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The Ultimate Guide to Underrated National Parks in Canada

Did you know Canada has 47 different national parks across all the provinces and territories? And they aren’t all in Alberta! Discover 7 underrated National Parks of Canada that aren’t Banff or Jasper.
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Canada has an abundance of parks (not to mention an abundance of space, awesome music festivals, poutine, Tim Hortons, and all-around nice people) and the list could go on… We also have a lot of official (and super beautiful) national parks! Canadian National Parks are specific areas that are protected under the Canada National Parks Act. They are owned by the Government of Canada (Parks Canada) in order to preserve Canada’s natural heritage and help keep the ecosystems healthy.

This also means we get to enjoy these beautiful spaces in nature! Spread across the country, there are currently 47 National Parks of Canada for everyone to experience. You might have heard of a few major ones like Banff, but that isn’t all there is to see! Some of these might not be hidden, but they are certainly all gems, and ready to be explored.

We’ve rounded up seven national parks we think should be added to everyone’s bucket list! Read on and then get outside to start exploring this huge, beautiful country of ours.

Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia in the fall with trees changing colours. National Parks of Canada | Skyscanner Canada
National Parks of Canada | Skyscanner Canada

Cost of Visiting a National Park

There are fees associated with entering the National Parks of Canada, but there are a variety of fee options depending on your needs. Pay for a single day or pay for a season – or 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 12 months (national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas).

Youths under age 17 are always free, while adult fees at $67.70 CAD. However, 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 heading for a one-time hike, it is better to pay for a day admission. If you’re planning on taking advantage of the 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!

The Cultural Access Program

If you have received your Canadian citizenship within the past 365 days, 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. Specific dates for 2019 are not yet available.

Extra Cost for Activities in National Parks

Activities and services do incur extra fees above the admission fees and Discovery Passes. For example: Camping, lockage, fishing permits, cross-country skiing, guided tours all cost extra. So make sure to bring some extra cash with you on your visit!

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. Spend some time searching for them as these chairs are often placed in locations with unbeatable views.

7 Underrated National Parks of Canada to Visit

Yoho National Park, B.C.

Visit here for: Bright emerald green water without the crowds

If you’re looking for a national park that is 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. Hashtag 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.

Nearby, Lake O’Hara is more of a hidden gem, 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.

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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, 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 a must-do Canadian experience!

A lot of the Gros Morne National Park is made up of the Long Range Mountains, which are connected to the Appalachian Mountains from our neighbours down south. Located on the coast of Newfoundland, the scenic views are one of the main attractions to this park.

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 section of the world feel larger than life! Seriously Newfoundland, you’re gorgeous.

Where to Stay Near Gros Morne National Park

Stay in the core of Gros Morne National Park along Rocky Harbour’s waterfront at Gros Morne Suites or the Ocean View Hotel.

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.

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Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan

Visit here for: An ultimate star-gazing experience

It doesn’t take mountains, forests, and ocean views to make a great 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 as bison, antelope and prairie dogs roam around. 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 to have this designation. That means opportunity for some serious stargazing!

This makes Saskatchewan’s Grasslands National Park a perfect spot to pitch a tent, chat with your travel buddies and look out for that Milky Way. 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.

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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 our 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?

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 even five main saltwater ocean beaches and two freshwater lakes. So much nature!

Still not convinced? You might even be able to spot a lynx! Or a whale! Or a bald eagle! C’mon guys, Cape Breton Island is where it’s at.

Where to Stay Near Cape Breton Highlands National Park

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.

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Kluane National Park and Reserve, Yukon

Visit here for: Intense winter adventures amongst glaciers

Calling all hardcore adventure and nature buffs! If you’re looking for the more challenging National Parks of Canada, you might want to 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 some epic views along the way. 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, you can find it in Yukon.

While you might want to head to some of the other National Parks of Canada during the summertime, you’ll get a huge thrill of visiting the Kluane National Park in the winter. With activities like ice fishing, dog sledding, backcountry 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 need to join a flightseeing tour or an advanced mountaineering/ski touring expedition. This national park is not for novices, guys!

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.

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Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, B.C.

Visit here for: Serious 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 is only accessible by boat or seaplane, which means there are very few visitors every year. Super underrated and super beautiful!

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 man or woman who provides first-hand knowledge of the Haida 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. Puffins! Yes, there’s just so much amazing opportunity for wildlife spotting all across Canada!

If you want to relax while completely surrounded by nature (and who doesn’t, once in a while?), 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.

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 (these guys mean business), 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 Reserve

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 Nothern Shores Lodge or the Moresby Island Guest House.

How to Get to Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve

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 is 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.

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La Mauricie National Park, Quebec

Visit here for: Rugged forest and activities for all skill levels

Don’t worry Quebec, we didn’t forget about you! Our last national park in the list is La Mauricie National Park, a natural gem which is home to more than 150 lakes! This park is located near Shawinigan in the Laurentian mountains of Quebec.

The majority of this national park 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 leaf colours.

Wildlife you might encounter include moose, loons, beavers, otters, and black bears – so be careful! When camping in the park, you will most likely fall asleep to 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.

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Each one of the 47 National Parks of Canada is able to provide a totally unique experience for your next adventure! Whether you want a perfect picture on one of those red chairs, do some serious hiking and wildlife spotting, or stargaze under the Saskatchewan night sky, our National Parks are waiting to be explored. So pack your bags (and your tent) and check some of these places out.

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