Canada | Travel

How I Visited 11 of Canada’s National Parks in 11 Years

July 31, 2015

I’m a big fan of Parks Canada nation­al parks. I don’t vis­it them enough to have an annu­al pass, but when­ev­er there is one close to where I am and I have the time to vis­it it, I will vis­it it. My log­ic is, there must be some­thing very spe­cial about a park that they had to turn it into a nation­al park so it must be worth a vis­it. I still have yet to be dis­ap­point­ed by a vis­it to a nation­al park and real­ly wish that I could vis­it them more often. In my defense, the clos­est nation­al park to where I live is about 3–4 hours dri­ve away so it’s not like I could just walk to one. ;-)

Any­way, in my 11 years of liv­ing in Canada, I have man­aged to vis­it 11 of Canada’s nation­al parks in 8 provinces. I’m one of the few lucky Cana­di­ans to have had the chance to vis­it all 10 Cana­di­an provinces. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I didn’t get the chance to vis­it any nation­al parks when I was in New Brunswick and Man­i­to­ba due to one rea­son or anoth­er. But I’m sure I’ll get around to it some­day. Wapusk Nation­al Park in Man­i­to­ba and Fundy Nation­al Park in New Brunswick are high on the list of nation­al parks I’d like to vis­it!

Of all the nation­al parks I’ve ever vis­it­ed, 3 are in British Columbia, 2 in Alber­ta, and only one in Saskatchewan, Ontar­io, Que­bec, Nova Sco­tia, PEI, and New­found­land and Labrador. The most nation­al parks I’ve ever vis­it­ed in one trip is 5, in 3 provinces, in only 10 days. If that didn’t make me one of the biggest fans of Parks Canada, I don’t know what will. :-) This is a quick round-up of my vis­its to all 11 parks. (All the pho­tos are mine but none of the videos is mine.)

Bruce Peninsula National Park in Ontario (2004)

The Grotto at Bruce Peninsula National Park.
The Grot­to at Bruce Penin­su­la Nation­al Park.

This nation­al park will always have a spe­cial place in my heart as the first Parks Canada nation­al park I’ve ever been to. It was 2004, near the end of my first vis­it to Canada. My then-boyfriend, now-hus­band thought he’d take me for an overnight trip some­where nice. He decid­ed on Tober­mory in the Bruce Penin­su­la. I was a big city girl and wasn’t big on hik­ing at all at the time, so I wasn’t over­ly impressed when the boyfriend took me to the park for a lit­tle hike, because I thought all I’d see would be just trees after trees after trees. Bor­ing! Well, not quite. After a rel­a­tive­ly short hike, we arrived at the Indi­an Head Cove and my jaw dropped. The clear, green water of the Geor­gian Bay, the cliffs, the grot­to, the light… So beau­ti­ful! I fell in love with every­thing. I want­ed more of the­se! I had to see more! And so it began, my love affair with Canada’s nation­al parks.

Web­site: Bruce Penin­su­la Nation­al Park

Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia (2005)

Our poor old car on the Cabot Trail.
Our deceased car Syd on the Cabot Trail.

I had heard only good things about Cape Bre­ton High­lands, but espe­cial­ly about its abun­dance of moose. I was real­ly inter­est­ed in see­ing moose in their nat­u­ral habi­tat at the time. Nat­u­ral­ly, when we went out East for our hon­ey­moon in 2005, we had to go there. Well, long sto­ry short, we didn’t see any moose, but we didn’t real­ly spend much time in the park either. We just drove the Cabot Trail. I was quite impressed with the views. I saw some of the most beau­ti­ful sights I had ever seen in my life there. It was as if the ocean and the moun­tains took turn to impress us through­out the dri­ve. It was, after all, one of Canada’s most scenic dri­ves, and the first one for me. It cer­tain­ly did not dis­ap­point. The dri­ve was one of the high­lights of our hon­ey­moon, and to this day, I’m still par­tial to coastal dri­ves when it comes to road trips. Only one-third of the Cabot Trail is part of the nation­al park, but I think that one-third is the best part of the dri­ve. Def­i­nite­ly one I’d like to revis­it in the future.

