2015-07-22 10.48.16 1-resized-960

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

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!

One thought on “How I Visited 11 of Canada’s National Parks in 11 Years

  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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