-eight islands and islets[7]. It is hard to separate these three different experiences as they are so intertwined with one another.

Haida Peoples CultureCredit: GwaiiHaanasThe Haida are the ancient people that lived here for thousands years, according to their lore and more recently archaeology evidence[8], they were mostly wiped out when Europeans came, due to disease mainly, and today they are not only the guardians of many Haida sites and villages within the park, but also a part of the team that manages the park. They are also the tour guides for visitors sharing their love of their culture and home.

Quite likely due to the Park having one hundred and thirty-eight islands, the wealth of marine life found within the park is astonishing. It is said, which means some crazy mathematical algorithm, that the waters contain more protein per square meter than any other place on earth – that's a lot of fish, sea lions, seals and whales.Stellar Sea Lions At PlayCredit: gwaiihaanas

Speaking of whales, the park is home to its very own sub species of Orca that is called offshore. Humpback and Gray whales are both migratory visitors to the park and can be seen during their migratory journey. A large-sized colony of Stellar sea lions have taken over the southern tip of Gwaii Haanas.

If you are a bird watcher, there are nearly quarter of a million sea birds that call Gwaii Haanas their home and breeding grounds. Those seeking Horned Puffins will find them here, as it is the only confirmed nesting site for them in Canada.Horned PuffinsCredit: Parks Canada - Jason Weber

Your bound to spot a few eagle nests since the park has the highest density of eagle nests along its shoreline and Peregrine Falcons are likely to be seen as the park has the highest density of breeding Peregrine's[9]. If that is not enough, your sure to see a few of the millions of migratory birds that use the park as a pit stop on their spring and falls journeys.

The land animals are not to be outdone either. The fact that there are so many islands has resulted in a large number of endemic species such as the Gwaii Hannas Black Bear. It is physiologically different that other bears and is its own sub species. There are unfortunately some uninvited and invasive species that are threatening some of the native animals such as raccoons, rats and deer.

Gwaii Haanas IslandsCredit: Parks Canada - Andrew Wright

To wind down the visit, you can visit on of the rarer spots in the world, a hot mineral pool just above a restless ocean. There are few if any commercial services and the park is best visited by using one of the wilderness tour operators licensed to travel in the park, with few roads it can be difficult to get around.

Newfoundlands Geological Wonder

Neither the smallest of Canada's Parks nor the largest it protects a variety of environments – high and lowland forests, hundreds of bodies of water, towering cliffs, rugged coastline and bogs and rock barrens - all while housing and protecting the geological history it contains.

Nearly everything in this park is old, I mean ancient old.

Over a billion years ago the area now known as the eastern portion of North America collided with another portion of another area and formed a vast range of mountains. The last remnants of that collision are found in the Long Range Mountains.

Of those billion years it took a mere four hundred and eighty-five million years and some intense natural forces to form the mountain range we call Long Range Mountains, a series of mountains that are an outlying part of the Appalachian Mountains.

Gros Morne RocksCredit: ParksCanada

Rocks sound rather boring, but to a geologist the rocks read like an evolutionary novel of geology dating back at least a billion years. Not too surprising it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well, not to shabby for some old rocks.

Long Range Mountain is not the only geological gem in the park either. A large sized area of the park resembles barren rocky land, not something you would expect to see in Newfoundland – with all the water and all. But it's believed that several million years ago the Earth's mantle was shoved up from tectonic plate action. The bedrock is called peridotite and it is notoriously not nutritious for plant growth thus the awe-inspiring barren look.

Not surprising either, is that it was here in this park (or area) that the science of plate tectonics was proven.

It's not all rocks either. The scenery is stunning and varied from forests to glacial formed fjords, cliffs and shorelines. The activities that are available at the park are equally varied from hiking to camping, fishing to horseback riding. Feeling social and want to see the outlying areas, there's seaside, brightly coloured communities doting the landscape with restaurants, hotels and other amenities.

And being a Canadian Park, there are a large amount of moose in the park after a successful reintroduction of them to the area in 1900[10], likely the youngest part of the park.

Western Brook Pond TrailCredit: Vaccay

Packing a Point Pelee Punch

The second smallest national park in Canada, at twenty sq km, and perhaps the most oddly shaped one, it packs quite the punch in terms of wildlife and environments.

Located close to urban areas it is a popular park for many city The Boardwalk at Point PeleeCredit: Parks Canadadwellers to use. It is a smaller park because the bulk of it, close to 91% has been used for other things such as agriculture, urban development and industry, this means that only 9% of what it once was is left[11]. For it to pack the punch it does, that is quite the feat.

The diversity among plants and animals in Point Pelee could easily compete with the larger national (and provincial) parks, its small size is no deterrent. The secret in this parks diversity are found in the Carolinian Zone – cue mysterious and paranormal music.

Seriously, the Carolinian Zone is a forested area that is mainly deciduous trees and not coniferous, which is what grows around the rest of the area. Compared to the rest of Canada, it is incredibly small like quarter of a single percent of land space. But the wealth of flora and fauna make it invaluable, since many of them are found only in this strip of forest.

