Did you know that Canada has a total of 39 National Parks? Spread from west to east, south to the north, each one is more spectacular than the last! We’ve compiled a list of some lesser-known parks with unique features of the great Canadian landscape. Read on to discover these underrated National Parks of Canada.
Canada is known for its wide-open spaces and majestic natural beauty (along with poutine and niceness). So it’s no surprise that we have an abundance of official national parks. Canadian national parks are areas protected under the Canada National Parks Act in order to preserve natural ecosystems. This also means that we get to access and experience these natural treasures of the Great North.
The most famous National Park in Canada is probably Banff, which was also the first area in Canada to become an official National Park. On top of beautiful Banff, there are actually 39 National Parks in Canada, and eight national park reserves (an area designated to become a national park). They represent the diverse natural regions of Canada. With a country this vast, it takes a whole lot of parks to showcase all the different landscapes and ecosystems!
Looking to get outside into the Great North anytime soon? We’ve rounded up seven lesser-known National Parks we think should be added to everyone’s bucket list. Read on and then get planning to explore this big and beautiful country.
Cost of Visiting a National Park
There are fees associated with entering the National Parks of Canada, but there are a variety of options depending on your needs. Pay for a single day (usually under $10) or pay for a season. You can also enter for free if you qualify. Check out the options below.
The Discovery Pass 2019
Each national park has its own entrance fee, but Parks Canada has put together a Discovery Pass that allows unlimited admission to over 80 Parks Canada locations for a full year (this includes national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas).
Youth under age 17 are always free, while adults aged 18-65 pay $67.70 CAD. Seniors get a discount and pay $57.90 CAD. A group pass (up to 7 people in a vehicle) is available for $136.40 CAD per year. Parks Canada says the Discovery Pass can “pay for itself in as little as seven days.”
If you’re going on a one-time hike, it’s better to pay for one-day admission. If you plan to take advantage of more than one of the many wonderful national parks of Canada, then consider purchasing a Discovery Pass. Otherwise, there are annual or seasonal passes to certain parks if you’re a regular. For a full breakdown of pricing for each park, see the Parks Canada – List of Fees page.
The Cultural Access Program
If you have received your Canadian citizenship within the past 365 days, welcome! You can qualify for a Cultural Access Pass program, which provides free admission to all Parks Canada locations (national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas).
Free National Parks of Canada on Canada Day
Every year, admission to the National Parks of Canada is free on Canada Day! What better way to spend your day off than wandering around one of Canada’s many natural gems? On top of this, each national park has an additional day where they offer free admission.
Extra Costs for Activities in National Parks
Activities and services do incur extra fees above admission fees -and this goes for Discovery Pass holders too. Camping, fishing permits, cross-country skiing, presentations and tours will all require additional payment. See the page for your desired park to get the specifics.
What’s the Deal with Those Red Chairs?
Many of the National Parks of Canada have two giant red chairs for rest and relaxation. They’re also great markers of your success! If you get a photo in the red chairs, you can share it on social media with the #ShareTheChair or #PartagezLaChaise.
You can find the red chair locations on the Parks Canada website. It’s worth your while to search for them as the chairs are often placed in locations with unbeatable views.
7 Underrated National Parks of Canada
Yoho National Park, B.C.
Visit here for: Bright emerald green water without the crowds
If you’re looking for somewhere a little less crowded than Banff National Park (but just as stunning) you can head to Yoho National Park. Located in British Columbia and only two hours away from Calgary. The Emerald Lake (you know, that one you’ve seen on Instagram with that sparkling turquoise lake?) provides that vibrant green hue you’ll just have to see with your own eyes! The green colour is most intense in the early summer months. No filter needed!
If you happen to be visiting Yoho National Park during a busy period, you can get away from the crowds by walking around the lake as most tour groups don’t make it that far. You can also explore the Natural Bridge, the Takakkaw Falls, and the Wapta Falls. Lake O’Hara is more of a hidden gem just nearby, and reservations are required in order to visit that area (and tickets sell out almost instantly).
Where to stay near Yoho National Park
Emerald Lake Lodge is the only accommodation on Emerald Lake, and they purposely don’t provide WiFi or televisions in the 24 cabins. It is so secluded that you have to hop in a golf cart to get to your cabin! The Cathedral Mountain Lodge and Mount Stephen Guesthouse are also great options.
How to get to Yoho National Park
By car, the Trans-Canada Highway is the only major route through the park. There is no public transportation, and most people arrive in personal vehicles. Rental cars are available in nearby towns like Golden, B.C. and Lake Louise, Alberta.
By air, you can fly into Calgary or Vancouver, but it still requires a personal vehicle to get to Yoho National Park. There is a shuttle from the Calgary airport to Lake Louise which gets you much closer.
Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland
Visit here for: Gorgeous contrasting geology and tectonic plate theories
Gros Morne National Park is named for its largest mountain peak, Gros Morne, which helped confirm the tectonic plate theory with its unique geology. The Tablelands in Newfoundland, which are thought to be a result from a plate collision several hundred million years ago, is an interesting, barren-like area of this park. Our youngest province has so much natural beauty to be explored that a visit to Gros Morne National Park is quickly becoming an ultimate Canadian experience!