Web­site: Cape Bre­ton High­lands Nation­al Park

Jasper National Park in Alberta (2007)

Spirit Island on Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park.
Spir­it Island on Maligne Lake in Jasper Nation­al Park.

Jasper Nation­al Park is where I fell in love with the Cana­di­an Rock­ies. It was my first vis­it to West­ern Canada (that is not a lay­over). We drove all the way from Van­cou­ver to get to Jasper (long sto­ry) and I was all gid­dy with antic­i­pa­tion through­out the dri­ve. May­be I would final­ly get to see a moose in the wild! Well, I saw all sorts of wildlife there: pikas, wood­land cari­bous, mule deer, wolves, moun­tain goats… but no moose. The amaz­ing land­scape, how­ev­er, total­ly made up for the lack of moose sight­ings. The boat tour to Spir­it Island on Maligne Lake was great. The sweep­ing moun­tain view from the top of Whistler’s Moun­tain was breath­tak­ing. The trip to the Columbia Ice­field was a lot of fun. The water­falls, the lakes, and the rivers were beau­ti­ful. Jasper was per­fect. I didn’t want to leave. But alas, I had to. I didn’t go back there until 7 years lat­er (last year), when we went to vis­it the new­ly-opened Glac­i­er Sky­walk.

Web­site: Jasper Nation­al Park

Banff National Park in Alberta (2007)

Peyto Lake a.k.a. Bear Lake in Banff National Park.
Pey­to Lake a.k.a. Bear Lake in Banff Nation­al Park.

After spend­ing a cou­ple of days in Jasper, we head­ed out to Banff. It was my first dri­ve on the Ice­fields Park­way and I was quite over­whelmed by the amaz­ing sights. I was a bit grumpy that day, part­ly because I was still sad about leav­ing Jasper and part­ly because it was a warm, sun­ny day. I like my days cold and cloudy. Any­way, I think we pret­ty much saw every­thing that was eas­i­ly acces­si­ble (no long hikes or gon­do­la or boat rides) in Banff, though I real­ly wish I had done my research bet­ter because we total­ly missed Maligne Lake! I did get to see it last year in ear­ly spring, but it was still most­ly ice-cov­ered. Banff is so much more touristy than Jasper, which is why I prefer Jasper to it, but I guess Banff is touristy for a good rea­son. It’s breath­tak­ing­ly beau­ti­ful with ton­nes of attrac­tions. I also real­ize that it is on the buck­et list of so many peo­ple in the world (and right­ful­ly so) and I do feel lucky to have had the chance to vis­it it more than once.

Web­site: Banff Nation­al Park

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve in British Columbia (2007)

A humpback whale with Pacific Rim National Park Reserve in the background.
A hump­back whale with Paci­fic Rim Nation­al Park Reserve in the back­ground.

We went to Paci­fic Rim on Van­cou­ver Island near the end of our crazy whirl­wind West­ern Canada road trip. We drove there from Vic­to­ria and it was a looong dri­ve, I thought it would nev­er end. The road lead­ing to the park was quite hair-ris­ing: it was a nar­row, moun­tain road, and every now and then, we had to pull over to let the oncom­ing traf­fic through (to add to the thrill, it was already dark when we were on that road). It might have changed for the bet­ter now. In the cou­ple of days we stayed in the area, we man­aged to check out all the beau­ti­ful beach­es (Tofi­no has the best ones) and went on a whale­watch­ing tour. It was a great tour on a zodi­ac boat. We got to see some seals and sea lions, bald eagles, and, the most excit­ing of all, hump­back whales! At some point, one of the whales came so close to the boat that I was wor­ried it would tip our boat over but for­tu­nate­ly it didn’t hap­pen. It was my first encoun­ter with whales so I’m glad the expe­ri­ence was a good one.

Web­site: Paci­fic Rim Nation­al Park Reserve

Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland and Labrador (2011)

The Tablelands in Gros Morne National Park.
The Table­lands in Gros Morne Nation­al Park.

