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With the Parks Canada free pass available to both Canadians and visitors alike for all of 2017 (SEE: Free parks, 2017 edition!), what are some great Canadian National Parks to explore? I’ve highlighted 7 great options (in no particular order). I’ve personally visited 3 of these parks, and I would like to visit the other 4 soon, preferably in 2017 with my Parks Canada free pass!
- Banff National Park – As Canada’s first national park, Banff National Park should be on every traveler’s bucket list. Located in the Rocky Mountains in the Canadian Province of Alberta, Banff National Park boasts breathtaking mountain scenery, great hiking and backpacking opportunities, hot springs, and abundant wildlife.
- Pacific Rim National Park Reserve – This park on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island has it all. There are opportunities for hiking, biking, kayaking, whale watching, surfing, fishing, and more. Fly into Victoria, B.C. and then take a drive up the winding Highway 4 to explore the islands and inlets along the western shore of Canada.
- Cape Breton Highlands National Park – Head to Nova Scotia and drive the famous Cabot Trail through one of the most beautiful parks in Canada. The Cape Breton Highlands offer some fantastic hiking. My wife and I had a mere half day to enjoy the park before heading back to Sydney, Nova Scotia to board our ferry to Newfoundland. We hiked the Broad Cove Mountain trail, which provides wonderful views of Ingonish Bay and the conifer forests of the Cape Breton Highlands.
- Nahanni National Park Reserve – A bit more difficult to get to than most other Canadian national parks, the Nahanni National Park Reserve offers visitors a true wilderness experience. The primary draws of the park are whitewater river trips and spectacular Virginia Falls. You have your work cut out for you to reach Nahanni, however. The vast bulk of the park is only accessible by chartered float-plane.
- Gros Morne National Park – Situated on the western coast of rugged Newfoundland, Gros Morne National Park is the second largest Canadian national park and is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Explore the stunning fjords, the tiny seaside towns, and the intriguing geology of the Tablelands. A highlight for my wife and I was the Western Brook Pond Tour, a boat ride that takes you through one of the most stunning sections of the park.
- Prince Edward Island National Park – My wife and I spent half a day in this National Park during summer 2015 as part of our trip to the Maritime Provinces of Canada. Located along the north shore of Canada’s smallest province, Prince Edward Island National Park boasts PEI’s signature red sandstone cliffs, beautiful beaches, and is a great summer vacation destination. While on PEI, make sure you visit Green Gables, the house that inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery’s literary classic, Anne of Green Gables (also free with the Parks Canada free pass!).
- Fundy National Park – Experience the world’s highest tides at the Bay of Fundy during a visit to this park in the eastern province of New Brunswick. Fundy National Park also has great camping (not included with the Parks Canada free pass), hiking, and biking opportunities.
Which to visit first?
The decision is up to you, but Banff National Park is at the top of my list. It is fairly accessible, at only an hour and a half from Calgary International Airport which has non-stops flights from many places in the U.S. and Canada. If my wife and I have to opportunity to visit Canada again this year with our Parks Canada free pass, we will likely visit Banff.