Guided boat tours are available, but many people visit Gros Morne National Park for the hiking, kayaking, and cross-country skiing. This UNESCO Heritage Site is home to ancient fjords, cascading waterfalls, and billion-year-old cliffs that will make this little section of the world feel larger than life! Seriously Newfoundland, you’re gorgeous.
Where to stay near Gros Morne National Park
How to get to Gros Morne National Park
By air, the Deer Lake Regional Airport is only 35 km from the southern park boundary and has seasonal flights from a few airports in eastern Canada, including connecting flights from St. John’s International Airport. Car rentals and bus services are available in Deer Lake to Gros Morne.
By car, the shortest way to this national park is from the ferry service between North Sydney, Nova Scotia, and Port aux Basques, Newfoundland that takes about six hours. From there, it is a 300 km drive to the southern park entrance. We recommend reserving a spot on the ferry in advance! There are also a few other ferry routes available from other ports depending on the season.
Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan
Visit here for: the ultimate stargazing experience
It doesn’t take mountains, forests, and ocean views to make a great Canadian National Park. The Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan proves that the prairies can be gorgeous too! Spend time in this wide-open plain and watch the bison, antelope and prairie dogs roam. Experience the Valley of 1,000 Devils, a barren area of badlands, which will make you feel like you’ve been transported out of this world. Just make sure to bring lots of water!
It even gets more magical at night. The Grasslands National Park has the designation of a “Dark Sky Preserve,” which means there is limited light pollution. It’s actually one of the largest and darkest areas in Canada. That makes for some serious stargazing! Some car-accessible stargazing locations include the Two Trees Trail, the Frenchman Valley Campground, and the Rock Creek Campground.
Where to stay near Grasslands National Park
Many visitors to this National Park opt to go camping, but if you’re more inclined to spend the night with a solid roof over your head, there are still some great accommodation choices like the Country Comfort Bed & Breakfast. In the nearby town of Swift Current there are more accommodation options like the Comfort Inn and Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites.
How to get to Grasslands National Park
The Grasslands National Park is located in southwestern Saskatchewan, which is near the border of Montana. It is actually in two separate blocks – East Block and West Block. The East Block is accessed from Highway 18, south of the town Wood Mountain. The West Block can be accessed on Highway 4 or Highway 18, near the town of Val Marie, which is about an hour and a half south of Swift Current. By air, you can fly into Saskatoon, Regina or Calgary. Car rentals are available in any of these cities, as well as in the town of Swift Current.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia
Visit here for: Stunning views on one of the best islands in the world
Rolling highlands, steep cliffs, forests, ocean views, and the famous Cabot Trail! As one of the top National Parks of Canada, the Cape Breton Highlands National Park in the beautiful maritime province of Nova Scotia is not to be missed. Cape Breton has repeatedly been ranked as one of the best islands in the world, making it a must-see destination in Canada. Want to know why? Keep reading.
Located at the northern tip of Cape Breton Island, the maritime climate and the rugged landscape have actually allowed for a unique mix of plants and animals in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park – a mix of Acadian, Boreal, and Taiga. This is the only place in Canada where you can see this blend of northern and southern species.
About one-third of the Cabot Trail passes through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, adding to its uniqueness. There are 26 hiking trails, all leading to a variety of scenic viewpoints like seacoasts, canyons, and highlands. There are five main saltwater ocean beaches and two freshwater lakes. You might even be able to spot a lynx, a whale, or a bald eagle!
Where to stay near Cape Breton Highlands
There are plenty of campgrounds to choose from, or you can choose a more luxurious stay at the Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa.
How to get to Cape Breton Highlands National Park
By car, there are several different routes to get to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. You can head to the western entrance near Chéticamp or the eastern entrance in Ingonish. If you’re driving or cycling around the Cabot Trail, you’ll spend about 100 km of the 300 km loop within the park grounds.
By air, you can fly into the Halifax Stanfield International Airport. Cape Breton Island is a 2.5-hour drive away from the capital city of Halifax. The park adds an extra two hours to your drive once you’re on the island.
Kluane National Park and Reserve, Yukon
Visit here for: an intense winter adventure among glaciers
Calling all hardcore adventure and nature buffs! If you’re looking for one of the more challenging national parks, add Kluane National Park and Reserve to your bucket list. The rugged landscape in Canada’s Yukon territory makes this an ideal spot for people who love hiking, mountaineering, and epic views. Most of the park is covered in mountains and glaciers, while the rest is tundra and forest. Welcome to the wonders of the Arctic, folks!
This national park is home to 17 of Canada’s 20 tallest mountains, including Canada’s highest peak (Mount Logan at 5,959 metres). It also has Canada’s largest non-polar ice fields and the most diverse grizzly bear population. So, if you’re wondering where you can spot some serious wildlife in Canada, your answer is the Yukon.
While you might want to head to some of the other national parks during the summertime, you’ll be thrilled visiting the Kluane National Park in the winter. With activities like ice fishing, dog sledding, back-country camping and snowmobiling (just to name a few of these oh-so-Canadian winter activities), you’ll have plenty of inspiration to fill up your itinerary!