After the trip to West­ern Canada, we didn’t do much trav­el­ling for four years, most­ly because we bought a house the year after and our resources got a bit more lim­it­ed (read: we were kind of broke). But we had always had this plan to go to New­found­land, and in 2011, we decid­ed to bit the bul­let and booked the tick­ets in the first seat sale of the year! I got my Cana­di­an cit­i­zen­ship a few months before the trip so it was also a nice way for us to cel­e­brate. And guess what? I saw a big herd of moose in Gros Morne! Final­ly! It was awe­some! And we went on a whale­watch­ing tour in Bon­ne Bay but didn’t see any whales, though we did see a cou­ple of minke whales from the shore. I loved the cruise in West­ern Brook Pond and all the lit­tle hikes we took. I thought the Table­lands was amaz­ing as was the view from Woody Point. The vis­it to the marine cen­tre in Nor­ris Point was also inter­est­ing and edu­ca­tion­al. Touch pools aren’t just for kids! :-) I so love Gros Morne. Hope to go back there again some­day.

Web­site: Gros Morne Nation­al Park

Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan (2014)

Plains bison roaming free in Grasslands National Park.
Plains bison roam­ing free in Grass­lands Nation­al Park.

In my 10th year of liv­ing in Canada, I had to vis­it Saskatchewan because it was the only Cana­di­an province I’d nev­er been to. I also had been want­i­ng to vis­it Grass­lands Nation­al Park for a while, so why not kill two birds with one stone! I real­ly don’t under­stand why most peo­ple think Saskatchewan is bor­ing because I found it very inter­est­ing and beau­ti­ful and teem­ing with wildlife. I would describe Grass­lands with the same adjec­tives. There’s some­thing about the prairie land­scape that I find very com­pelling. The hills, the val­leys, the grass­es… I couldn’t feel closer to nature than I did when I was inside that park. See­ing plains bison roam­ing free in their nat­u­ral habi­tat was quite some­thing. They look so mag­nif­i­cent and gen­tle but also intim­i­dat­ing. I could’ve watched them for hours if I hadn’t feared that my pres­ence would annoy them. You don’t want to annoy an ani­mal that size! All the prairie dogs in the park were also fun to watch. They are very ter­ri­to­ri­al and seem to be con­stant­ly angry with each oth­er. Fun­ny lit­tle crea­tures. It’s only been a year since my vis­it, but I miss this park already.

Web­site: Grass­lands Nation­al Park

Yoho National Park in British Columbia (2014)

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park.
Emer­ald Lake in Yoho Nation­al Park.

I have to admit, the only rea­son we went to Yoho was because it was the only place where we could find an accom­mo­da­tion with­in our bud­get that wasn’t too far from Banff. We stayed in the town of Field (pret­ty much the only town inside the park), which turned out to be quite a charm­ing lit­tle town, sur­round­ed by beau­ti­ful snow-capped moun­tains. Most of the hik­ing trails in the park were still closed, either because it was still snow-packed or due to all the bears being out and about, look­ing for food. But we still man­aged to vis­it a cou­ple nat­u­ral attrac­tions with­in the park: the Nat­u­ral Bridge and Emer­ald Lake, both are equal­ly fab­u­lous. In fact, Emer­ald Lake was the only siz­able lake we saw dur­ing our spring­time vis­it to the Cana­di­an Rock­ies that was no longer cov­ered with ice. If I ever find myself in Yoho again, I would love to make the trek to Lake O’Hara. It looks amaz­ing!

Web­site: Yoho Nation­al Park

Kootenay National Park in British Columbia (2014)

Numa Falls in Kootenay National Park.
Numa Falls in Koote­nay Nation­al Park.

Koote­nay Nation­al Park is prac­ti­cal­ly next door from Yoho so we thought we’d take a dri­ve through it to check it out and then have a soak at the Radi­um Hot Springs on the oth­er side of the park. I’m so glad we did. The high­lights of our vis­it include the Mar­ble Canyon, Numa Falls, Sin­clair Canyon, and of course, the Radi­um Hot Springs, which was pret­ty hot, but the day being sun­ny made it feel even hot­ter! It was still refresh­ing, though. And much cheap­er than the Blue Lagoon in Ice­land for sure. As for wildlife sight­ings, we saw a black bear, pre­sum­ably a female, with her two very adorable cubs. We also saw a young griz­zly bear eat­ing dan­de­lions by the side of the road. It was my first griz­zly bear sight­ing so I was pret­ty excit­ed. Our last wildlife sight­ing was a group of moun­tain goats near Sin­clair Canyon. They were still shed­ding their win­ter coat and looked so adorably fuzzy! And then we drove back to Yoho for our last night in the Rock­ies.