Yellow WarblerCredit: Parks CanadaAmongst birdwatchers Point Pelee National Park is known as the warbler capital of Canada, at least 44 species of warblers call this park home, use it for breeding or stop over during their migration run. Besides the warblers there are at least another three hundred and fifty species of birds found and recorded in the park. Not to mention the forests and waters in the park are important to migratory visitors.

If you're not interested in the birds, or are not staring at the sky your entire visit you will find a number of other animals including the grey squirrel, raccoons (can't not have them if your anywhere near a city), skunks, mink and weasels are often seen and even coyote are present in the park. If reptiles and amphibians are your thing, there is no other place in Canada that can offer twenty-seven reptile species and twenty amphibian species in one area. Bug collectors will find this park a Eden as well with over fifty species of spiders and insects for your viewing pleasure – if you find them.

And in all this vibrant diversity, the flora of the park are likely the most diverse - species wise - and offer food and homes to the plethora of fauna in this small park. Among the varied landscapes of Carolinian forests, marshes, beaches and Savannah grassland you will find over seven hundred species of plants, both flowering and non flowering, many of which are only found in the park and there are over seventy types of trees.

Point Pelee National Park FlowerCredit: Carol Parafenco

And if all of that is not your cup of tea, perhaps it will interest you to know that Point Pelee National Park is a designated Dark Sky Preserve[12], which means that the stargazing is superb on clear moonless nights, and not to far a drive from the city.

And that's how this park packs a wallop of a punch in such a small area.

Kluane National Park

One can not introduce Canada's National Parks without going to one that is well .. cold. We are known for hockey and cold and snow. One of the best examples of a winter wonderland (most of the year) is Kluane National Park. This park is set like a 21,980 sq km jewel in the Yukon, travel west till you can't no more and you will find it, most likely. The park does sit next to three protected areas, that are not a part of the park, but all together the four of them are declared a UNESCO heritage site for their joint ice fields and glaciers.

Kluane National ParkCredit: ubcAn empire of ice and mountains is not a dramatic statement when speaking of Kluane. This park is home to the second highest mountain in North America, Mt. Logan, which measures in at 5,959 meters[13]. The mountains in Kluane National Park are young, at least by comparison to others in Canada, the tectonic activity underneath it, is still active and as such the mountains are still growing. Which does beg to ask ... when will the growing Mt. Logan take the title from the present champion Mt. McKinley?

Eighty percent of the park is covered in ice and snow, or ice fields, of which are the most extensive in the world. The bits remaining sustains flora and fauna populations. A large moose sub species that can weight up to eighteen hundred pounds thrive in the park as do the Dalls sheep who are a herd of 4000 strong[14]. Icefields of Kluane National ParkCredit: Parks CanadaDespite the ice and snow there are more animals than one would think living and thriving out in this winter wonderland. Eagles, grizzly and other bears, mountain goats, wolverines, lynx, wolves and caribou all reside in the park.

What is not frozen is likely flowing and this park is known for its wild white water rapids, particularly on the Alsek River. This river drains an astonishing amount of water from St. Elias Mountains that creates such big water that even First people or Natives rarely, if ever, used it historically for trade routes or for travel of any kind. With water, particularly moving water comes some great fishing. The waters in this park hold a range of fish from pike to the lake trout.

Rafting the AlsekCredit: silosjourn

A Canadian winter wonderland rich with plant and animal life above and below the ice cover.

White Pacific Rim: Three in One

I realize that many of the parks I have written about so far are either a few days drive from the nearest city or covered in ice. The Pacific Rim National Park is national park for people - everything about it is about being used and enjoyedSurfing Long BeachCredit: parkscanada beyond looking at it.

The park is broken up into three sections, though they flow and intermingle. Long Beach, where all the best surfing in Canada is found; Broken Group Islands consist of over 100 islets and islands; and finally the West Coast Trail, which offers 75 km of hiking trail through the different environments[15].

You read that right, we have surfing in our parks, well at least one. Long Beach has long been a hot spot for surfers in Western Canada. On nearly any summery day the parks parking lot is filled with vehicles, people and surfboards enjoying the 16 km of coastline. While surfers appreciate the parks surf and coastline, swimmers are plenty dotting the waters among the surfers.

The Broken Group Islands are a paradise of more than one hundred island islets and rocks scattered throughout the area. The only way in is by boat which makesSitka Spruce inCredit: Parks Canada - Debby Gardiner for some great scenery and offers plenty of opportunities for some fantastic photographs. There are no rough uncontrollable waters and boating is encouraged to enjoy the full nature spectacle that is the park.

The West Coast Trail Unit is a 75 km hiking and backpacking route along many environmental backdrops - rainforest, cliffs, waterfalls, caves and beaches. Some of the immense sized conifers that you will pass by may be twenty feet in circumference and over two thousand years old[16].

Regardless which of the three parts of this park you are in it wouldn't be too strange at all to bump into some deer, weasels, martin or raccoon. Catching sight of black bears, cougar, wolves, elk and sea turtles is common. Even the small animals like tree frogs, salamanders and garter snakes can be often seen.

Iconic BanffCredit: viator

Venice has their canals.

Ireland can gloat of medieval castles.

England of ancient ruins.

Egypt may have the pyramids and mummies.

But Canada has some of the most scenic, vibrant and spectacular of National Parks.