If you want to head deep into the interior of the park, you will need to join a flightseeing tour or an advanced mountaineering/ski touring expedition. This national park is not for novices!
Check out our guide to Yukon for more adventures in this Canadian northern territory.
Where to stay near Kluane National Park and Reserve
There is no accommodation in the park itself except for one campground at Kathleen Lake. However, accommodation is available along the highways at the eastern edge of the park. Non-campground sites include Mount Logan Lodge, Dalton Trail Lodge and Discovery Yukon Lodgings.
How to get to Kluane National Park and Reserve
This national park is located about 160 km west of Whitehorse, close to the town of Haines Junction (that’s like, one of the best junctions), near the Alaskan border. Car rentals are possible and there are two main highways. The Haines Highway leads south and the Alaska Highway leads north along the park’s eastern edge. The airport in Whitehorse is the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport, with certain year-round and seasonal routes available.
Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, B.C.
Visit here for: sincere camping on untouched land
The Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve is located off the coast of northern British Columbia on the southern islands of Haida Gwaii. The park contains limited facilities and it’s only accessible by boat or seaplane, which means there are very few visitors every year. Precious, incredible, and definitely underrated!
The Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site is actually a collection of 138 islands not too far from Vancouver. In the park, you can explore ancient Haida village sites with the help of a “Watchman” — a Haida person who provides first-hand knowledge of the culture and traditions. You can bring your own boat, kayak, or join a tour to have a chance at witnessing amazing wildlife like orcas, humpback whales, dolphins, sea lions, and puffins. Yes, puffins!
If you want to relax while completely surrounded by nature (and who doesn’t?), then head to the Hotspring Island, Gandll K’in Gwaay.yaay and go for a dip in the three hot pools. Not relaxed and rejuvenated enough? We’ve got some great recommendations for other incredible hot springs in Canada.
Note: all visitors to Gwaii Haanas must attend a free orientation session that lasts about 1.5 hours, providing safety information and protocols. Orientation schedules are already planned, so make sure to check the dates and locations. If you can’t make it to the planned sessions, you can arrange another one for a fee.
Where to stay near Gwaii Haanas National Park
While on Gwaii Haanas National Park, your only option is to camp. Bring a tent and set up almost anywhere where you want. There are no formal campsites, making this underrated Canadian national park only for the most intrepid of explorers. Before and after arriving in the Gwaii Haanas islands, you can stay in Sandspit at the Northern Shores Lodge or the Moresby Island Guest House.
How to get to Gwaii Haanas
Gwaii Haanas can only be reached by boat or by plane. Floatplanes often leave from Moresby Camp or you can opt for a licensed tour operator to get you there.
Year-round air service from Vancouver International Airport to Sandspit on Moresby Island is available (but expensive). There are a few other ferry options, depending on your access to certain towns in B.C. If you’re into intense athletic adventures, it takes about two days to get from Moresby Camp to the northern border of Gwaii Haanas by kayak. Don’t try this as a novice.
All visitors require trip permits, even if it’s just a day visit. If you are part of a guided tour, these permits should be included. If you are doing a self-guided tour, make sure to call the reservations office and pay beforehand. The number of visitors is restricted, so make sure to call ahead with your planned entry and departure dates.
La Mauricie National Park, Quebec
Visit here for: rugged forest and activities for all skill levels
Don’t worry Québec, we didn’t forget about you! Our last underrated National Park on the list is La Mauricie National Park, a natural gem which is home to more than 150 lakes. That’s a lot of lakes! This park is located near Shawinigan in the Laurentian mountains of Québec.
The majority of this National Park of Canada is forest, with over 30 different types of trees, particularly firs, maple trees, pines, and spruces. This makes La Mauricie National Park a great place to enjoy the changing leaves in autumn.
You might encounter moose, loons, beavers, otters, and black bears – so be careful! When camping in the park, you will most likely fall asleep to the sounds of owls (so basically, this place is amazing).
Activities at La Mauricie National Park include swimming (with waterfalls), canoeing, kayaking, hiking, and over 68 km of cross-country ski trails. It’s not all intense though, there are trails for all levels, including Les Cascades trail, which includes a sandy beach, a picnic area, and of course, a waterfall.
Where to stay near La Mauricie National Park
There is something for everyone at La Mauricie National Park, where you can stay in a car camper or rent out more glamping-style accommodation at a lodge in the park or a cozy inn nearby. Some options include Auberge Le Florès and Domaine de la Baie in Shawinigan.
How to get to La Mauricie National Park
La Mauricie National Park is a two-hour drive from both Montreal and Quebec City. Head to Shawinigan along Highway 40, and switch to High 55 north. At exit 226, follow the signs to La Mauricie National Park. Both Montreal and Quebec City have their respective airports and car rentals are available.
Each one of these National Parks of Canada is able to provide a totally unique experience for your next adventure! Whether you want the perfect picture on one of those red chairs, to stargaze under the night sky, or just some peace and tranquillity, these national parks are waiting to be explored. So pack your bags and get out there!
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Published February 2019 and updated July 2019. Prices correct at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.