Web­site: Koote­nay Nation­al Park

Prince Edward Island National Park in Prince Edward Island (2015)

Beautiful sandstone cliffs in Prince Edward Island National Park.
Beau­ti­ful sand­stone cliffs in Prince Edward Island Nation­al Park.

We spent a cou­ple of days in Prince Edward Island dur­ing our hon­ey­moon 10 years ago but some­how missed pay­ing Prince Edward Island Nation­al Park a vis­it. We rec­ti­fied the sit­u­a­tion this year by going to Brack­ley Beach and then took a sun­set dri­ve along the shore from Cavendish towards North Rus­ti­co with­in the park. The warm light of sun­set on the red sand­stone cliffs looked very pret­ty. We stopped at a cou­ple of beau­ti­ful look­outs and beach­es to savour the last light of the day. It was love­ly. We saw some red fox­es along the way which seemed to be unafraid of humans. I wor­ry for them. I wish some (irre­spon­si­ble) park vis­i­tors would stop feed­ing them. They are very beau­ti­ful, though. I’ve nev­er seen fox­es from so close before. I also wish we’d had time to explore more of the park, but alas, our itin­er­ary was already full as it was. I heard that the red sand­stone cliffs have erod­ed a lot over the last cou­ple of harsh win­ters. I hope they’ll find a way to solve this prob­lem some­how.

Web­site: Prince Edward Island Nation­al Park

Forillon National Park in Quebec (2015)

Cap Bon Ami lookout with Land's End in the background.
Cap Bon Ami look­out with Land’s End in the back­ground.

I’d had this grand plan to hike the 8km Les Graves trail, through Cap-Gaspé light­house, all the way to Land’s End (where the Appalachi­an moun­tain range ends) to take in the mag­nif­i­cent view, and then back, when we vis­it­ed Foril­lon, but that didn’t hap­pen. Had an unex­pect­ed­ly stren­u­ous hike the day before and our legs just weren’t up for anoth­er one. In fact, my legs remained sore for the fol­low­ing 2 weeks! I’m offi­cial­ly old. We did have a lit­tle pic­nic at the trail­head on Anse-aux-Amérin­di­ens and then saw the Land’s End from Cap-Bon-Ami. Sure it’s no sub­sti­tute to being on the Land’s End phys­i­cal­ly but it was good enough for me. Plus, now I have a good excuse to return to Foril­lon! We saw a cou­ple of bears, a cou­ple of por­cu­pines, a huge flock of seag­ulls (and I mean HUGE), some guille­mots, some eider ducks (at least we thought they were eider ducks) and a har­bour seal. Also saw some love­ly water­falls. Great park. I wrote about the vis­it at length here.

Web­site: Foril­lon Nation­al Park

And there you have it! Phew! And there are still so many oth­er Canada’s nation­al parks that I’d like to vis­it: Fundy, Gwaii Haanas, Min­gan Arch­i­pel­ago, Nahan­ni, Point Pelee, Sable Island, Ter­ra Nova, Torn­gat Moun­tains, Water­ton, Wapusk… Oh, who am I kid­ding. I’m a com­pletist, I’d love to vis­it them all! 11 down, 33 more to go! :-) I hope this post will inspire you to vis­it at least one nation­al park clos­est to you, or bet­ter still, to vis­it Canada and our amaz­ing nation­al parks! I promise, you won’t regret it!

1 Comment

  1. Awe­some! My buck­et list is to vis­it every nation­al park. I know I will prob­a­bly nev­er com­plete it, but I think it will be fun to try! So far I’ve been to four: Point Pelee and Bruce Penin­su­la in Ontar­io and Banff and Jasper in Alber­ta.

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