We at Chimani spend a lot of time talking about the U.S. National Parks — especially in this, the Centennial year of the National Park Service — but that doesn’t mean we want to overlook our neighbors to the north. In 2017, Canada is throwing itself a 150th birthday bash, and part of the celebration includes free admission to all of the country’s national parks. Parks Canada also will made park admission free to anyone under age 18 in 2018 and beyond.
That means that you can buy an annual Parks Canada pass for 2016 and it won’t expire until 2018. Or, if you can’t visit Canada til 2017, you’ll get free admission when you go.
The Parks Canada system, like the country itself, is quite large: Canada boasts 46 national parks plus many other historic sites and conservation areas. Some of Canada’s parks are almost as familiar as Yellowstone and Yosemite, like Banff and Jasper, but there are many others you should put on your to-do list in time for Canada’s sesquicentennial, including:
Banff National Park: Canada’s first national park was established in 1885: only Yellowstone is older among the world’s active national parks. This Rocky Mountain park in Alberta is famed for its hot springs and has 2,500 square miles of mountains, valleys, glaciers and rivers and is a year-round destination for visitors from around the world.
Jasper National Park: 97 percent of this Rocky Mountain park is wilderness waiting to be explored. Hiking, biking, camping, fishing, horseback riding, skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating and — all this and more is part of the Jasper experience. You can take it easy with a scenic drive on the Icefields Parkway or test your limits on the Maligne Canyon Ice Walk.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park: This Atlantic coastal park is home to the famous shoreline Cabot Trail as well as mountain peaks and lush canyons, with whales offshore and moose and eagles inhabiting the forests.
Glacier National Park of Canada: A close neighbor of Jasper National Park (but not the U.S. National Park of the same name), Glacier National Park is known for hiking and mountain biking amid old-growth forests and along high-altitude trails with amazing views. Canada’s historic transcontinental railroad snakes through the park, and visitors can follow the path of an abandoned rail line as well.
Gros Morne National Park: Newfoundland’s grand coastal park features spectacular fjords, coastal villages and lighthouses, ancient tablelands, and an unforgettable hike to the top of Gros Morne Mountain.
Kootenay National Park: This British Columbia park has everything from cactus to glaciers, hot springs to canyons cut by cold mountain rivers, spanning both the Columbia Valley and the high peaks of the Continental Divide.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve: Stroll a seemingly endless Vancouver Island beach, surf some wild Pacific waves, or set out on a trek along the West Coast Trail at this park that is also rich in Native American culture.
Point Pelee National Park: The wetlands of the southernmost point in mainland Canada (closer to Detroit than any major Canadian city) are a mecca for bird-watchers, and this compact Ontario park on Lake Erie also features guided canoe tours and trails that introduce visitors to Point Pelee’s 70 species of trees.
Thousand Islands National Park: An overnight canoe or kayak trip is perhaps the best way to experience this national park on the St. Lawrence River (convenient to both Toronto and Montreal), but there also are drive-in campsites and hiking trails to explore along the river.
Fundy National Park: The Bay of Fundy is famous for having the highest tides in the world — waves here can reach the height of a four-story building — and you can get a taste of this awe-inspiring natural event from the shore or even in a kayak. This Atlantic coast park in the Canadian Maritimes also offers the opportunity to walk the sea floor at low tide, camp in a yurt, and hike and bike through forests and to waterfalls.